The war on terror and the terror of war

Published November 27, 2015
Ah, the tragic times of having to compare coffins. —Photo courtesy of creative commons/Moyan Brenn
Ah, the tragic times of having to compare coffins. —Photo courtesy of creative commons/Moyan Brenn

Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” —William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

We live in a world where wars are not fought anymore, but felt. A world where war has seeped into human hearts, silently and sinisterly, manifesting itself through the most trivial of human emotions.

We live in a world where the battlefield is not a place anymore, but a condition. A world where the most refreshing air smells of gunpowder, and war hymns can be heard in the most silent of spaces.

If there is a word which has emerged as the most resounding expression of our nascent century, it is ‘terror’.

There is an all-encompassing fog of war and terror, swathing not only space but time itself. There is conflict, a never-ending conflict, brewing under everything from emotions to opinions, from feelings to actions.

Yet, there is life; uninterrupted and unaffected, touching new horizons of human progress, reaping the fruits of unbelievable technological advancement. This life is comfier than ever, this world is crueller than ever.

Also read: The new ‘war on terror’

This was the paradox of the 20th century and it remains the paradox of the 21st century. So unbearable was the paradox that Isaiah Berlin cried out:

I have lived through most of the 20th century without, I must add, suffering personal hardship. I remember it only as the most terrible century in Western history.

Distance is dead

The last time distance became meaningless was when we flew into the skies, in an amazing feat of scientific advancement and created new standards of time and travel; but then we invented airstrikes, along with the manufacture of the Boeing 247.

Not long after the first transatlantic flight, there was Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima. If distance was on its deathbed then, it has died now; never to be resurrected.

The death of distance has ensured that nothing is local anymore. War, terror; everything is global.

Never before have conflicts and hostilities touched individual lives with this magnitude. Never before has the feeling of being a part of anything going on anywhere and yet, not being able to do anything, been this strong.

The death of distance has made all of us an audience sitting in the very first row, the tips of our fingers touching the stage, our hearts overwhelmed by the desire to be up there with the performers, and yet, unable to break through the invisible barrier between us and them.

Never before has the image or the shell been more important than the substance or the core itself. The rise of the ‘image’ has ensured that the world is only black and white, that all grey areas vanish forever, and that opinions take to extremes.

The only discourse which seems to be emerging from the tremors of this terror takes the good / bad dichotomy.

There is debate on whether it is religion or the Western foreign policy which has landed us into this time of terror. The proponents of both standpoints appeal to religious traditions and imperial history in support of their respective positions.

This is akin to asking if the Holocaust was the logical consequence of deeply rooted Christian hatred towards Jews, or was it solely modern Fascism which led to extermination of millions of people.

If the former is true, then why didn’t we see a systematic large-scale genocide of the Jewish people before the arrival of Fascism, and if the latter is true how would we explain the persecution of Jews in Christian societies throughout the Middle Ages, which later played a crucial part in materialisation of The Final Solution?

After all these centuries, can we still not see how religion and politics go hand in hand when it comes to acquiring power?

After all these centuries, can we still not see how there’s no mightier driving force than religious dogmas, and how no other group of people is more acutely aware of this fact than people in politics?

After all these centuries, do we still need to create simplistic binaries and pick out a single cause for all the mayhem we have created in the world?

After all these centuries, do we still need to produce plethora of articles trying to prove how Islamic or un-Islamic IS is?

We probably need to go back to the basics of The Enlightenment, dust off some old books, and relearn some lessons lying in the stale trunks of human wisdom and history.

And then, there is Paris - La Ville Lumière (the City of Light).

And then they would say, “There is Beirut, and there is Baghdad, and there is Kabul. Why Paris! Why only Paris!”

Ah, the tragic times of having to compare coffins. The pain of Paris is no different from the blood in Beirut. Those who cannot condemn the atrocity in Paris unequivocally and unapologetically, are no friends of Beirut, and Baghdad, and Kabul either.

Condemn every atrocity. By all means, do.

Also read: Beirut, Baghdad, Paris — Are some tragedies more tragic than others?

However, to make comparisons of the dead is not equivalent to humanising the issue, on the contrary – it’s the dehumanisation of human tragedy by downplaying it to mere statistics.

The Luxor Obelisk stands in the heart of Paris. It is an Egyptian obelisk which arrived in Paris in 1833 from the Luxor temple in Egypt, where its twin too, remains standing, on the east bank of the River Nile.

Both obelisks have existed for more than 3,000 years – long before they became Muslim or European – and have witnessed horrific wars and bloodshed in their respective parts of the world.

Though alone, they stand tall amidst terror for they have faith in the human spirit which is capable of compassion and endurance even in the worst of times.

They stand tall amidst war for they know that despite living in different climates, wearing different skins, and having different experiences, they come from the same beginnings, like all of us.

They stand tall amidst all atrocities for they believe that even on the eve of apocalypse, amid ruins and rubble, amid gods and demons, there shall still remain an inexhaustible voice – the voice of man.



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