Monday, March 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on Terrorism


Nothing in this world is to be feared...its only to be understood

~Marie Curie

I was sitting on my living room couch, lazily reading some old magazine when I learned about Terrorist Attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team. There was a news flash on TV and within 5-10 minute "experts" were ready with their “informed” opinion on how this incident will effect everything from Cricket, Peace in Asia and sponsorship of IPL. True to their nature, News channels were filled with rhetoric, meaning less call for action and other such ploy to cash on public sentiments. In short our reaction to the attack was very predictable : “knee jerk “. Having seen many such incidents in past I was confident about what is to follow. We will forget about it . Soon. 

But I was afraid,Loss of human life is always tragic. But I think it will be a mistake to see this incident as just another terrorist attack. Something is different this time, something subtle which disturbed me.A threshold has been crossed. Its not terrorism anymore. This issue is a Vendetta. Implication of this difference are far reaching and if not checked in time.It will be devastating to stability of our nation. 

What is Terrorism?

Its not in my nature to be afraid . Never . I strongly believe in above mentioned words of Marie Curie. Whenever I am afraid of anything .I take it as a symptom/side effect of my failure to comprehend. My life's experience has thought me that if you look deep enough , hard enough and long enough you will find some pattern of logical coherence in every problem. So I spent last couple of days thinking about the problem of terrorism . This essay is result of that thought process .

First and foremost I was surprised to see that most of the time when we talk of Terrorism we talk about act of violence only. Our whole perception of terrorism revolves around acts of violence. Something that is not violent is not terrorism. That’s the fundamental flaw in our thinking. Violence is culmination of terrorism not origin of it. We talk about "How to solve/remove/eradicate Terror" very few times you will find your self thinking what Terrorism actually is? What we are trying to do is to solve a problem with out understanding it . A hallmark of brute force mentality. No wonder that we are not going anywhere with it . So first step in my quest was to define the term “terrorism”.

You will be surprised to know that till this day there is no standard definition of terrorism on which all of us agree . wikipedia define it as "violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands." Now tell me "What were the demands of Gunmen who were involved it Mumbai Attack of 26/11 ? What were the demands of fidayeen who carried out September 11 ? None. How did attack on sri lankan cricketers helped the cause of terrorist?”.No,None,zilch,Nada.

Vir Sanghvi was right when he said that “Joker is the terrorist of our time.(Link) .Like Joker ,these terrorist never cared to put forward their demands. They never tried to hold hostages. They just came and started killing civilians . they knew they won't get out of it alive . but still they did it .why ? 

At this juncture I want you to forget every single rhetoric filled in to your head by media ask a simple question to your self "Is there anything ,anything at all in the world for which you are ready to die? or ready to kill " I doubt if your answer will be anything outside of standard response of "my family". Very few of us will even consider the possibility of doing such act for the sake of any idea ,opinion or promise land. We will call it madness. ergo we lable doer of such deeds as MAD. This is shallow thinking . We need to understand that fundamentally they are (were??) same as us . I don't think anyone start his life with the intention of killing the strangers . Revolutionaries and Terrorist are not born . They are created by a system . Ergo, any solution to the problem of terrorism must address and attack the underlying "system". 

We don't need to study groups like LeT, LTTE, Al kayeda to understand the basic premise and modus operandi of Terror. Basic premise is "When logic fail or when one of the involved side is not open to logic you resort to non verbal force to attain your objective". A kid in school playground who Bully his peers, A spouse who exploit the dependency of his/her partner for undue advantage in relationship. A Manager who exploit his insider knowledge/position to push his own agenda. Politician who exploit the differences between his electorates to manipulate them. No matter which walk of life you choose. Chances are that you will encounter someone who is a terrorist there. Its our foolhardiness that we associate terrorism with violence and bloodshed only. Some are terrorist in thoughts, some are terrorist in action. Usually terrorist in thought breeds terrorist in action. when we blame a single individual for terror we are basically trying to surge off the responsibility.  

