THE BLOG

Triumph Of Terror: Are Successive Attacks Slowly Reducing Us To Societal Apathy?

For their sustained frequency alone, today's string of suicide bombings continues to entreat our self-interrogation regarding any prior or contingent social marginalization of the perpetrators. They may also have us deliberating over which civic inclusion initiatives can more effectively integrate vulnerable youth into our communities before ever they become harmful either to themselves or to us. Here, while acknowledging the naivety of presuming to classify all types of confessionally-motivated violence as terrorism, I mostly address myself to those young Europeans who, brainwashed by the Islamic State narrative, subscribe, in some form, as its sympathizers. Admittedly, considering its many different associations, the word terrorism would apply to all contexts across the board only very unsatisfactorily and, in consequence, cannot usefully pass as a blanket term. Likewise, to reduce the chilling barbarity of all such attacks to fleeting maladies of delusional bravado among troubled boys with exploding toys would be tantamount to trivializing a matter far too complex to banalize in mock earnestness. Instead the phenomenon warrants ongoing discussion and periodic re-examination as one which, socio-cultural and geopolitical considerations aside, could hardly be credibly touted as mere jihadist jingoism, misdirected libido or no.

Much depends upon how much we still 'care to comprehend', aware by now that our existing, long-tested levels of tolerance have been already stretched to their limits. Yet while the usual unanswered questions mount up and as the trail of disconsolate grief -no less familiar- is left to each victim's family at every successive attack, it would appear some concerted resolution is being asked of us - possibly a form of joint soul-searching. By now, lone wolf violence of this sort appears irrational to us. Certainly the current threat of swift and wholesale retribution against perceived would-be malefactors even makes trench warfare look patently primitive to any curious spectator of conflicts in digital real-time. A momentous game-changer in state-of-the-art killing machines, the advent last century of advanced weapons of mass destruction also heralded a gradual phasing-out of conscription in most post-industrialized nations. The technological leap at once meant that whatever whim our male folk might thitherto have entertained around personally defending some ideological construct by force of arms was all humiliatingly crushed by the outsourcing of any such reckless machismo to infinitely more competent military hardware.

Indeed with many in former times viewing a forfeiting of mortal flesh to be far less dangerous within the greater scheme of things than imperilment of the eternal soul by everlasting damnation, it should come as no surprise to us that competing faith systems, too, would woo credulous recruits by appealing to precisely this scale of values. That said, the rules of play were not always as clearly defined as we are commonly served up to believe. Here history is not without its comic innovators. A participant in the First Crusade, William the Conqueror's pious half-brother Odo springs immediately to mind. Chronicled to have opted in battle to wield a club rather than an axe, Odo had probably calculated, as Bishop of Bayeux and so shepherd of souls, that an axehead smashing through an enemy's skull would risk killing the unfortunate whereas a solid clout to the cranium might render him only temporarily senseless in the fray - reverentially grateful for his deliverance upon resuming consciousness and hopefully decent enough, at the very least, to receive Christian baptism.

In racking our brains to grasp what might have possessed pre-nuke Man to take up arms or raise his war cry we remain cognisant of our incapacity to guess the extent to which the efforts of, say, a peasant of Louis XVI's France to actively defend the king's lands was somehow wired into some inner sense of purpose. Clear to us instead is that, following successive centuries of bloody hand-to-hand combat from the front-line and with armed soldiery becoming slowly redundant, such a weighty toll in human sacrifice would soon be satisfied in full by good and honest labour as well as by the simple and punctilious meeting of our annual tax obligations. Admittedly, that does all look easy peasy lemon squeezy at first blush. The only snag comes with related questions of equality in terms of access to education and the job market among citizens. Nonetheless, those same, less martial civil rights and duties would at every hegemonic turn and popular revolution also redelineate the geopolitical map, further recharting our anthropological cartography in shared patriotism. Accordingly then, the price of solidarity among conationals through a dutiful paying of revenues came suddenly much cheaper against the incalculable cost in virile young life which had preceded it.

