The strangest thing happened while I was on BART (the San Francisco commuter train) on Friday. The girl standing next to me, who had been complaining loudly about the over-crowded train, spit at the people standing on the platform right before the door closed. Her friends immediately started doing a victory dance, singing “Boo-boo-be-doo – we spit on you!”
The fact that all these kids immediately knew how to celebrate the spitting on random commuters made me wonder if this is part of an evolving subculture. It’s probably not that far a leap from spitting to the pyrotechnic subculture. Random violence seems to be bubbling up from the ground. Yet because it’s happening in a familiar setting, we’re striving for labels other than “terrorism”. Our children aren’t terrorists. They’re just confused by hormones. Only “other people” are terrorists.
The irony was that I was returning from watching a live filming of Link TV’s Mosaic (there are streaming episodes here if anyone is interested). The most moving part was a woman who expained the ambivalence that the Lebonese people have about Hezbollah. To the Lebonese, Hezbollah is not necessarily a terrorist organization. Many see Hezbollah as an organization of “freedom fighters” and Israel as a terrorist state that has killed over a hundred people and levelled whole neighborhoods to do their “Boo-boo-be-doo – we spit on you!” victory dance.
My landlord just got back from Mumbai, where almost 200 people were killed and 700 injured in train bombings on July 11. While the U.S. has been too distracted by Lebanon to give Mumbai a second thought, I wonder whether 7/11 will provoke the same sort of reaction in India that 9/11 did here – with “kill the terrorist” flash games circulating by email in a matter of hours and general patriotic warmongering? Where will the anger of the people turn?
Mumbai trains are famous for their hot, over-crowded conditions – and this again takes me back to the spitting girl on the BART train. While the commuters on the platform probably wouldn’t regard themselves as having anything to do with her problems, I don’t think her actions were irrational. It seems to me that in an era where a lot of things that oppressive forces are systemic or anonymous, it’s hard for people to figure out where to pursue their fight for justice. These kids were angry at everybody. An anonymous stranger symbolizes everyody.
I’m thinking that it’s time to get rid of the word “terrorist”. First it’s far too easy for politicians to label anyone they dislike a “terrorist supporter” (or possibly a “terrorist” for wearing the wrong t-shirt or hugging a tree in a logging zone). Second, too many mental acrobatics have to occur to separate the “terrorists” out there from other sorts of violence from spouse-beating to “pyrotechnic subcultures”. In the end we should be looking for the source of the anger and repeatedly asking ourselves whether we’ve shut down the alternatives to spitting and basement bombs.