It is frequently argued when people respond to terrorism in a certain way, that you are ‘doing what the terrorists want.’ So, for example, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders, people have argued that we shouldn’t pay so much attention to the events ‘because that’s what the terrorists want’ – or that we shouldn’t rejoice in the magazine’s success or go on marches or wear Je Suis Charlie t-shirts – or whatever it might be, because ‘that’s what they want’.
I have two reactions to this. First, it’s impossible to know exactly what the killers wanted. It seems that they wanted to kill the cartoonists, because that’s what they did; and it’s logical to assume that they wanted to spread fear and to silence people in order to promulgate their horrendous vision of Islam. But beyond that – whether they wanted to destroy the magazine or build it up; whether they would laugh at the subsequent demonstrations or gnash their teeth at them, we cannot know. We can only surmise.
Secondly, the idea that I am doing ‘just what the attackers wanted’ and should therefore not do it, does not sit well with me, because it means I’m still being manipulated by them. What I want to do is to weigh things up and do what I decide to do, respond in the way I feel moved to respond and to do what I think will help. Of course this leaves me open to the charge that I am naive and well-intentioned and playing into the enemy’s hands. There may be a tactical argument here, if my actions are ultimately going to harm my cause, but there isn’t a moral one.
Likewise with trolls the argument is usually to ignore them, because giving their comments the oxygen of publicity is ‘just what they want.’ (Incidentally, what about the nitrogen of publicity? Or the hydrogen? * I think we should be told). Up to now I’ve been trashing my trollish comments on this blog. But yesterday’s comment was so funny I decided to publish it. I had a highly critical comment on my Mslexia blog post, too – and approving that led to me getting lots of support. Besides, I can’t help remembering that in the Harry Potter books, what finishes a Boggart (a creature that shows your worst fears) is laughter.
So let’s all have a good laugh, like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists…
* I think the helium of publicity would be good fun…