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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