I kept flicking the remote, but the pictures were just the same: the mangled red double-decker bus; people dazed or bandaged; faces smudged with black smoke; ambulances wailing and flashing; reporters badgering beleaguered officials; solemn commentators decrying the acts of terror. Like everyone else, I suppose, I was looking for an Explanation.
But I couldn’t turn off the TV, even after watching the same trauma team push the same gurney down the same street time and time again, or glimpsing over and over the nurse inside the ambulance pound on the chest of a draped body. I watched for several hours. I was glued to the tube. Maybe I was waiting for more explosions, more chaos, more terrified people.
The only person (other than the resourceful survivors and their unflappable rescuers) who seemed to rise to the occasion was Tony Blair. He was genuinely rattled, but he was still up to the task, acting the way we want our leaders to act. You really believe he means what he says, and that his words express genuine thought and feeling. Blair is quite unlike a particular pinhead leader we are all familiar with, who talks as though his words are broken appliances he’s trying to unload at a garage sale.
Once again, our commander in chief, the so-called leader of the free world, George W. Bush, showed that he was not up to it. As Blair spoke, there behind him was Bush chewing on the inside of his lip, his beady eyes darting this way and that the way they did when he was informed in the school room that planes had flown into the World Trade Center.
Later, Bush puffs up his chest and struts up to the microphone to mumble something about the war on terror and protecting “our folks.” As usual, we hold our breath: will he be able to make it to the end of a sentence? Will he be able to formulate a thought that is at least partially intelligible? As usual, he looks like all he wants to do is put on his spandex shorts and get on his bicycle and go for a ride, and maybe later run into another policeman.
After the initial shock and surprise, the television commentators fall into a familiar pattern. They begin to mouth the obligatory bromide about life going on, as if life had any other choice. (Of course, it should be pointed out that life does not go on for those killed by terrorist bombs'a minor point, perhaps, but worth mentioning.) The commentators harrumph about not giving in to the terrorists, and not changing how we live because of terrorist acts. The problem is, we have changed the way we live. Has anyone taken an airplane trip in the last couple of years or so? I don’t know about you, but I don’t take my shoes off at the airport to air my dogs.
In the same breath that they declare how important it is not to let terrorism change the way we live, the pundits bemoan the loss of normal life, implicitly admitting the that terrorism has indeed changed the way we live. Of course, bemoaning the loss of normal life takes for granted that such a thing as normal life ever existed. By normal they mean life that is nice and safe, but the history of our species is neither nice nor safe. Terrorism, unfortunately, has always been with us in some form, usually sanctified by some kind of religious faith, or religious faith dressed up as political ideology.
The way to deal with acts of terror might be to reframe them. We could look at acts of terror as though they are acts of nature'or what they used to call acts of God, which some people thought was being unfair to God. What acts of terror share with natural disasters is sudden and inexplicable death. We hominids have lived with natural disasters ever since Adam. Flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, tsunami'these acts of nature de-people the earth with appalling frequency. You probably are more likely to exit life through an act of natural disaster than human-made terror.
The best way to deal with terrorism would be to somehow free ourselves from that infantile superstition called religion. There would be no Islamic terrorists, for instance, if there were no Islam. But that’s about as likely as Bicycle Bush constructing a grammatical sentence or even awakening from his persistent vegetative state.