I have never lived in a time free of terrorism. Possibly no one has, but somehow it feels personal. Which is, after all, the intention.
Terrorism is neither warfare, nor politics. It certainly isn’t religion. It is narcissism. It is hyper-individualism. It is a quest for fame, and glory, and sex. In its essentials it is a youth cult like any other. And like any youth cult, there are sometimes people behind it who are not young. Schemers, manipulators, often rich; Malcolm McLaren, Simon Cowell, Osama Bin Laden. But in a sense, it isn’t who thinks they are pulling the strings who are the problem – it is the mindset of the willing puppet.
The terror that dominated my childhood, and persisted into adulthood, was primarily from the IRA. That they had a political wing, and clear political goals is irrelevant. The fantasies that motivate the individual have much in common, as does the narcissistic disregard for others, however benign they are towards the cultist. I saw this when one of my colleagues was arrested, and eventually imprisoned as an active IRA member planning an action. John Major was the Prime Minister, Tony Blair Leader of the Opposition, so I guess that the road to the Good Friday Agreement was already in train, but this man left a trail of devastation for those who had innocently befriended him. I wasn’t one of them, by the way. I may have sensed something ‘not right’ in him, or he may have sniffed out that I was not going to be politically sympathetic to the way he wore his victimhood on his sleeve. Either way, we had little to do with one another.
One of the problems with Irish Republican terror was that in its key markets, Britain and the USA, it was ‘racialised’. Britain in the 20th Century still had a strong strain of anti-Irish prejudice upon which fear of pub bombers could be laid, thereby moving easily from a hatred of those bombers, to a propensity to dislike and distrust all who shared their ethnic and religious identity. This worked the other way around in the USA, where a sentimentalism about Irish people in general led many, including senior politicians, to have no instinctive understanding of why ‘the Brits’ were so hostile.
With the rise of global Islamist terror we see similar patterns; a fusing of latent or overt prejudicial attitudes towards Arabs, or South Asians, or Africans, with legitimate abhorrence of terror groups. This incubates a general sense of victimhood, which becomes both part of the motivation for the individual drawn towards death cults, but which also reinforces a sense in the wider Muslim minority population that it is hard to be regarded by others as a normal and legitimate part of society.
And so yesterday’s carnage in Manchester. It was, in many ways, the ultimate terror act: ugly, mean, stupid, spiteful, devoid of purpose. Yes, the ‘target’ was children and young people having fun, but I doubt somehow, that whoever did this monstrous act gave the slightest thought to that.
The narcissist-terrorist chose a stadium, a glamorous, glittering, showbizzy, venue purely for his own weak-minded purpose. The real mantra of that pathetic fool is “Fame. I want to live forever.”
But he won’t. He’s gone, he’s nothing, a zero.
We will instead remember those who are worth remembering – the victims and their families. And the emergency services, those great battalions of the derided ‘public sector’ who step forward with a magnificence beyond the imagining of any lauded ‘entrepreneur’. And the homeless man who’d gone to the venue to beg, but went in to try to help, cradling a dying woman so that she was not alone. We will remember all the many acts of kindness of the people of the great city of Manchester.
Terror = failure. The civil virtues always win.