The story was written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But while the attack on the Twin Towers was an outrageous assault on civilians, and by extension Western civilisation, I picked a hospital for my fictional target in the firm belief that the hospital, secular or not, is a sacred institution, above and beyond that of a church, mosque or synagogue, or even a school.
How naïve was I? Quoth Monday’s Irish Times:
The first round of Ahemdabad’s bombings took place near busy markets, followed by explosions some 25 minutes later in and around two hospitals where the injured were being rushed.According to the Irish Times, ‘The little-known “Indian Mujahideen” or Islamic warriors group claimed responsibility for the Ahemdabad attack in a lengthy e-mail to television news channels minutes before the first bomb exploded at about 6.30pm on Saturday.’
A doctor, his three-month pregnant wife and another doctor were killed in explosions at two adjoining hospitals within a two-mile radius. “Never before have we seen such ruthless bombings of hospitals. The terrorists’ objective was to strike the defenceless and deepen the fear,” a senior security official said.
In other words, the communiqué was not intended as a warning, as the IRA was wont to do when it planted its bombs, giving the authorities the chance to evacuate the building. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate how little value the perpetrators place on human life and the utter contempt they have for those they consider their enemies, even those non-combatants lying helpless in a hospital.
I know the argument – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter. But does any political objective justify the deliberate targeting of hospitals?
I don’t want to diminish their responsibility by suggesting that the men – and rest assured they were men – who planned and executed this attack were insane, or evil. I believe they were sane, logical human beings.
‘Civilisation’ is a remarkably elastic concept. But there’s only so far any elastic can stretch before it snaps.