The al-Shabaab massacre in Nairobi leaves a litany of unique tragedies

In these mass killings, it is the deaths of lovers that grieve me most

Share

According to Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland, what the militant group al-Shabaab, was “really attacking” when it went on the rampage in Westgate shopping mall, was “the very idea of capitalism”. A four-year-old boy from Britain, whose mother had already been wounded in the attack, had a different moral take on the massacre. “You’re a very bad man,” he told one of the gunmen. Sometimes you get nearer to the truth if you keep it simple.

Whether the story has grown wings, whether the gunman really was shamed by the boy’s words, handed him a bar of chocolate and begged for his forgiveness, saying: “We are not monsters”, I’m not in any position to know. It would be nice, though, to think that the little boy had time to say: “Oh yes you are. And don’t give me any of that what you’re really attacking is the very idea of capitalism crap.”

Ever since Mary Beard responded to 9/11 by saying the Americans had it coming, that the “civilised world” (her inverted commas) was paying a very high price for refusing to listen to “terrorists” (again her inverted commas), that there were few people on the planet who “devised carnage for the sheer hell of it” – thereby setting up a false opposition between mindless carnage and principled carnage – ever since then I have taken a dim view of the argument that very bad men must have a case or they wouldn’t be very bad men. What very bad men often have is an inflated sense of grievance, coupled with an unswerving conviction of rectitude, which makes them, if anything, even worse men than if they were acting for the sheer hell of it. May God save us all from terrorists – no inverted commas – with a cause.

It isn’t that difficult morally to sort out. A four-year-old can do it. If the killer is firing indiscriminately he’s a very bad man. If he’s firing discriminately – as in this case firing only at those who don’t subscribe to the Muslim faith – he’s a bad man doubly cursed. For Allah will no more forgive him than Jesus will. Marx on the other hand … but then that’s why no man of feeling should be a Marxist.

At the heart of one’s outrage on such occasions is a piercing sadness, like a voice from the whirlwind. The innocent die whenever guns are raised, and one could give one’s life over to sorrow, imagining how many have been ruined since time began in wars of ideology of no concern or value to anyone but the combatants. Dying in a just cause is cruel enough, but dying because some misbegotten sect misreads history in a way that flatters the ignorance of its members, is crueller still. I thought that was going to be the way of it for all of us after 9/11. And it might be yet. But certainly, at the time, I stood on the balcony of my apartment and saw towers topple before my eyes and waited for the fire to come roaring over the rooftops. And then the question was – did I want my wife to be with me as I burned or was it better for her to be far away, somewhere safe, if anywhere safe was left. Better to burn together, melded into one, rather than one be left behind to mourn?

Call me a melodramatist. Call me a sentimentalist, too, if you think that’s the word for me. But it’s always the lovers destroyed in an atrocity that I find myself grieving over first. They can be young lovers or they can be old lovers. Just-marrieds on honeymoon or grandma and grandpa taking a golden-wedding holiday in the wrong place. One still alive but as yet ignorant of the other’s death is hard enough to bear – how would you do it, you wonder, how would you fare at the moment of being told, or in the thousands of nights that follow, how would you survive a single one of them? – but a beloved pair going together wreaks havoc in me. I have only to discover that they died hand-in-hand and I’m finished. This time, I read of two who died huddled together, two become one for the final time. Like the Phoenix and the Turtle, either neither. So was there time enough for one to sorrow for the other or for both to sorrow for themselves? And if there was the briefest moment of clarity, each for each – ah, the pity of it – was there consolation in that? A last confession of devotion in the eyes? Can love do that?

I’ve been reading lovers’ goodbye stories since I was a boy, mooning over them in opera and operetta, as though a goodbye was the thing I had to work hardest on because I knew I’d make such a bad job of it when the time came. But there was a sweetness in the goodbyes I rehearsed with the lights out in my bedroom. The Student Prince kisses his Heidleberg barmaid farewell because duty calls, but at least both of them are left intact and beautiful to love another day.

To be gunned down together, though, is of another order of sadness. We all know love is fragile. Who’s to say that lovers who die in one another’s arms would even have been together 10 years on? So in one way atrocity forces a sort of happy ending on them. But that fragility also measures the callousness of the killings. Love is the antithesis to the ideology in whose name everyone – everyone of the wrong faith on the day, that is – must die.

There are no bad men in the world when we flutter in each other’s embrace. And that is why love matters: it’s our last illusion.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Only a game? Far from it

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the Grand Mosque in Mosul  

The al-Baghdadi doctrine: leading British Muslims offer their response

Independent Voices
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil