“From the H-Bomb to the Human Bomb”

When the naive, the falsely naive, and the downright evil blur categories in support of their ideological prejudices and christen the killer of innocents a “resistance fighter,” more lucid minds disclose a different landscape. Consider an editorial published in a Lebanese paper on August 20, 2003, the day after a bomb-laden cement truck destroyed the United Nations’ center of operations in Baghdad: “Yesterday’s operation against the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations exemplifies this mentality of destruction. Expel all mediators. Banish every international organization. Let things collapse. Let electricity and water be cut off, and the pumping of oil cease. Let theft prevail. Let universities and schools close. Let businesses fail. Let civic life cease. And at the end of the day the occupation will fail. ‘No!’ protests Joseph Samara, ‘at the end of the road, there will be a catastrophe for Iraq. . . . The attack against the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad belongs to another world: it is a form of nihilism, of absurdity, and of chaos hiding behind fallacious slogans, which proves the convergence among those responsible for this action, their intellectual limitation and their criminal behavior.’ ”

We have entered another world. The threat of a new Ground Zero, small or great, advances behind a mask. The human bomb claims the power to strike anywhere, by any means, at any time, spreading his nocturnal threat over the globe, invisible and thus unpredictable, clandestine and thus untraceable. The terrorist without borders makes us think about him always, everywhere. Without an accidental delay on the tracks–just a few minutes–the pulverization of two trains in Madrid, at the Atocha station, would have claimed 10,000 victims, three times more than in Manhattan. Then there was London. Whose turn is next? Each of us waits for the next explosion.

The business of terrorists, after all, is to terrorize–so said Lenin, an uncontested master in the field. The ultimate refinement lies in the inversion of responsibility. Operating instructions: I take hostages, I cut off their heads, I show them on video; those who beg for mercy must address themselves to their governments, who alone are to blame for my crimes: my hubris is their problem. The less the terrorist’s restraint, the more he causes fear and the sooner you will yield in tears, or so he believes.

Recall the cries of hostage Nick Berg, agonizing as his torturers persisted laboriously over his bent body. “You know, when we behead someone, we enjoy it,” one of them informs us. “We did not kidnap to frighten those we hold,” another corrects him, “but to put pressure on the countries that help or might help the Americans. . . . It is not a good thing to decapitate, but it is a method that works. In a fight, Americans tremble. . . . Besides, I tried to negotiate an exchange of prisoners for Nick Berg. It was the Americans who refused. They are the ones truly responsible for his death.” Terrorist hubris bases its arguments on uncontrollable drives: I can’t help myself–give up! A similar strategy shows up on playgrounds: Stop me or I’ll do something terrible! The terrorist refines this rationale; he draws out his pleasure, prolongs death, cuts the throat slowly, goes beyond physical torture.

From the H-Bomb to the Human Bomb,” by André Glucksmann, City Journal, Autumn 2007