In the British city of Liverpool on Sunday, Emad al Swealmeen transported a homemade bomb to a women’s hospital, which he apparently intended to attack. Fortunately, the bomb exploded before he got inside, and his was the only death. The police subsequently arrested four men on suspicion of terrorism, but then released them. Stephen Daisley, surveying the reactions of the British public, notes that the it has “stopped being horrified” by such acts of terrorism:
Of course, the initial spectacle continues to startle us, and we utter oaths while shaking our heads, but it is a hollow response. There is not the same awed foreboding that washed over when the second plane knifed the South Tower [in New York City]. There is much less revulsion than there was when London commuters were blown to bits on the Piccadilly line. Theatrical acts of barbarism, staged by our fellow citizens, have lost their satanic dazzle. We have become inured to horror.
By rights, the attempted bombing of Liverpool Women’s Hospital should wrench us out of our self-medicated numbness. . . . I would like to think so, but I am not convinced.
In the wake of acts such as these, a reflexive call goes out to beware a rush to judgment. It is typically issued by people who are against even a leisurely stroll to judgment. There is a whole vocabulary of anesthetizing pabulum deployed by politicians, police, journalists, and others to soothe any potential anger or outrage among the public. There are a lot of soft-focus words like “communities” and “unity” and “values.”
There shouldn’t be a rush to judgment but there should be judgment. Anger is self-consuming but it is also a wholly natural sentiment. A society not roused to gall by the planned annihilation of newborns is not as advanced as it tells itself. It is not only legitimate but morally imperative to feel outraged. These are, after all, outrages. Downplaying them or rationalizing away their grotesque sadism does not make us more ethical or enlightened. It makes us cowards and, on some level, it makes us complicit. “We won’t let the terrorists win,” we simper, as though we’re even putting up a fight for them to win or lose.