(Un)Comfortably Numb


Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one; it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.

[Qur’an 5:32]

This is Islam’s reality. Let there be no misunderstanding: Islam forbids the killing of innocent civilians, wherever and whoever they may be, in absolute terms.

Post 9/11, the already changing world went free-flying; tail diving to its basics. All the ‘progress’ took the hit as the twin towers came hurtling down at ten in the morning. Strange, isn’t it? With all the hoo-hah that went into making the world that we knew of, its fall took a mere half an hour- a stark contrast to the half century that went into its making. At no time has the world seemed, as it does now- a dangerous place; never has there been such an impact on our psyches from crude bombs; never has life, found dead in the wake of a terrorist attack, seemed so gullible; never before have we taken evil for granted; and never have we patted our own backs so much on our resilience in dealing with an enemy that is unseen, unflinching and does not know the difference between civilians and the armed forces. And all these are the illegitimate offspring of that macabre ‘fall’ of 2001.Yes, the thirst of one human for the blood of his fellows; his satisfaction at a job well done when he blows up a Molotov cocktail of an aeroplane; his hunger for the ‘supreme cause’ even at his life’s expense- all this has disenchanted me to no extent. Never before has something forced me so much to reflect and think from both sides of the battlefield; never before have I questioned the perceived ‘good,’ and accepted the granted ‘bad.’ That is, not till now.9/11 came, chilled us to our very marrows, topsy-turvied the world and blew a big hole in human-to-human relations, and coerced America to declare a ‘War on Terror.’ Taliban bore the first blow; Al-Qaeda, its protégé was crippled beyond the power of ever reassembling; Bin Laden, its chief mentor, was declared dead or was assumed to be; Al Zawahiri, his deputy, followed suit. And the interesting piece of fact is that the duo have been killed by the allies a record six times, that is before being resurrected again and declared alive and kicking in the pink of health. In effect, the re-elected, re-energised George W. Bush had the perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity on the run. With such optimistic operations, using stinger missiles, bunker busters, night vision apparel, M-16s etc, the world should have had been replaced to its normalcy. Everything on planet earth should have been merry, and hunky-dory.

Except that the reverse happened.

Heathrow was paralysed in August 2006 when a scheme to blow-up twenty-eight airliners to the U.S. came to light. The plan was to be executed with such simplicity that even a child, when able to comprehend the facts of the world, would have laughed at its ‘user friendliness’. Considering the flights to be packed at this time of the year, each jet would have carried a minimum of three hundred passengers. Twenty-eight jets would have vaporised anything from eight thousand to ten thousand people.

Go back down the memory lane, and reach Bombay, July 2006; Except that this time it was flooded with strewn, cleaved, hacked, utterly charred and gory human body parts. Trains in Bombay were blown to smithereens, and two hundred humans perished. The ever-improving strategy of terrorists added another jewel to its crown, when they selected ground zero as Bombay’s overloaded local public transit system. In its aftermath, all that India could do was to pat Bombay on its back for its ‘resilience’ to overcome adversity.

The important aspect that is highlighted here is that we have started taking terrorism for granted. The world, with its swanky home solution systems and mobile phones, is too busy to be disgruntled. There is so much more to do, so much to run for, so much to cling to, that to discuss ‘terrorism,’ an everyday part of life would be an utter waste of time. We have started taking this malaise for granted, and that is the part where the story gets terrifying. That’s because whenever something is taken for granted, seldom is a solution sought to alleviate its problems. In judicial jargon, Terror is homicidal, and we lack an able attorney to prosecute it. Why? Because terror has spread its tentacles to the sanctified fortress of the mind; it has changed our black and white lives to Technicolor. Without it life would seem dull. We would be deprived of our daily dose of kicks without it. We are scared of its withdrawal symptoms. Drugs and terror work in the same way on the mind.

Before Bombay, we have 7/7, when tubes and buses were blown in London. The terror timeline goes down to the Madrid train massacres, the Denpasar bombings in Bali, the Egyptian hotel blasts in the tourist haven of Sharm-Al-Sheikh, the Delhi butchering in the crowded Sarojini Nagar market, the killing of journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi, the Chechen school hostage case, where ninety four children perished- the list would go on like an endless roll of toilet paper; but these are just the famous cases in the limelight. The others are smaller incidents where two, four, ten people are killed at a time- the less eye grabbing incidents. Recording everyday stray incidents in the Kashmir valley and Iraq would surpass in count all the rest that have happened in the world. Basically these incidents have happened so many times that we are now used to them. What’s more, they have never been so vengeful; never so focused in their execution.

The pertinent question then is, “Whatever happened to the War on Terror?” Did the good guys lose? In attempting to answer these, let me tell you what Vir Sanghvi has to say on this whole tamasha. He says, and I quote, “The good guys did win the battle-but that’s it. Not only did they lose the war, but also the defeat was self-induced. The terrorists didn’t so much as win as have victory thrust on them.”

