Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Questions and Answers

I meant to get back here sooner, but I've been away. Then ill. Oh, like you're on top of all the projects in your life.

Norm Geras has been asking some questions regarding Britz, the recent two-part drama about "homegrown" terrorism. I should admit now that I didn't watch it. In the ordinary course of things, that would preclude me from having an opinion, but as some of Norm's questions seem to me to be about whether such a drama should have been made, rather than if it was any good, I'm going to have a crack at answering the first two.

Why shouldn't the next film have been about the effects on the victims, those killed, maimed and bereaved?

We all had questions after the London bombings. "What must the victims be going through?" was one, and "How could anybody do this?" was another. Speaking for myself, the second question is harder to answer. Being an ordinary human being, with the average capacity for empathy, I can faintly begin to imagine how terrible that day and its aftermath were for the victims and their families. I cannot, of course, come close to the reality and selfishly I hope I never do. On the day, as reports trickled in, it became clear that this event was, first and last, about human suffering. As I have learnt more about the victims' stories, that impression has deepened and strengthened. But it has not altered. A film about the victims would reinforce these feelings, but it would not change my fundamental opinion about the horror of the day.

However, my average capacity for empathy does not even bring me close to understanding the motives of the bombers, or of those who recruited and encouraged them. I simply cannot comprehend the thought processes involved. A good film about the journey from unremarkable schoolboy to suicide bomber could concievably give me some insight. By a good film, I don't mean one which makes excuses, or suggests that in someway the bomber is making a rational choice, but one which shows me the descent into radicalization and terrorism. Not because to understand all is to forgive all - in cases such as this, it's really, really not - but because, given that this happened and might happen again, I need simply to understand. In part because the better we understand such things, the more effective our strategies for combatting them will be; mainly, because I need to make sense of the senseless. Some of this is getting into Norm's second question:

If anger and alienation are the key thing, why are these feelings more interesting in Brits than in 'émigrés'?

Instinctively, it seems more shocking that people who grew up in Britain should feel alienated than it does to find that an 'emigré' who is effectively ignorant of British life should. I can picture a Middle-East born terrorist being indoctrinated by his controllers - fed a stream of lies and propaganda about how the British are at war with Islam. What's harder to imagine is that anyone who grew up in Britain could think that. We imagine - is this naive? - that evidence to the contrary is all around, and has been part of everyday experience. If that's not the case, if the proposition that Britain is at war with Islam doesn't get laughed out the door on first hearing, what's happened?

Now, as I understand it, Britz did not in fact address these questions very well. From what I've read, the motivations given to the suicide bomber were wholly unrelated to anything attributed to or claimed by the actual London bombers, which for me would render the whole thing pointless. (This may be because Peter Kosminsky also failed to comprehend them, and gave himself an easy way out.) But I don't think the idea of making films addresssing these issues is as morally and intellectually lightweight as Norm suggests.

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