Perhaps identifying this development as analogous to a castration, any remnant warrior spirit within our ranks is prone to hanker after that forgotten heroism. There some responsibility may rest upon our shoulders as well. Channeling the vigorous energies of such budding and potentially volatile testosterone in a young male will doubtless depend upon the cultural arsenal with which we arm him for his future skirmishes against those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which necessarily accompany adulthood and its oft unsexy demands. Agreed, not all of us so blithely accept the many permissions we concede to one another in either venting the unresolved frustrations of a difficult adolescence or else enacting through manly horseplay the unseemly fantasies at which haughty onlookers still baulk with nonplussed detachment : the close-knit rugby scrums, the torso-upon-hairy-torso wrestling matches, even the indulgent bear hugs we exchange after triumphantly sending our balls through tight-spaced goal posts as we hop jubilantly about, chest-to-chest, in a tight-squeezing frenzy.

Granted, not every society will judge it profitable at the coming-of-age of its pubescent males to thus reinterpret in contact sports or boyish tomfoolery those older, more bellicose rites-of-passage. Whether tortured by a clamorous anxiety over phallic underperformance or by some nagging and disruptive gender quandary (presumably generated by a melange of repressive prohibitions), the evident 'crisis of manhood' among these tawdry ISIS scrappers may hail in part from their own clumsy missteps in that great dance at which all of us are already bobbing to the same tune. Sprung from our collective tribal soul, theirs too is an unpracticed interplay between some pre-existing sense of identity and so many, long-abandoned ancestral rites.

On that score, a word on those annoying gender-specific pronouns so conspicuous in the paragraphs above. Employed with intent, they point to an argument that concerns Mankind more specifically and so treats somewhat less of humankind as a whole. So why the provocation, given that few today would doubt that isolated radicalised cells the world over have their women combatants (as suggested by the foiled Paris attack arrests of September 9th) and that terrorism-related savagery closely affects women everywhere ? Here's the reason : Though it would surely be reductionist to present such a fraught and pluriform phenomenon as global terrorism as either an exclusively 'male' or 'female' dilemma, it is nonetheless often regarded -accurately or no- to be advanced by 'problematic men' and so, in consequence, as a typically 'male-centric problem'.

Here, in devising for our trigger-happy cowboys a series of winning counternarratives, perhaps the only difference between us and the thugs of the so-called Caliphate lies in an unequal freedom of spirit at the core of that public consensus by which each agrees to re-examine its contemporary versions of heroism against earlier, chauvenistic archetypes. There, common sense alone should signal to us that a Neo-Freudian interpretation of what motivates our lingering, aggressive proclivities and how they influence current geopolitical control issues will seldom invite serious self-reflection on the part of one who has chosen a series of misogynist injunctions to support his very raison d'être. Perish the thought that such confessionally-driven logic could ever bring serious religious themes into any coherent dialogue with the realities of today. That would be like summoning Saint Bernard of Clairvaux back from the twelfth century and then asking him to contemplate the notion that in Joyce's Molly Bloom the heroism of a new and sensual Penelope of Ithaca might better inform current human experience than the virginal heroism of a new and biblical Eve.

Assuredly where any such dialogue fails, we struggle to understand how some remote tradition of our world's thiests could possibly have anything to do with the blind religiosity behind today's more violent confessionalism. Neither can we know for sure whether any barbaric intervention by human agency could ever usefully save the gods from falling headlong from their heavens. What may be gaining more relevance for these angry 'heroism scouts' is that hidden powder-keg waiting to erupt during a kid's teenage years when he seldom knows -as the saying goes- his arse from his elbow (all my respect for adolescents notwithstanding). Rendering one at considerable risk of pledging allegiance to everything and anything that may result in grave harm either to oneself or to the world at large, it is a time when, disoriented also by that soup of uncontrollable hormones, one typically views all things antisocial with a spiteful and a morbid curiosity. I posit by this observation -as worse case scenario- that in seeking to embrace some cause, whatever it may be, an unhinged youth who habitually experiences racism or Islamophobia among conationals in his city can potentially end up with a perverse desire to punish that world by which he has felt unduly victimized.

In sum, perhaps our challenge-of-the-now subsists in the intensity of our willingness or reluctance in the years ahead to palliate similar such 'attacks upon home soil'. This may include the hard admission, some might opine, of acknowledging how much weight our community-integration policies actually carry in either promoting or discouraging any tragic or futile heroism within these young, impressionable minds. A truism for its glaring obviousness, less so for any common receptivity on our part to invest the smart money in thrashing out innovative solutions that will bring fresh equilibrium to our multicultural (and multiconfessional) urban centres of tomorrow. Such is the courage now demanded of us as we combat the terror, testosterone and tragicomedy beneath confessionalism's ostensible 'crisis of Manhood'.