TIME TO DEMISTIFY TERROR MYTHS
The New Indian Express
Thursday 17 October 2013
Convenient untruths have persisted about terrorism and terrorist activities committed world-wide for too long. Most of these untruths have been popularised by terrorists groups, terrorist organisations and their supporters because they have found it to be in their favour to perpetuate these myths. While the community of strategic thinkers and analysts have found these explanations to be deceptions generated for convenience; general populace have been led to believe that these myths are sacrosanct undeniable truths. Terrible and horrifying acts of violence have been committed and subsequently justified on the basis of these falsehoods.
The first myth often touted as reality is that there is no definition of terrorism. The truth is that there are innumerable varied definitions of terrorism both in national legislations and international conventions – definitions that clearly underline certain common elements. The common denominator in all these are the terms “use of force or threat of use of force” and “non-combatants “or “civilians”. These definitions also list various circumstances where such force or threat of force is used, for example the United Nations definition of terrorism alludes to the reasons being: political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or of any other nature. These definitions therefore, include not only the acts of international terrorist organisations but also religious groups and all civil movements that preach and support violence. The absence of an all-encompassing comprehensive definition does not mean that there are no working definitions of terrorism. Therefore to accept that the absence of a perfect definition for terrorism allows all recognizable and reprehensible acts of terror to be subjective is obviously unacceptable. It is true that an all-encompassing definition of terrorism that weaves all the varied elements of terror does not exist, (more due to failure to reach an international consensus as a result of lack of political will than any other actual reason) but this does not mitigate the horror of terror. The failure to find a universal definition should never be allowed to serve as a reason to allow the perpetrators of terror to justify their actions.
The second myth that should be buried permanently is the oft quoted but entirely out of place adage: one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. This term was coined in the post-colonial era when countries fought for freedom from their imperial masters. India too has a rich history of the sacrifices of those freedom fighters that were called “terrorists “by the British government during the pre- independence era. The core difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist is that those who fought their colonial masters to free their county from repressive regimes targeted symbols of such oppression. Those who commit terrible acts of terrorism and violence target ordinary people going about their daily lives. Bombs on trains and offices, indiscriminate shooting and killing civilians, car bombs in market places cannot be considered to be fight for freedom even if the terror organisations take great pride in announcing their responsibility for such acts. To talk of freedom fighters and terrorists in the same breath is truly reprehensible. Terrorists kidnap busloads of children, bomb malls and shopping districts killing people indiscriminately, most of the time causing the death of those very people whose cause they pretend to espouse. The numerous attacks in several Indian cities have killed innocent people with no regard to their religion or faith. Attacks in cities around the world have shown that despite the tall claims made by the terrorist organisations that they are fighting for the rights of certain people, the dead are from all sections of that society. In international law, wherein principles of conduct of war are laid down, the belligerents do not have unlimited freedom of use of violence. A terrorist cannot use any and all means of violence however justified they may claim their cause to be Therefore, using the maxim merely underlines the fact that unjustified acts of violence and terrorism continue to masquerade as acceptable and justified attempts to secure rights that are seemingly denied. In countries, like India, where there are constitutional structures that protect and secure rights of people, resorting to terrorism has no justification. Even in countries where such access to legal recourses are denied and freedom and rights have to be wrested from the ruling powers, violent acts can be justified if they are concerted efforts to gain rights and not acts of terror against innocent civilians to attract national or global attention.
The third myth is that it is the poorest person of a marginalized section in a society who has used violence and terrorism as the only possible means of getting anything for him or herself. This romantic notion is paraded to make the killings and acts of violence committed by the person more acceptable and forgivable. Taking away the right to life of others cannot be justified as a means of securing right for oneself, in the same manner as an individual cannot secure his or her right by lopping off the head of another. Yet this seems to be a blind spot in most cases where the person committing the act of terror garners sympathy as someone who has been denied rights and all the people who died in the dastardly act of the terrorist attack as those who are responsible in some indirect way of enjoying those rights and therefore can be killed .This convoluted argument, preached in sermons has recruited more foot soldiers for terrorism than any other argument.
The fourth myth often accepted by most is that good governance will lead to mitigation of terrorism. Based on this, an argument is made that the State, instead of dealing with domestic terrorism in an appropriate and strong manner; should concentrate on building infrastructures to deal with issues. While it is true that the State should restructure itself to address the core issues that have caused grave discontent, it also true that “soft power” alone cannot deal with terrorism. Good governance is not the panacea for the scourge of domestic terrorism. In the case of international terrorism, the terrorist organisations seek not to create any ideal governing system and are also are not fighting to seek better economic conditions but are more concerned with the destruction of the existing systems .They seek to impose a grand design for the world which does not include the freedom of each person but the imposition of their brand of religious or social belief.
The fifth myth is that all laws seeking to deal with terrorism are against individual rights. It is the fundamental duty if a state to protect its territorial integrity and to secure for its citizens safety and security and in that context a State enacts anti -terror laws. After the spate of hijackings in the 1970s, and especially after 9/11 airport security worldwide was tightened and restrictions placed on passengers. While no one protests these invasions into privacy, there is a strident group that refuses to accept that partial infringement of individual rights is required to ensure safety for all. Similarly, organisations that consistently and vociferously propagate violence or secessions need to be watched and monitored by intelligence agencies. . Failure of such assessment , although the Aum Shinrokyo group had been articulating their intentions for a long time and carried on a massive stock piling of chemicals led to the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack. Similarly, proscribing organisations that have clear agendas of terrorism is the prerogative of any State that intends to secure its territory against terrorist attacks.
Terrorists are constantly jostling for space in the world theatre by unleashing terrible acts of terror. The leaders and harbingers of terrorism use religion, philosophy or ethnicity to appeal to their followers and fringe groups. Terrorism is not a profession, it is an aberration; and terrorism should be recognised and condemned. It is indeed time for the international community to act in concert and debunk the myths as well as unmask and hold up the real frightening and macabre face of terrorism to the world.