THE MYTHS AND MASKS OF TERROR
Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu
In the wake of the global campaign against terror, three major trends have become evident, all of which are of utmost significance to the global community. The first is as an unprecedented eagerness on the part of governments to sharpen their swords against terrorism at home. President Bush has already conferred sweeping powers on the FBI to investigate the sinews and nerves of the terrorist networks at home. The NDA Government, matching its unseemly haste in joining the US-led anti-Osama bandwagon, lost no time in improvising the potentially draconian Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO). Even those governments that have not cooked up legal provisions to 'crush' terrorism, seem to be infected by the prevailing "terror-psychosis". All on a sudden it looks as though our world has only one problem: terrorism.
While it is indisputable that the merchants of terror must be neutralized, we have to be vigilant against the likelihood of the 'war efforts' against terrorism legitimizing a repressive intolerance of civil liberties and the right to dissent. The foremost need in this context is to define 'terrorism' objectively. The global community needs to agree on what comprises terrorism in its two-fold expressions: State-sponsored terrorism and the terrorism employed by ideological groups and subversive elements that have no patience with peace or dialogue. If the concept of terrorism is allowed to remain vague, it will become a sledgehammer in the hands of repressive regimes against those who demand justice and civil liberties. It is alarming that so many nations rush into the so-called 'global coalition against terror' without any shared understanding of what terrorism is!
What should make us worry all the more is the fact that some of the eager participants in this global anti-terrorism alliance -Russia, for example- are themselves combating regional aspirations for autonomy. India's own zeal in fighting terrorism is a thorn in our flesh called 'cross-border terrorism' on account of Kashmir. Freedom fighters and free thinkers have been terrorists and subversive elements in the eyes of the political establishment, from time immemorial. To Saddam, for example, the Kurds are out-and-out terrorists. It would be a tragedy if the campaign against terrorism were to legitimize the repression of genuine struggles for justice and liberty. Already Black Tuesday has made the political establishments in many parts of the world more brash and belligerent. An ambience is emerging in which the language of terror seems more seemly on the lips of authority than it did before September 11. In our keenness to kill the body of terror, we should not allow ourselves to be possessed by the spirit of terrorism. Four centuries ago, Shakespeare anatomized the irony of killing the body of Caesar only to unleash the Spirit of Caesar (or, Caesarism). For the oppressed peoples of the world, a terror worse than the survival of bin Laden is the dreadful prospect of the ruling establishments being possessed by the spirit of bin Laden: the spirit of intolerance fortified by the cult of violence.
The second crucial issue relates to the folly of articulating this 'contestation of terror' in the pomposity of a 'civilizational conflict' which it decidedly is not. Unfortunately, President Bush's hapless use of the metaphor of 'crusade' in describing the global effort against terrorism, was a windfall for Islamic fundamentalism. All the more so because the silhouette of Samuel Huntington -the false prophet of historical apocalypse- looms large over the horizon of American foreign policy. Ironically and unwittingly, Huntington has sketched the blueprint for Pan-Islamic solidarity; for the Islamic world tends to equate Christianity with the US and Europe, as is evident from the incidents of anti-Christian violence both in Nigeria and Pakistan, in the wake of the War on Terror. This vivisection of the world into the Christian and Islamic civilizations, as though there is nothing in between, is even more a-historical, fanciful and frivolous than the arbitrary division of the world into two blocs led by the two Super Powers. The plausibility of this contrived 'civilizational conflict hypothesis' depends wholly on human suggestibility. The fact, for instance, that millions in this country believe that Lord Ram was born at a specific spot in Ayodhya thousands of years ago, is no proof of its verity or validity. The 'civilizational conflict' hypothesis has, however, horrendous scope for mischief. And, in the days ahead, the terrorists are bound to make a lethal use of this fanciful myth. As the US and her allies get bogged down and, consequently, resort to punitive bombardments leading to increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the idea of a civilizational conflict might look more and more credible to the Muslim world. This could have unimaginable consequences, which it is most irresponsible to discount.
The third issue relates to the intellectual and ideological hegemony of the western world in the emerging global order. Over a period of time the Euro-American bloc of nations got used to projecting its agenda and interests as the global agenda. At the core of this ethnocentrism is the dogma of the inherent superiority of the western culture over all other cultures of the world and the core belief of the ultimacy of technology. Technology is the domain of power and it is assumed to be all-sufficient in solving every human problem, extant and emerging. It is this that underlies Bush's smug assumption that the Taliban can be bombed into submission and that the menace of global terrorism can be rooted out at will. Till now this dogma has not been either confronted or contested, except perhaps for a while in the jungles of Vietnam. The wound of Vietnam was healed with the balm of Iraq's humiliation.
The blind faith of the western culture in the omnipotence of technology alone should suffice to prove that the religion of the west is not Christianity but materialism. So, if at all there is a civilizational conflict, it is not between Islam and Christianity, but between the civilizations of materialism and of spirituality. Now, terrorism itself belongs to the culture of materialism. The use of passenger planes by the terrorists tells its own tale. Terrorism is neither Christian nor Muslim. It is, quintessentially, a materialistic phenomenon. A terrorist does not become Islamic either by having a Muslim name or a fundamentalist ideology. Nor does an anti-terror front become Christian just because its leaders have Christian names and their ancestors embraced the biblical faith at some point in history. Those who put their whole trust in might, whether of wealth or of technology, are alien to the way of Jesus Christ who said, "Put down the word; he who takes the sword will perish by it."
The world stands at the crossroads today. This is a time for honest and objective thinking, and not partial truths and partisan advocacies. Our duty by humankind demands that we recognize the contrived myths and maneuvers of our times for what they are. Ironically, it is in the interests both of the terrorists and their antagonists to conjure up the monster of Christian-Muslim 'civilizational conflict'. Historically, Christians and Muslims are brothers condemned, by their religions it would seem, to inveterate hate and hurt. The question needs to be asked, at least at this eleventh hour, if the seed of terrorism does not lie in this perverse religiosity that makes brothers honour their God -apparently of love and compassion- by spilling each other's blood?