Terrorism, prehistorically, has always been with a clear intention. It has always been a revengeful act, an issue-centric response to some form of injustice and foul-play. Moreover, it has always been confined to particular region. Dawood and his thugs orchestrated the 1993 Bombay blasts in response to the RSS-VHP-BJP triumvirate that demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Kashmiri terrorists were always mentioned as ‘separatists.’ Agreed, they had the ISI henchmen to finance them with money, weapons and ideology-nee poison for the mind. Yet, these separatists had but one aim- the liberation of Kashmir. Even Bin Laden, ironically a masterpiece of the CIA, subscribed to the aforementioned ideology. When his American masters turned their backs, and money to him, he took his former mentors out, destroying embassies (in Nairobi), destroyers (the USS Cole) or WTCs in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Virginia. He hated the Americans; more than a terrorist, he was a rabid dog who had been left wet in the rain, and was in no mood to spare the perpetrators who were responsible for his getting a nasty cold from it. He just wanted America, nothing else.

As Vir Sanghvi says, “All this was terrifying enough, but at least there was a way out. We could fence the border between India and Pakistan to prevent infiltration. We could break the back of Dawood’s gang. The US could invade Afghanistan and pursue Bin Laden till he lost the ability to motivate his cadres. These ends were never satisfactorily achieved. Osama and Dawood may still be sitting by their swimming pools in ISI safehouses in Pakistan. But it is still hard to deny that, for the most part, the battle was won: Al-Qaeda is a shadow of its former self; the D-company no longer runs Bombay; infiltration across the Indo-Pak border has reduced etc. But the war has been lost.”

Let us now try and understand why.

One of the primary causes of this faceless strife is America’s invasion on Iraq. The global Muslims have been given the signal by Bush and Blair, in no uncertain terms, that their religion and its ideals were under the west’s scanners, and hence they were made to feel threatened. They were told that Islam would now have to fight for its own survival. We now know that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, no links to the Al-Qaeda, and certainly not a threat that the west seemingly felt so alarmed towards. If Bush did want to take on a despot, with access to nuclear weapons, no regard for democracy, and with links to almost all terrorist groups in the world, it should have just taken out General Musharraf of Pakistani fame.
The individuals arrested post 7/7, including the ones from Heathrow in 2006, displayed one characteristic that would always show up in the coming months- none of the youths, all just past their teens, were affiliated to any particular terrorist organisation; none were die hard suicide bombers; none were mujahideens of Afghanistan, or guerrillas of the Palestinian HAMAS; certainly, none were on Bin Laden’s payroll.

They were all simple British nationals, all just coming of their own. None had any particular ailment whose remedy they sought in their actions. None wanted to assassinate the Queen. None wanted to blow the Big Ben, and certainly none wanted to storm the British parliament and the House of Lords. None cared about the liberation of Wales or Scotland. None had any ideology.

And yet what they did or wanted to do would have caused misery at an unimaginable scale. What would have happened would have hurt us the most, even more than 9/11.

The Bombay train blasts suspects were also average, middle class, mohalla-dwelling Muslim youths, with no apparent link to any group, who also harboured no injuries or insults that they wanted to avenge.

The new breed of terrorist is an ordinary guy like you and me. He plays soccer in his backyard park, surfs the internet, buys grocery for his mother from the supermarket, goes to a disco at night, loves the coming of spring after a long, harsh winter, feels the heat of global warming, curses the frequent electricity failures in the middle of June, has a girlfriend etc. He, like you and me, cannot be set apart in a crowd. He loves all the pleasures of the world, and strives to alleviate himself of its problems.

What, then, are his reasons? It is simple. In our paranoia of terrorists (Osama included), we have driven one section of society against the wall. The times are such that if a bearded man, talking animated Arabic in a plane, was to suddenly stand up, our hearts would be in our mouths. Any man who fits the above description is now branded as a terrorist by our minds. Religion, it is said, breeds culture and diversity of insight. Only now, Islam has become synonymous with terror. And their reactions to our actions would be justified, if not equal. When skin colour causes the return of a plane to Amsterdam, escorted by F-16s, then truly we are damned, and damned is this modern hypocrisy of a ‘globalised’ world. Racism, we say, has been abolished in this global world. The irony is that the contrary has happened. What happens when you speak animatedly on a plane? You get ‘Amsterdamned.’ This is the result of a fast-paced, inconsiderate, selfish world.

Terrorism today is the cry of a vulnerable animal. It has no hatred; mere desperation. It is our paranoia post 9/11 that has caused this damnation. Paranoia coupled with indifference makes an odd couple. And it is this oddity that has fuelled the new breed of terrorists. Today our target is Islam. Tomorrow it will be Christianity and Hinduism.

And all this makes the season of terror doubly worrying. As Vir Sanghvi puts it, “Five years after 9/11, the War on Terror has been lost and the world we bequeath to our children will be a tense, hate-filled, and dangerous place.”

Indeed, we have won the battle with relish, and can’t wait to pat ourselves on the back for it. But the irony of it all, the sad part indeed is that in our over-zealousness we have scored an unprecedented ‘self goal’ and conceded the game to the faceless nemesis. In the long run, we have lost the War.

And that is what the perpetrators of crimes against humanity seek- to turn one against another, in order to achieve personal, ulterior motives- even if that involves the abuse of humanity. Any cost is no cost.

It is time we did a rethink of our way of life; because this way of life, in closed shells, behind smokescreens, will not sustain us for long. How did it come to this? Where did we go wrong? Type ‘terror’ on Wikipedia (dot) org, and look up the ‘list of terrorist incidents.’ Perform this exercise to realise how much for granted we have started taking these ‘random’ incidents of violence; to realize the chilling chain of regularity in these ‘random’ events. My friends, we live in a chaotic, dangerous world. Let the chaos not cause us to forget…

Rijul Kochhar