In Kashmir or in Palestine, in Syria or Sudan, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Indeed, the suicide bomber is hailed by those who subscribe to a shared credo as a martyr in the name of a holy cause. Terrorism is seen as a form of spirituality.
The ‘spirituality’ of the so-called ‘propaganda by deed’—a euphemism for terrorism—has spawned some monstrous paradoxes. Russian anarchists like Bakunin saw themselves as soldier-priests, preaching their revolutionary ideology through the compelling rhetoric of action: “Destruction is also a form of creation’. In an unjust scheme of things it was not only the right, but the sacred duty of the revolutionary to unleash violence against the established order. But this gave rise to a moral dilemma.
How could a crusader for a higher justice keep the cause in whose name he acted unbesmirched by the stigma of the innocent blood he was forced to shed? The anarchist’s ‘solution’ to this quandary was unflinchingly simple: he would sacrifice his own life along with that of his victim on the altar of his implacable credo; this self-immolation would absolve his deed from the odium of brutality. It was a tragic delusion, but at least it sought some shred of honour under the pennant of a self-annihilating romanticism.
Bloodstained history has long since shown up the murderous fallacy of such deadly narcissism. There is no scruple of the heroic or the noble in the outrages of modern-day terrorism. No banner, no principle, no transcendent Utopia can condone or mitigate an act of pre-meditated, sustained savagery directed against defenceless fellow humans, including women and children.
This is no revolutionary fight for freedom; it is unregenerate barbarism that must redefine our understanding of humankind’s capacity for inhumanity.Stripped of his romantic camouflage of rebellion, the terrorist emerges as both the product and the propagator of what could be called spiritual pornography; in this sense his assault on society goes beyond even the tragic toll of individual lives and strikes deep into the heart of our most cherished and fundamental beliefs in order to subvert them.
The terrorist acts, invariably, under the aegis of justice, often not just political justice but a dispensation divinely ordained. In the name of that supernal directive, he seeks not just exculpation but even glory for the atrocities he commits. In an act of double nihilism, he destroys not just the order which he sees to be repressive but also all hope of any future redemption for humanity.
What promised release from pain can a torturer hope to gain through the methods he himself uses on his victims? This was the insoluble problem faced by Ivan Karamazov, the ultimate intellectual rebel: How could he accept a God responsible for creating a world in which little children were made to suffer? Unable to answer or ignore the question, Ivan sought refuge in the fugue of madness. His brothers, Aloshya and Dimitri, sought and found redemption in love, the only answer to the tyranny of the universal human condition of necessity.
The terrorist’s so-called idealism, his political or spiritual calling, is to genuine faith what pornography is to love; a mockery and perversion of a gift which offers the only hope of a link between our common dust and its uncommon origin.
Like the pornographer, the terrorist by sleight of mind, substitutes rage for passion, isolation for a oneness beyond the one; in the name of humanity he corrupts the only thing that allows us to call ourselves human. As in the case of other products of pornography, terrorism has its exploiters and users. The most obvious of these is political cynicism, which time and again covers it with a cloak of legitimacy.
In this it is aided and abetted by a media increasingly voracious for sensation. Using the mode of denunciation, such reportage and commentary highlights the most gruesome detail, transgresses the most intimate privacy. In the name of a sacred right to know, competitive elements of the media act as an unwitting tout for terrorism; such arguments confuse prurience with knowledge.
The subversive allure of the rebel casts a long shadow, from Milton’s Lucifer and Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Meghnath to Melville’s Ahab, ready to “strike the sun in its face if it should insult me”.Our “proud and angry dust” has found in a rage of angels an apt metaphor for our unique enigma: That condemned to be free, in the name of liberation we shackle ourselves to that which must deprive us of what was already inescapably ours had we been able to see it. Blinded not by love, or even only too human lust, but by a mindless and soulless pornography.
Writer, columnist and author of several books