ImageI know that bombers or bomb suspects are not news. Almost every day one reads about yet another suicide bomber who has killed a number of people, including himself. I am not about to try and understand terrorism in 500 words. That would be foolish, arrogant and naive. The three men in the photo are those most recently arrested in Birmingham for allegedly planning a bombing in London that would eclipse the 7/7 event.What shook me was their view that 7/7 ” had gone a bit wrong” because those bombers had not used nails. I found myself shaken by this small detail-more than the bigger picture of a bombing itself, which would have caused enough death and maiming. It is the additional cruelty that shocked me. The idea that additional damage should be done to maximise the effect shook me.

I read the accounts of these men’s conversations and wondered how they became so anti-life. Their inner worlds seemingly dominated by what Freud called the death instinct (thanatos.) Stuart Tremlow in his paper The Relevance of Psychoanalysis to an Understanding of Terrorism has suggested that terrorists may hold ” …an endless resentment about their impossible needs which cannot… be accommodated by the objects of their love or hate.” Perhaps this endlessly unfilled neediness goes someway to explain how the Taliban can shoot a 14 year girl who wants to go to school. The resentment that someone else may have privileges denied to them. More, that it is inconceivable that this girl should receive an education simply as a right when, in fantasy, they are denying themselves all manner of comforts and pleasures. 

Perhaps it is this sense of resentment of others’ privileges-real or perceived- that moved these three men from Birmingham to plan their bombings. And with resentment comes hatred, envy and a wish to destroy in others what one does not have oneself- and by destroying oneself, one ends that neediness. (This self destruction is, of course, the tragedy of any suicide. It says “I am beyond help.You have all failed me. I will provide my own solution. And thereby demonstrate my own omnipotence by meeting the needs you all failed to meet.”)

We do not know very much about these men’s inner lives. We may assume that by adopting an extreme fundamentalism, they were trying to find a  structure and meaning that they had not so far found. We may also assume a deep sense of resentment about their lives as they experienced them. ( To define oneself only as a victim justifies all manner of things thereafter that are inexcusable.One risks becoming the very thing one hates.)

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God is recorded as saying to the Israelites “… I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life that both thou and thy seed may live.” (Deut.31:19) The trouble with choosing life is that it is so messy and uncertain. Unlike Death which is absolute.



2 thoughts on “Terrorism

  1. Sue says:

    Thanks Terry, this is really thought-provoking. As a total amateur in the world of inner worlds, I was wondering as well how much the “belonging” that fundamentalism provides weighs into the equation…if we’re all choosing death, and bigging each other up for it, and finding nastier and more definite ways of making our death the death of many others, maybe that sense of resentment you write about gets paler, and we can pretend that we are privileged instead? And I must confess there have been a few times when the easy absolutism of death has felt very appealing – it’s the reality of the damage you leave behind that stays one’s hand in moments like that, and I guess if you have constructued a powerful alternative reality of fundamentalist war, it’s this very reality, or a version of it, that drives one forwards. Solid, ordinary, small things – so often the salvation of one’s sanity (as I seem to recall you blogging already!)


    • You do realise,Sue, that you are fast becoming my target audience! I now blog or tweet and measure their worth by your feedback! ( Maybe you should get a job with MORI!) Thinking about fundamentalism and belonging, I remember how some of us treated the livestock in HCF. I wouldn’t dram of treating Boris like it these days, but then it seemed the Right Thing. And anyone who disagreed was, by definition, Wrong. That’s the security I worry about in all versions of Fundamentalism. It serves to confirm my way and denigrate anyone else’s. I think that’s what allowed the Spanish Inquisition, Salem, Gulags etc. And great until the cracks appear. So one becomes more zealous to deny the cracks. Scary. The absolutism of death seems to fit the same psychological template. One becomes the Living Dead- psychologically and emotionally. And leaves a wake of destruction behind that’s just as dreadful a suicide’s aftermath. But it is tidy at the time!! On a cheerful note, how are you? Busy being busy, I assume.Shame I’m not of an age or category to be taught by you. I could enjoy being one if your pupils. My science skills might be far more accomplished than they are. Hey! Ho! Another lifetime! Love to all Terry xx

      Sent from my iPad


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