I get increasingly uncomfortable with the convention of journalism that requires us to say that so far, we don't know the motives of the people who carried out this week's attacks in Mumbai.
A word like "motive" seems to imply there was reason or purpose. It suggests that, however profane their actions, the terrorists had the incentive of some goal in mind.
But after covering too many killings, as a reporter or host, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Oklahoma City or Somalia, I've come to the conclusion that the perpetrators of such crimes might just be ... evil.
Evil is a word that many people of my generation shrink from using. It seems so imprecise and uneducated — biblical, rather than cerebral and informed.
But there are times and crimes that remind me how often the Bible gets it right.
At some point, someone might record a statement, credited to some group, claiming responsibility for the killings in Mumbai, and send it out to the world. At some point, someone might write some kind of screed, display his education by calling it a manifesto that gets quoted by the best news organizations, including our own.
Terrorists may rationalize their actions with political rhetoric. They may band together, train together, and, ultimately, die together, and thereby give each other the strength and reassurance to believe that they are not alone. Other people share their convictions and help shoulder their actions. So how can they be crazy, much less evil?
But Romeo Dallaire, the courageous Canadian general who tried to stop massacres in Rwanda, once told us that evil men and women see no innocents in the world. They will slaughter mothers without conscience and their children, too, because mothers give birth to children who can grow up to be their opponents.
Evil people are not dumb, he said. They simply use the power of their mind to cut off their conscience.
The people killed this week in Mumbai were not collateral damage, which has become an ugly enough term, but the very objects of damage: human beings who became the targets of a murder spree, however terrorists and apologists may ultimately embroider the assault with supposed political significance. Americans, Britons, Israelis, Indians and Jews seemed to be the particular targets. But those who died were from all over the world and at all stages of life: married couples, religious pilgrims, old people and young people, a father and his young daughter who were learning about meditation.
As investigations and analysis continue over the next few weeks, it may be good to refresh ourselves with the memory of their worthy lives.