2/17/03: What makes a terrorist, and story structure

Word count (outline and notes): 12239 Just finished reading Shoot the Women First by Eileen MacDonald. I read this partly to get a handle on Sienna, but mostly for Jason. I wanted an answer to the question Why does someone become a terrorist? My reading of the stories in this book is that, as a rule, they do so because they are wholly committed to the cause — that it seems more important than human life. Which is not to say that all terrorists are cold-blooded killers; many of the women interviewed in this book felt remorse about the people they had killed (some regretted the entire terrorist thing; others did not). But in general they felt that these deaths were necessary in order to make the serious changes in society they sought. Most of these women became terrorists in reaction to societal oppression expressed personally. For example, the Palestinian and Irish Republican suffered societal oppression of their entire people (their language prohibited, the loss of the right to assemble, etc.) as well as a personal expression of that oppression (both women were repeatedly forced to move from house to house as children — either forced to move by their oppressors or just trying to avoid them — and suffered constant physical intimidation by the Israelis/Protestants respectively). However, it was not any specific act of personal oppression that convinced them to take action. Rather, they cited these acts of personal oppression as examples of the suffering of their people as a whole. Their primary motivation was to rescue their people from domination rather than to redress personal offences. This is true even for the Italian and German left-wing terrorists who sought to radically change their own culture’s politics rather than to expel an invading culture. “Astrid Proll, a former member of the Baader-Meinhof gang, once described herself and her comrades as being ‘very well-armed social workers.'” The author makes much of the idea that these women gave up conventional motherhood (in some cases abandoning existing children) in favor of expressing maternal feelings for the Cause, and often felt a closer attachment to the Cause than to their lovers or husbands. Personally, and for purposes of the novel, I don’t think this is an expressly female trait. The point, I think, is that before you can kill, you must become attached to something that literally matters more to you than life itself. Another book I’ve been reading is The Making of Memento by James Mottram (a Christmas present from Kate’s brother). One problem I anticipate in the complex interleaved plot I have in mind is how to keep the reader from getting confused about when each individual chapter takes place. Mottram points out some of the tricks that director Nolan uses to keep the viewers oriented in Memento, including the scratches on Leonard’s face. Something that simple and visual is too subtle for a novel, I think, but what if Jason breaks his leg during the escape from the UN? That’s something that will influence his every action and will make perfectly clear whether a particular chapter takes place before or after that point.

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