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False Freedoms: On the Terror in Mumbai | Jose Yulo, Ed.D. | Ignatius Insight | November 28, 2008

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If I'm offered a choice between A and B, I'm free to choose one or the other, but it's a case of very limited possibilities. Suppose I want both A and B...I'm presented with an array of unlimited options, I have the opportunity to fulfill myself as an autonomous agent...That's what I call "freedom." -- Lucifer, in Raymond Dennehy's Soldier Boy

Freedom, for Aristotle, is a property of the will which is realized through truth. It is given to man as a task to be accomplished. There is no freedom without truth. -- Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity

The day before Thanksgiving was one of horror and sorrow for the citizens of Mumbai and all of India. Seemingly from out of nowhere, a thoroughly organized and systematic plot to spread wanton carnage and death commenced in this city, a situation yet unresolved at the time of this writing.

Among the attacks were hotels frequented by western expatriates, seized and followed by ensuing hostage standoffs. Most recently, a Jewish outreach center was taken by gunmen, all happening as U.S.-based representatives of the group were literally cut off in mid-sentence on the phone from the resident rabbi in Mumbai.

The shock of the day's events are perhaps best described by an eyewitness to the attack on Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station. As the survivor recounted: 'Four boys rushed in. They wore black T-shirts and blue jeans...They just fired randomly at people and then ran away.' These shootings appeared timed to the late night commute when the work-weary looked forward to a temporary reprieve from the day's grind.

In the last count, 150 were dead, a number expected to increase steadily through the next day. Over 250 people were injured and an unaccounted for number possibly forcibly held against their will.

As this dramatically occurs so soon during the time of our nation's annual, traditional period of reflection, it remains for those fortunate enough to reflect to ask that most human of queries: Why? This is perhaps made more difficult for a people who recently experienced the wracking and throes associated with the process of selecting its leaders. It is to be argued, however, this is all the more reason to ask such questions. New leaderships ought waste little time in asserting the highest aspirations of the citizens they represent, especially if these assertions translate to understanding the needs of an allied nation.

Understandably, there may at first surface an amount of dismay from certain partisan groups at the timing of such terror. How, since the United States has so chosen such an internationally popular incoming administration, could such attacks still bedevil its world allies? Two lines of thought soon surface in answer. First, the plots could be the products of malignant groups attempting to test the will and reserve of a foe, both direct, in the case of India, and indirect, in the case of the new Washington regime. This would not be too far a reach since, by definition, transitional periods are not typified by entrenched resolve and strength. Second, these attacks could merely be residual animus accrued over the last decade against an unpopular presidency, soon to be hopefully smoothed over by newer alliances between nations built on commonly shared worldviews.

The earlier assumption may be, at first glance, more realistic than the latter. However, the possible merits of the first scenario do not comprehensively extend to describing the flawed reasoning present in the second.

Already, voices have begun pointing out the selective choosing perpetrated by the terrorists. The United States and Britain have been the two main driving forces for the War on Terror in neighboring regions. Other European foreigners were let go by the shooters in mid-rampage, while passports were checked explicitly for Americans and Britons. Obviously, this line of reasoning would have it, the Atlantic allies lit one too many a match, necessitating a conflagration that torches innocents as well. The errors of this position comprise misconceptions of reciprocity.

As the above thinking goes, since the United States and Great Britain move to strike preventively at terrorist targets beyond their own borders, terrorist organizations return fire in their own uncanny manner. First, this immoderately implies that allied targeting of terrorist camps is somehow the equivalent of men with Kalashnikovs kidnapping and shooting unarmed civilians, a shaky equivalence to say the very least. Second, it somehow dreamily implies reason, a requisite of reciprocity, is present in both parties.

The very lack of equivalence mentioned above would simultaneously assert a lack of such reason, or worse, a deliberate refusal to deal in this currency by the terrorists. When only one party in a conflict is possessing and expecting rationality, there is almost by definition, no reciprocity. One side is free to wreak whatever havoc it wishes, while the other mires itself in bogs of its own vain design.

Apart from a focus on the assumed liability burdening the Washington and London, there is an alternate chorus echoing a far broader call. Understanding the predicaments of the would-be enemies is stressed, with an emphasis on the economic and social environments around which such animus is incubated. As the reasoning maintains, these actions stem from certain economic and social inequities, driving those who suffer these conditions to indiscriminately maim and murder since it is the sole outlet of their collective pathos.

While the mistaken reciprocity above assumes the possession of reason where there is none, here in contrast there is the assumption of a lack of rational capabilities in the other party altogether. Blame, after all, cannot be assigned to the unreasoning, since they know not what they do. Yet, again in vanity, this condescension leaves only one party possessing the requisite rationality to be held accountable for one's actions. One side is free to wreak whatever havoc it wishes, while the other, like a negligent parent, holds itself liable, if only to keep the conversation's focus on itself.

Georgetown's inimitable Fr. James Schall, S.J., once wrote that 'stoicism is the gateway to pride.' Stoicism, like the self-obsession masked as pity mentioned above, removes the self from meaningful contact with others into an isolated cocoon of simulated emancipation. But what of the freedom twice seen to be the province of the terrorist? How can the slaughterers of Mumbai appear so organized and focused, yet seem so willful and chaotic? The answer lies in their perception of freedom, a quality they misconstrue along with terrorism's rationalizers.

If the terrorists forwarded an argument, such as their actions being directly and literally reciprocal and just payment for a past affront, this would confine him into a narrow, and selective avenue of choice. If he gave no reason for his actions, or more often than not, false and misleading ones, then he would not need to operate under the burdens of being true to his search for justice. He could operate forever in the shadows between worlds, seeking to serve justice and truth only when convenient, and only when these served himself.

What is misunderstood however, is the cost of this false freedom. For one who rationalizes terror, hoping to occupy the elevated seat of emancipated enlightenment, there is a risk of having the legs of the seat chopped down unceremoniously out from under him. Or worse, this inability to truly confront the malignance one experiences may allow, more than those who combat terror, the loss of unwilling innocents.

Those who practice terror, on the other hand, believe their unique status affords them the license to do whatever they wish, unbound by convention and scruple. Yet, they fail to see the significance of this shadow-life. As the dead in Homer's Odyssey waft to and fro Tartarus as mere shades of their once mighty selves, these who bring such pain to others are blind to their own loss of humanity.



Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links, Columns, and Articles:

Spartans, Traitors, and Terrorists | Dr. Jose Yulo
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On the Term "Islamo-Fascism" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Plato's Ring in the Sudan: How Freedom Begets Isolation of the Soul | Dr. Jose Yulo
The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror | Dr. Jose Yulo
From Defeat to Victory: On the Question of Evil | Alice von Hildebrand



Jose Yulo, Ed.D. teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization, United States history, and public speaking at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD.

Originally from Manila in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of J. R. R. Tolkien. He has written several articles for IgnatiusInsight.com.



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