What makes a terrorist?

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Returning to Arundhati Roy’s The Algebra of Infinite Justice once again, the Foreword written by John Berger is pretty entertaining. He waxes lyrical about Roy’s essays but makes one or two observations of his own. On the issue of terrorism he contends that what makes a terrorist is despair; a level of despair that few in the First World can imagine. This despair Berger describes as ‘the sense that your life and the lives of those close to you count for nothing. And this is felt on several different levels so that it becomes total’. He cites living for decades on a refugee camp as an example.


‘The search each morning
to find scraps
with which to survive another day

The knowledge on waking
that in this legal wilderness
no rights exist

The experience over the years
of nothing getting better
only worse

The humiliation of being able
to change almost nothing
and of seizing upon the almost
which then leads to another impasse

The listening to a thousand promises
which pass inexorably
beside you and yours

The example of those who resist
being bombarded to dust

The weight of your own killed
a weight which closes
innocence for ever
because there are so many.

These are the seven levels of despair — one for each day of the week — which lead, for some of the more courageous, to the revelation that to offer one’s own life in contesting forces which have pushed the world to where it is, is the only way of invoking an all, which is larger than that of the despair’.

John Berger (in Roy 2002, pp. xxi-xxiii)