I’ve just watched Penny Woolcock’s frankly phenomenal film version of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer, his dramatisation of the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985. This is something I feel every schoolkid – or better still every politician – should be made to watch, not least because it demonstrates the power and importance of the arts, but moreso because of its relevance to the times we live in and its unusually rounded approach towards the topic of terrorism.
The opera is still considered controversial because in depicting a relatively recent event it dares to show the terrorists’ perspective. But this is the reason for its importance; without condoning the actions of the terrorists or diminishing the horror of the experience, the opera (particularly in the film version with its astonishing use of archive documentary footage) puts the hijacking into the context of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, showing the decades of violence suffered by the terrorists from childhood. We see them as people who have lost family and wept in the street for murdered friends; in short, these killers, these terrorists, also become human beings.
What the film demonstrates is the possibility that we can sympathise with and actually understand the reasons why people are led to extremist terrorist actions – and surely understanding them is the very first thing we need to do if we are ever going to deal with the problem?
And yet the government – and I’m talking especially about you, Mr Blair – is apparently yet to grasp that brazenly obvious fact, as it continues to insist on explaining terrorist actions with simplistic labels like ‘evil ideology’.
YES, terrorist actions are evil. But to write off terrorists in terms that imply we are in a basic B-movie ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ situation, is to belittle the complexity of the situation and to evade our responsibilities – until we see the government taking any accountability for the circumstances that have caused terrorism to arise in the first place, we will never begin to tackle the problem at its roots.
I don’t mean that the government should give in to terrorist threats, or change its policies at every terrorist whim. I don’t even mean that admitting some responsibility would lead to an immediate ceasing of terrorism and reasonable conversation suddenly breaking out with everyone. But the government’s resolute black-and-white mentality is surely one of the things that is generating extremism in the first place – it’s no wonder people feel that it’s necessary to blow up trains when their whole ideology, which has grown out of conflict and hardships and wrongs going back generations, is labelled simply as ‘evil’.
This afternoon, Osama Bin Laden’s lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri said that Tony Blair’s foreign policy decisions were to blame for the London bombings. Here’s a little prediction for you: Blair will issue an official response insisting that his foreign policy is irrelevant to the situation because we are facing a far bigger threat from people who are fundamentally evil and we all need to unite in fighting that. Prove me wrong, by all means, but I’m expecting a response in that kind of blinkered, don’t-point-the-finger-at-me, we’re ‘good’ and they’re ‘bad’ vein. Because compared to Woolcock/Adams, it seems to me that the politicians’ approach towards terrorism is fucking immature.