Politics Of Terrorism

January 28, 2006

If there is one thing that defines the political order in the twenty-first century, it must be the global concern with terrorism. If we are to believe the political leaders of the non-rogue countries, terrorism is the most substantial threat facing global civilization. According to them, all the countries very conveniently fall into blocks consisting of good and evil countries. As Bush would say, you are either with us (good) or against us (evil).

This whole hullabaloo about terrorism is an instructive illustration of how a particular strand of thought, quite independently of reality, can assert itself and prevail in popular consciousness. I use the word hullabaloo, because I think that is what it is. However, let me clarify emphatically that terrorism is, indeed, a threat and must be dealt with effectively. The deviation from reality that I am lamenting is in the generally supposed extent and potency of that threat.

Many people and indeed governments had always despised the West in general, and the US in particular. That has been very common, but there is no evidence to suppose that they have acted on that hostility in any significant manner. All the acts of terrorism came from isolated groups of people who were sometimes helped by repressive governments. But it must be noted that they never had mass support, in the sense of actually helping them carry out acts of terrorism. It may be argued that there was mass approval, but it is improper to suggest that there was mass support. One would think that all the aggrieved parties (mostly the West) with their military might can easily deal with these groups and no sane person will have legitimate complaints about that.

But what we are seeing is completely different. There is a systematic attempt by the US to ascribe this threat of terrorism to what it deems as evil regimes. There is absolutely no evidence to support that view, except in the case of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The popular consciousness is so concretely set in this way that it is rare to see rigorous analyses of how this particular situation came about or what its nature is. It has almost become an axiom to believe what is believed today. While that may very well be true, I am just arguing for more critical thinking. If contemporary terrorism is treated as in isolated event in the present, without any relation to the history of last few decades, then it will never be totally defeated.

What is troubling about today's world is the blind certainty that some people/countries are good and others are bad. But the truth is that throughout history, good was always what the powerful said it was. Right now, the United States says Iran is an evil regime and hence it is. For all practical purposes, that is the case. When Hamas bombs an Israeli shopping mall, we all call it terrorism. When Al-Qaeda attacks London subways we all call that terrorism. And they are.

But when the US invades Iraq and thousands of Iraqis die (30,000 according to this, more than 100,000 according to this) in the resultant mess, we simply think that it is an act of self-defense. When the CIA air-bombs a Pakistani village (to kill a terrorist), we think that it is just war on terrorism.

I am not saying that these acts of the US are equally reprehensible. They may be, they may not be. All I am saying is that the analysis can not end simply by a statement that because the US did, it is OK by definition. I am afraid that is how most people think about this issue.

Krishna is doing Ph.D in mathematics. He writes at Quasi-Coherent Ruminations.
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Politics Of Terrorism


Author: Krishna


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The Comic Project
January 29, 2006
03:04 AM

The history of a war is written by one who won it and not by the loser. And one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Put these two together and you will have some serious distortion of facts in the future to come. Sometimes, the rebel and the authority both keep outdoing each other in raining down pain on each other - Israel/Palestine? - and you wonder which one is the terrorist.

The politics is driven by whoever controls the media and how that media manages to broadcast its views. CNN and Fox News can talk whatever they want about the war in Iraq but an Al Jazeera broadcasts its views and gets blocked. Shakespeare's "the world is a stage" seems to be so apt to describe the current situation. And the media is proving to be a major catalyst with every player saying "My daddy's bigggggg khaaaaaar". It's not politics. It is about eyeballs. And the less said about the US, the better.

January 30, 2006
06:50 AM

The weak don't have as much of a right to exist as the strong. As long as this holds, "evil" is not being perpetrated!

January 31, 2006
10:30 PM

>>When the CIA air-bombs a Pakistani village (to >>kill a terrorist), we think that it is just >>war on terrorism.

What else is it? If you are suggesting that allowing terrorists to get away will solve the problem of terrorism then I think you are living in fantasy land. Although Zawahiri didn't turn up for dinner at Damadola, he was expected to (and didn't thanks to an obvious tip-off), and the attack killed some key al-Qaeda leaders. I think the attack was perfectly justified considering the circumstances.

I've said this before to those who see a moral equivalence between use of violence by terrorists and use of violence by those fighting terrorists: chemotherapy hurts, but cancer kills. No one prescribes chemotherapy if there were no cancer.

January 31, 2006
11:46 PM

Nitin: Thanks for your comment. The issue of CIA air-ride is one of the more easy cases to understand. I am not talking about that exclusively. My point was a larger one of what defines terrorism and how it is not easy to explain it. What is believed in the mainstream may not have anything to do with the reality. In the recent past, US invasion of Iraq, US bombing of a chemical plant in Sudan in 1998 are all in blatant violation of all international standards that we have developed, and what moral right the US has to condemn anyone else for violent methods. I am not at all supporting the other side, but the US or the West has no moral superiority. These same people led to the strengthening of Saddam or bin Laden.

If you go back a little in history also you will find many cases of supposedly morally superior states behaving in utter disregard to any decency. What else can you say of British excesses in its colonies. Think Jallianwala bhag.

History is full of powerful countries defining what is virtuous/moral and what is terrorism, to suit their own whims and fancies. That is all I wanted to point out: beware of calling someone terrorist next time. By all means, do so, but only if you came to those conclusions by your own assessment. And not because someone else said so.

April 12, 2007
10:06 PM

Good Observations. Might is Right but Might will not win in the climax because some one is always mightier than mortal beings.

April 22, 2007
10:04 AM


Shaan Khan
April 22, 2007
11:31 AM

One can argue that Holland acquired its wealth by stealing it from Indonesia. The British Empire got its wealth from USA and later from the Indian subcontinent. You notice that throughout history the powerful nations have achieved their status on the back of poor nations. Africa is a poster child for exploited nations. On arriving to a poor African country, I was recently told by one of its inhabitant that they were happy that they have no diamond or minerals etc and hence atlesat their mess was of their own making. Needless to say this country is perhaps the most stable country in a sea of chaos.

The so called Terrorist in a nutshell is an indigenous response of the poor against exploitation. In some ways most of these so called terrorist are merely seeking freedom from exploitation. Hence terrorism will stop when exploitation stops.

Let us put this in some real context.

Today the world has realized that the most indispensable commodity (apart from water) is energy. There is limited energy and those that have access and control of energy will have a better shot of being ahead, economy wise, than those that do not have such access. Going forward (i.e in the future) the cheapest source of energy will be nuclear energy. Hence after we are done with oil, we will switch, for sure, to nuclear energy. Bio-diesel from corn etc will make our food supply too expensive and therefore is not a viable alternative.

Hence the powerful nations have two objectives, one short term and another long term. Short tern they want to control the present source of energy, i.e. oil, and long term they want to control who will emerge as players in the future world that will be propelled by nuclear energy. In this scenario the nation of Israel complicates everything. After the end of cold war their usefulness to the powerful nation has diminished. Hence a fight against terrorism is the only way they can deal themselves back into the game. Without Israel, perhaps the powerful nations would have found a different solution to address their short and long term objectives. Nonetheless with Israel, this "war against terrorism" becomes the best alternative. The "war against terrorism" is just a convenient way to control oil, prevent Iran from emerging in the future world as a nuclear energy supplier and also allow Israel to be a player on the center stage. In some way "War against Terrorism" is the perfect silver bullet.

Which brings us back to where are started, the so called terrorist is merely trying to defend his oil, his land, his water and his dignity. The common man, i.e. you and I, the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, are caught in the cross fire between the powerful and the so called terrorist. We are making the sacrifices and getting killed. The common man is paying the price.

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