A suicide bomber inflicts hell at a concert hall in Manchester, England that’s full of children, as though that was the point — to murder children.
The horror of war . . . well, terrorism . . . doesn’t get any worse.
And the media, as they focus on the spectacle of what happened, as they cover the particulars of the tragedy — the suspect’s name and ethnicity and apparent grievances, the anguish of the survivors, the names and ages of the victims — quietly tear the incident loose from most of its complexity and most of its context.
Yes, this was an act of terror. That piece of the puzzle is, of course, under intense scrutiny. The killer, Salman Abedi, age 22, was born in England to parents of Libyan descent and had recently traveled to Libya (where his parents now live) and Syria, where he may have been “radicalized.” He likely didn’t act alone.
ISIS has claimed credit.
And that’s as deeply contextual as most of the coverage is going to get, until the story disappears from the news — and eventually some other act of terror or loner-horror occurs and consumes media attention for a while. To my ongoing perplexity and despair, what is never part of the story is the concept of karma: what goes around comes around. A culture of violence isn’t the creation of a few lost, “radicalized” souls, nor is it simply the doing of the current “enemy.” Violence is part of our social foundation. It is institutionalized, well-funded, profitable — and ongoing.
Consider that, a few days before the Manchester bombing, the president signed a $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia — the largest such deal ever, apparently — which will allow the Saudis to continue waging a brutal war in Yemen, which, in two years, has taken some 10,000 lives, displaced 3 million people and put the desolate country at the brink of famine.
“Ironically,” Juan Cole writes, “the attack yesterday in Manchester was likely by Sunni radicals . . . and came two days after President Trump blamed all terrorism on Shiite Iran at a speech in Saudi Arabia, the proponent of a form of extreme Sunni supremacism.”
The point of the speech was to express U.S. solidarity with the Saudis and blame terrorism on Shiite Iran, prompting Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, to charge Trump with laying the groundwork for war, tweeting: “Trump just called for all out isolation until regime in Iran falls. Yes, regime change & isolation. That’s how ground was set for IRAQ war.”
And ISIS, you’ll recall, emerged from the chaos in the wake of the disastrous Iraq war, and sees its mission as not simply taking control of its own turf but damaging and punishing its enemies in the West. A year ago, an ISIS social media post, calling on its supporters in the West to wage war at home and defend the organization against the “dozens of nations . . . gathered against it,” commanded some attention:
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.”
Call it terrorism if you want, but this is war! ISIS had found a way to “bomb” the West without an air force, to inflict shock and awe with a military budget infinitesimally smaller than that possessed by its enemies.
Listening to Donald Trump, following in the tradition of his predecessors, promise to keep us “safe” by throwing more war back at the bad guys — and their children! — with missiles and drones and ground troops, with strategic support of our allies such as Saudi Arabia, freezes the soul. How can we be so stupid? This will do nothing but guarantee retaliation, not just on the “front lines,” but at shopping malls and nightclubs and rock concerts.
“Our understanding of war,” Barbara Ehrenreich wrote 20 years ago, in the foreword of her book Blood Rites, “. . . is about as confused and unformed as theories of disease were roughly 200 years ago.”
Later in the book, she observed: “Meanwhile, war has dug itself into economic systems, where it offers a livelihood to millions, rather than to just a handful of craftsmen and professional soldiers. It has lodged in our souls as a kind of religion, a quick tonic for political malaise and a bracing antidote to the moral torpor of consumerist, market-driven cultures.”
As I read these words, an operative metaphor seized hold of me: War is cancer with political clout. For instance, CNBC informs us:
Defense stocks took off on Monday after President Donald Trump signed a nearly $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal will be worth $350 billion over 10 years.
On Monday, Lockheed Martin closed up more than 1 percent and General Dynamics closed up about 1 percent. These stocks, along with Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, hit all-time highs earlier in the day.
And so it goes. War, which is to say, dehumanization and murder, remains not only morally acceptable but financially rewarding when we and our friends wage it. But what goes around comes around. We won’t transcend the culture of violence with a weapons deal.