Jaswinder Bolina on Empathy for the Devil

Bolina reflects on being somewhere outside the “us” and “them” of violence @ The State.

On September 13, 2001, a man tells me, “They should find the people that did this and shoot them in the street.” He’s a tawny-skinned immigrant a generation older than me, a naturalized American citizen, and mostly a pacifist. There’s a pause before he says, “But, you know, it’s amazing what they did.” His gaze turns elsewhere when he adds, “For years, these Americans and these British came into our countries and treated us like dogs. Now they know what the dogs can do to them.” Two days after Tuesday morning, he wants justice like an American, he aches like an American, but his perspective is stereoscopic. When he says, “They should find the people that did this,” they means the American government. When he says, “it’s amazing what they did,” they means the attackers. Both sides of the conflict are they. Neither is us.

He knows that he and I better resemble photographs of the hijackers than photographs of the firefighters. And when he says, “they treated us like dogs,” us means the Indian conflated with the Pakistani, the Pakistani mistaken for the Afghan, the Afghan called an Arab, the Arab indistinguishable from the Persian and the Turk, the Shia and the Sunni and the Sikh all taken for one bearded and turbaned body. He means us who grew up in dusty villages of the Middle East and Asia, who cooked outdoors by firelight and drank well water, whose lands were taken or who were taken from their land. He means the colonized, and from the perspective of the colonized, what the hijackers did is amazing: nineteen men on four flights departing from three cities fewer than 45 minutes apart; the way they crippled a nation thousands of miles and billions of dollars from the broke villages of the Third World. We might abhor their proficient viciousness, but what they did is amazing for the same reason that, ten years later, we’re amazed by another act of lethal efficiency: 30 or so commandos, one dog, two helicopters in an alien airspace; their spectacular mission ended in under 40 minutes with an impossible bullet to the eye. Both acts are amazing, are inhuman.
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