We are living in fear and terror. So what's new?

The attacks in the US and Madrid are not the worst ever. Yet this is now the accepted history
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The Independent Online

Mother's Day was also Navroz, new year's day for my community and for Iranian Shia Muslims. (This is a Zoroastrian custom, absorbed by some Muslims.) The first day of spring is celebrated with feasts and good hope. In our mosque we are given small packets of wheat grain, raisins, a coin, nuts, and we wish for a safe, fertile and prosperous 12 months.

Mother's Day was also Navroz, new year's day for my community and for Iranian Shia Muslims. (This is a Zoroastrian custom, absorbed by some Muslims.) The first day of spring is celebrated with feasts and good hope. In our mosque we are given small packets of wheat grain, raisins, a coin, nuts, and we wish for a safe, fertile and prosperous 12 months.

But safe we are not as we are ceaselessly reminded, by stricken writers, sombre politicians, dutiful policeman and chilling security experts. Any minute invisible men could blast away our bodies or those of our children, lovers, parents, friends. They did it in Madrid; who knows where next. The colossal arms programmes of the West, its unprecedented arsenal of weaponry, and expensive intelligence networks which took care of everything during the Cold War cannot stop this bloody programme of wreckage.

Our leaders don't have the compasses needed to follow those who carry out the missions; they have no idea what the killers really want. The world is in pandemonium, commotion and disorder. So we are all, rightly, very afraid and unsettled. I don't want to die or be maimed, but let it be me and not my loved ones. For millions, these wishes rise as we are doing something as simple as buying a Tube ticket.

But, do we have the right to claim, as we appear to be doing, that our new and unexpected apprehension is much more significant and terrifying than the almost constant terror experienced by two-thirds of the world, much of it a result of our misguided interventions? The excessively anxious grizzles on the pages and the airwaves (mine included) are unbecoming. Have we forgotten the example set by our old stoic citizens during the Blitz and the worst IRA bombs on the mainland?

Oh I can see how intolerable it must seem to metropolitan bigwigs that they sense trembling in their fit legs as they approach The Groucho Club or The Ivy. The odd mugging yes, maybe a clever burglary or two, that is to be expected if you live a fine life in the capital cities of the UK. But ubiquitous dread and uncertainty? For those who believe history has won them immunity from such vulnerability, the affront is unspeakable. Rattled and furious they have declared null and void our precious principles of justice and international conventions. They don't care about the rights of terrorist suspects , proven or otherwise. Useless, fair-weather democrats.

These reactions are not that different from the national psychosis which has gripped the US since the 11 September attacks. What happened there was grotesque; what happened in Spain equally so. But we must be wary of paranoia and knee-jerk pro-Americanism which will only corral us and lead us towards more disastrous policies. Now is the time to think as true internationalists.

"Our" victims are not intrinsically more human and worthy and valuable than the millions around the world who suffer the effects of appalling violence. The attacks in the US, in Bali and now in Europe are not the worst ever witnessed. And yet this is now the accepted history. It matters not that Africans and Arabs and Kashmiris and various groups in the Balkans have suffered more losses, or that countless (literally) Iraqis have perished in the last 12 years as a result of two wars and our sanctions, and now the daily explosions which devastate mainly locals. Americans and Europeans must learn less self absorption, even as the going gets tough. We must touch the anguish of millions in more troubled areas.

A mother wrote me a letter from Israel last year after her son, 19, was blown up by a suicide bomber. "Do you know how we feel, day after day? I am a teacher, I supported the Palestinian cause. I wanted us to go back to the 1967 maps. But they murdered my only son. My two daughters cannot go to birthday parties, one cannot sleep at all. We are alive but dead and afraid ... How can you understand this feelings(sic)."

I can't easily understand but I have an absolute obligation to try. Similar daily desolation paralyses on the other side. In When the Bulbul Stopped Singing, the Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh describes Ramallah, under siege. Bodies fester on the street, bodies of people killed by Israeli soldiers, bodies which cannot be buried because of a total curfew. Then the curfew is lifted, but Shehadeh is not thrilled. "I was like a prisoner who was in for too long ... I preferred to be cooped up in my cocoon."

Or imagine this. Iraqi-British artist, Suad Al-Attar, whose portraits have the divine glow of old Venetian masters is watching television in London when she sees her sister's home blow up. Include the fearful mothers on this day watching their children die of curable diseases, bad water, Aids and endless conflicts. The list is long and we have long ignored it. But in this globalised world, there is no gated bliss any more, no secure enclave for the permanently privileged. As we suffer terror, can we at least try a little humility and remember the millions beyond our boundaries who die before their time, without names or graves or candles or memorials?

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