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The road to hell is paved with rapid reactions

In the wake of a vicious crime, caution and restraint are a virtue.

Once upon a time, in the realm of Xanadu, two and a half dim-witted but well-armed, well-funded and well-trained professional criminals committed cold-blooded murder, commando-style. While committing their crime, they uttered two sentences vocally and publically, following their script to a T.

First they cried/lied: “Allah o Akbar.” Obviously, anyone who takes the sacred life of another human being either does not believe in God, or tries to be God himself, in which case he is a lunatic. But the citizens of Xanadu took their words literally and engaged in virulent debates with each other on religion: whether Islam was inherently violent, Muslims innately intolerant, whether they should live their religion or be amalgamated in western societies. Freedom of religion and belief took a first hit when the criminal terrorists rhymed their lie to the sound of automatic rifle.

The second sentence they uttered, again publically and caught on tape, was: “We avenged the prophet”. Their second lie about their motivation threw the citizens of Xanadu into a parallel hysterical debate that had been brewing for a while. Half of Xanaduians changed their names to Charlie and berated the non-Charlies for siding with terrorists. While the former equated the murders with an assault on the freedom of speech, the latter regretted the abuse of this freedom for offence, bullying, ridicule and outright racism, without justifying the murders. But by now, the condemnation that had seemed like a bad joke a decade ago, “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”, had been given a second wind.

As the populace debated, the terrorists were found and taken out, almost live on TV, by the special forces of Xanadu in an efficient operation that restored faith in the capacity of the state to at least protect. But not before they gave interviews to a TV station during which they propagated their disinformation to a nation frantic for any quick-fix spotlight on their motivations.

Almost immediately afterwards, millions of people marched in the streets of Xanadu with their pens in the air. Dozens of world leaders did not miss the chance to appear in the front row - some in solidarity, some in guilt, and some in opportunity. The republican march made a lot of people aggrieved or jealous, including on behalf of victims of massive attacks that same week in Nigeria and Yemen. But everyone knows that Xanadu is better served by airlines than Kabul and Karachi, Sanaa and Maiduguri, for god’s sake. 

The reactive debates, my friends, not only puffed up the nerves and boiled the bloods in all camps, they were also the beginning of a long descent into hell for the realm of Xanadu and beyond. The Xanaduians became hardened in their views, talked about revenge and hated more and more. In the next elections, the frightening far-right people came near to winning or even did so. Others became (more) radicalised in their narrow views and actions. The government spent more of that much needed money on fighting the new slick Realm of War, somewhere in the Middle East or in cyberspace, an entity with its stylised logo, uniforms, doctrine, army and harem. At home, police rule was reinforced, civil liberties were curtailed, the internet and the streets patrolled more and more. The once splendid and opulent Xanadu gradually turned into intellectual and cultural ruins.

Thus, my friends, was how the perpetual wars, perpetual revenge and perpetual hatred became sustained for a good new decade. The terrorist criminals rotted under the earth but those who had funded, trained and armed them laughed quite a lot and high-fived each other. They had gained a lot of bang for their bucks. Everyone had behaved exactly as they were supposed to, as per the original script.

This is a sad tale of people caught in a cycle of provocations, actions and reactions as if on cue, and who, willing or unwillingly, take humanity down the road of hell when they so eagerly jump into divisive discourses, accusations, counter-accusations and hate speech. Needless to say, the alternative is not to love and forgive the murderers (Duh!). But we don’t really have to use a terror act as an excuse to throw up all our discomforts about coexistence, tolerance, and difference. It is that reaction that terrorists expect from us, that politicians take advantage of, and that binds us in further cycles of mistrust, confusion and ultimately hatred.  

If we are to look for the "why", we need to be ready to go much deeper than some cartoons and further in history than yesterday. But we are not ready and, most importantly, this is not the time. Cold-blooded, politically motivated murder and terror? We should cry, and leave it at that for now, in the heat of things. For it is that assertion that unites most people in Xanadu and beyond. 

About the author

Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh directs a programme on human security at the masters of public affairs at Sciences-Po, Paris, and is a research associate at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO). She is co-author (with Anuradha Chenoy) of Human Security: Concepts and Implications (Routledge 2008), and editor of Rethinking the Liberal Peace: External Models and Local Alternatives (Routledge, 2011)

 


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