They keep mentioning it – the apparent calmness of the terrorists in Mumbai .. who stood outside a restaurant and just fired in from the street .. the railway station .. the hotels. Hard to get your mind around that – particularly when one is constantly trying to avoid hurting anything .. like the deer that dithered in front of me in the dawn yesterday on my way down from Blogstead.
There was often a debate in Northern Ireland about whether one should attach ‘mindless’ to those whom one called ‘killers’. Does ‘mindless’ allow the idea to grow that those who shoot others in cold blood [why is it ‘cold’ blood, I suddenly wonder] can only do so if they have switched off their minds and are therefore not really responsible? But I remember carrying around in my mind the working hypothesis that something does die in those who can bring themselves to take the life of another – so that the second or third time it ceases to be as difficult?
I spent a while as a member of the Board of Visitors at Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. I exited at the first reasonable opportunity because I found it very difficult as an outsider to have any real idea what was happening inside. But it did give me the chance of wandering through the prison and into the exercise yard and looking into the eyes of people who had planted bombs and pulled triggers. And what did I see? In truth, probably the product of an over-heated imagination.
But there was one – whose eyes stay with me to this day.
And me, too. My own family was directly affected – twice.
I agree that we probably didn’t see much of the truly indiscriminate – the station concourse, hotel lobby. Greysteel was unspeakable – but it was the shooting of one side by the other. And there was plenty of going into houses and shooting somebody in front of their family .. And as for scale, if you scale up the NI figures, they are pretty grim. We certainly reached the stage where pretty well everybody – myself included – knew at least one person who had been killed.
I think your working hypothesis is probably correct, David. Yet despite bombs in public places, pubs shot up, and random murders, we never saw in NI what has happened in Mumbai: indiscriminate firing in a crowded city centre. I think people do have to switch off their minds to commit atrocities on the scale that we have seen, both in Mumbai at at 9/11, where the victims are measured in hundreds or thousands rather than tens or ones.
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