Ways of Terror

Thanks to my early and extensive exposure to news media in my formative years I have seen many terrorist conflict from the side line, on my SONY Trinitron. List include Arab Israel conflict, Fijji, Maldeev, Bostnia,Afganistan ,PLO, IRA, Chechen rebel etc . At Home turf we had more than our fair share of conflict like Punjab -Khalistan Issue, Kashmir issue, GNLF, Sri Lanka -LTTE,BODO. Its seems world will never run out of such things. On the surface level each issue seems to have a different cause and a different origin but once you venture to examine these issue beyond superficial details and compare underlying socio-political-philosophical dynamics you will see a shocking level of similarity . you see a clear and distinctive pattern .in following section I am going to present some of them.

Implosion of Roles:

"Bush and Bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional “next world” is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.

Richard Dawkins

First and very obvious part of any terror situation is a "Oppressor-Victim" duo . oppressor violates the rights of victim and victim retaliate . This part is fairly straightforward. what’s hazy is the perception of the act in the mind of oppressors .from the sideline it might seems to us that oppressor is taking a liberty in full knowledge and awareness about his action .But from his frame of reference its not that black and white. Often time oppressor never really makes a conscious choice to commit the transgression. 

Think of the White people in pre civil war America who practiced slavery . it took a Abraham lincon to abolish slavery. Think of constitution writer in modern world who coined the phrase “One Man One Vote”. It took feminist moments to convert it to “One Person One Vote” . Think of all our ancestors in India who celebrated “Sati” system . think of Tulsidaas calling women destined to torture . Think of all the great people who were upholder of cast system and never found anything wrong with it . it took Ambedkar to make them realize. How does American soldier killing innocent civilian in IRAQ are different from German soldier killing Jews in World War 2?

All these people were perfectly sane, educated and god fearing people based on the standard of their respective times. It’s the standard of morality of that times which needed a revision . Much as we want to believe otherwise , Moral framework of society is not frozen , its not a objective constant . sadly moral framework is a “work in progress” and every society need to revise morality periodically. 

In all the example mentioned in previous paragraph , you will see that wherever an issue of transgression/terrorism was resolved by non violent method ,without a blood shed it was resolved because both parties were open to dialogue and they had vested interest in resolving the situation . This is not true for our time. For a long time now involved parties has vested interest in keep this issue alive . In one form or another.

What ? You don’t know what I am talking about ? I am talking about Military Industrial complex, I am talking about Arm Race and Cold War. I am talking about dependency on Oil . I am talking about aiding LTTE . I am talking about PAK Govt’s need to keep the Kashmir issue alive in order to divert attention from more burning pressing issue at home. I am talking about willfully ignoring issue of human right violation in Tibet and Philistine by self appointed moral watchdog of modern world. Hard as it may seems to believe but we have created these monster and we are creating some more. Boundaries of the roles between Oppressor-victim is blurred. Meaning of these terms are imploded. 

At times we are terrorist in thoughts, at times we face terrorism in action. Roles are swapped periodically. That’s why we are stuck in this perpetual cycle of Terror.

Flexi Ethics leading to Nihilism

All Bombs are clean; their only pollution is the system of security and of control they radiate as long as they don't explode
Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation ( A Very good book)

When it comes to matters of foreign policy , conventional wisdom dictates that “there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies . There are only permanent interest” . No country and I repeat NO Country today practice an objective or moral foreign policy . All these world bodies are a hogwash. An elaborate drama, staged for the sole purpose of providing a cloak of legitimacy to the greedy agenda of whoever pulls string. 

When your ethics are situational (flexi) than you can’t help violating the right of someone. Do it over a sustain period of time and you have a disaster in making .No act of transgression goes unpunished. Nature has its own way to deliver justice even when there is no enforcement authority to administer it. That’s why bodies like UN,NATO ,Non Align Moment, OPEC are somewhat ineffective in handling the terrorism issue. They are mere puppet to the global bully. They turned blind eye to the act of transgression and now they are resting in a well earned oblivion . Appeasement is predecessor of terrorism. 

