None of the several hundred international travelers who came together tragically at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport today expected to be part of yet another act of terrorism. Having just spent quality time in several international terminals myself just a day ago (I am in England, on my way to Liverpool Hope University, having flown in from Philadelphia’s international airport to Manchester), I can attest to the fact that there is nothing quite so prosaic as dragging our rolling bags across acres of badly-lit linoleum or terrazzo floors, standing for much too long in passport control lines, rubbing shoulders with fellow travelers of all types waiting for bags, taxis, hotel shuttles, food, ID checks, a word of human kindness amid the generally ugly/tiring/boring work of air travel these days.
Terrorists, of course, delight in attacking exactly that, the most mundane, normally uneventful, presumably secure stuff of our daily lives. The better to make everyday people cower in fear, bring pressure on governments to increase security measures, change social patterns by random murder.
Just as September 11 did not stop people from getting on airplanes or working in tall buildings, neither will this latest act of terror in Moscow — how many such incidents have the people of Russia endured? — stop international airline travel. The terrorists, who at this writing are presumed to be part of the decades-long uprising in teh Caucasus, will go into hiding for a while and then strike at some fresh unsuspecting crowd of people, just as they did today, or in a Moscow theater in 2003, or in a school in Beslan in 2004.
Here in the lobby of the Manchester Airport Hilton, life goes on as usual, with jolly good Britons and other travelers obsessively watching football (soccer usually, though last evening a rabid group of Packers fans took over the television in the bar/restaurant for a while…). But there is an urgency to this fresh news of terrorism over here, perhaps because Moscow seems not quite so far away, perhaps because Manchester itself, as with London, as Northern Ireland, and so many other places here have suffered through years of terrorism and acts of violence by one group or another.
I’m here to give the winter commencement address at Liverpool Hope University, a wonderful institution that grew from several smaller colleges including one founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1856. More on that later this week. For now, I’m reviewing my text that I will give on Wednesday, thinking about the part of my speech in which (no surprise) I urge the graduates to hold fast to the SNDs historic commitment to true moral justice, which means that we have to work for human rights and peace. We cannot let the terrible threats of modern terrorism allow retrenchment of human rights. Or, should we? The climate of fear, the need for security, causes even the most ardent defenders of freedom to pause.
What is the balance? I have no answers, but we cannot give up on our ideals, values and the ultimate cause of hope for peace in this world.