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April 25, 2010




Page: 13/39

Home > 2010 Issues > April 25, 2010

News Analysis

Our collective failure in combating terrorism

By Vikas Kumar

Those who want to open a dialogue with the soft religious terrorists should keep in mind that for religious terrorists, soft or hard, the very idea of dialogue is blasphemous unless it can be used to recoup or stage a surprise attack that furthers god’s agenda.

IN the last few months suicide attacks have claimed hundreds of lives in various parts of South Asia. South Asia is, however, not the only region caught in the whirlpool of terrorism. In July 2009, the Indonesian capital Jakarta suffered a terrorist attack after many years. More recently, in March 2010 the Russian capital Moscow suffered twin attacks. Why have so many different countries failed to root out terrorism? What lies behind our collective failure? Presuming insincerity across the board is too far-fetched. Terrorism is indeed a hard nut to crack.

Inside the terrorist’s mind
The religiously motivated terrorist believes that there is a true god with verifiable manifestations reserved for true believers; contrary manifestations, if any, are either temptations due to a testing god/satan or false perceptions due to lack of faith. Can we persuade a person holding this belief to look at other options? No, because this belief is logically as well as empirically unfalsifiable, not merely temporarily, empirically unassailable. So, irrespective of the performance of emerging democracies like Afghanistan/ Indonesia/Pakistan the terrorists cannot be convinced that the quest for a liberal democracy is yielding results. If a democratic government fails to deliver people are told that god is unhappy. However, if it succeeds people are asked to guard against the charms of Satan! So, no amount of reasoning or exposure to facts can change the terrorists. They are shielded from well-meaning arguments and drones alike by their impregnable belief system. It is next to impossible to invite them to a neutral position and have an open dialogue. Those who want to open a dialogue with the soft religious terrorists should keep in mind that for religious terrorists, soft or hard, the very idea of dialogue is blasphemous unless it can be used to re-coup or stage a surprise attack that furthers god’s agenda.

So far we have argued that we cannot persuade the terrorists to change. Now let us see if partition of Afghanistan/Indonesia/Pakistan, giving the terrorists a separate territory, is going to help. Unfortunately, this is not going to help because god monitors human conduct and individual religious practice has externalities. What liberals do inside their living rooms necessarily affects the believers inside their prayer rooms. God visited the entire Indonesia with Tsunami because the liberals were sleeping with the Satan despite repeated, sincere warnings. So, in any case the terrorists are bound by the internal logic of their belief to bomb Kabul/Jakarta/Islamabad because on their own the liberals will not curtail their immoral practices.

Combating terrorism
Policy-makers across the world are faced with people wedded to an impregnable world view. There are two options available to policy-makers as well as freedom-loving people in general. The easy way out is to surrender our hard earned liberties and conform to the terrorists’ way of life. But this is not a credible option because, as Benjamin Franklin observed long ago, “those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither”. The other option is to combat the mind of the terrorists, to isolate them ideologically. But as discussed above this is easier said than done. How can we restrict their access to religious as well as secular public spaces without casting democracy in a poor light and turning them into martyrs? Without pretending to have an answer that improves upon the existing ones, we can still observe that the spell of our collective failure is unlikely to end in the near future if the previous answers cannot be improved upon in multi-ethnic South East and South Asia.

However, in the meantime we can try to ensure the terrorists do not attract fresh recruits despite having access to public spaces, which is a relatively modest goal. The terrorists manage to infuse fresh blood into their organisations through social service! For instance, when Northern Pakistan was hit by an earthquake (2005) the terrorists extended their helping hand before the state could. In short, if the state is unable to provide basic civic amenities to the people then someone else will step in. There is no point complaining later if that someone turns out to be the HR manager of a terrorist organisation. Before we end it bears noting that our arguments are based on the structure of beliefs, whether falsifiable or not, rather than on the content of beliefs, whether Hindu, Muslim, or Christian.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, CSSE, National Law School of India, Bangalore, vikasprithvipur@gmail.com)




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