Sunday, December 12, 2010
Suicide or Bombing
He was a fanatic Muslim, who had convinced himself of acting in accordance with his religion. He left a message where he blamed Swedish troops in Afghanistan and the provocative work of a Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who made images of the prophet Mohammed as a dog.
Well, Swedish troops in Afghanistan are, as far as I know, mainly peace preserving forces, just like the many UN missions that Swedish troops have been involved in for several decades. Lars Vilks' artistic provocation has upset many Muslims, but not to the extent that the Danish caricatures published some time earlier did.
This lonely terrorist was probably mainly searching desperately for a higher cause, and in such cases religion is often easily accessible. That's reason for us to keep on questioning religion in any of its forms. We can't surrender to a position where we respect religion so much that we refrain from investigating and criticizing it. Nothing in society should be above inspection and debate.
What's the Responsibility of an Artist?
There is more to contemplate. For example, I think about Lars Vilks' artistic provocation. It's easy enough to understand his aim. Like many of us, including me, Vilks was upset at how cowardly passive the Swedish politicians and media were, when Denmark was aggressively attacked because one of its newspapers published caricatures of Mohammed. Politicians worked secretly to stop Swedish press from publishing the same pictures, and the press obliged, giving all kinds of absurd arguments for not showing their readers the pictures in question.
The only commendable press reaction to the threats against Denmark and its press, would be for the press of the rest of the world to quickly publish the same pictures. Swedish press – and many others – chickened out, sadly. They regretted it later, without admitting it publicly, but the damage was already done.
So, when Vilks made his Mohammed dog, he was kicking in a wide open door. Swedish politicians and press had to stand up for him, not to make the same mistake twice. He was – and is – at risk of being attacked by aggressive Muslim fundamentalists, but he has the complete support of official Sweden. And he is a risk to it. Is he really morally allowed to do so?
International terrorism, as well as individual extreme fundamentalism, don't care if they strike at innocent civilians. Actually, they often prefer it. This suicide bomber in Stockholm went to its most populated shopping area with several bombs on his body and a backpack full of nails. Had he succeeded, many innocents would have been wounded or killed, including children.
We should all consider this risk when we act this way or that.
Not that we should allow terrorists to dictate our agenda and our actions, ever. But still, Vilks made a provocation that was evident to increase the risk of terrorist strikes in Sweden, especially since he knew that the Swedish government had to defend him. If he didn't consider this very carefully and responsibly, he allowed his art to go above ethics, or he just didn't care in his strife to make noise.
I regard myself as an artist of sorts, and I know that I would have great trouble with such considerations, before deciding on something equally provocative. I will defend Vilks' right to make such art, no matter what, but I allow myself to wonder if he has the same respect for others, and if he is primarily a compassionate human being.
The Failing Swedish Secret Police
Another thing is the action of the Swedish secret police, SÄPO, which has an embarrassing track record.
In 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was killed in the street by what seems also to have been a solitary madman – it's not yet certain. SÄPO, responsible for his security, had no bodyguard assigned to him at the time, and later defended it by claiming that there had been no threat against him. Well, he was assassinated...
In 2003, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh, met the same terrible fate. Again a solitary madman, as far as we know, and again no SÄPO bodyguards. Guess what they said?
Historically, SÄPO has been totally preoccupied by chasing communists, and not much apart from that. Olof Palme discovered, when he had just become Prime Minister, that SÄPO regarded him as a security risk, because he had participated in a demonstration against the Vietnam war. So I guess he didn't feel much protected by them.
Now, SÄPO proudly steps in and declares that since this bombing is a terrorist act, they take over the investigation and just about everything else – although there is already news coming out about their failure to act on some alarms about the bomber's plans and behavior. My guess is that they will primarily struggle to hide their blunders. I don't expect that they accomplish much more. They're still mainly a sad joke. An expensive one, too.
I understand that it's almost impossible to protect society from solitary madmen, but this one had a Facebook account where it was quite obvious where he was heading, and he made several trips to England and the Arab world. Combined, those are telltale signs. Still, SÄPO has already admitted to knowing nothing about the man beforehand. Don't they bother about threats that are not fancy enough?
As a powerful organization they might only be interested in fighting other powerful organizations. Pride is one of the greatest powers, and one of the most costly.
What to do?
Extremism and fundamentalism are probably elements of which society cannot rid itself. Unfortunately, I believe such behavior to be stimulated by the panic that society reveals when experiencing it. The noise that one terrorist act causes, inspires the next one.
Suicide is like that, the experts have known for long. For this reason, the press in Sweden is discreet about suicides, even when famous people commit them. Somehow, a widely published suicide gives the impulse for others to follow the example. If a suicide bomber is primarily suicidal, and that's probably the case, then the same influence is likely there, too.
But media silence is no solution, since it creates other problems. We need to be able to talk about all, and to know about all. Otherwise we will soon have no idea of what to do, and what challenges to face.
Normal suicides are neither demonized nor glorified. We should not do that with terrorist suicides, either. If they are portrayed as suicides, although with terrorist claims, they might lose their attraction.
The Swedish suicide bomber was obviously a confused person with the dream of becoming a hero, no matter at what cost. He was not a monster, although he tried to commit a monstrous deed, nor was he any super villain. Just a lost soul with a mistaken cause. A desperate attention seeker. Who would want to walk in such a man's footsteps, really?
I know it is difficult, but we probably need to defuse terrorism by playing it down, from the devilish conspiracy to the personal tragedy. If we reveal the weakness and confusion of the ones carrying the terrorist deeds out, new recruits may be scarce.
I might be wrong.