Friday, October 19, 2007
Terrorist Psychology, or, Fundamentalist H-O-R-S-E
Do terrorists have social anxiety? Phobias? Besides for the prospect of eternal damnation, do you suppose terrorists fear anything us laymen do? I, for one, am terrified of heights, humongous empty rooms with high ceilings, and Philadelphia. But someone seemingly unafraid of death—and of imposing his or her own death, moreover—couldn’t possibly fear spiders or public speaking, right?
Think terrorists have blogs? Does Osama bin Laden unwind by jotting down his musings on Wahabi Islam and Dispensationalist Christianity?
The underlying question here is, do terrorists have lives? Not just phobias and blogs, but do they have hobbies, artistic interests, secret handshakes, H-O-R-S-E contests, the mundane, recreational things that, here in the West, we associate with a well-crafted lifestyle? The answer is probably “yes,” that terrorists do, indeed, have lives outside of their suicidal, apocalyptic designs. But how could someone who’s come to peace with killing him/herself in the name of heaven possibly engage in anything else? It seems incongruous, as though the commitment to take lives—including one’s own, in some cases—subsumes and negates everything else.
The notion that the 9/11 hijackers made sure to squeeze in one last game of backgammon is one of the more intriguing existential concepts I could ever imagine. While the image itself is laughable, and completely irrelevant in a pragmatic way, it is nonetheless an abstract powder keg. Think about it this way: if Atta and co. did not stop for one last board game hurrah, it only proves further that these murderers were less than human, that there wasn’t even that spark of normalcy that we all possess. And, if they did throw together a round-robin tournament late on the night of September 10th, it only proves further that these murderers were less than human, that there wasn’t even that spark of normalcy that we all possess. Philosophically, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t—if they played backgammon, they’re heinous, unfeeling killers, and if they simply said their prayers and turned in early, they’re hyper-murderous automatons.
We try very hard to dehumanize terrorists. The media usually depicts them with a wrap around their faces, purposely concealing their countenances. We refer to groups of them as “cells,” instead of the words we use for groups in our culture, like “teams,” “squads,” or even “forces.” I’ll be the first to admit that there is a quantitative difference between a band of terrorists and the San Francisco 49ers, the former being sanguinary death-dealers and the latter a professional football team. There is certainly a difference between what terrorists do when they convene and what a true “team” does on the field. Even a legitimate military, unscrupulously bloodthirsty though it may be, is quite distinct from rogue terrorists. Even so, it’s still curious that, even in our parlance, we dehumanize terrorists, while our media literally hides their faces.
Obviously, they don’t deserve any better. Terrorists are below shit, whether we can see their faces or not. But if one played guitar or collected stamps, it would say a lot about his/her psychology. At best, it could be a counter-terrorism tool. I’m no terrorist, but someone who wants something from me is infinitely more likely to get it if he/she (usually she) knows how my brain works. The same approach could apply to the jihadists, and perhaps stymie something terrible.
And if that doesn’t work, we can always read Osama’s blog.
Stay Scary, Big Rooms with High Ceilings