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Terrorists not solely responsible for violence


Terrorists not solely responsible for violenceLily Brett’s writing is often autobiographical and reveals a life shaped by the profound injustices visited on her parents. She was born to Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany. The family migrated to Australia in her second year. Her poems and stories portray incidents such as: childhood scenes in a sad, darkened house in suburban Melbourne, as well as her struggle to come to grips with her emotional scars in middle age.

Brett’s story gives us insight into our own. This picture of violence or evil as having its source outside of us, but at the same time shaping our self-understanding, reflects a deep theme of each of our lives. Attention to the dynamics of cultural violence bears it out. It is this dimension of human life that the Christian doctrine of original sin articulates.

When rid of gross misinterpretations, the doctrine of original sin can powerfully illuminate the human predicament. It does not mean that humans are inherently evil, although it is often understood in such a way; nor does it mean that we are individually responsible for the broken situation in which we find ourselves. In broad terms, there are two dimensions to a contemporary reading of the doctrine. First, that every person is born into the long history of human sinful choices. And second, that this history of brokenness enters into and is an inner determinant of each person’s situation. American theologian Stephen Duffy sums it up in these words: "Before being able to choose, one is, merely by being historically situated, inextricably caught in an immense web of reciprocity in evil that one cannot escape and that has forming power."

From my reading, these dynamics are also found in a recent book by Indian-born, New York-based social theorist Arjun Appadurai. In Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (Duke 2006) he explores the shape of culturally motivated violence. He asks: why should the 1990s, a decade dominated by globalisation, have produced a plethora of examples of both ethnic cleansing and extreme forms of terrorism?

Appadurai argues that the social structures and understandings that brought about globalisation, like all social arrangements, have a dark underside. The massive changes in global finance, transport, work and consumption produce uncertainty in the lives of the common people, and in turn this uncertainly "produces new incentives for cultural purification as more nations lose the illusion of national economic sovereignty or well-being."

Terrorists not solely responsible for violenceAlthough it’s a short book, it is rich in observation and analysis. Appadurai examines the tension between what he calls vertebrate and cellular social structures. Vertebrate structures, like the system of nation-states, are symbolised by the large body of institutions and agreements that allow states to function and relate to one another. In recent years, new social structures have emerged in which money, people and information are linked by multiple international networks.

It is these emerging structures that he calls cellular. The global capitalist system is both a vertebrate and cellular system. It is a vertebrate system in that it operates within the agreements and institutions formed by states; however it is also a cellular system in that global capital is increasingly mobile. Appadurai argues that the proliferation of global cellular forms of capital over the last decade has opened up new possibilities for terrorist networks. He leads us to see that “the forms of global terrorism of which we are most conscious after 9/11 are only instances of a deep and broad transformation in the morphology of global economy and politics.”

In another line of argument, Appadurai traces the connection between high levels of uncertainty in a population and the targeting of minorities, which easily tips over into ethnocide. It is this dynamic which provides the title for the book.

So, our temptation to blame violence entirely on the terrorists is unmasked by Appadurai as far too simplistic. We are all caught up in the dynamics of globalisation and its dark underside. He puts it in this way: "Our terrorists, whether in the United States, India, or elsewhere, are … doubly horrifying: they are malignant, to be sure, but they also somehow seem to be symptoms of the deep malaise in our own social and political bodies. They cannot easily be exorcised as evil spirits or simply amputated like bad limbs. They force a deeper engagement with our states, our world, and ourselves."

Here again the doctrine of original sin enlightens. Not only does violence come from without and shape us within; its overcoming must be sought in continually subverting the cycle of violence. Or, in Christian terms, hope is found in opening ourselves to the stream of divine grace so that we might love and the world be transformed.



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Existing comments

I am not an uneducated person, but I could not understand the language quoted below.Does it simply mean that we are all human, all humans are sinners, and that is the doctrine of original sin ? Or what ?
.. the dynamics of cultural violence..
the broken situation in which we find ourselves...
..every person is born into the long history of human sinful choices... ..this history of brokenness enters into and is an inner determinant of each person’s situation...

R.Johnson | 21 March 2007  

Terrorism is not new. It is as old as human history. They represent the fight of the minority against the majority. What causes terrorism will provide us with the solutions. I believe poverty is at the core of the problem. In particular Globalisation must be governed in order to reward thelosers for the new distribution of wealth and the loss of power by the States.

nacho nuche | 23 March 2007  

I am reminded of the "Creation Spirituality" of the 1960's that tried to get away from the pessimism of the traditional interpretation of "The fall" to an optimistic look at human potential as contained in Eastern Orthodox attitudes to prayer and life. john ozanne

john ozanne | 25 March 2007  

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