Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lockerbie, tragedy and anger

I should have posted this a week ago because that is when the 20th anniversary of the nightmare I am writing about took place: the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over a Scottish hamlet which is now synonymous with terror, Lockerbie.

On 21st December 1988 just after 7pm a semtex bomb hidden in a radio cassette recorder exploded in the forward cargo hold of Pan Am flight 103, punching a half metre hole in the left side of the fuselage. The fuselage reflected a shock wave back to the point where the explosion had happened, which collided with pulses from the explosion, resulting in mach stem shock waves 25% faster than and double the power of the original explosion. The aircraft rapidly disintegrated and passengers, luggage and fragments of the plane were thrown out into the freezing night sky. Some 270 people died that night, all 259 passengers aboard the flight and 11 Lockerbie residents.

One of those murdered was American Theo Cohen, pictured above, an achingly beautiful 20 year old who liked singing and Brideshead Revisited. The only daughter of left-leaning writers, Dan and Susan Cohen, she had been studying in London and was on her way back home for the holidays.

Her parents waged a selfless and ceaseless battle for justice, determined not to allow her murder to go ignored and unpunished and setting their faces against official indifference and cynical geopolitical manoeuvrings as they did so.

They wrote a book about their experiences entitled Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals and a bereaved family's search for justice. It is a moving testament to their fierce loyalty to Theo and their refusal to be ground down by the brute insensitivity of people who fatuously lecture them on the spurious virtues of "forgetting," "getting over it" and "moving on".

One of the most stirring passages in the book is where Susan Cohen wrote about anger, why it is a healthy, cleansing emotion and how it is a potent force for progressive change. She explained how passivity is pushed by a media gripped by Disneyesque sentimentality and by clerics and counsellors unsettled by seething emotional turmoil. In a biting turn of phrase, Cohen described the fusion of therapists, clerics and drug companies, who acknowledge the force of anger even as they endeavour to suppress it, as "the grief industry".

But as Cohen argued, "anger is a saving emotion." She added: "It surges through you and makes you strong and energetic. When you're mad you do brave things. That makes anger dangerous. The powers that be never want anger. Never want resistance. How convenient for them that the grief industry and the media preach acceptance, forgiveness, resignation."

Cohen wrote with a wisdom gleaned from bitter suffering but her insights have a wider application beyond that of terrorist outrages. Righteous anger is a catalyst for social progress. It propels people to seek a better world than the one they are lumbered with and is what gives humans the courage to rise up from their oppression. A completely placid person is either tranquilised or enslaved by complacency. Anger is a necessary condition of human freedom.


Blogger David Lindsay said...

He didn’t do it.

Everyone knows that.

We needed Syria on side in the first Gulf War, so we blamed Libya instead. Libya later needed us (or, at least, the Americans) on side, so Gaddafi played ball and handed over this innocent man, just as he later did and pretended to have dismantled a WMD programme which had never existed in the first place.

Alliance with Libya, run by the Gaddafis and where at least a third of the population subscribes to the Sanusi synthesis of Wahhabism and popular Sufism, is either irrelevant or positively pernicious, depending on how you look at it.

Whereas alliance with Syria – run by an erstwhile London doctor and with a huge, very well-integrated Christian population – is an urgent priority.

However, there can be no alliance with Syria while this great wrong remains unrighted.

Though not for that reason alone, that righting cannot possibly come too soon.

12/29/2008 7:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Lindsay: That is a conspiracy theory promoted by Libya.

In the Cohen's book they acknowledge and attack the conspiracy theory, just like they attacked the conspiracy theories that Pan Am tried to promote.

1/23/2010 11:12 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Yes, that's right Anonymous.

The Cohens are remarkable people. It was quite wrong of the Scottish government to increase their suffering. They've been put through far too much of that already.

May God bless them.

1/24/2010 2:04 AM  

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