Why We Did It : Thoughts on A Terrorist Manifesto (i)

The following are questions Louise Norlie and I asked ourselves after the completion of our short fiction Why I Did It, A Terrorist Manifesto. In part, we want to clarify our position on the subject of terror, terrorism, and violence. Our questions and answers are responses to unpublished comments accusing us of being hate-filled and ignorant about politics and religion, among other things. Granted, neither of us are political professionals or deeply versed in theology. The main reason these comments went unpublished is that none commented on the fiction itself, they were mere attacks on Louise and I as people. If they mentioned the story at all, they had a chance of being seen on this site; however, because they were only interested in our limitations as people, not as writers, they have been sent to the “delete permanently” Hell of the blogosphere.

All we set out to do was tell a story. Strong responses mean that we wrote something powerful.

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Although titled "Why I Did It," there is relatively little description of what this character actually did; why?

Charm: The short answer is that the title is WHY, not WHAT. Although in one of the poem sections we hint at some of WHAT he did. I think that the decision to elide any kind of in depth description of his terrorist acts is in opposition to the standard writing mantra “show don’t tell.” This is a manifesto, after all. What the aim was, was to elucidate the events and reasoning behind why a person might feel driven to commit mass murder in the form of terror and not necessarily articulate those events themselves. If we want to see terror, we need only turn on any major news broadcast and wait about five minutes

L.N.: The character himself takes little interest in the unfolding of the acts themselves. Furthermore, descriptions of terrorism don’t live up to images of terrorism.

Why was so much time taken to construct this character’s biography; i.e. his childhood and parents, his early school experience, relationships, etc.?

L.N.: This part of the narrative is meant to be unsettling although not conclusive in understanding the character. He chooses to explain what he wants to remember, perhaps partly from a need to rationalize his decisions. It’s up to the reader to decide to what degree these experiences would compel such a terrorist’s actions. Certainly, many people have had similar bad experiences and did not become terrorists.

Charm: The character’s background is essential. It is lengthy because a history is being established: a history of disaster, failure, and torment. This history eventually leads up to the point when the character decides to break with his own history and become a terrorist. Breaking with history is catalysed by the event of his parent’s death; in general, it is necessary to break with one’s own history in order to change — it is also a supremely difficult thing to do. Not only is “history an erogenous zone,” it is one that structures the mass of one’s symbolic order. However, it is also evident that however much history determines, the truly human subject can choose precisely what he or she will allow history to determine.

Do you consider this character’s actions to be heroic? Cowardly?

Charm: I think that when we first started to write this story I had the idea that this character would be some kind of hero … Now, however, he seems less heroic and more nihilistically tragic. Not only is he doomed to desire evil, he is under compulsion to commit evil – while at the same time being the victim of incredible evil. His imprisonment is the triumph of evil over evil! The term “anti-heroic” seems too melodramatic and cliché to apply to a character like this; I mean, let’s face it: he is killing people for the sake of revenge and the little amount of satisfaction it affords him. I don’t necessarily consider his actions cowardly either though — it takes an extreme amount of effort and will to be able to pull off acts of terror like the ones he commits (and the ones that are committed by actual terrorists for that matter) — if they are anything, they are misguided but they are not cowards.

L.N.: Neither heroic or cowardly. Where heroism is concerned, he doesn’t fight for any cause — although he is aware of all the external motivations for terrorism — and the narrative doesn’t show whether his actions served an unintended cause. Even his puritanical aspects… “I do not drink or do drugs” … lack a sense of sacrifice. He is doomed to desire evil, but at the same time, he believes he chose it freely. He “does not want to be different”.

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