Sunday, 30 November 2008

Innocent victims

What always strikes me about terrorist assaults like the ones in Mumbai is the way those concerned are willing to attack completely innocent people to achieve their ends.

Whatever their cause (and so far it's not even clear what that is), it's utterly merciless and inhuman to hit at people who are not even involved in politics, let alone the fraught ideological battles that are being played out.

What purpose can it possibly serve to slaughter random tourists, hotel staff, hospital workers and train passengers who may know nothing at all about the terrorists' bone of contention and are merely going about their everyday lives?

What is the point for example of burning to death Niti Kang, wife of the Taj Mahal Hotel's general manager, and her two children Uday and Samar? All that has done is to leave her family devastated with grief and their lives wrecked.

No cause, however noble or important, can justify using ordinary individuals as pawns and negotiating chips. It's the last resort of ruthless fanatics unable to find more legitimate and non-violent ways of pursuing their objectives.

Here in Northern Ireland, people are all too aware of the pointlessness and barbarity of attacking the innocent for political ends. Practically everyone has faced the grief and suffering of their loved ones or someone they know being mown down in cold blood. And after 30 years of such sterile violence, progress is finally being made through peaceful negotiation.

I really can't begin to understand how some people can stop seeing others as precious human beings with rich and fulfilling lives, and reduce them to trivial objects to be casually obliterated in the name of some fashionable political goal. Their minds are twisted beyond belief.

It's reported on Monday (World Aids Day) that male circumcision reduces the risk of getting HIV by about 60 per cent. Universal circumcision across sub-Saharan Africa could prevent 300,000 deaths in the next 10 years and 3 million deaths in the next 20 years. In some areas demand for circumcision is already overwhelming clinics. What an amazing discovery.


  1. Nick you are so right about a 'fashionable political goal' so many will see this as a religious issue which it is not. It's barbaric extremists acting independently under the mantle of religion and I cringe for god-fearing Muslims the world over who will bare the brunt of Western anger. It's unthinkable but it happens. I wish I knew how to make it all stop once and for all. Barbarism doesn't begin to describe the work of these cretins. And what for? Just to make a point? If so, what's the point they're trying to make. Even the IRA had a 'cause' however misguided!

  2. Baino - Exactly, Muslims everywhere will attract hostility on the basis of this small group of crazed zealots who have wreaked such destruction. And yes, what precisely is their point, if any?

  3. There can be no justification for the random taking of lives - especially young lives. And what gets me is that historically, protests, boycotts, speaking out, etc, has worked better to promote causes than violence, but few seem to get that. These were irrational, hate-filled people who are self-absorbed enough to think their beliefs are more important than another's right to life. I almost don't want to know their so-called reason because it implies a level of justification that can't exist in this situation. But I feel like we have to at least know what was driving them if we're to understand and prevent (or at least prepare for) future instances like this one.

  4. I'm a little worried we're going to see more and more of this - fanatacism is alive and well and ready to explode at a moments notice - there's still plenty of soft targets

  5. Nicole - I think it's often impatience that drives people to violence. They think they can get results quicker than through years of steady pressure. But all it achieves is utter mayhem.

    Quicky - Unfortunately I think we will see more and more of it. People whip themselves up into such a frenzy of ideological fervour they can no longer see sense.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you on this. And you know, today we had the sonic boom in Los Angeles due to the space shuttle landing. I didn't know what it was but the noise was so loud and it shook the house. I was so scared that something had been blown up. That's what these incidents do... they make us afraid of each other, afraid of what we might do to each other. It's so sad.

  7. Liz - You're right, we get unduly nervous at things like that because of the terrorist images always floating around our heads. People who try to get their way through instilling fear are truly pitiable.

  8. Well said. Unfortunately, it i the very destruction of the innocent that gives terrorism its power. It is a path I hope we can leave behind one day very soon.


  9. Gayle - But does destroying the innocent give the terrorists power? It might frighten people, but it also makes them more determined to resist the terrorists.

  10. I haven't been able to shake the horror of this incident at all. I hadn't heard about the hotel owner and her children - it makes it all that much harder to think about.

    Arundhati Roy writes about terrorism and peaceful resistance in one of her essays, and she points out that terrorism is so often validated by governments because it gets a reaction. That perhaps if they would give the same magnitude of a reaction to peaceful protest, terrorism would lose some of its steam. Is that just wishful thinking or incredible insight?

  11. FG - Unhappily, many political insiders say exactly that, governments sometimes exploit terrorism for their own ends. If it produces popular revulsion and support for the government, the politicians gain.

  12. This is such a complex issue, Nick, and would require reams of debate.
    The haves and havenots of the world. Religious idealogy. The incredible publicity these acts provoke which in turn attract more extremists to the cause. The lack of respect for this life, being so focussed on the la-la land of some afterlife, with or without virginal prizes.
    And of course you have the powerful example of such leaders as GWB calling such killings of the innocents "collateral damage" when he does it.
    If we don't place value on others' lives who are we to expect the terrorists to do so?

  13. www - As you say, political leaders like Bush themselves trivialise the deaths of innocent people as an inevitable result of war. As long as you win, the number of corpses doesn't matter.

  14. "Collateral damage" completely depersonalizes people, and once that has happened, there are no limits on the brutality visited on innocents.

    Life in the world has become a game of Russian Roulette.

  15. Heart - True, once you find a way of turning people into abstract concepts, you can do anything you like to them and not feel too bad about it. Life is certainly a bit like Russian Roulette for those at the mercy of natural disasters and corrupt governments - and ruthless terrorists.