Last week I had an interview with a terrorist.
I really did not know where to start. Before it happened, I didn’t know where it would take place, or who would start talking first.
This is how it happened. (In the interests of narrativity, I will use the present tense.)
We find each other on Facebook.
I liked his profile pic.
Communication is entered in to.
For the sake of hospitality, and in the interests of transparency, I thought it best to have it at my home—or his.
The meeting is arranged.
We are alone, in my lounge, sipping strawberry cordial (or was it Turkish apple tea?).
But that’s not the best way to put it.
If it were a screenplay, it would look something like this:
A terrorist walks in. He appears a tad surprised. I gesture to a chair; pleasantries are exchanged. The attempt to shake hands is awkward, but disarming. I am not quite sure if I am to bow. He assures me it isn’t necessary.
“How are you?” I begin by asking.
“Alive and well.”
In the interests of keeping it that way, I pause. There are no security guards in the room, but I do have a telecommunications device handy.
Seeing my hesitation, he smiles and laughs.
The conversation is largely in English; we have similar hobbies and interests. We chuckle together over the housing market in Australia.
After chatting away about other miscellanea (the weather in Iran, the health benefits of the kosher diet, the problems of inequality in the world), I then venture to ask a more serious and probing question:
“How do you feel about the current situation – political, social, religious and economic – here in Australia? Or, if you like, the world?”
I pause, then continue: “I don’t quite know how to say this, but I rather think there might be a less destructive solution than the current options on the table . . .”
“I dislike the fact that Australians are so racist!” a voice screams.
We look up.
In rushes a reporter.
A man with a camera follows. The woman who ran in to my lounge with flailing arms, messy hair and a microphone seems rather distraught.
She is not quite a terrorist. She is a news anchor.
“How dare you interview this terrorist! Don’t you realise that someone could get offended!”
The terrorist and I are afraid to speak.
“It is impossible for you to have this conversation! You are disrespecting this person’s culture! Why did you not call our news station?! There are no security guards in the room! Why did you not inform the government?!?!”
We begin to look and feel embarrassed—quite sheepish, really.
“Now, change seats. Let me hand you some materials, and I’ll go fetch an expert.”
We take the proffered scripts. As host, this seemed to be the polite thing to do.
The terrorist is no longer smiling.
. . .
The above account is fictional, but it is no less relevant for all that.
Dozens of terrorists are tucked away in the prison system of New South Wales as we speak.
Dozens more, as world news would tell us, have died.
I am not talking about the 5 people killed by the enraged driver on Westminster Bridge in March, the 22 dead and 59 hurt in Manchester this May, the eight people blown to smithereens in London (with 48 injured) just last week. I am speaking of the terrorists responsible for these or other acts, convinced enough of the sacrality of their cause to do what it is they believe to be right, and punished for it (if and when they fail) by a life of imagining what they would, should and could do if only they were released from behind bars to do it.
Most of us have thought, with some sympathy, of the dozens injured and killed in these attacks. But few of us have paused enough to realise the effect of terrorism on, well, terrorists.
Without having the benefit of enrolling in POLS 2207 or reading the numerous books published on the subject in the wake of 9/11 (which now, as I understand it, number in the hundreds), it is possible to say that it will take more than a Herzian approach to institutionalised egoism, and more than a move to Walt’s notion of balance-of-threat to solve this political conundrum.
Most of us take the time to consider the tragedy that loss of life – no matter who, no matter where – is, along with some sort of sentimental gush about “it really shouldn’t happen.” But have we ever gone far enough in our musings to consider the effect of terrorism upon the terrorists?
The hypothetical scenario I have presented here is not a comedy, but rather a tragedy.
If all “terrorists” were terrorists, they would be dead. The state has identified terrorists, potential, attempted and enacted, as threats to national security. Terrorists, on the other hand, are less concerned with national security than with ideological realisation or perhaps some form of social justice. Why is it that so few of us seem to understand this?
What goes on inside the mind of a terrorist?
I certainly wish I knew.
But how are we to know what goes on inside the mind of a terrorist, until we take the time to ask? And how are we to ask if one keeps blowing himself up?
This is not a joke. (If it is, it is tragic.)
Until we realise that what goes on inside one’s head can be as important as what goes on outside it, we fail to understand the mind that drives the terrorist, deceives the diplomat, and goads the news anchors to postulate without end.
The answer may not be located in 95 out of 100 books on the subject—to the point that giving ear to professional talking heads may even be counterproductive.