FEAR AND TREMBLING IN THE AGE OF TERROR
, pt II
ROBERT J. LEWIS
I had a feeling
I could be someone, be someone
the past 35 years, the Tamil Tigers have been waging a secessionist
campaign in northern Sri Lanka. Largely defined by their methods
and not objectives (to create an independent Tamil state), they
are rightfully regarded as the founding fathers of modern terrorism
for having introduced, legitimized and refined the weapon of
the suicide bomber. Shortly after its unveiling, because of
the missile’s highly sophisticated internal guidance system
and undetectability (stealth) features, it quickly became the
weapon of choice of especially aggrieved and/or inadequately
armed ethnic or religious groups seeking to better establish
themselves in the world.
response to a weapon that can board a bus, enter a school, sip
mint tea in a restaurant or shop at the local market has been
understandably problematic. To counter the pervasive fear instilled
and disproportionate power wielded by suicide bombers and the
causes they proxy, governments, on short notice, have had to
assemble highly specialized analytical teams for the purpose
of isolating in order to immobilize the suicide bomber before
he acts and destroys, keeping in mind that even prior to detonation
the latter has already destroyed a targeted population’s
peace of mind. But terrorist activity continues on a daily basis,
forcing the conclusion that providing a reliable profile of
the suicide bomber may be next to impossible, in part, because
there are simply too many variables at play to know what makes
him go tic tic tic -- the telling interval that turns his talk
first, it was thought that the typical suicide bomber was a
hopelessly dispossessed, uneducated, impoverished non-entity
desperate to make something of his life, and therefore easy
prey to the allures of “paradise now” prattle, which
both Islam and Hinduism offer in overkill. We now know that
this early diagnosis was wildly premature, that terrorists come
from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds. As reported
by the Times in 2007:
A study of 172
al-Qaeda terrorists conducted four years ago by Marc Sageman,
a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer in Pakistan,
found that 90 per cent came from a relatively stable, secure
Three quarters were from middle-class or upper-class families,
two thirds went to college and two thirds were professionals
or semi-professionals, often engineers, physicians, architects
or scientists. The average age for making an active commitment
to violent jihad was 26, and three quarters of the terrorists
were married, most of them with children.
other words however desirable it would be for the purposes of
tracking and profiling, psychopaths don’t sign up to become
astonishingly hasn’t been examined, and for which the
ivory entowered academic western mind has not been held accountable,
is from what social backgrounds suicide bombers do not
come from. A bomber has never been a leader of a country, an
elected representative, a rock star, a successful artist, a
radio announcer, a TV personality, a famous athlete, actor or
model, celebrated scientist, medical researcher or journalist.
In fact there has never been a suicide bomber who has been previously
in the limelight, a little noted detail which might play big
in isolating the actuating impulse that predicts his fatal attraction
to his headline grabbing vocation and its post big-bang promises.
he be anonymously living out his days in the dreariness of a
sub- Saharan desert village in Algeria, or working in a nondescript
lab in Northern England, as soon as the erstwhile cipher declares
himself ready to serve as a disposable delivery system for a
bomb, his life immediately changes. Overnight, he is relieved
of his bland milieu and directionless existence and introduced
to historically significant people who would otherwise be inaccessible.
As a fledgling member of an elite, secret society with all its
rank and privilege, he quickly becomes a person to whom everyone
rigorously and reflexively defers. He is then initiated into
his highly specialized training as it relates to his world historical
mission, all the while his life is brilliantly (teleologically)
revealed to him in terms of its political and theological import.
When he is declared mission ready, he will star in a video where
he explains his life and calling to family, friends and all
those who support the cause he at once spearheads and headlines.
In short, in his own mind, which is all that matters, thanks
to the nurturing and self-validating culture of terrorism, this
former non-entity is able to address and satisfy a longing that
has haunted him his entire life: the longing to be regarded
as an historically significant being.
longing for significance is as DNA deep as any biological hunger.
Deny the urge as we’re encouraged to do through all sorts
of sleight of mind and subterfuge (I’m happy with my lot
as a welder, a programmer, a taxi operator), our dreams and
fantasies betray us even as we learn how to effect a lack of
interest or even disdain for the trappings of fame and celebrity.
