Tag Archives: religion

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

The character, although not a religious terrorist per se, has a healthy respect / reverence for religion; however, the reasons he gives for perpetrating acts of terror are decidedly anti-religious and apolitical. Does this put him more in the category of other terrorists like the UNABOMBER? A “lone-wolf” terrorist so to speak?

Charm: Our character seemingly differentiates himself from such terrorists with the intellectual apparatus he uses to explain his actions. He is surely a lone-wolf terrorist, he himself admits to being such. However, he does acknowledge that he has “partners” right from the beginning too: those who are “in spirit” in support of his cause. Also, later on in the story, he acknowledges as his “brothers and sisters” those who are victims of the crimes of society: individuals, through no intention or fault of their own, are injured and failed by the system’s “winners.”

His interest in religion is, I would say, more of an escape from reality than anything. He is consoled by the service at mosque and by the fantastic possibility of an afterlife, even if he believes such a thing does not exist.

L.N.: But considering his respectful interest in religion, he confounds an easy classification. He acts alone, but likes to think that he is supported by others, albeit distantly. He also lacks the egotistical delusions that characterize most other lone wolves, unless his reference to those with him “in spirit” is seen as a delusion.

Is there meant to be a connection between the state-sponsored violence described by the character and the violence he personally experiences in his childhood?

Charm: There is a “trickle down” effect of violence, in that the state exercises violence upon the general population and this translates into classroom / schoolyard violence. The “bullies” and the “teachers” are both empowered in a sense that gives them a kind of “right” to use violence, even if this right is a fabrication concocted by its creators to excuse their own (mis)behavior. Violence experienced as a child is translated into the subtle, bureaucratic violence experienced as an adult. By “subtle” I mean the kind of violence we see done to victims of bad social policy, people who wait in line for years for affordable housing, individuals who are chronically “hardcore unemployable,” etc. Even though it is not anyone’s “responsibility” to care for such people, the state that ignores these problems or that delegates them to an endless chain of bureaucracy commits a slow violence, almost like torture.

7. Is the character doing “the wrong thing, for the right reason.”?

Charm: I do feel that there is some positivity in the act of terror if not its consequences. The positivity being simply a proof that rage is not dead. Although it is difficult to say what “the right thing” is, random terror solves nothing: it merely adds to the already disastrous heap of negativity. However, the narrator is not interested in social change, so his actions are not limited to the categories of “right” and “wrong.”

L.N.: His reasons are mixed; his personal sense of rage and his personal history of violation aren’t “right reasons” to murder innocent people. Because random terrorism only causes the state to exercise additional violence on the population in the form of controlling and intrusive security measures, his actions are counterproductive.

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

The character is named “Dupin,” presumably after Poe’s famous detective. The narrator mentions several authors and genres of literature he is interested in and has read. What, if any, were the major influences on you while writing this piece?

Charm: Certainly Marx’s Communist Manifesto, of which the title is a play on though the story has little or no resemblance to Marx’s work. Michel Houellebecq’s Platform was also in my mind while writing it. Kenzaburo Oe’s Seventeen and Slovoj Zizek’s Violence were also very important inspirational pieces. The mention of true crime novels is purely an invention on part of the character; I’ve never actually read one of these novels.

L.N.: Zizek’s Violence was key for me, although no theory from it was directly applied here. Dostoevsky was also in the back of my mind. After all, Smerdyakov (from Brothers Karamazov) can be seen as a terrorist. Smerdyakov’s childhood contains violent episodes and rejection. Smerdyakov also manages to get away with murder. The question of why he did it is the most fascinating aspect of the novel.

The character’s relationship with his mother is frequently mentioned in his childhood memories. Is she meant to be sympathetic or hostile to him?

L.N.: Neither one trusts the other on some level. He does not comprehend how she seems to have two sides. If she notices that he is having problems, she does not pursue them, or he wants to believe that she does not. Similarly, in his adulthood, he has mixed sympathy and contempt for abused women.

Charm: The relationship between the narrator and his mother, though I don’t think we intended it to “mean” anything more than what it is, is certainly two-sided. However, if we reflect on the relationship on the mother-child relationship in general and look at some of the general trends of our times, I do think that our narrator’s relationship with his mother is somewhat typical. Since the so-called sexual revolution, the Freudian dynamic between mother and child has changed. The mother’s role, according to Freud was not only to provide sustenance (the breast petit objet a) but also to provide love. Mothers still probably provide the same amount and quality of “love” to the child, but the state of subjectivity has passed from “I am hungry” (one of Freud’s subjective necessities) to “I am afraid” [this line of reasoning taken from Zizek’s Living at the End Times]. So: although the narrator does love his mother – and father, for that matter – he is equally afraid of them, their actions, their attitude toward him, the uncertainty regarding them. To take it one step further, today, we are not really afraid of losing our lives – we are more afraid of losing our livelihood, that is, the means to sate our hunger.

