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We MUST ignore the pleas to 'stop talking about terrorism'


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It says something about modern life, and that thing cannot be pleasant: we have developed an entire lexicon, a thesaurus of sorts, of stock-responses to what we are obliged to call ‘acts of terrorism’ (or ‘acts of God’, to use the ‘terrorist’’ vernacular.) And it is now possible to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the order in which these responses will be delivered.

First, people begin marking themselves as ‘safe’ on Facebook. They do so with little regard for geography - I’m sorry to know someone who felt the need to declare himself ‘safe’ during the attack on Westminster from his residence in Edinburgh. And they continue to do this until the end of the day, regardless of the time of the attack. The general response, immediately after the event, is expressed in the language of ‘emoji’; sad and shocked faces abound, with a scattering of happy and laughing faces on the Facebook feeds of Al Jazeera.

Politicians and the security services will say that they know exactly what’s going on, but that they do not know enough to comment. The Prime Minister will be whisked away, and we’ll be told that she’s been swallowed up by COBRA. Later, once the dust has settled and the ambulances have gone back from whence they came, speeches will be given.

We have, it will be said, been subjected to a wicked and evil thing. But it will not divide us. Tomorrow we will go about our usual business, unbowed and unafraid; therefore the attacker, who seems always to want to sew division and discord, has failed. We are, it is said, a decent and tolerant and enlightened people; there will be no divisions, no violence, no reprisals of any sort. Once again, we are happy and good and nothing will change the fact, least of all that. We’re united. We’re together. Got it yet? United. Doth the lady not protest…

If the attack takes place in London, we can expect the present mayor to remind us how wonderfully diverse the city is. Diverse and yet tolerant, welcoming and accepting of everyone (who can afford to live there). And we can be sure - more sure than we can be that Ken Livingstone will mention Hitler, even - that we will also be reminded that he is the ‘Muslim Son Of A Bus Driver’.

This might seem odd, coming as it does from one of the ‘hate has no religion’ school of people whose slogans are inverted and one word too long. Why, if religion has nothing to do with it, is his religion relevant? But Mr. Khan is exculpated because we have all heard him say ‘Muslim Son Of A Bus Driver’ many times before, and seldom in a context in which it is relevant.

Newspapers and ‘news’ outlets, like The Guardian, the Independent, Huffington Post and the Canary, will begin sharing what Douglas Murray, of The Spectator, calls ‘Muslim Good News Stories’. Blood donations, feeding the homeless, and the type of eager-reluctant denunciation reserved for people who have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. Seldom is it noted, save by the author already mentioned, that many, if not most, of these ‘Muslim Good News Stories’ feature devotees of the Ahmadiyya sect; a sect with good reason to seek comradeship with us since they get so little of it from their coreligionists.

And then, in what I think is a recent addition to the list, we hear a peculiar thing. In order for us to go about our business as normal, and behave as we always do, we must stop talking about it. All of it. Just don’t mention it. That, after all, is what we normally do. Were it not for those pesky newsmen, with their rolling coverage and penchant for sensationalism, we might be able to carry on reminding ourselves how wonderful and tolerant and beautiful our society is, and how nothing can possibly break or divide us. You know -- endless platitudes. Like we normally do. Every day.

Simon Jenkins, one of those rare people who can write for both The Guardian and the Evening Standard without anyone noticing (let alone spotting a contradiction), received some considerable praise when, that Wednesday evening, he appeared on television and told the offensively inoffensive Evan Davis that Newsnight had ‘sided with terrorists’. Newsnight had, after all, invited Mr. Jenkins on in order to discuss the day’s events, which is just what terrorists would do and want to happen.

Never mind that Jenkins himself was here victim of the First Rule paradox, whereby one must talk about Fight Club to enjoin others not to talk about Fight Club (thereby, and by his own argument, enlisting himself with the terrorists and giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘banality of evil’); Newsnight, and the news media more broadly, had devoted far too much time to the attack and was due a remedial course of not talking about it.

I hope, by now, that you realise the absurdity of this position. Those who claim that we will all move on and behave properly, decently and naturally seem to have confused stoicism with denial. There is nothing about the injunction ‘go about your business’ which requires us to pretend that nothing has happened, and there is nothing about reporting on terrorist attacks that involves us in supporting said attacks. The people on UA Flight 97 wanted to fly on 9/11, the bin Ladenists also wanted to fly on 9/11, yet no sensible person would accuse the innocent passengers, let alone the concept of aviation or the Gregorian Calendar or time itself, of ‘siding with terrorists’.

It is similar to Orwell’s observation, that ‘the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.’ Those who would have us not talk about it have spent, and are spending, some considerable time talking about it themselves.

Those of us, on the other hand, who wish to cultivate what Orwell called a ‘power of facing unpleasant facts’, and live by his commitment to ‘call things by their proper names’, should steadfastly refuse to cooperate.

(Indeed, we might have a conversation about our use of the word ‘terrorist’, which seems to me to be large and unwieldy and inadequate, as many Reaganite phrases and slogans are. It is only marginally more useful than the ludicrously Bushy suggestion that it is possible to declare war on an abstract noun - Terror - and fight militarily the consequences of fighting militarily.)

People, like Mr. Jenkins, are allowed to live by their beliefs. They can choose to say nothing. I think we might even profit from their silence. But they should have the courage to admit that theirs is self-censorship, the decency not to impose it upon us, and the moral intellect to recognise that acknowledging facts and speaking freely of consequences is in no way supportive of ‘terrorists’.

In their ideal world, we’d all be dead. And, I rather suspect, not talking about it.

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