By Rajneesh Narula
(Another in my occasional essay series)
I love Lufthansa. It has a special place in my heart for three reasons. First, they serve passable German sparkling wine to economy class passengers at no charge. Second, their cutlery is elegant and durable. I began to particularly appreciate it when I got separated and I decided that given how much of my salary I donate to airlines, they would not miss the odd spoon or fork. Third, they always provide Milka Bars as part of their meals. In my estimation, the Milka Bar is Germany’s primary post-war contribution to civilisation. Ok, so they helped bring about the Euro and European Integration. But these things came about because of the war. Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW, kitchen knives, Siemens, sex aids – these all existed before the war. The Milka Bar, proud, purple and brown, represents Post War German engineering par excellence.
But today – on a Lufthansa flight – I was served no Milka Bar. Tremors ran through my calcifying heart. Be still, I commanded, but irrational thoughts streamed through my mind. Chineke God! European Civilisation as I knew it was on the verge of collapse! I even considered turning in my European Passport. No Milka Bar! Is nothing sacred? Can the collapse of a Unified Europe be far behind? Will the British stop eating curries? Will the Italians stop eating pasta, and the Portuguese forsake Bacalhau? Will pigs finally fly?
My hands trembling, I summoned a flight attendant (let posterity record that her name was Marilyn). Clearly Marilyn had undergone intensive training for this eventuality. Demonstrating a talent for method acting, she calmly informed me of Lufthansa’s decision not to serve Milka Bars. Was the company (Lufthansa or Milka) in danger of going bankrupt, I asked? No, delightful Marilyn assured me, Milka was alive and well, but not airborne. But my soul and my spirit were not appeased. Why had Lufthansa, national German flag carrier, taken such drastic steps, I wanted to know.
Marilyn finally broke down (I like to think that she had no choice faced with my irresistible charm) and confessed, cleverly disguising the emotion that she no doubt felt, revealing one of the best kept secrets of the 21st Century: It was because of September 11. Osama Bin Laden himself was responsible.
This development was indeed perplexing. The excellent cutlery – all of it metal – was still very much present. A chocolate bar did not strike me as a useful weapon of any kind of destruction, whether mass of otherwise (snacks served by Nigeria Airways are a different story).
Disturbed as I was by the situation at hand, I demanded further explanation. Marilyn assured me that the Milka Bar had not been vetoed because of its missile-like qualities, or its efficacy in hand-to-hand combat, but because there had been a decline in passengers, and thus my milka bar had been sacrificed as a cost-cutting measure.
For the first time, I felt personally victimised by these recent events. Lest you think that I am being sensational, let me remind you that (courtesy Merriam Webster Dictionary) terror is ‘a state of intense fear or anxiety’. True, my loss was not on the scale as the Afghans, or those associated with the World Trade Centre. These were primary victims. Instead, I was a secondary victim, deprived (cruelly) of an essential element to my existence, and search for nirvana. I was anxious, and I feared that my life had changed, and what is more, I had no control over matters.
Indeed, I am not being selfish here. Such an eventuality had international ramifications, after all. The loss of Milka-Bar-Privileges was a serious blow to European adults (European children prefer Kinder Eggs). It would demoralise the public. Street riots might break out. Countries with a surplus of Milka Bars could hold others to ransom. The fate of an entire culture lay in the balance, and I could see the logic of not revealing this diabolical development to the general public. I decided that I too would Do My Bit. I would disguise the profound shock that I felt, I would ignore that hollow sensation in the pit of my stomach, that emptiness in my soul. I would be the first European Hero since Field Marshal Montgomery, Jaques Delores and Mr Bean. I would do the stiff upper lip thing for Queen (Denmark, here I come), Country and Continent. In summary, I would be shining example of an Anti-Terrorist. I instead consumed a small packet of Gummi Bears (thank you Marilyn) shaped like pizza’s. These Germans are not afraid of anything. But I did so stifling the anguish, fighting the tears. My sacrifice would not be in vain, I vowed.
I understood with conviction what George W (brilliant strategist that he is) already knew: This bin Laden chap was something of a cad, a bounder, a non-cricketing type. I also realised that I had now the qualifications to be invited by Oprah Winfrey or Ricki Lake. I was a bon fide terror expert.
After all, I do have a PhD. All good experts on American talk shows have a PhD. I had experienced terrorism, and the effects of terrorism. I had personal experience. I had not as yet written a book about it, but that is something easily remedied. I could quit my job and travel around the world telling my story. I could be on the board of Amnesty International, I would appear in advertisements for the UNHCR (this last development only after I became displaced in the milka bar wars that are about to ensue). And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I was supremely qualified for my new role in life, not just because of the Milka Bar crisis, but because (I have realised) that in fact my experience with terror goes back to my childhood.
Lest you think the term ‘terror expert’ is not accurate, I believe I use it in the same spirit as the Financial Times (30 January 2002). They had paid a whole wad of money for information from a man who neither had a PhD, nor had suffered any personal experience with terror (he had written a book, poor fool). Here I was, an expert on terror, both as a victim, and as a performer of terrorism. As a victim, it is clear that the Milka Crisis marks such a moment. But there have been many others, some almost as terrifying. I once lost almost one Naira to a bully at the age of 10.
But I have also had experience as a performer of terror. A defenceless boy named Eby was once made to ride a wild donkey (which I had temporarily captured). Needless to say the ride was short, and Eby has never been quite the same ever again. Local wildlife (especially agama lizards and other reptiles) realised that I had an unparalleled ability to wreak havoc on their peace-loving ways, and I would attack their young without any provocation. Some of my ex-girlfriends have spoken sharply about psychological damage that I did, and have very expensive Psychiatrists to take care of them. I had no reason to do these things. A man with one aim and one aim alone: to cause pain, suffering and ruin their sleep. I had made them anxious; I lived for the pleasure of terror. I was (according to them) a sadist, and (had they known!) a terrorist.
I am not an expert on the means to combat terror. I have the technology to harm other people’s way of life, to cause anxiety and fear, and I also suffer from psychoses because of my own experience. I am licensed to practise, because I have experience (and lets not forget the PhD), and I have survived, not succumbing to the suffering.
Lest you, faithful reader, think that I am being facetious and thereby opaque, let me put my concerns here in black and white. First, as with any bully (aka terrorist) it is paramount not to give in. Their victory lies in promoting fear. Second, what might seem to be terrorism, may simply reflect some other crisis. Third, George W Bush, remember, you have been there too. The US is not immune from accusations of terrorism. Fourth, it is essential to understand why people do things. Perhaps it’s easier to make the reasons for the victimisation to go away, than to go around requisitioning an eye for an eye. These things can go on forever. One only has to look as far as the Middle East, or Days of Our Lives. Fifth, Ricki Lake, Oprah Winfrey and the Financial Times, my fees are reasonable, and I promise to provide decent sound bites.