Also, as LN mentions, in his adulthood the character’s attitude toward women is ambiguous. On the one hand, he desires them; on the other, he conjectures that their desire is based on wanting men who are seemingly the opposite of his own person. This opposition is only on the surface because although he is neither cowardly or brutal, he intentionally commits acts of violence against large groups of people. This kind of violence is not a display of “power” per se, the kind of power brute physical force that might attract a woman. It is of a radically different order: the power to destroy without any hesitation, to kill indiscriminately without any remorse (even genocides single out a target, “kill only these, not these”).

Does your story imply, in part, that people become terrorists based on bad experiences in their lives, rather than simply for ideological reasons?

L.N. The “aesthetic of terror” does attract the so-called “disaffected,” but to oppose “ideological” with “personal” reasons is inadequate. As Zizek writes in In Living in the End Times, there may not really be pure, non-ideological reasons to begin with.

Charm: Certainly one’s life experiences affect the way one attains being in the world. However, as LN mentioned before, not everyone with similar experiences to, let’s say, our narrator, will turn out to be a terrorist. Here is where the ideological dimension intervenes, along with a purely personal application of individual will. Even if one’s ideology inclines one to terror, this does not necessarily mean one will commit acts of terror. In a sense, terror is about willing ideology as opposed to mere praxis; it takes a tremendous amount of energy to plan and execute any kind of major terrorist act.

Why I Did It, A Terrorist Manifesto (part 9)

[This is a fiction I co-authored with Louise Norlie. I will be publishing the story in serial installments, every Monday for the next little while. Stay tuned.]

The first time I went to mosque opened my eyes. I decided to attend the fajr prayer because I reasoned that there would be fewer people there and whoever was there would be devout. The imam and congregation greeted me with polite indifference, and tolerated my presence for salat.

I forget the name of the imam and the few members of the congregation who introduced themselves to me. I remember the prayers being conducted in Arabic, the voices obediently chanting in rapt concentration. There was something soothing about this: the musical flow of a speech I could not understand did not humiliate or hurt me. It simply washed over me through my ears and I felt empty and silent when it ended. As I bowed my head to the ground I turned to watch the others out of the corners of my eyes. No one was watching me. It was as if I was alone, though among many.

After that, I would attend mosque at dawn infrequently and try to be incognito, just nodding a greeting to faces that became familiar. Now that I come to think of it, I have never assaulted a religious institution. But if I attributed my actions to a God or higher cause, I would be no different from the system that turned me into this, or the “radicals” seemingly opposed to such a system. And, just because I say, “the system that turned me into this,” this does not mean I attributed my creation to the system: there was a dialectics of hatred, deeper than any bond of love, between us.

I had no political agenda. I had no illusions about what I was doing, although I can honestly say it brought no joy. For me, joy was snuffed very early. So long I cannot even remember what the word “happiness” feels like.

I turned to terror for the sake of terror. To hurt whomever I could for the sake of hurting them the way I was hurt over and over again, without reason, without remorse, and without hesitation. I did what I did because I hated, and as long as I am alive my hatred will be alive. No god used me or spoke through me, no “higher cause” prompted me to “put things right.”

Why I Did It, A Terrorist Manifesto (part 8)

[This is a fiction I co-authored with Louise Norlie. I will be publishing the story in serial installments, every Monday for the next little while. Stay tuned.]

My parents left me everything and they were insured, so I got the maximum amount for “accidental death.” I still have not run out of money and could, theoretically, live comfortably even after all I have spent on ammunition, explosives, and weaponry.

One day I went to the library and pulled down a vast religious text. I propped it upright on the table and read for hours. Anyone walking by would notice that I was openly and proudly reading it. They probably thought I was studying it to understand the mindset of the 9/11 terrorists, but it was quite the opposite. I found myself drawn to the spirituality and philosophy of Islam. My foray into religion was prompted by an interest in the afterlife – not that I believed there was one. But to me religious terrorism was the ultimate rebellion and transgression; coming from my background, I was by no means expected to assume and embrace the aesthetic of a religious “terrorist.”

I started watching the news for information about so-called extremists, rallying against the excess and decadence of “the West.” I grew a beard and wore different clothes.

No one spoke to me now. A few Muslim students approached me one day with looks of earnest approval on their faces. They believed I was truly one of them. But I was not. I told them so in definite terms. They thought I was making a mockery of their faith. But I was not an actor. In fact, everything had become very real for me.

I dropped out of university soon after.