“I tried not to jump to conclusions. I remembered Oklahoma – those few hours (or was it days?) during which people thought that the blasted government buildings, its child-care centre littered with tiny corpses, was a Muslim crime scene.”
Those are the opening words of an essay reflecting on 9/11 that I wrote for the next issue of The Griffith Review. I received my preview copy on Monday, at a time when the world was more than usually preoccupied with both 9/11 and Oklahoma, as we groped for ways to understand the tragedy in Norway. I did not jump to conclusions over the weekend, either. I considered – of course I considered, just as I considered on 9/11 – the possibility, even the likelihood – that the terrorists were Muslim. I do not feel triumphant on the occasions when it turns out not to be so.
Keith Windschuttle, whose writing was quoted with approval in the gunman’s manifesto, writes in today’s Australian that he has been reflecting on whether he or Quadrant bears any responsibility for the actions of the man who claims to have been inspired by his words. At least Windschuttle paused (however briefly) for reflection, which is more than can be said for Melanie Phillips, who lost not time before lashing back at the suggestion of culpability, accusing the Left of “wetting itself in delirium at this apparently heaven-sent opportunity to take down those who would fight for life, liberty and western civilisation against those who would destroy it.”
Windschuttle’s reflections lead him to the same conclusion as Phillips. Not only does he bear no responsibility, but those (including Guy Rundle in Crikey) who think otherwise have “resort[ed] to the lowest of tactics to shut down debate they do not like and to kill off arguments they cannot refute by any other means.”
And Andrew Bolt, too, singles out Rundle and “far-left gossip site Crikey” in an article accusing “Leftist polemicists” of “cackling”, “gloating”, and “glee” over the corpses of slaughtered teenagers.
I had never really felt the full meaning of the phrase “beneath contempt” until the last week. But now — now I understand. Those words, and others like them, are not even worthy of contempt.
I spent a sleepless night trying to process my own reaction to the news from Oslo before writing my piece on Monday. As I said, I wait to learn the identity of the perpetrators of terrorist slaughter. I brace myself for the backlash if I should hear a Muslim name.
But I do not breathe easy — let alone cackle, or gloat, or wet myself with glee — when I learn that this time, there is no trigger for backlash. The aftermath of the attacks in Norway is as complex, as fraught, as difficult, as the aftermath to 9/11, to the bombings in Bali, to 7/7 or any of the other horrors of the past decade. Andrew Bolt may not believe it, but the attacks in Norway fit most conventional definitions of terrorism. And I, along with my loved ones, Muslim and non-Muslim, are numbered among those who are intended to feel terrified.
Rage is an effective emotion for allaying the sensation of terror. And Bolt is doing his best to provide us with the anecdote of rage, with his rants about how “a true Christian does not live out his faith by shooting dozens of young people on an island”, while a true Muslim – well, a true Muslim endorses the murder of innocents.
Never mind the Muslims — including me and many, many others at far greater risk — who have spent the past decade and more saying that a true Muslim does not live out his (or her) faith through murder.
I do not wish to allay my terror with the balm of either physical or rhetorical rage, even when an incitement to rage is presented to me on a silver platter. Scorn — I will allow myself scorn. Even for those who are beneath contempt, unworthy of scorn.
And I will not flinch from the moral responsibilities of belonging to the same religious affiliation claimed by those who commit terror. I considered other possible perpetrators for 9/11, and for the bombing in Oslo — as Bolt and others should have done, and did not.
The impact of 9/11 drove me to take the first possible flight to Pakistan — not to join a military jihad, but to try to orient myself after the shift in the geo-political landscape. The past week has seen another shift in the landscape, and I am yet to orient myself. Traveling to Norway is unlikely to provide me with a map.
But there are brave, strong voices emerging from Norway that provide pilot lights. Stories from those who were prepared to risk their lives to coax terrified children to safety. And voices from those who refuse to succumb to terror or to rage. Who are determined to stay true to the values that the gunman sought to obliterate.
“Pilot light” is too weak a metaphor to describe those voices. They are a beacon.