What makes a terrorist?
An anarchist? A lost soul? What is that fundamental tipping point that places one in such a corner where violence/destruction are viewed as the absolute, only options?
This is a theme which has been buzzing around in my mind since reading ‘Growing up Binladin, by Jean Sasson. When examining the life of Osama through his son’s eyes, we see that he was not simply a jihadist in embryo, as Western Media would have us believe! Rather there is a process, an alienation, a gradual decline in One’s ability to rationale, to logic, to meaning, which eventually has to manifest its self in mindless terror, but what is it! how does it happen and how can we change it?
While on a different scale from the violence exhibited by Osama Binladin and his cronies, The ongoing Riots in London are forcing UK government/law makers to ask very similar questions! Like millions around the world, I woke in horror on Sunday morning to see the dramatically altered Capital city that lay before me; a place I didn’t know, a place I did not want to know! According to media reports, the violence was sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, a young man who was apparently shot by the police, allegedly in self-defence! Initial reports claimed Duggan was carrying a weapon, and had apparently fired on the police, however new evidence suggests the bullet found on the police side was one of their own, with no traces of Duggan’s DNA on it. The Police Complaints commission are currently undertaking an in-depth investigation in to Duggan’s death, but just like the riots in Libya, Tunisia etc, Duggan was the straw that broke the proverbial Camel’s back! The violence is rather the result of deteriorating relations between the police and the youth of deprived, inner-city localities across Britain! Many also blame government cuts and their disproportionate affects on the poorest in society: similar riots took place in London during the eighties, and significantly; during the previous conservative government lead by Margaret Thatcher!
That, is the ‘Official line, the book response! That’s what they say; and it doubtless helps to have a stock answer! But what is the real truth? What, how, and above all, why!
I’m the last person to answer those questions I’m afraid! However, I do want to share some observances thus far! To start with, forgive me for stating the obvious, but what does random hate-filled violence against local businesses have to do with protesting against the police? Seriously! As a disability activist, I’ve engaged in plenty of direct action in my time, and even been arrested for my troubles! I’ve chained myself to railings and I’ve indulged in the odd random sit-in! Direct action has always equalled the demonstration of commitment that is required when words simply aren’t enough! It doesn’t mean violence, but it means action; a display of solidarity and decisiveness! There have been some prominent names in direct action/socialism fluttering lasciviously on the fringes of these protests, including the poet and fellow disability activist Jody McIntyre! It shocks me that none of them saw fit to take the disillusioned youth in hand so that they could at least channel their anger more affectively! Moreover, even if violence had been condoned, one would expect them to be targeting government buildings, police stations and town halls! I’m not suggesting for a moment this would make it OK, however it would offer an explanation and a statement about the route cause of the violence! This morning, I remain haunted by images of African and Asian shopkeepers, local business owners standing shocked and weeping beside their life’s work; their burnt out shops, praying and wondering how they’ll ever be able to rebuild a legacy for their children. The violence escalates and spreads; first Tottenham, then East London, West London, even the tranquil leafy suburbs of Croydon were hit! Tonight, the riots make an appearance in Northern England, and who knows whether Scotland will be next! Jody McIntyre and co remain strangely silent! Moreover, social networking sites have been jammed with their empty justifications and attempts at solidarity! The media, desperate for a scapegoat, blames said social networking for the violence, and people who don’t have the conviction to hit the streets spread the news and the latest looting locations because it makes them feel like they’ve contributed, claimed a slice of the cake! Its all so difficult, so mindless, so impossible to comprehend!
A friend politely and definitively suggested to me that I may be too old to get it, and maybe that’s true! Yet though my heart doesn’t accept it, I do understand aspects of the pain! There is something fundamentally wrong with a society that allows young people to believe that such violence is the only way they can be heard. Even the most basic psychology tells us that one who feels part of his/her community would absolutely not loot it from within, yet this is exactly what we see taking place! Some might think it an easy place to be, but as some one who spent around 18 months drowning in unemployment and honestly not knowing how I’d keep a roof over my head, I feel allot of what they express! They leave their homes, adorned with labels saying “Poor”, “black”, “young”, “uneducated”, “product of single-parent family”, “long-term Unemployed”, …, and so it goes! These labels are an instant appellant to those who potentially could unlock their marginalisation, and so they turn their backs, and another door is locked for them. I wear labels too as a disabled Muslim woman, I’ve experienced the discrimination and the locked doors; and I know there is a very fine line between seeking out meaningful rebuttals, or simply letting go!
To my Muslim readers, I don’t want you to think for a second that this is simply a Western Issue! Most of you are old enough to remember the Bradford Riots, and if not, learn about them! Granted, faith leaders have turned out to help with the clean-up, and the mosques have opened their doors offering food and shelter to those affected by the violence, a welcome and a positive change! However, what happened before that, to bring us to this point! When did we, as Muslims, as an umma, reach this place, where “Im the only one that matters”. A place, where, as long as I can lock the doors of my large, suburban house and feel safe, it doesn’t really matter what’s happening outside! Call me harsh, but this is the reality for many Muslims these days and Its something I for one am not proud of! We are fantastic at giving charity, Mashallah, but how many of us send fortunes to the East, when people are dying, homeless, hungry and suffering here at home! Muslim youth, and the state of our communities is a whole other subject, but as another night of violence unfolds on British Streets, let us start to ask what we, as a people, have left undone! Let as ponder upon the message we want to send out to wider society as a result of the said violence, and most importantly, let us reflect upon the questions I asked at the beginning of this post: what makes a terrorist? An anarchist? A lost soul?
Maybe, if we identify the components and tees them apart, then maybe we can stop the next generation of youth fighting the same misplaced fights, and facing the same locked doors!