For example right now world is busy keeping china happy. Mark my word; 10 years from now world will be facing tibetaien terrorism. Sooner or later agitation in every victim reaches a critical point. After that point, underlying issue becomes irrelevant. Fight becomes a vendetta and ideology becomes nihilism. This is dangerous. Those people won’t stop at anything. Not even killing there on people.

its is widely believed that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” . A freedom fighter stands for values of his people. He enjoys sympathy and (moral) support of his people. That’s his power. By that logic no terrorist would ever think of hurting sentiments of very people he is fighting for. But that’s exactly what gunmen in Lahore did when they open fired at the cricket team. Cricket is a Quasi religion in Indian subcontinent. Why they did it ? Because for them there is struggle is not about attaining a goal anymore . It’s a pursuit of total annihilation. They are fighting a battle where on a certain level they have already accepted the defeat.

Its not about idealism and ideologies anymore. System failed and tricked them for far too long . Now they are trying destroy that system . That’s what disturbed me about these attack. This time its there final shot . they have an asymmetric advantage over us. There will be blood on the street. There will be collateral damage. 

Collateral Damage

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. ”

Morpheus In The Matrix

When elephant fights . It’s the grass, which suffers. I have had opportunity to talk to some Pakistani guys . They are very much like us . Very loveable people. My friends who study in US universities face this dilemma often . They can’t help feeling an urge to avoid a Pakistani guy/girl in social setting. I am sure it will be same for Pakistani folks. And if the conflict came to final phase I am sure our soldier will kill their people and vice versa. That will be a real loss . That will be the innocent victim of terrorism . We will condemn the killing . We will say its bad. 

Have it ever occurred to you that at some level, we might have endorsed these acts? At least subconsciously? Read the lines from matrix movies quoted above. As I write this there are 16,200 websites on internet which quote it verbatim . Pretty neat for a movie right ? Most of these guys who published this will say that they agree with Morpheus. Now Read it once again carefully. You will see that this is an endorsement of terrorism. A justification of collateral damage.  

Lets face it , it can be our turn someday .Possibility that YOU and I can be a collateral Damage is very high. Danger has knocked on our doors. We had attacks in MUMBAI. We have a totally unstable country as neighbor. To complicate the situation we have an economic climate which is less than healthy. If things continued like that than its only a matter of time when this menace of terrorism will claim somebody from our friends and family.That’s what I am afraid of and that’s what You should be afraid of too.

Solution

So In my opinion these three component are common to every terror situation . Any possible solution to the problem of terrorism should must address theses three component simultaneously .Our traditional response to the threat is to First Quarantine the sect , which is followed by a Power struggle and finally dialogue ,on the terms & conditions of who ever comes out victorious in that struggle. This system never works. Much as the same way that all the prison in world can’t bring down the crime rate.

 What we need to do is to 

#1) Stop/Control the implosion of roles . Define the identities of all the involved parties. These identities won’t be black and white .so do a honest job of admitting where you acted as an oppressor and where you suffered like an victim . this honesty is difficult to achieve if you are in the position of power and if its against the public sentiment. But this is the price we need to pay. It will be a stepping-stone toward developing confidence. Once the identity is defined we can find the overlap and common ground . Trust me this will be a Big Step. But this require a political will power. This sort of will power is hard to attain in a country where no one has got an absolute majority in past few elections .

#2) Define a moral /legal/Constitutional Framework : This is relatively easy if Step #1 is achieved . Define a framework based on humanistic values . Freedom, Peace ,justice and Equality. 

#3) Seize the killing at once . Let go of past . easier said than done .

Easiest way to attain #2 & #3 is to attach some sort of economic reward to the peace. Something like Suez Canal . Everyone knows that suez canal has done more good to the cause of Egypt-Israel peace than all the guns and politicians. There are more than enough economic incentive of peace in Indian subcontinent. If only our politician choose to highlight it . Social incentive can be another bait . Think of the public euphoria if Every Pakistani can visit Ajmer Sharif. and If Indians can do the trading with Pakistan. This sort of economic dependencies are best guarantee of lasting peace. Wishful thinking ? You are right it IS wishful thinking . But is it Impossible ?? 

This is for our politician to answer and their time is running out . 

Photo Credit : Sunandini Basu

Author's Note: This Post/Essay is a slight detour from usuall stuff i publish on "knowprashant". this kind of thing happens to me once in a while when i put on my dusty academic hat . do let me know if you like it . 

1 comment:

Madhavan said...

very fine, Prashant..elaborately argued. I particularly like the Dawkins/Matrix perspective, which should add real insight. But not sure about moral codes--people have tried that.