A year or two ago, I was asked to give an after dinner speech at a student Christmas party. When I asked why they had picked me, they said it was because students thought I was funny. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but feel a little jolt of satisfaction: ‘Yes, I’ve finally managed to make terrorism funny!’ To be fair though, they should have heard my lecture on genocide and ethnic cleansing. How we laughed that day!
Sometimes it’s amusing to see people’s faces when I tell them what I do, because people naturally assume that you must have some expertise in your subject. If you say you teach medicine, you must be a doctor; if you teach law, you must be a lawyer; if you teach music, you must be a musician; and so on. So it’s quite fun to tell people that ‘I teach terrorism’.
I do sometimes think it would be quite cool to actually teach terrorism – not that I know anything about making bombs, kidnapping, assassination or such-like. I do, however, feel that I could quite successfully blow up my own car or set fire to my trousers – which is all you really need to be capable of to become a world-famous terrorist these days. Over the years of researching and teaching about terrorism, I have learned quite a lot about what not to do if you want to be a successful terrorist. So if I was teaching a class in terrorism, these would be my Top Tips for Success – all based on true stories:
Number 1 – If you’re going to send a parcel bomb to someone, you must make sure to put enough postage stamps on the package. An Iraqi terrorist built a parcel bomb and duly posted it off. But he hadn’t put enough stamps on and it got returned to him. Failing to recognise the hand-writing, he thought he was getting a present and opened the parcel.
Number 2 – If you’re going to try and attack a military base, don’t buy a gun off someone who says he’ll sell it to you in exchange for a broken TV. There was a man in the US expressing radical views about how someone should attack the local military base in revenge for the Iraq invasion. He was befriended by a guy who agreed with him and who said, well, why don’t you do it? He replied that he didn’t have a gun. The man said he could sell him one. He replied that he didn’t have any money. The man said, well, what do you have? He said, I’ve got a TV – but it doesn’t work! The man said, OK, I’ll sell you a gun for a broken TV. Not thinking that this was in any way suspicious, he went ahead and exchanged the busted TV for the gun. Needless to say, he was immediately arrested by the undercover FBI agent and later sent to prison for life.
Number 3 – Never put the explosives you plan to detonate in your underpants. Not only is there too much room for things to go wrong, but the potential embarrassment factor is just too great. Imagine being in a high security prison for hardened murders and terrorists, and you’re the only one who has to sit down to pee. ‘See that guy? He was once a feared terrorist. I hear that these days he’s lost his balls.’ I sometimes wonder if he got the idea when he was ironing his trousers. He saw the label which said ‘flammable. Keep away from open flame’, but he thought: ‘I know, The Underpants of Fire!’
Number 4: if you’re taking the elective in suicide bombing and the instructor says, ‘now watch this very closely because I’m only going to do it once’ – you should probably run.
I could tell so many stories about how stupid terrorists are – like the guy who planned to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge in New York with a blow-torch. He didn’t realise that with a blow-torch it would take 80 years to cut through enough cables to make the bridge unstable. I actually think they should have let him start and watched to see how long it would take for him to give up. Or the guys who drove a car full of petrol into Glasgow airport, and then when they were on sufficiently on fire, got punched out by a Scottish man.
In case anyone is offended by jokes involving terrorism, I do have a serious point. A lot of people are afraid of terrorism and it makes them anxious and depressed. I think if we take a moment to reflect on many of the complete and utter idiots without a practical thought in their head who are trying to bring down Western civilisation, we might all feel a little better. I mean, if the greatest risk they pose is that they’re going to blow their own bollocks off – or light themselves on fire and get punched out – then we probably don’t need to be quite so anxious!
In addition, not only do I strongly believe that humour can be an important way of expressing and letting out our fears and anxieties, but the fact is that terrorism is really messing up our way of life. Or, more accurately, the response to terrorism is changing the way we live – for the worse. We are reminded practically every day by politicians, the media and ‘experts’ that terrorists are everywhere and they are out to get us. We see warning posters everywhere. You can’t open a bank account without producing written affidavits stating that you’ve never been in a terrorist training camp! And all that security at the airports!
Actually, I can proudly say that I predicted what has happened at airports so far. First we had 9/11 and airport security was looking for knives and weapons. Then we had the shoe bomber and we had to put our shoes through the scanner. Then we had the liquid explosives plot and you couldn’t take liquid onto the plane. At this point, I said to my wife: ‘All it will take is someone putting explosives in or under their clothes and they will have to strip-search everyone before they board’. And what happened? The Christmas Day Bomber puts explosives in his underpants, burns his own genitals and ruins it for everyone. The result: full-body scanners to be brought in at all airports.
