Language of Terror

When I hear hear people talking about the war on Terror, I know they are talking about me


Language of Terror
by Ryszard Antolak

It was only later, long after the events of 9/11, that I finally realised I was a terrorist.

The realization did not come easily, or all at once. After all, I had not planted any bombs or hurt anyone (not even verbally). I had not visited secret training camps in Pakistan . I had not even done anything as rash as Samina Malik, who was convicted of Terrorism recently by a British court for writng Poetry about Jihad. (Poetry has always been a dangerous activity, as all tyrants know).

No. It was something far more insidious.

In the days prior to September 11, I had been reading the works of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. His book of poetry, "Poet in New York", had been a violent response to the New York he encountered as a student at Columbia University in 1929 and 1930. Lorca was passionate in his dislike for the city: its brutality, its loneliness, poverty, inequalities and its insane pride. Abandoning his usual lyrical style, Lorca's reaction was a series of experimental poems expressing his tortured feelings of dislocation from his beloved Andalusia, and his hatred of the city in which he now found himself:

"I denounce them all....,
the half of them who can't be redeemed,
who raise their mountains of cement
where human hearts should beat
inside living beings;
and where all of us will perish
in a final frenzy of pneumatic drills.
I spit in all your faces...
I denounce your conspiracy
of deserted offices
that give no hope of ecstasy,
and erase forever all traces of the forest....

Lorca was especially incensed by what he saw as the "loss of soul" the heartless city had engendered in its population: its worship of profit and greed. His reaction was violent, his images - those of destruction and apocalyptic revenge. Nothing could satisfy Lorca’s mind but an image of the destruction of New York, that symbol (he believed) of all that was wrong with the modern world:

"..scream in front of the domes!
scream as if all the nights converged!
scream with such a heart-rending voice
that cities tremble like little girls
and demolish the prisons of oil and sound.
Because we demand our daily bread
we demand alder in bloom, and constantly-harvested tenderness.
Because we demand that the earth''s will be done,
and its fruits offered to everyone..."
(Call from the Tower of the Chrysler Building)

These were the kinds of poems I was reading in the days prior to September 11. As I watched the planes penetrating the World Trade Centre a day later, I confess that for a moment (a spit-second), something ran in me like intoxication. I was feeling exhilarated. Inexplicably, it seemed as if some great weight had been removed from my neck, relieving me, freeing me! In that brief moment, I felt that the World Trade Centre had been destroyed on account of its pride, its arrogance and its usury. It was a modern-day Tower of Babel (two towers even, surpassing the original!) destroyed by the hand of God! I was complicit in its destruction. Was I excited? I confess: I think I was! A line from Lorca even echoed in my mind (I may even have whispered it):

"Oh savage, shameless, North America!"

The whole experience lasted only a moment (a millisecond even); although in retrospect it seems much longer. I quickly came to my senses: became conscious of the reality - the twisted metal, the carnage, couples jumping from windows (hands clasped together in a confused amalgam of love and fear). What had I done! I felt ashamed and uneasy with myself. For a while I tried to rationalize my feelings: I tried to blame the poetry of Lorca for seducing me with its iconic images and sonorous lyrics.

But it was not the poetry; it was not Lorca. It was something deep within me (perhaps something in all of us), that rejoices when great catastrophes occur. At these times some demonic, inhuman joy takes possession of us, turning us into a tangle of primitive, mindless, nerve reactions. When Fire or Deluge or Death strike on so grand a scale, we often feel ourselves to be demons too, working alongside them, toiling to relieve the earth of its houses and its populations, its cities and its technologies, seeking to restore the earth once more to its original, pristine purity; erasing all trace for ever of man and his works. I suspect that even the gentle Basho may have had somesuch similar thought when he wrote:

"When the house is burned down
You own a better view
Of the rising moon"

So now, when I hear hear people talking about the war on Terror, I know they are talking about me: a war against the wild, scarred, mountainous, barren areas of my soul that cannot be bombed by "daisy-cutter bombs" or infiltrated with United Nations Special Forces. It is a war I can only declare on myself. The war against Terror begins here in the heart, and not in some distant country about which we are told little but sanitised stories.

And yet, I suspect that the rhetoric to continue the war in Iraq is merely another kind of Dark persuasive Poetry, less overt than that of Garcia Lorca or Samina Malik. Those smiling politicians (and media-folk) who can speak so calmly of “collateral damage” “extraordinary rendition” “friendly fire”, "carpet bombing” and “daisy cutters” (instead of what they really mean) are the new poets of this burgeoning Art form.

The inveterate terrorist within me reacts appropriately of course, launching his personal jihad against this sanitised language of Terror, praying passionately for an empty plane to plough itself into the topmost Towers of their Dark Poetry of obscenity.

