Coping with Terrorism

Today’s suicide bombers may be mostly of muslim origin, terrorism has no religion or nationality. During World War 2 Japanese pilots made their aircraft into flying bombs in “kamikaze” (divine wind) attacks against US warships in a desperate effort to break the stronghold of the US Navy over the Pacific. Today’s “divine” bombings are an aberration, warped logic and reaction thereof to the real and/or perceived failures and shortcomings of society in dispensing equitable justice and providing good governance. For many centuries jews have been on the receiving end of christian wrath, muslims were similarly subjected to the brutal excesses of the crusades. Both jews and muslims together faced the tortures of the Inquisition. Over 6 million were killed by the murderous horror of the Nazi-era Holocaust, the sustained persecution of muslims for the past 50 years may be nowhere near matching that horrific scale in absolute murder, on a pro-rata basis more human beings are affected across the world.

While for the past 50 – 60 years Palestine has been occupying centre-stage in muslim anguish, terrorism is now fertile ground for breeding in a host of other territories, not the least being Iraq and Afghanistan. While only a handful have taken up arms, the perception among most muslims of all leanings is that Islam is increasingly being targetted in isolation. While regretfully there is no countering violence except to match it with more violence, terrorism cannot be fought by military means alone, “an eye for an eye” is only a short term means to an end. Over an elongated period this “scorched-earth” policy applied to human beings becomes counter-productive. On the other hand, have the “suicide bombings” weakened the resolve of the US military in Iraq or seen an escalation in their reaction? As an unwilling “guest” of the Indian Government in 1971 for a few months, I came to face to face with the warped logic of Naxalites (the name taken from the village of its origin in the early 60s, Naxalbari) from one of incarcerated leaders, Majumdar, in Agartala Jail. The war waged by Naxals is now over four decades old. There is no pure terrorism than that practiced by them in many areas of India, their avowed enemy is civilized society and their objective is the elimination of all those seen to be oppressors, feudals, the wealthy elite, members of the civil administration, the judiciary, etc anyone of consequence in governance. Many youth in eastern and central India have ridden their frustrations in being given a short shrift by society have become susceptible to “Naxalite” thought. To a young 25-year old the fight of the underdog against tyranny and injustice had romantic connotations, the brutal murders of possible innocents as “collateral damage” put a cold damper on any such notions.

Non-violent initiatives are required to combat terrorism, four need special mention viz (1) dispensing of equitable justice (2) maintaining absolute credibility (3) providing sound education and (4) curbing religious militancy. One must develop and maintain credibility. One can get away for some time with getting the people to believe what you want them to hear, there will be a backlash when they find out the truth, the lack of credibility is grist for those who have chosen the path of militancy, society’s failure to present (and/or face) the truth is exploited as enough reason for violent reaction. One must face upto unpalatable facts of life. Western politicians like Tony Blair are in a political bind, such compulsions forcing him to (a) deny acknowledging the obvious, that the latest wave of terrorist attacks in UK is because of the Iraq war (b) shift all the blame for the terrorism on the warped ideology of its perpetrators instead of coping with the root causes and (3) passing on the buck to Pakistan and to the Madrasahs in toto on circumstantial evidence that would be laughed out of any court in the British judicial system. While we cannot escape culpability, it is disappointing to see a failure to apportion responsibility across the board, one associates “fairplay” with the British personality.

There is no substitute to providing comprehensive education, particularly in the early formative years. A vast majority of Madrasahs are excellent NGOs but they mostly impart religious education to the exclusion of almost everything else. These need to be re-structured as educational institutions with a wide range of disciplines, on a bedrock of religious teachings. For parents without means to send their children to school, the Madrasahs are a very welcome (and in nearly all cases, the only) alternative. Nearly 85-90% of the seminary students attend Madrasahs because their parents cannot afford to send them to any school, again almost half of them i.e. 40-45% are sent to Madrasahs by their parents because they are hard pressed to feed them one square meal a day and invariably the seminaries provide food, a frugal one maybe, but a meal nevertheless. When either planning alternative schools or re-structuring the Madrasahs, reform will have to cater for one wholesome midday meal.

In the flush of “victory” in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, we set aside logic and reason, and conveniently forgot that the whole free world was involved in that effort. Some “adventurers” encouraged militancy, using Kashmir as an excuse they went far field, from Morocco to Mindanao. Those who have not heard a shot fired in anger usually become too big for their boots as they rise higher in rank (the risk of becoming a casualty is far lesser). To say that we are ambivalent in curbing religious militancy is to be charitable. Scores of organizations set up shop, it became profitable to be considered a “Jihadi”. We also blurred the distinction between religion and nationalism in having the Pakhtun majority Talibaan take control in Kabul when we should have remained neutral in the in-fighting. Even at home, adopting a “divide and rule” policy within Pakistan politics, our intelligence agencies marginalized the mainstream PPP and PML (N) and contrived to have the combined MMA win more seats than all the individual religious parties had ever got together. It should have been taken as a warning signal, a wake-up call. We have been reduced to having the Supreme Court bail us out of the “Hasba Bill” quagmire. Can we afford to hand over our future to religious ideologues who have no understanding or patience with anyone who do not adhere to their interpretation of religions strictures? Alienating friend and foe alike, we are up the creek without a paddle.

There may not be “training camps” as our detractors suggest on prime time TV, “private sector enterprise” is still sending individuals across borders with murder and mayhem on their minds. Turning a blind eye does not absolve us of culpability in targetting civilians. In the present world environment how does one draw the line between militancy and terrorism? We cannot run, or be seen to be running, with the hares while hunting with the hounds. We have to distance ourselves from our own clandestine Afghan policy, not only in words but deeds. For our own good as a country (and its future survival thereof) we must adhere to some of the important principles in coping with terrorism. Let’s face upto the truth, we are own worst enemy!