By Vijay Darda | 16-12-2015
Whether it was 9/11 in America, or 26/11 in Mumbai or the latest terror incident in Paris, the fact is that such attacks target us all – in the sense of us being peace loving citizens defenceless against determined terrorists who kill indiscriminately. Political leaders the world over have called it a war, but it is not an act of aggression the way we have been accustomed to facing it. It is an unequal fight. On the one side is an attacker who plans the act of war for months, and on the other are completely defenceless citizens who just do not know what is in store for them. They go to party and end up being dead or maimed for life. The nature of this fight must be understood by us all, if we are to make a fight of it.
Almost like world poverty index that measures the incidence of poverty, there is a global terrorism index and this gives a comprehensive understanding of the problem of terrorism in a country. It is instructive to know that after the year 2000, there has been a five-fold rise in the incidents of terrorism and more than 20,000 lives are lost. Most important to understand that 50 per cent of the terror incidents do not claim any lives, but their impact is never the less severe in terms of inducing the fear factor. For us Indians, the position is really serious, with a 70 per cent increase in the last 14 years and a death toll rising from 232 to 404. We are ranked sixth on this index, a notch behind the top five — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria – that are either at war or the brewing ground for some kind of ethnic conflict and account for 82 per cent of the total number of terror incidents.
A striking feature of the terror story in the global context is that much of these are dismissed with little concern in the global media. It is only when something like Paris happens that the world attention gets directed at it, otherwise both United States of America and France are placed pretty low in the index at 30 and 56 respectively. Even as we value every life, and pray that none suffers a death due to terror, Paris holds the highest spot in our quest for the three ideals of democracy – liberty, equality and fraternity. Any attack on Paris is an attempt to muzzle these ideals.
Whereas it is alright to assert that terror has no religion, we can only ignore the reality that religion is misused by the terrorists to achieve their violent goals at our peril. The religion in which we all believe and the one they practice are perhaps two different things. If our religion is to help us to be at peace with ourselves theirs is to bring as much misery as possible. It is this difference that has to be fully realised that all terrorism fought with a common vision. If some of us (including the terrorists) believe that some kind of terrorism is good enough to achieve some political goals, then we can be sure that the terror threat is going to have a long life. The tragedy is that terror catches up even those who sanction the use of this instrument against others. Our neighbour Pakistan is a shining example of this theory and practice. For years, it has held the belief that the terrorists acting in Kashmir against India, are good enough to help it achieve the political goal of resolving the Kashmir dispute, but only to learn that the forces of terror can cut both ways. It ranks third on the global terror index, and pays a heavy price for this policy. More than 2200 people died in Pakistan due to terror attacks in 2013.
Likewise, the Al Qaeda too was born out of the Afghan war, and for some time the Americans did believe that the mujahideens fighting the Russians were a great asset. But the price of this folly was paid with the 9/11 attacks. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has owned up the responsibility for the Paris attack is an outfit that rejects peace as a matter of principle. It has a quest for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of — and headline player in — the imminent end of the world. Is there any surprise that with this view guiding the ISIS, the Syrian conflict involving the dictatorial President Assad and the Opposition and the ISIS has taken a collective toll of more than 250,000 lives and displaced 11 million people in the last four and half years. The fact that air strikes to break their back have not yielded any result and that the carnage continues in Syria.
The issue of tactical mistakes and other strategies apart, it has to be understood that the Islamic component of this terror cannot be overlooked. We do not have to treat all Muslims as enemies, but the West has to realise that in order to defeat the Al Qaeda or its mutant version ISIS or anything else that would emerge out of this DNA, there has to be a strategy apart from violence. French President Francois Hollande has promised an all- out war, and there can be no denying that a ruthless force like the ISIS can be punished only through a much bigger force. In the wake of 9/11 President George W Bush did the same, and we have seen the results. The war on terror continues with no peace in sight. Besides to pretend that it can be contained through violence, would be to deceive ourselves. Even if Syrian President Assad is removed through an election process that is being contemplated through the good offices of the United Nations in the next 18 months, the chances of the ISIS being contained are very slim. The West has to learn to engage with its rivals. They may not be people in the same mould, but they are people after all.
The French security agencies have asserted that a severed finger found at the Bataclan theatre, where three gunmen killed 89 people in the terror attack belonged to Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, a petty criminal of Algerian origin. This could lead to a better understanding of the actual crime. It would serve a useful purpose in policing matters and dealing with such terror-related crimes. But the problem of ending the atmosphere of terror that now affects us all is much bigger than solving the criminal details of the terror incident. It should include the understanding that terror hurts us all. Most of it hurts those who practice it.
Before I conclude…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a big show in London’s Wembley Stadium and it was an event in sync with his rock star like persona that has grown abroad. He has promised to make India a ‘solar power” and this holds a hope for the millions who spend their lives in darkness after dusk. His message of being intolerant against intolerance is also welcome. There has never been a problem with Prime Minister Modi’s ambitions for India, the only issue has been the translation of these lofty aims into meaningful steps that make a difference at the grassroots. We hope that this transition also takes place.