Reflections on Terrorism

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Rarely a day passes without the media reporting on an act of terrorism occurring in some part or the other of the world.

American scholars, who have studied in depth this phenomenon and published voluminous works on it, are agreed that it is ubiquitous and not confined to any particular area, ethnicity or creed. It would therefore be a folly to think that only those few states (mostly Muslim) that are on the US list of terrorist states, are usually the sponsors of such acts.

Jafee Center of Strategic Studies of Tel Aviv University lists more than 600 terrorist groups spread all over the world. Prof. David Long, in his well-researched book The Anatomy of Terrorism lists over two dozen such set-ups in South America and half a dozen separatist groups among the Sikhs in India and abroad.

Considering the dominating position of the US in world affairs as the sole super power, considering its most intimate relations with Israel, every time there is a terrorist act, it is attributed, largely as a knee-jerk reaction, to an outfit in one of the states on the US list. Implicating one of the Muslim states on the list has become a stereotype. For instance, the very first report on the bombing, six years back, of a Federal building in Oklahoma drew attention to a similar terrorist act of a Middle Eastern group a few years earlier. Those who listened to this report, including the present writer, were thus led to believe that Islamic militants were behind the act.

The real culprit, Tim McVeigh was, just by chance, caught and a court of law subsequently convicted him.

One cannot but be a great admirer of the sense of justice, fair play, concern for human life and the concept of the equality and brotherhood of man in the US. But these laudable values appear to go out of focus when the Palestine problem is viewed by US authorities and media through the Israeli prism.

Another issue drawing considerable media attention in the US is that of the terrorist acts of the set-up, Al-Quaida, of Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi dissident who has been provided a haven in Afghanistan by the ruling Taliban. While credit could be given to the Taliban for creating cohesion in larger part of Afghanistan, disarming the militias and enforcing the rule of law applicable to all without fear or favor. But, being fanatics and far removed from the realities of modern times and adhering to obscurantism in interpreting Islamic precepts, they constitute a throw-back to a primitive, antiquated society.

They have come under American wrath primarily because they play host to Osama. Their loyalty to this controversial figure is embedded in all probability in the Afghan tradition of protecting one’s guest at all cost. Two grueling UN sanctions against their country, recent breakdown of their channel of communication with the US and the consequent face-off, do not augur well for them.

The current trial in New York of the accused, all Arabs, in the terrorist bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is likely to add further to the bitterness of their economic cup. A hardy lot, fired by religious sentiments, they might take a long time to succumb to the arm-twisting. Meanwhile, the youth of the country will remain deprived of modern education and will have no alternative to attending, like the present Taliban leaders, religious seminaries wherefrom they will emerge with a tunnel vision and ready to be used as fodder by the terrorist mills of future Osamas.

There is no consensus among thinkers and writers as to what exactly is terrorism. A task force on combating terrorism appointed in 1986 by the then Vice-President, George Bush, has defined terrorism as “the unlawful use or threat of violence against persons or property to further political or social objectives.”

Robin Wright, a scholar of substance and author of a book on terrorism, Sacred Rage, argues that terrorist attacks are “not from love of violence, but from expression of rage and frustration over an inability to achieve some form of freedom or independence.”

Many a time, the perpetrators of terrorism hardly foresee the possible dimensions of their acts. When Czar Alexander II was bombed to death by an extremists’ revolutionary group, the process set in motion led directly to the Russian Revolution. When Gavial Principe mortally wounded Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo, he did so merely to give vent to his nationalism. Little did he know that his act would ignite the conflagration of World War I, destroying empires and dynasties.

Whereas a criminal, a murderer for instance, has a personal gain or revenge in mind, a terrorist resorts to his act in pursuance of a political goal. In a murder there is almost always a link between the criminal and the victim. But, in a terrorist act there is seldom such a link. The objective of terrorists is to get onlookers to see their actions in motivational terms, to look at and be swayed by the merit of their cases, rather than be turned away by the brutality of their methods.

Carlos Marighella, the father of terrorism in South America, once remarked: “The urban guerrilla does have one enormous advantage over the conventional soldier and the policeman: he is defending a just cause, the cause of the people.”

To counter the possibility of such an interpretation, the media managers in many advanced countries launch campaigns tarnishing the image of guerilla groups. To demonize the cause of Palestinians in Israel , they were labeled “Islamic fundamentalists”, whatever its objective meaning. It was repeatedly used as a derogatory term till it came to be accepted as such.

The same media, when supporting the cause of the anti-Soviet Afghan rebels, called them Mujahideen, freedom fighters. At that time when Afghanistan’s hard-line Islamists visited the White House, President Ronad Reagon went to the extent of calling them the Muslim world’s “moral equivalent of our founding fathers”.

The intelligence agencies of the Western countries successfully turned the Afghans’ struggle into a pan-Islamic Jihad. Once the Soviet Union decided to withdraw from a losing war, these very Mujahideen, these very soldiers of Islam, came to be called “rebels” and subsequently “terrorists”.

Some of these motivated youths, hailing mainly from the Middle East, found themselves and their cause left in the lurch. Some went berserk and even resorted to heinous acts of terrorism.

Most of the indigenous Afghan fighters turned against each other in quest of pelf and power. A new breed, the Taliban, took over from them bulk of the country and put an end to the earlier mayhem of death and destruction. A disillusioned Saudi multi-millionaire, Osama bin Laden, took over the guerrilla training camps and is said to be producing terrorists for operations against the US world wide. Those under trial now in New York are alleged to be his men.

As for the Jihad in Kashmir, the freedom-fighters, the Mujahideen of that state are labeled by India as terrorists sent there by Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that the struggle of these Kashmiri freedom fighters has continued unabated for twelve years despite over 50,000 of them being killed by the Indian forces who number over 700,000 now.

Indian propaganda mandarins have not succeeded in selling the idea that the Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom from Indian shackles is but a form of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan to grab a territory. To win the sympathy of the West, the US in particular, it is contended that the fighters are the disciples of Osama bin Laden and were trained in his camps in Afghanistan. The fallacy of this contention is self-evident. The struggle of this magnitude – an army of 700,000 is unable to control – cannot be maintained for twelve long years by a handful of guerillas trained in a far off land.

Fortunately, a conciliatory attitude has developed on both sides of the border and direct talks between the leaders of India and Pakistan appear quite possible. The Hindu national leadership of India and the military ruler of Pakistan provide the best bet to come to a settlement and sell it convincingly to their respective people.

One hopes that the current face off between the US and Taliban too turns into an understanding over Osama so that peace descends on both sides of Pakistan allowing that country to concentrate on stabilizing its teetering economy.

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