ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Horror and Helplessness

After Peshawar

The horror of contemporary terror attacks and warfare is the conjoining of vulnerability with helplessness. What contemporary horror achieves is the utter and complete annihilation of the structures that constitute the sustaining world of the truly helpless.

The nature of both war and terrorism has shifted in radical and horrific ways: Malala Yousafzai shot in the head at point-blank range for going to school, Boko Haram kidnaps hundreds of school girls, Taliban mercenaries massacre 130+ schoolchildren in Peshawar and, preceding all this, innocent teenagers and young men arrested, incarcerated and tortured in Abu Ghraib in the “war on terror”. While ancient and modern wars have always targeted civilian populations — “collateral damage”, that nightmarish phrase that reduces human beings to “collateral” — there is a whole new ruthlessness manifest today in the above examples.

The shift in the nature of brutality has been summarised as a shift towards soft targets — civilian populations rather than just soldiers at the front. But this formulation seems woefully inadequate to describe the kind of atrocity perpetrated on the war on terror’s bombing of refugee camps and International Red Cross facilities, Boko Haram’s kidnappings of girls and the newest instance, the Peshawar killings.

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