Am I growing blasé? Is my unemotional response the beginning of indifference? Or is it the natural result of overkill? Literally.
After the Boston Marathon bombing, there were some commentators from news media outside the US who posed the question: why so much fuss for three dead and a hundred injured in Boston? Dozens die everyday in Iraq and Pakistan, in Syria and Afghanistan. It doesn't even make the front page in the US or Europe anymore. What makes American lives so valuable? The question is legitimate, of course, but it misses the point. Because what happened, exceptionally, in Boston is exactly what you expect to happen in any of the countries just mentioned. It’s their bread and butter. It’s what they do on a slow day in Islamabad or Kabul. Build that bomb, booby-trap that car, strap on that vest. Terror bombing is a mainly eastern, primarily Arab and significantly Islamic pastime, whereas America specialises in gangnam style drive-by shootings, serial killers and deranged nuts who run amok in school and end up either shooting themselves or committing “suicide by cop”. Bombings are therefore distinctly un-American. Senator McCarthy would not have approved.
Yet America does have its dirty little list of bomb builders who have placed pipe bombs in sports stadia, incendiary devices in Afro-American churches, letter-bombed administrative offices with whom they felt they were at war or institutions against whom they bore a grudge for exams they had “unjustly” failed. All of them were home-grown fruitcakes and fringe warriors possessed of an almost prairie-like purity of idiocy, despite any education they might have gathered in their search for chemical understanding. The notorious Unabomber with his neo-Luddite dream of bringing down technological progress one bomb at a time, springs immediately to mind. Incidentally, he also, despite a long career of successful and less successful devices, “only” killed three people. A modest toll by US standards, hardly a massacre. Technological progress didn’t even sneeze. Bombing, at least as a civilian pursuit, is not something Americans seem to be much good at, although they can do a cracking good job of flattening your entire country, if you can give them enough bad intel to justify it.
Despite blaming the US for their current or historical predicament, whatever it might be, Middle Eastern and Afghan bombers generally prefer to target their own people: nine out of ten fatalities are their own citizens, almost 100% of the injured are too. It is hard to see what this is meant to do to their hated enemy, but it does have the merit of pushing up the numbers, as their own citizens are a largely predictable mass who can usually be relied on to want to go to the market at least once a week to buy food and household necessities. Since a good bomber is one who takes as many people with him as possible, the odds on the side of success are thus naturally higher if you bomb your own kind, whose habits and movements you know well, even if your justification rests on rather tenuous reasoning.
In the last 48 hours the afore-named countries have outdone themselves in a valiant attempt to win back their bombing credentials, returning the ashes to their natural homeland, to borrow a cricketing expression. It must have been annoying to have the hated US (albeit in the guise of a couple of Chechen Muslims) steal the pyrotechnic limelight with such a paltry little attack. After all, it wasn’t exactly Munich, was it? Yes, there was loss of life, and certainly loss of limb, but they do these things so much better in Pakistan, where the maimed are left to scream in the corridors of overfilled hospitals while staff try to figure out whether they’ll be targeted next if they help them. Now THAT’S what I call a bomb culture.
So at what point do we stop caring? It’s clear that Islam is at war with itself for reasons we cannot understand as they are beyond understanding. Should we just let them get on with it? Might that not distract them from their vaunted war of supremacy against the decadent West? As far as I can tell, Islam was once a religion, albeit a rather belligerent one. The fascistic phenomenon it has become in the last few decades has precious little to do with anything unifying, transcendental, mystical, tender or compassionate. In other words it seems to have lost whatever hallmarks of a religious mission it might once have had. I do not think Islam can make the transition into something suitable for general consumption in my lifetime, not even if I live to be a thousand. There are 38 serious conflicts raging in the world at this time, 36 of them involve Muslims. So is there any way that we can avoid this so-called clash of civilisations going on forever?
I hate to say it, internationalist as I am, but isolation currently looks like a better policy than engagement of any kind. Because whenever we engage we usually end up inadvertently offending someone. Deliberately fanning the flames in the hope that they exhaust themselves is clearly not a solution, either. Their demographics alone should have us scared that this may never happen. And crises get exported, as our little Chechens have shown us, and bear strange fruit in other lands. We have to face the uncomfortable truth that these people do not love us, are happy to use our largesse for their own ends and will definitely betray our hospitality. In Cairo and Peshawar, Islamabad and Tehran they were handing out sweets on the streets the day after the Boston bombings, just as they have done on previous occasions. Meanwhile the US Congress took advantage of the Boston smoke screen to defeat the gun control bill that might have made their nation safer. But who wants safety? It’s over-rated and I’m tired of trying to reason with imbeciles. A plague on both your houses! Let them all eat cake, build bombs, buy assault rifles, massacre school kids, blow up markets, behead the infidel, poison the oceans, rape the land, bash gays and lesbians ... Do whatever floats your boat. Just leave me to sit on my terrace and read Jane Austin. You’ve all won. I’m numb.
© Edwin Drood
, April 2013