(After recent events it seems appropriate to take a break from personal finance matters and to consider other things.)
Occasionally I wish I had the talents of Thursday Next, the heroine of Jasper Fforde's Eyre Affair and other books, who could 'read' herself into a work of literature and remain there. One day a couple weeks ago — on 7 July, 2005 — it happened again.
When we're in the hands of a competent author, we can be reasonably sure that good will eventually triumph over evil, but in real life all bets are off. It often amazes me how the actions of a relatively few bad actors can damage the fabric of a society. As many security personnel have observed, the good guys have to get it right 100% of the time; the bad guys have to succeed only once. In the same way, it seems that the decent behaviour of so many can be undone by a single evil act. And we're left angry and bereft, with no clear notion of what to do with our anger.
Dead Men Walking
The terrorists, though, have forgotten an important point: the corrosive effect of hatred upon the soul. No matter how much pain and suffering they inflict on their so-called enemies, they do even more damage to themselves. After the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, a picture circulated on the Web of Osama bin Laden laughing after hearing the two towers had collapsed. There, I thought to myself, is the face of a 'dead man walking', one whose soul had rotted away with the poison of his hatred for the West. It was an appalling image. Whenever I get angry at those who deliberately harm others and worry that my anger may cross some line beyond which I shouldn't go, I remind myself of that picture. The fact that it still horrifies me is reassuring, as it provides ample incentive to step back from that line and return to my better self.
It is all too easy to meet hatred with hatred, and that is the last thing we must do. We need to keep our souls intact if we hope to deal effectively with those who trample the very principles by which they claim to act.
It's Not Jihad
I wish that we could stop referring to the terrorists as 'Jihadists'. The concept of 'jihad' refers to a moral or physical struggle to achieve a particular end, as struggling to live one's life according to precepts of Islam. Jihad is a good thing. In Islam - An Introduction, the author points out:
The word 'jihad' is often translated in the West as 'holy war' but in fact means only 'struggle': it is often applied to the study of mathematics, history and the Qur'an, not just to resisting invasions of one's homeland.
Terrorists have misappropriated the word to attempt to justify the evil that they do. Applying the word 'jihad' to the killing of innocents is propaganda, like referring to genocide as 'ethnic cleansing' or to weapons of mass destruction as 'peacemakers'. Though terrorists claim an odour of sanctity, their behaviour smells of something far different. And whenever Western journalists refer to them as 'jihadists', they inadvertently support the terrorists' world view. We should not do this. Call them what they really are. Mass murderers. Criminals. Dead men walking.
It is one of the ironies of our world that the term 'jihad' can be applied accurately to all of those who struggle to not answer anger with anger, who try meet others — even those who have declared themselves their 'enemies' — with an effort at understanding their motivations. It's almost impossible to respond dispassionately to somebody who's doing his level best to kill you. But we haven't a prayer's chance of coping effectively with the problem of terrorism unless we understand it. On days that I find it impossible, I grit my teeth and tell myself that if I can't behave honourably for the bad actors' sake, I can at least do it, selfishly, for my own. And I remind myself of Osama bin Laden, laughing on 11 September, 2001.
Occasionally I have hope for our world. One reason I haven't been trying to 'read' my way into a good book lately is that my job has kept me busy. Recently I was busy workng a children's pool party at my apartment complex — yeah, tough work, I know — and stopped to watch the goings-on. Nearly half the residents here are from other countries, so we saw children of various races, of various religions, from various cultures having themselves a grand old time playing together. I don't think there was a single squabble the entire afternoon. I like to think these chidren will grow up and remember all their little buddies who didn't look or talk like them, and realise that hatred is a choice, and not a very smart one.