Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Simple things

The 5th anniversary of September 11, 2001 has resulted in a lot of deep thought on the web and elsewhere about terrorism. Much American writing perceives this as a unique evil, a successor to fascism, nazism and communism. As America battled the great evils of the 20th century, so shall it win this "struggle for civilization", Bush said, and "lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty".

In all the noise about terrorism, I believe some simple things remain unsaid. I offer some here:
  • Terrorism is not a uniquley American problem. Defining terrorism as violence against randomly targeted civilians by non-state groups, we can identify several countries that have suffered for long: Israel, India, Sri Lanka and Colombia are examples. People in other countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Russia, Britain and Spain have been victims of occasional, albeit brutal, incidents. If it is not a uniquely American problem, it is unlikely to have a uniquely American solution.
  • In almost every case of terrorist violence, there is a political context. This does not mean that the political context justifies the terrorism. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand the underlying political problem in order to solve it. Good police action will likely mitigate the problem but will not solve it. Terrorism is the symptom of an underlying disease. Treating the symptoms while ignoring the disease is a bad idea.

  • The elephant in the room is the unacknowledged political context of terrorism against Americans. The context has many dimensions, but one common underlying thread: the use and abuse of military and economic muscle to project power and earn profits around the world. In the middle east, what started with Iran in the 1950s is still continuing in Iraq today.
  • Terrorism is not an ideology. It may well be a tactic adopted by some ideologues, but that does not make it an ideology. Most often it is employed in the service of some political aims - Palestine, Punjab and Kashmir are good examples. Any particular strand of terrorism dies out only when adherents to its underlying cause dwindle in number.
  • Terrorism is too broad a category. Wanting to defeat terrorism is somewhat like wanting to end all violence. We may be able to curb violence (and control terrorism) but it is not likely that we will eradicate either of the two.
  • A good analogy for terrorism is cancer. Cancers are of many different kinds and depend a lot on context and individual circumstances. There is no panacea for cancer. Prevention and careful disease management are the keys to prolonging life. There are no guarantees that a particular regimen of treatment will be successful. (It is surprising how far the analogy goes. Radiation therapy is like the often brutal action by security forces. It damages healthy tissue without necessarily curing the sickness).

In the 1970s, the Nixon administration had declared a war on cancer. After about 35 years, even with the best scientific talent that the world has had to offer, cancer is not completely understood, let alone vanquished. I don't foresee the current war on terror faring that much better.


Blogger Shunya said...

This is a little too reasonable to refute. :-) Talking of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, here is another Indian's blog post I encountered a couple days ago.

Another simple thing that isn’t articulated much is that the same CIA camps that provided state-of-the-art terrorism training in the 80s to Saudi Islamists (a floundering lot then, with scant public support; Reagan called Osama a hero, a freedom fighter, when he fought the Russians), later came back to haunt the Americans – these guys learned their nasty habits and got their arms from the CIA. This is pretty well understood today in think-tank circles (if not acknowledged for many obvious reasons). For the society they destroyed and the ungodly mess they left behind in Afghanistan and adjoining regions of Pakistan—where only warlords and radical Islam could provide a measure of cohesion and stability—9/11 was indeed a case of chickens coming home to roost. Bad karma. Mamdani explores the roots of modern Islamic terrorism astonishingly well with facts and figures in “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim”. Above all, it separates cultural from political Islam

9/14/2006 10:55 PM  
Blogger Saritha said...

Just wanted to draw your attention to a concept called Domestic Terrorism, which I read about fleetingly, in an interview with crime novelist, Jeffery Deaver.
The concept draws on the fact that the enemy isn't out there, it's one of us.

9/17/2006 7:09 AM  

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