Listening to the news about Gaza, Ignatieff’s description of “the process by which nihilism leads to a war without end” comes to mind:
In such a terrorist cult, many praiseworthy moral virtues are inverted, so that they serve not life but death. Terrorist groups typically expropriate the virtues of the young–their courage, their headstrong disregard for consequences, their burning desire to establish their own significance–and use these to create an army of the doomed. In this way, violence becomes a career, a way of life that leads only to death. (131)
His discussion of Conrad’s The Secret Agent leads him to ask
What happens when political violence ceases to be motivated by political ideal and comes to be motivated by the emotional forces that Conrad understood so well: ressentiment and envy, greed and blood lust, violence for its own sake? What happens when counter-terrorism, likewise, ceases to be motivated by principle and comes to be driven by the same complex of emotional drives? (114)
Last night, a news cast explained the extreme violence – people thrown from rooftops, dragged out to be executed before their families – because, the reporter told us, Fatah was associated with America and Israel, Americans and Jews. This is not a reason driven by any political ideal – merely revenge. The nihilism of blood lust is seldom true of many, but is insatiable, he observes. The terrorists, elected and in charge, seem to define themselves by acts of violence that indicate their aggrievement, their “righteousness.”
The bitter winners of these bitter battles don’t even think of themselves as “winners” – in triumph they face the cameras in ski masks. Those ski masks seem to represent the freedom to terrorize, to murder, but a desire for none of the responsibility (and the glory and the power) usually sought by a revolutionary hero. They fear loss of a sense of oppression, for theirs protects them from responsibility and allows them infinite freedom to commit horrific acts.
This is not true of all, as Ignatieff argues, necessitating balancing “purely military responses to terror with a political strategy that redresses the injustices that terrorists exploit.” But, here, what do the winners want? What can the losers give? The perpetrators may think of themselves as the victims, but surely the children they recruit and the man whose brains lie on the pavement below indicate real victims. And the masks remain, perhaps because they sense their justifications might not convince others. If all are victims, then all are filled with resentment; none can give and all must take, none may build and all must destroy.