I remember having a conversation with the mother of one of my acting students back in the early nineties about how easy it would be to become a terrorist. She worked with abused children in a custodial treatment centre, meaning these were children under the age of fourteen who had to be kept under lock and key because they were considered uncontrollable.
One eight-year-old boy had burned down the house he lived in, and his mother had woken up to find him standing beside her with a knife, and had just missed being fatally wounded. She ended up in hospital with a punctured lung and her son had ended up at this facility. The boy had been sexually abused first by his father, and then by one of the mother’s boyfriends.
In it’s wisdom the government of the province where I live decided these children didn’t need a separate facility and could be housed within a wing of an adult facility. It was all about cutting costs so they could give tax breaks to their wealthy buddies. In the government’s mind, there was nothing wrong with these kids that a little taste of the belt wouldn’t take care of; single moms were the real problem. They let their kids run wild while they got drunk, did drugs, cheated the welfare system, and screwed anything in pants.
After another week of fighting that attitude while trying to save the facility, she said there were times she just felt like putting a bomb in a mailbox.
“The only thing stopping me is the fact that somebody’s kids are going to be walking by that mail box. I know how devastated I would be if my kids were killed, and I could never do that to another person.”
There was a flatness in her eyes brought on by more then just physical exhaustion. It was as if everything she had believed in had been torn out from under her and the ground under her feet was no longer certain. Bombs might not have changed anything, but they sure would have provided her with a type of certainty. Thankfully, it wasn’t the type she was looking for.
Unfortunately, the certainty of violence is a good fit for far too many people. Blowing somebody up is one way of making sure you get the last word in an argument. There’s no need for messy ambiguities about who is in the right and who is in the wrong if the other person is dead.
These days it seems everybody who has a point to make does so by blowing things up. The problem is that instead of solving anything, situations just get worse. From the suicide bomber blowing him or herself up in a crowded marketplace to an invading and occupying army fighting insurgency, nobody seems to be getting any closer to resolving any of the disputes that have been the supposed cause of the violence.
It’s pretty hard to listen to anyone when you’re busy blowing things up. “Eh, sorry could you repeat that? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of the tomahawk missile going off.” Conversely, no one is going to be listening too closely when they’re dodging the hundredweight of nails sent firing across a market place. Dispute resolution works a lot better if you at least attempt to hear the other person talking.
Terror is in the eye of the beholder; one man’s freedom fighter has always been another man’s terrorist, it simply depends on your vested interests. To the British the guys, those throwing bales of tea into Boston harbour were terrorists of a kind, while to the colonists at that time, they were brave heroes. No matter who the bad guy is and who the good guy is, when you come right down to it, violence is violence no matter who sanctions it.
To the people living in Baghdad when the bombs were falling, the Americans were just as much terrorists as the people who flew the jets into the World Trade Centre were to the American public. People on the receiving end of bombs and explosions don’t really give a damn about politics or justifications. When your home is in ruins and members of your family have been killed and wounded, everything else is irrelevant.
Violence is the first resort of the coward and the last resort of the brave. The problem is that most of our leaders are cowards and liars. If Osama Bin Laden put the energy and money he puts into terrorism into building schools and farms in Afghanistan instead, he would be securing his people a much better future than the one he’s paying for now with their lives.
If George Bush and his allies really wanted to wage war on terrorism they could start by not propping up governments around the world that treat people like dirt. They could stop insisting that International Monetary Loans be conditional on practices guaranteed to keep countries in perpetual poverty, and they could spend a fraction of the money the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is costing to do what’s ever necessary to help eradicate the conditions that create willing followers for terrorist leaders.
Everybody is far too willing to see weapons and violence as the solutions to their problems, but every time one person picks up a gun, somebody else responds in kind. Until one person is brave enough to put down the weapons and hold out an empty hand, mothers will keep losing their children.
I fail to see how that is making the world a better place for anyone.