Using my prophetic abilities, my next big worry is that some complete dickhead terrorist will put a massive fire-cracker or stick of explosive up his anus and try to board a plane. You might think I’m exaggerating, but it is the next logical step. Next thing you know, we’ll all have to have an anal cavity search before we can board a plane. In future, you may well have to take a tube of lubricant whenever you go to the airport – although it’ll have to be less than 100 mils and in a clear plastic bag! I expect the share price for rubber glove manufacturers will go through the roof! There’ll be added meaning when you get in your seat and start chatting to the person you’ll spending hours next to. They might be wiggling around trying to get comfortable. You’ll say: ‘Are you alright? Is your seat lumpy or something?’ He glances at you with a knowing look: ‘It’s not that. Can you believe it, I forgot to bring my lubricant. The security guy had large hands. Know what I mean?’
My point is that terrorism and the response to it has gone completely over the top, especially when you consider that the risk of terrorism is statistically minute. There’s a greater chance of you dying from choking to death on your meal tonight or some kind of alcohol-related cause – like falling asleep with your head in the toilet after a drunken night – than you ever falling victim to a terrorist attack (see my other blog on this).
For this reason – because society’s fight against terrorism has become a little too serious and threatens to ruin our lives – I have come up with a cunning plan to lighten things up a little and perhaps break down some of the absurdities of counterterrorism. It’s a pretty simple plan. It requires very little effort – just a little nerve – but I think it could change the world forever. With my interest in the role of language and how it constructs reality, and applying the knowledge I’ve gained, I’ve come to the realisation that if we replace a couple of letters in the word ‘terrorism’ to give it a new sound, it could have quite a profound effect.
What I am proposing is that we replace the ‘or’ in terror and terrorism with the letter ‘y’: ‘terrorism’ thus becomes ‘terryism’; ‘terror’ becomes ‘Terry’. The beauty of this plan is that it’s easy to say and people won’t even guess what you’re doing at first. They’ll just think they’ve misheard you, or you’ve got a speech impediment. It’s even funnier if you add a lisp: ‘tewyism’.
‘Hello. I teach tewyism.’
‘I think tewyism is such a big thweat.’
‘We must keep fighting the war on Tewy.’
To illustrate how this works in practice, you can take one of former president George Bush’s speeches and inserted the word ‘Terry’ in all the appropriate places.
‘My fellow Americans. We are at war with Terry. Terry stalks our streets and lurks in our communities. Terryism threatens our way of life. Terryists are resourceful, but so are we. Terryists are clever, but so are we. Terryists hate freedom and so do we. In short, ladies and gentlemen, I will not allow our great nation to be destroyed by Terry. The struggle against the evil of terryism will be long and costly. But I say to you: We will defeat Terry! We will win this war on terroryism.’
Of course, I’m very sorry to people called Terry. I originally thought you could kill two birds with one stone, because most of the famous Terrys are in fact, twats. John Terry – a useful footballer, but definitely a big twat. Terry Wogan – nice enough but a little bit of a twat sometimes. Terry Waite – went to the Middle East to secure the release of a hostage and got kidnapped himself. Definitely a little bit twattish. Terry Jones… well, he’s from Monty Python, so he’s clearly not a twat. But I think he’d really like the idea of a ‘war on terryism’ and wouldn’t object.
Seriously though, think of the positive consequences if it caught on:
Could al Qaeda ever frighten us again if we saw one of their spokesmen saying ‘we will unleash a wave of terrorism in your cities’ but inside our heads we heard: ‘we will unleash a wave of terryism across your cities’?
Could we ever take politicians seriously when they said: ‘terryism threatens our way of life. We need new methods to defeat Terry’?
Could we allow our leaders to pass a law called the ‘Prevention of Terryism Act 2010’?
In the end, I’m trying to make a serious point. We don’t have to just sit back and let the terryists or counter-terryists mess with us. We can fight back, even if it’s just by poking a little fun and subverting those who try to keep us frightened. My plea is that everybody who reads this blog makes an effort, at least once or twice, to keep a straight face and use the word ‘terryism’ in conversation. It’s empowering, and I’ve seen it start a serious debate about important issues. More importantly, you might even get a laugh.