July 11, 2005

Reading the Guardian in a dangerous world

My boyfriend is a Guardian junkie. Reading it is the first thing he does in the morning and the last thing he does before going to bed (well, actually smoking is the last thing he does, right after reading the Guardian), as well as several times throughout the day. Not having an Internet connection this week has sent him into withdrawls made all the more painful with the bombings in London. It meant he was stuck watching, God forbid!, NBC and PBS. And as he watched Tony Blair give one of his weakest speeches to date, he expressed nothing but contempt. "If we weren't in Iraq, we wouldn't be in this mess."

Though originally from Manchester, he lived much of his adult life in London working as a journalist. He, like his fellow Brits, is used to terrorism. The IRA destroyed the city center of his hometown in 1996, as well as set off a huge bomb in Canary Wharf, knocking my boyfriend from his couch where he lived a half a mile away. As he's shared memories about IRA attacks, he's shrugged and said that you just learn to live with it.

Yes, these latest attacks in London represented the single greatest loss of life since World War II. And unlike the IRA, these terrorists did not give any warning ahead of time of their impending attack. They were horrible, no question about it. But are they any different than what the people of Iraq have been living with, day in and day out for over two years now? I cannot justify the actions of those who carried out these bombings -- they are heinous, to be sure. But I can't help but think of what my boyfriend shared with me about the reaction that he and a lot of his friends in Britain felt about September 11th. While they felt sad for the horrific loss of life, they also couldn't help but feel that now Americans knew what the rest of the world has been living with all along.

Brits returning to work the day after the attacks had nothing to do with their "stiff upper lip," but about living life they way they always have. Like much of the world has. Without color-coded terror warnings or shoeless lines at airport security.

And, of course, everytime there is a terrorist attack, our first response is to blame "Islamic fundamentalism." Yet, perhaps our penchant for blaming Muslims has as much to do with our own guilt as it does with those who carried out the attacks. A defensiveness arising from knowing that our actions towards Muslims over the centuries has quite often lacked Christian charity. I cannot say that Muslims are the "good guys" and us the bad, but frankly, it's not for me to look at the speck in my Muslim brother's eye without examining the plank in mine.

So, now I've developed my own habit of a daily Guardian reading. And the other day they published an excellent op/ed piece by Karen Armstrong, an academic who has managed to write about religion for a mass audience, including Islam. Her argument was that we never called IRA terrorism "Catholic" terrorism, so why do we call it "Islamic" terrorism when Osama Bin Laden strikes? While many ask "why would someone do this?" and Blair blathers on about them attacking "our way of life" (whatever that is), Armstrong explains deftly that violent fundamentalism has very little to do with relgion and very much to do with nationalism and oppression.

My Internet connection is still not working, though I've managed to pick up some tenuous hotspots here in my apartment. Or we've just taken the laptop to the coffee shop down the street. Where, of course, we've read the Guardian, knowing that the world is a dangerous place but living in it all the same.