Few aspects of Northern Irish political culture are as denuded as
those that attempt to locate and understand the terrorist act. From
the exasperation of Margaret Thatcher’s outburst at the time of the
Hunger Strikes that ‘it is not political, it is a crime’, to the
exhausted freedom fighter/terrorist binary opposition recently
pressed back into service by Peter Mandelson, terrorism has
consistently been perceived as an act that defies the realm of civic
discourse. Indeed, it has been the traditional role of language in the
immediate aftermath of a terrorist atrocity to present itself as unable
to capture the overwhelming materiality of the event itself. What, so
the argument runs, can words offer in the face of such violence?
Understood as such, every terrorist outrage becomes unspeakable.