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Courage in an evil cause

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Theodore Dalrymple
September 20, 2017

Dalrymple writes that English

is said to have the largest vocabulary of any language.

So in a way

it was an achievement on the part of Theresa May to have found exactly the wrong word to describe the Parsons Green bombing (2017), namely, to say that it was ‘cowardly’.

The attack, Dalrymple notes,

was not a cowardly action: it was evil as well as stupid, and many other things no doubt, but it was not cowardly. Planting a crude bomb does not require, perhaps, quite so much bravery as it does to blow yourself up, but no one with any imagination can suppose that placing a bomb in a public place is an undertaking for a coward, or that it requires no courage. On the contrary, it requires considerable courage to do such a thing; if it did not, it is probable that there would be many more bombs and terrorist attacks than there already are. To place a bomb like this, one must face the risk of premature explosion and mutilation, the risk of being set upon by witnesses, and the likelihood of being caught and spending years in prison. These are not risks that most of us would care to take.

Does it matter, Dalrymple asks,

if a word, uttered in the heat, or nearly in the heat, of the moment (though surely by now, May must have rehearsed in her mind what to say in the event of a terrorist outrage) is wrong? It would be impossible to estimate with certainty or exactitude the harm done by the misuse of words in these circumstances. But nevertheless there is an unpleasant corollary to May’s statement: if even part of what is wrong about leaving a bomb in Parsons Green station is that it is a cowardly thing to do, then a terrorist attack that is more direct, and hence less cowardly, must be better, from a moral perspective. Are we to admire terrorists who stare their victims in the face, or put themselves directly in self-harm’s way? Bravery in the promotion or defence of a bad cause does not make the cause better, or a heinous act any more praiseworthy.

This article was posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 6:27 am





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