But when crunch time comes, most of us will be seen grovelling
around the significant and famous when they come to our little
corner of the world, or in the absence of real contact, we will
vicariously engineer our own significance via magazine culture
and wearing on our skins products significant people are paid
to endorse – which make us feel good in our skins. And
although we know better -- that neither Gap, Revlon nor Nike,
the running shoe that cares will relieve us of our mediocrity
-- our longing for significance is so primordial we have already
convinced ourselves that contact, however superficial, with
people of significance must mean that we too are significant.
Otherwise we wouldn’t be included in any circle of significance.
In this sense, like children ‘leaning out for love,’
we lean out for significance, where the urge to be a somebody
is so strong and compelling that the manifest gesture need not
have any practical purchase on reality.
else are we to rationally account for the absurdities registered
in the Guinness Book of World Records, whose English
edition is distributed in 70 different countries, with another
22 editions published in foreign languages?
are whistle-quick to disassociate ourselves from the preposterousness
of Guinness culture, but slow to recognize that we are in varying
degrees vaccinated against the shame and embarrassment that
would normally discourage the more dubious undertakings, which
many of us cannot refuse. To wit:
(Australia) swallowed a non-retractable 15.9 in long sword
and then held a sack of potatoes weighing 44 lb 4.96 oz attached
to the handle of the sword for five seconds at the studios
of Guinness World Records, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia,
on 16 April 2005.
is the Guinness record holder for most claps per minute: 721.
from Mudjimba, Australia, holds the world's record of typing
all numbers from one to one million in words (not numbers).
He began in 1982 and finished with the entry "one million"
on November 25, 1998.
Alexander wore 121 t-shirts to break the world's record of most
t-shirts worn at one time.
whether these examples inspire mimicry or incredulity, if we
are to make any advances in reducing the terrorist mind to its
signature irreducibles, we must acknowledge that out of this
same irrepressible desire for significance the suicide bomber
is born, and that his political and theological objectives are
merely ploys employed to legitimize the longing.
philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty proposes that we are all seeking
a transformative cause or event that will render our lives meaningful
(significant). And prior to that, what child hasn’t imagined
himself performing heroic (significant) deeds, the kind revealed
in children’s literature, adventure cinema or in comic
books? Could it be that I am you and you are me and that there’s
a bit of the suicide bomber in each and every one of us?
for all the weapon’s practical success best illustrated
by the David and Goliath binary that has the latter not down
but bloodied, not all cultures are able to grow crops of suicide
bombers. Letting the numbers speak for themselves, Islam and
Hinduism show green thumbs while Christianity and Judaism have
no thumbs because cultures that encourage the development of
reason usually don’t set much practical store in the “paradise
now” package, which is essential in persuading the "apocalyptically
inspired" bomber to part with his earthly life. None of
which explains why the phenomenon of the suicide bomber is only
a recent historical development when belief in the afterlife
has been part of the fabric of human culture since man became
the end game is always significance, prior to the revolution
in communications that, pace Marshall McLuhan, transformed the
world into a global village, the repercussions of heroically
blowing oneself up for a cause would have been restricted to
a very limited geopolitical area. Today, the suicide bomber’s
exploits, within minutes of the deed, are known world-wide,
which makes this advent one of the unintended consequences of
the communications revolution.
wonder line-ups for terrorist/suicide bomber training are long,
and even if one day we are able to get our hands on a reliable
profile of the bomber, there is no quick fix or cure because
there are simply too many religiously run-over anonymous entities
who cannot resist the temptation to create world reverberating
values in mere seconds, where the bigger the bang the greater
the significance. And when you factor in the alarming availability
of contraband fissionable material, there’s every reason
to believe the bangs are only going to get bigger.
of learning how to out-think human nature -- the stuff of pipe
dreams -- our only viable option is to rewire our natures, which,
in this writer’s opinion, should be the first priority
of biogenetics, since the urge that informs suicide bomber is
not going to disappear gently into the night.
our jeans become old and worn and leave us unprotected, we buy
a new pair. Since our genes now demonstratively leave us vulnerable
to what is most lethal and self-destructive in our natures,
is there any good argument for not getting down to the urgent
task of fitting ourselves with better ones?
Heidegger spoke too quickly when he wrote "only God can
save us." Taking liberties with Hamlet:
Oh cursed sprite
Pray the geneticists of the world unite
To write human nature right
Before we disappear from site.