“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. This quote allows us to view the topic of terrorism from a much broader perspective. The word ‘terrorist’ has negative implications whereas a ‘freedom fighter’ is viewed as a hero. Robert Cormier attempts to shape my response to terrorism by maintaining a balanced understanding between the opposite sides and presenting terrorist activities from multiple perspectives. Prior to reading the novel, my response to terrorism had never included the terrorists’ point of view, nor had I ever bothered to take an interest in their history or the reasons for their radical actions. I was always prone to see things from the victims’ point of view and firmly believed that all terrorists were fanatics who had very low standards of morality and no respect for the law. This is because terrorism is presented to us by the media which is limited in its reach and restricted to a few minutes on television, or limited coverage of the footage in the newspaper.
However, Cormier does the opposite by presenting the reader with the details of the hijacking event from both the victim’s and the terrorists’ point of view, fully informing us of the kind of lives the terrorists have led, the origins and development of their organization. Because of Cormier’s careful attention to the selection of detail, he informs the reader of the terrorists’ private thoughts, their reasons for being and even exposing the kind and caring side of their nature. The readers are encouraged to view them as human beings, no different from us. The character Miro, although a terrorist, is presented by Cormier as being a normal human being with human emotions such as anger, fear and frustration, and thereby no different to the rest of us. Because the writer reveals his gloomy background and depressing childhood, the reader is made to understand the reasons for him being drawn into the lifestyle of a terrorist.
Cormier reveals through characters such as General Marchand, that the ‘good guys’ are not necessarily what they appear to be, and in fact, are capable of morally wrong behaviour no different from a terrorist. The leader of Inner Delta, General Marchand, who is supposed to be the ‘hero’ in the story, is eventually exposed as a sick man, who manipulates and sacrifices his own son in order to simply further his career. By placing his sons’ life in extreme danger and allowing him to fall into the hands of the ruthless terrorists, Cormier reveals his brutality. The author cleverly reveals General Marchand, Miro and Artkin to be of a similar kind, in their aims and ambitions Cormier not only presents the terrorists as angry, depraved lunatics, but also in the case of Miro, through his characterization, presents a likeable, obedient and caring young person. His ‘human side’ is shown best when he interacts with Kate, as he always feels upset with himself after having a conversation because he has let his guard down.
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We see that when Miro starts talking about subjects that have no resemblance to terrorism, such as the famous singer Elvis Presley, we no longer see him as a terrorist and instead, just an ordinary individual. Cormier shows more human behaviour from Miro by exposing his shyness when Kate complements him. By displaying his ‘human’ emotions and behaviour, Cormier attempts to sway the reader that there is no need to classify him as a ‘terrorist’ because, in fact, he is very similar to us. Cormier presents some of the terrorists in the novel as having some form of relationship, and in this manner, we are able to relate to the characters and feel less hatred towards them. The strong connection between Miro and Artkin is evident from the early chapters. They almost share the typical ‘father and son relationship, where the son (Miro) shows a great deal of respect and obedience towards the father (Artkin). It seems a part of Miro’s motivation for his terroristic activities is to ‘impress’ his father-like role model, Atkin.
Another type of relationship is the powerful connection between Miro and his older brother, Aniel. Cormier displays Miro’s strong compassion for Aniel and emphasizes his importance in his life. This affected me in such a way that I felt very drawn into the characters because such relationships are apparent in my life, and allowed me to see them as real ‘human’ beings rather than ‘terrorists’. Clearly, Cormier’s attempt to shape my response to terrorism in After the First Death has resulted in me forming an opinion of terrorism in a way that took me by complete surprise. Previously, my ‘black and white ‘ approach to terrorism has changed as a result of reading the novel. I now have a much more balanced approach and no longer view terrorists as immoral fanatics and instead, see them as human beings no different to us.