Thoughts on Terrorism

It seems to me that terrorism is always front page news nowadays. Whether it is bomb blasts in Mumbai or a man throwing acid on a woman’s face – the horrific stories continue.

Terrorism is defined by as: 1) the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purpose; and 2) the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism. By its very definition terrorism comprises any action that terrorizes – even if it frightens just one person. The identification of ‘evil’ is not predicated by who the perpetrator is, or what the reason behind it is. When people say an act is justified if it is government-sponsored, or if it ‘has to be done’, what they are also saying is that the act is unacceptable if it hurts them and understandable if it hurts others. Arguably, any action can be rationalized by the offender but certainly not by the victim. And the same goes for the facile “the ends justify the means” theory. If water boarding and other forms of torture sit comfortably on your soul, you cannot discount whatever ‘means’ the other person thought justified too! Causing harm, or creating fear, irrespective of who the culprit is (or who the victim is for that matter), is terrorism. How do we fight this spreading malaise if we are doing exactly the same? What right do we have to complain if we cannot hold a higher moral ground? Recently in Indonesia, a crazed mob violently attacked people of a different sect. These vile murders were definitely terroristic. What bothers me equally is that the courts let the criminals go. They were not even charged with murder! I am more terrified of such a judicial system than I am of the bunch of thugs who got away with it!

The events in the U.S. on Sept 11 were heinous and unprecedented, but then so is the process of Rendition. We do not (as we should not!) try to deconstruct why Osama bin Laden turned into the beast he was. And so also we must not try to absolve the actions of the men and women posing happily with their victims in Abu Ghraib prison.

And though the media has targeted Islam as its harbinger, the truth is that terrorism is too widespread over time, places and people to be slotted into any one cause. Fear has been a potent weapon for all power-hungry dictators and political parties. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria pointed out: “The European Union’s 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report had some fascinating findings. It showed that of the 294 terror attacks committed in Europe in 2009, only one was conducted by Islamists. That’s a third of one percent. The most recent statistics show that there were 249 terror attacks in Europe in 2010. Only three of those attacks were carried out by Islamist terrorists.”

It will be our loss if we continue to dismiss terror attacks that do not fit into our preset bias. We rail and shout for action if a crime against humanity is done by a swarthy, turbaned guy. But we are quiet when Robert Mugabe orders the murders of his opponents, ensures that his countrymen live in fear of starvation and violent repression.

However horrible the actuality of an act of terror is, I believe what is equally terrible is the frenzy whipped up all over the world while we are ‘expecting’ it. Doubtless we need to do all we can to avoid any terrorist act to come to fruition. But living in fear, untrusting and bitter, is as much succumbing to terrorism as whatever heinous act was planned.

It annoys me when people are afraid to use the “T’ word unless there is a dark haired, bearded man involved somewhere. The media has been reticent to use this label for the blond, blue-eyed man who went on a rampage killing children in Norway. It is easy to identify evil with something that is unfamiliar because it allows us to distance ourselves from what causes distress and angst. But if we cannot come terms with the reality of this growing cancer of anarchy, we are not going to be able to get rid of it.

Conducting something that causes or threatens physical harm is classic terrorism. But I believe even creating panic, even if unfounded, is terrorism. I would venture to say any act of abuse is terrorism. What else should a kid terrified by an abusive parent call it? Is not schoolyard bullying, too, a form of terrorism? When a leader suggests that the country will be at peril if he is not voted into power – that is terrorism. The “we will be attacked, unless…” propaganda creates at least the same amount of dread than the actuality of the horrific event. If a gang presence in the area makes it difficult for children to walk out after sunset – that is neighbourhood terrorism by the gang.
I would call the Holocaust terrorism, and what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinian people today, terrorism too. What women in tribal Pakistan are suffering is also terrorism. Yes, we need to wage a war on terror. But we are not going to get anywhere if it does not encompass terrorism in all forms and all in its avatars. Any entity, person or organization, that propagates fear and destruction is subscribing to terrorism. And we, as humanity on the whole, need to stand up to it, not because of fear but with righteous indignation. Of course we need to put down political terrorism strongly, with action and words. But we also need to condemn individual acts of terror the same way. Maybe making a local terrorist pay for his acts will enable us to develop the wherewithal to deal with the bigger groups that haunt us.

Sarah Hasan Alam

The author began writing seriously when the Editor of Deccan Chronicle was kind enough to allow her to submit a story for her paper. She freelanced for the paper and wrote across the spectrum – children’s stories, reports, controversial viewpoints. She continued to write when she moved to the US. Her fairy tales were published, and she began her blog. Like most women, she juggles a lot of roles – wife, mother, teacher. But her qua writer is the one she cherishes the most!