As religiously-motivated attacks increase globally, the concept that one man’s terrorist can be another man’s freedom fighter must be done away with
The multiple gun attacks in Vienna are the nefarious outcome of a deliberate misinterpretation of religious identity. This kind of narrative has led to the beheading of a history teacher in France and stabbing of three innocents in Nice and so on. All these incidents are clear indicators that post-modern terrorism is likely to haunt the world in general and Europe in particular. These attacks are also a reminder of an array of socio-political and global issues which Europe has to come to terms with. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has already hinted towards Huntington’s Clashes of Civilisations theory coming true. He called the recent gun attack by an Islamist terrorist “an attack of terror driven by hatred of our way of life, our democracy.” This upsurge in religiously-motivated hitback attacks has marked the beginning of the pernicious era of terrorism. The rising tide of immigration and human smuggling across the borders in Europe has posed serious logistical and security challenges to France, Germany and Britain. Undoubtedly these are defining moments for the leaders of Europe. It is high time countries developed sophisticated mechanisms to handle the problem head on as it has already caused severe tension between various nations and compounded the problem of human trafficking and refugees across the globe. In certain pockets, the problems of migration and refugees have resulted in a quagmire. The influx of refugees, who have fled due to disturbances in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, has added a new dimension to the existing problem of violence and crime in Central Asian Republics. In an era of globalisation, the world is becoming small and integrated but due to its inner paradoxes, it is getting fragmented and turning out to be a highly sectarian place.
The recent incidents cannot be viewed in isolation. History bears testimony to various such tragic events. A few years ago, the bombing of civilians in Oklahoma City (which left more than 200 people dead) sent shockwaves around the world. A mysterious gas attack at the main train station in a Tokyo subway, that killed 12 people and left nearly 5,000 hospitalised, also sent dangerous signals. All such acts were a violent culmination of plans that were carefully executed by terrorists. Similarly, most countries of the world, including India, Russia , Spain, the UK, US, Italy, Israel, and China, are suffering due to terrorist activities in one way or another. Although violence in itself is condemnable, very rarely is a terrorist attack a nihilistic act bereft of any deeper undercurrents. And the structure of violence is more often than not located in society and social conditions, which not only create them but also nourish and reinforce them. Recurrence of violence is symptomatic of a society’s body politic, torn asunder by varied threats and tensions.
Very often, the social conditions that generate conflict and violence have external coordinates. To many experts dealing with the terror driven by religiously-motivated thinking, it is on account of new challenges the post-modern world is experiencing because of the past mistakes of not calling a spade a spade till the spectre started creating havoc in their own backyard. To many social scientists dealing with terrorism in a globalised world, the matrix of power rests on the highly-visible, unequal structure of the international economy. Such inter-relations between socio-economic conditions in different parts of the world are becoming more and more obvious daily. At another level, the post-Cold War international political-economic order is still a victim of the power game that was thrust on the world by the then “Big Powers.” The power network woven by the US and its allies in the entire West Asian region has provoked the ire of the opposition forces in almost every State where the US has had an interest-based relationship. Thus, as societies globalise and the curtains of opacity are raised through increased inter-societal interaction at the international level, people in the underdeveloped countries are holding the “Big Powers” responsible for their inferior socio-economic positions. There has always been a smooth international network of collaboration among the various terrorist groups supported by a few countries throughout the world. For example, take Pakistan’s involvement in orchestrating terrorism in Kashmir and the Japanese Red Army’s collaboration with Italy’s Red Brigade. It is sometimes the wide coverage by the media which provides the rationale for terrorism and increases the problem by stimulating it. This is a classic example of how astute media management can reduce the level of moral opposition to counter-terrorism. The latest has been the obnoxious nexus between the Al Qaeda, the ISIS and LeT. Their deadly combination has laid siege to peace and security.
European nations alone have witnessed more than 8,500 terrorist incidents since 1990, representing about 29 per cent of the total global incidents. The situation has become vulnerable since 2016 and with the increasing rise in the cases of illegal migration across the European countries. The rise of modern terrorism with frightening ramifications has resulted in a demand for strengthening the national law and order machinery. Of late, the pressure on the police and security agencies has been mounting. But the existing laws still pose many problems. The use of police and paramilitary forces for combating terrorism has created an apprehension that it might lead to the oppression of the general populace. Surprisingly, a proper legal definition of terrorism is yet to be found. The widening gap between the various governments regarding evolving a common strategy for suppression of terrorism needs to be viewed in the context of the potential for threat that it holds. Even the European convention on suppression of terrorism is restricted by Article 5 and Article 13, which refuse the extradition of a terrorist on many grounds. In an environment where terrorist violence is endemic and the world stands hopelessly divided on various laws, all countries should shun their national prerogatives for dealing with terrorism.
Many efforts have been made by a number of nations to control State-sponsored terrorism, such as through economic sanctions, but so far they have not reached a consensus either at the national or global level. During the last two decades, increasing drug smuggling and the unholy nexus between drug smugglers and terrorists have posed a serious problem to the internal State-security networks and compelled various nations to organise themselves and wage a relentless war against such a nexus. But mere implementation of vigorous drug laws cannot become effective unless the judicial procedure is modified for ensuring speedy trials. The continuing uncertainties with regard to terrorism have encouraged various countries to launch psychological warfare against terrorism.
The London Economic Summit Conference, organised by NATO States and Japan a few years ago, proved to be another landmark for the eradication of terrorism, which decided that unless we attack the roots of terrorism, only superficial relief could be seen but violence would increase in the total quantum of its impact. Creation of general awareness and organisation of public support against terrorist acts could be of immense use.
While it is desirable to allow police and the armed forces to employ better informed judgment about local problems, there is, of course, a danger that this attempt of the Government could dilute the benefits to those deemed deserving and, thus, any possibility of peace and negotiation. Rapid international transportation and use of sophisticated weapons have helped the expansion of terrorist networks globally. Besides, the new suicide squads have left the entire security apparatus shocked.
As religiously-motivated attacks increase globally, the concept that one man’s terrorist can be another man’s freedom fighter must be done away with. The local populace should cooperate with the law enforcement machinery even at the cost of personal misery while prompt and strict decisions should be undertaken by various nations for controlling terrorists psychologically. In a changing environment, the security apparatus and police need to diversify activities by bringing together technical and professional expertise based on many decades of experience in maintaining internal security. In this regard, the most crucial aspect is to develop the capability to anticipate security needs.
This is possible by conducting specialised courses for monitoring security situations.Unless we attack the roots of terrorism, we would have only superficial relief and terrorism would magnify in the total quantum of its impact. The need of the hour is international cooperation to tackle the menace and forming an integrated team after minutely comprehending the inner dynamics of the problem.
(The writer is a professor of political science, Visiting Professor, University of Leuven, Belgium)