It strikes me as something of a cliché to start a blog with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. but nonetheless, here I go. I was reading a book on Sunday evening which cites King as imploring, “We must meet hate with love.” This was King’s astonishing, compassionate response to the bombing of his own home. It was a strange juxtaposition to look up from my book to see the British TV news reporting events from Boston. A week after the terrible bombing of the city and the aftershock was still being felt some three thousand miles across the ocean in London. The words of King and the events of Boston are clearly two parts of the same global story on division and intolerance. The sentiment of the former offers a profound response for dealing with latter.
Let’s be clear, as a Quaker, and as a human being, I abhor violence. Terrorism is never justifiable. Yet I cannot help but be struck by many of the facts emerging about the lives of the Boston bombers; in particular, just how young they are. The surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is just nineteen years old. He is a teenager, barely old enough to have graduated high school or to vote; yet old enough to hate, old enough to want to inflict suffering on other human beings. I wonder when I look at photos of his young face, what on earth could have made him want to do it? His culture, his religion, loyalty to his brother? At times like these there always appear any number of self-designated “experts” quick to suggest the motives of terrorists. In the past ten days, so many of these “experts” have been quick to offer neat explanations of culture, religion and clan. Whilst it is nearly a decade since I was nineteen, I know that then, just as today, life is never so unambiguous. There are no simple answers to the question “Why?”
To pin labels of “religious extremism” is the easiest way to deal with such catastrophes, for it constructs a dichotomy of “us” versus “them”. In creating this polarised world view, “evil” becomes the exclusive domain of “nutters”, fanatics, unreal people who are as far removed from anyone like “us” as is possible. If only it were so easy. Identity, after all, is constructed in relation. Terrorists do not exist in a vacuum. And perhaps what’s most uncomfortable in the case of the Boston bombers, as was the case in the London bombings of July 2005, is the fact that the bombers had lived as citizens of the country they attacked.
I have no claim to being an expert on terrorism, and it isn’t the intention of this blog to analyze if and how society is implicated in terrorism. Rather, I’m just an MA student, who has a great deal more to learn, and a modest preoccupation with the well-being of humanity. But I write the following with utter confidence: us/them discourses of blame, and violent, homogenizing attacks on other peoples’ religions and cultures will neither help to protect against the potential of future terrorist attacks, nor will they help victims of terrorism. Therefore I do not propose to answer questions of motivation, or to suggest a solution to tackling terrorism and/or religious extremism. I do propose what is, in my understanding, the best response to Boston and other atrocities.
I guess it is something of a cliché to end a blog with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., but today I speak his humble and compassionate words for the second time, as loudly as I can: “We must meet hate with love”. Love is the only suitable response to hatred, and is the best defense for all of us.