* F. Garcia Lorca. Poet in New York. Penguin. 1988 (Transl. by Christopher


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more from Ryszard Antolak

The same atavistic

by ABE (not verified) on

The same atavistic exhilaration rippled through me as I watched the destruction of Twin Towers for the first time. I had to feign sympathy. I don't see myself as a terrorist, just a simple human being terrified of vanity that is armed with enormous power.

Azarin Sadegh

You are a terrorist if...

by Azarin Sadegh on

Reading Lorca doesn't make you a terrorist.

But if you are not enraged by the death of innocents inside that falling cement or by the stoning of sinned women guilty of love, or by the religious laws of cutting fingers and hands of the poor, or by the explosion of suicide bombers killing other innocents, or by the tortures applied on the women in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Iran, etc in the name of the religion,...then you could be a real terrorist.

But I hope not! Since your writing is beautiful.




War on Terror by Terror

by Vida Kashizadeh (not verified) on

Dear R. Antolak

Thank you for sharing with us.

A soul search beautifully expressed and with Lorca’s spirit ever present.

What comes across is that mysterious connection between our innermost emotions as human beings towards the rest of the humanity, and the reality out there, namely situations that cannot be comprehended without the ability to see the inflexibility of the world rulers and their irrational persistence to act stupidly.

Indeed if we didn’t have that inner longing for justice and for the progress of the society, we might as well have been created as robots.

No, you are not a terrorist.
There is no judge that does not occasionally admire an executioner, even if that judge may be very much against death penalty per se.

But the real problem at the present is that it is the executioners who are also acting as the judge.
It all feels like a bad dream with no logics, and also little prospect of ever waking up.

No doubt there is also a positive movement amongst people of the world. But the situation is more like a disease in its acute stage, when the body is fighting back vigorously but the disease is still strong and the prognosis uncertain.
It is at the point where being a pessimist or an optimist is arbitrary, and all depends rather on the mobilisation of the body and spirit – both the hopeful and the hopeless parts.


Mr. Antolak !!

by masoudA on

Let me tell you about "terror" - as it seems like you seem to relate terror and terrorism with bombs and planes only.  

When the Arab armies conqured Iran over 14 centuries ago - along with Greece and Rome, Iran was the voice of civility on earth.   Right-off the bat, half of the population was killed, with better looking women and chirldren shipped to the the Arab lands, as slaves.   Can you imagine the terror ?  for 2 centuries after the attack - Iranians were not allowed to speak in public - requiring by law to kneel when at the presence of a Seyed (an Arab).   Children of the same terrorists are ruling Iran these days - and I wish you could be present there in Iran in 1979 when they terrorized women to make them wear Islamic Veil.  

You see my illeterate friend  - Terror is not in us it is in our cultures.   While in this very 21st century you see some cultures promoting love and tolearance - other cultures are promoting hate and prejiduce.    Look deeper and you see cultures who promote art and joy - while try finding art and joy (above the waist joy I mean) in what is called the Arabian Peninsula today.    Yes there is injustice and hateful acts in the west - but to know terror you must first understand Cultures and how children are raised.   

There are no inferior races in the world - but sure as your illetracy - there are inferior CULTURES in this world - and the governing culture in USA, which was founded on Persian beliefs (Read Cyropadia by Xenephon) is not one of them.  



good writing

by shabnam (not verified) on

It's good to see some literate people writing here. But, my dear Ryszard, you surely know that the sublime and the destroyer are often combined in mythology (Lord Shiva, for example) and tragedy (Hamlet)as well as all the great examples you give. (And I won't mention Freud!) I see no reason to declare war on terror on such an exalted realm. We can every bit fight political crap and media bullshit and yet not let our reactions to the garbage of humanity enter our sublime mind. Let those who "are ready for thought" (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets) go free. We are not the dangerous ones.


So I see that

by Farhad Kashani (not verified) on

So I see that has become not only a hotspot for anti U.S Iranians only, but for anti U.S individuals from other nationalities also ! Very nice ! At least I hope they have the courage to come out and say they are, instead of beating around the bush. If anyone has traveled around the world prior to 9/11, and seen what Iranian citizens (Young males specially) for example used to go through for being suspected of terrorism in different airports around the world (Like for example in Bangkok, Thailand!) and what kind of treatment they used and still get all over the world, you will see how baseless this argument is that "after 9/11 there is a conspiracy by the U.S government to paint us all as terrorists" is! thats not even considering the fact that most , not all, individual or group acts of terrorism around the world are done by people who call themselves "devout muslims" and "true interpreters of Islam". If we are offended by that, we need to take back our religion from the hijackers and present its peaceful way to the world, if we claim there is one. that is our duty, not the U.S or other governments. It is our duty to blame regimes and groups such as the IRI and Al Qaeda who have presented and promoted this view of Islam, not other countries or governments. When are we going to stop blaming others for our problems? I really like to know when !