When the news of the Peshawar massacre of school children broke, I was deep into watching a political thriller called The State Within, a BBC production recommended by Jesse Kornbluth at Head Butler. It is a seven-part edge-of-seat drama which demands close attention and throws into question all the things we wish were true but fear/know are not.

The commitment to the common good of governments. The integrity of public servants. The honesty of businessmen and women. The essential evil of terrorists.

The State Within begins with a terrorist action which is condemned by all as despicably evil, cowardly, and reprehensible: a plane full of innocent civilians is bombed. There are no survivors.

But nothing in the world – and especially in the world of terrorism – is ever simple. For the next week, one hour each night, I lived in an unimaginable world of duplicity, brutality and unspeakable acts of violence. Just as Jesse Kornbluth had warned when recommending the movie, I began to question everything I read in the papers or heard on the news. The movie has that effect on you. In The State Within, no one can be trusted. Everyone’s motives are suspect – from the US Secretary of Defence to British Embassy staff to the head of one of America’s most respected corporations.

And the so-called terrorists do not act alone, nor are their motives the ones ascribed to them in the media. They are paid mercenaries, in it for the money. They are cold, calculating and capable of anything.

So are the people who pay them.

The “terrorists” face danger, gripping fear, intense physical pain and shocking betrayals from their mates. Their tasks take them to remote and difficult places where they endure hours of arduous and risky endeavour. They have no human relationships. They are hired as machines and they act that way. They appear to have no remorse, no guilt, no weakness. But at night, in their dreams, the things they have done come back to haunt them. Scenes of the brutalities they are responsible for replay themselves over and over and they wake screaming in demented agony, the only escape from which is to hunt, torture and kill some more.

And the people who pay them? They are  successful and highly paid corporate executives, influential  and respected politicians and trusted, well-regarded civil servants.

In the movie, they glide smoothly through privileged, elegant lives, meeting cultured, soft-spoken friends and colleagues at elite restaurants, conferences and galas. They play with their beautiful children, dress in the finest clothes and dine on the choicest cuisines. They dispatch their hit-men through 4, 5 and 6 degrees of separation. They would never recognise any of them on the street nor would they be recognised; there would be no chance of ever running into one of them on a flight or in a theatre because their worlds could not possibly intersect. The idea of waking in the night writhing and sobbing for their sins would make them smile. They have insulated themselves so successfully from the chain of events they put in motion every day that they literally cannot imagine the cost of doing business.

Only when a few honest and committed individuals (in the government, the press, in business, on the streets) begin asking questions and making connections do their lives begin to unravel. Only then do they begin to acknowledge the enormity of what they have been doing. Only then do they lose their heads, making crazy errors of judgement as they panic and spin in wild, desperate moves to save themselves from themselves.

This is the frame of mind I was in when I heard about the Peshawar slaughter. The senseless massacre of innocent children is probably not senseless at all. I suspect it serves some carefully reasoned, carefully plotted larger agenda and that Islamic hegemony is most unlikely to be the goal the “terrorists” have in mind.

There is nothing anyone can say in the face of a horror like what happened to these beautiful young children who went to school one morning and never came home. There are no words to comfort their parents, their brothers and sisters or the friends who watched them die. There are no lessons to be learned, no pious truths to be gleaned. This is sheer barbarity and the world has never been short of barbarians.

But barbarism, in our day and age, is seldom psychopathic or without reason. It is cold and hard and part of a carefully thought out plan. It serves an agenda and it is part and parcel with drone strikes and torture and the getting of oil at any price. What happened in Peshawar is a disgrace to all humanity. But it is so unlikely to have been an isolated event, unconnected to anything larger. It is part of a pattern and just one item on a much larger agenda.

So, as Mr Rogers was told by his mother when he was frightened by some terrible event as a child: “Look for the helpers. There will always be people helping.”

I’m not speaking here of the brave teachers and older students who risked their own lives to try and protect the children in that Peshawar school, nor of the Pakistani soldiers who rushed in to disarm the bombs and carry survivors to safety, nor of the ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses or blood donors – God bless them all.

The people helping – really helping – are the ones asking the hard questions and making those vital connections. They are the authentic journalists who probe beyond the surface narratives the mainstream media feeds us and find the money trail. They are the honest officials who refuse to cooperate with corruption and  who root it out and expose it to the public. They are the whistle-blowers in companies who stand up for the truth, even when it costs them their jobs, their reputations and sometimes even their lives. They are citizens and organizers and hard-working people who live decent, honourable lives and who help each other out in times of need.

Look for the helpers. There will always be people helping.

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