The Manchester Arena murders have shaken me up more than I would have expected. I’m not sure why. Or rather, I’m not sure what weights the various reasons have—it is an attack specifically aimed at girls more or less the age of my daughters and nieces; my primary news source is the (formerly-Manchester) Guardian; I am a pathetic Anglophile; I’m having a bit of a bad and stressful month on minor matters; the Giants stink. It’s raining. There’s some sort of clear-eyed objective analysis in which these particular murders are no worse than others, and that analysis is obviously correct, but not for me, or at any rate not yet.
Part of it is—I can’t recall whether I have hocked this particular kettle in this venue before and I haven’t the heart to go looking through my archive—that this is just another instance of the truth that we can’t live with: there is no way to stop people from killing people. With the information and technology available to people, almost anyone who really wants to can find a way to kill ten or twenty strangers, and perhaps injure another another fifty. That will continue to be true as long as we’re living in an even vaguely recognizable world, and I certainly am not wishing for the collapse of civilization to bring about the end of mass murder. Nothing we can reasonably do, and certainly nothing I can imagine us actually doing in the US or Western Europe is going to change it: people who really want to will be able to kill and maim dozens of strangers. Guns, bombs, poison. I mean, there haven’t been so many poison attacks, I suppose we’ve been lucky. Er, lucky is the wrong word, but.
I mean, in truth we are lucky: hardly anyone wants to kill large numbers of strangers. Or at least hardly anyone wants to do that in a sustained way that leads to them actually doing it. Which is great! Because really, the only way that we’re going to have fewer of these attacks is to have fewer people want to do them. And it’s perhaps at least somewhat comforting, eventually, to think how few people do kill dozens of strangers, even though they could.
Part of my despair, though, is that I don’t see how we work toward making that number go down from its already low amount, viewed as a percentage of the populace, to an even smaller number so that we wouldn’t have these attacks happening a few times a year. As they didn’t happen a few times a year back in my youth, at least to my memory. Is that a real description of the world that existed, or an artifact of privilege? Is the difference that these murders are real in my life now, and they were not when they took place in Peru or Colombia or Sri Lanka and were not powerfully described in a language I read, in newspapers I read several times a day? I have no idea, and I don’t know that it matters all that much. In my experience, these things didn’t happen very often before, and now they happen every few months, and that experience is the same whether it accurately reflects the universe or not.
And anyway, the point is: how to we keep people from wanting to murder dozens of strangers? And the answer is: I have no idea.
Most political terrorism (and the Manchester Arena bombing certainly appears to have been political terrorism) happens in a context where a group of people that includes the terrorists feels that they are being occupied by a different group of (perceived) outside oppressors. Often that’s a pretty accurate assessment, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s appropriate for the occupying oppressors to, well, stop with the oppressing and occupying, and sometimes that means fewer acts of terror later—tho’ these things are terribly complicated, of course, and I would hesitate to say that there’s anything useful to be repeated from responses to Haganah or the ANC or the Tamil Tigers. Still: most political terrorism is, well, political, and there are at least potentially political responses that might lessen the power of those urging more terror.
It’s possible that there exists, potentially, a political solution to ISIS-influenced terror in Western Europe and North America. I guess? I mean, I can’t rule out the possibility. I don’t have any sense of what such a political response would be. It’s easy to say ’stop bombing’, and of course it should be at least conceivable that we would stop bombing, or at least stop bombing civilians, or at least stop killing quite so many civilians when we do bomb… it’s worth a try, isn’t it? And yet: I think that the kind of occupation that feeds the grievances that influence a person to want to kill large numbers of total strangers in France or England or Belgium or Germany is as much a kind of cultural occupation as a military one. And I can’t see any way for that to stop.
I don’t really want to get used to there being a horrific incident like this one every few months. I don’t think there’s any practical way to prevent there being a horrific incident like this one every few months. It’s at times like this that my motto seems… unpleasantly accurate.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,