possesses a moderate, non-political, positive religious orientation, rather than a twisted, pathologicalzealotry.A fourth common characteristic of the literary terrorist is the extent to which they are motivated by a
desire for personal revenge. For example, following DeMille’s Lion character, Yasmina Khadra’s terror
istin The Sirens of Baghdad is motivated by the desire to avenge shame and violence visited on his familyby Coalition troops. For this, he is willing to die delivering a specially developed biological agent toEurope which will kill millions. The literary terrorist, it seems, can be motivated by religion or revenge,but never political conviction.
Interestingly, a final characteristic sometimes seen in the literary terrorist, including Doris Lessing’s The
Good Terrorist, is the good-hearted but misguided, naïve, simple-minded individual who is easilymanipulated by more villainous individuals. In this depiction, the terrorist is really a kind of victim, andthus, not really a terrorist at all. We can feel human sympathy for this kind of terrorist.The point is, none of these depictions really accord with the academic research on people who joinmilitant or terrorist groups, nor do they accurately reflect existing interviews, auto-biographies andbiographies of terrorists. These two bodies of evidence show instead that terrorists are most oftenintelligent, rational, altruistic, socially integrated, married or in relationships, and motivated byunderstandable political grievances, not unlike the kind of people who join organisations likeGreenpeace or WWF. A realistic depiction of a terrorist therefore might describe someone like NelsonMandela, a man imprisoned for being a terrorist and officially listed as a terrorist by the US governmentuntil a few years ago.The question is: why have novelists failed to do their research in the case of terrorists and instead relied
on unrealistic stereotypes and exaggerations? I mean, it’s not as if novelists couldn’t go to Northern
Ireland and talk to dozens of former terrorists, visit convicted terrorists in prison or even just read a fewauto-biographies. I suspect this failure is a function of the way in which terrorism has been sociallyconstructed as a modern cultural taboo
a taboo which novelists are still unwilling to challenge. A novelI am currently reading
The Bombmaker by Stephen Leather
illustrates my point. Purportedly about a
retired IRA bombmaker who’s daughter is kidnapped in order to force her to make another bomb, the
author cannot bring himself to write about an actual terrorist who might later regr
et what they’ve done
and wish to have a normal life. Instead, it turns out the former bombmaker was working for the British
intelligence services; that is, she was one of the ‘good guys’ all along, therefore we do not need to feel
anxious about sympathizing with her predicament. Unlike ordinary murderers and criminals, novelists, it seems, are not allowed to paint a sympathetic picture of a terrorist or attempt to understand their political motivations or perspectives as fellowhuman beings. There is no equivalent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for terrorists, for example.
Instead, the dominant taboo against terrorism must never be violated and terrorists must always beportrayed as deviant, abnormal, inhuman. They are not allowed to be like us in any way. The problem is,
not only are such stereotypes wrong, they are potentially dangerous. At the very least, giving the ‘Other’a human face, including the terrorist ‘Other’, is a necessary step in learning to deal constructively and
One response to “Lamenting the Literary Terrorist”
WHY DID THE western Powers at a Snails Pace BAN the LTTE Terrorist group and Later were willing to send war ships to and their criminal diplomats of account of so called civilian suffering to save Terrorist in another part of the world???.. Its like the ICC.. It should be the International criminal court for Africa or Non white faces… Because if you have a white face and you spill oceans of Blood then you have protected democracy soc called.. and terrorism only effects Western nations only…DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, WMD, JIHAD , freedom of speech are the most over abused terms in the modern world.. EVERY CRIMINAL ACT IS CONDUCTED UNDER THESE SLOGANS..