unmaking meaning

After a wearying almost 10 years in the declared ‘War on Terror,’ we have a pretty good handle on the motives of our enemies.

We understand their complaints about us and how those complaints have transmogrified into something far more lethal; we know the roles of religion and poverty and privilege and insular rural life; we know about the ‘narrative’ (the belief that Islam is under attack by the west) and its distortions; also, the distortions we grow at home, the extraordinary fear of our own government.

But I can’t get this thought out of my mind, that for some number of people the real motive is far worse.

What happens when a bomb explodes?

The best way to look at it is, it replaces one kind of information with another. The information being blown to bits is high level- it’s a wedding party or a funeral or a political meeting, with kinship, rivalries, books read and written, money problems, flesh and blood humans complete and thinking, even if they’re dancing or sleeping or just sitting quietly.

It’s information laden with meaning, with overtones and undertows and lines of contact shooting out in a dozen or hundred directions, connecting and being connected with.

A bomb takes that information and randomizes it. In some narrow, mathematical sense a bomb may actually create more information, because it makes things extremely disorderly, and the act of describing that disorder (this fragment was found exactly here…) takes a lot of bits.

While it is information, the disorder is really more like noise than anything else – I imagine it as the humming of a roomful of angry insects.

Maybe that moment is the fundamental of terrorism, when even the most basic meanings like “I can breathe the air” or “the sidewalk is underneath me” are discarded, violently.

And I wonder – the man or woman making the bomb, is he or she thinking about that moment? I guess some of the bomb makers do it for money, and many more out of a commitment to an ideology – they wish to replace a multiplicity of meanings with one narrow view. But do a select few live for the negation of meaning? Do they watch the news, see the wreckage of the disco,  the bloodied, screaming children, the scattered and shredded contents of a purse and hear the insect noise and smile?

Does it feel like home?

Postscript – Maybe I reveal more about my own fears and wants than I do about terrorism. Most credible books on the subject say there is very little difference between terrorists and the rest of us and that within the narrow sphere in which a terrorist operates, his or her actions are ‘rational.’ They are not ‘the other,’ they’re some version of us. Regardless, I still want to know who’s looking out into the abyss.


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