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Do we lack the will to fight terror?

By: Vivek Gumaste
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Is this ever going to end? This is the million dollar question swirling in the air around the country in the aftermath of another series of bomb blasts, this time again in the nation"s capital. And as usual newspaper columnists and security pundits will wax eloquence on the shortcomings of our sleuths, our outmoded technical gadgetry and a host of socio economic factors to hone in on a plausible explanation for this expansion of terror and our failure to contain it. But alas we miss the forest for the trees. Our war on terror falters not because of the umpteen lapses enumerated by our pundits. It stumbles primarily for one simple reason: a lack of will both political and intellectual.

The strength of a battle lies in its ethical conviction and without a sustained intrinsic moral impetus success can be an elusive conclusion. The government, till now, has exhibited a singular ennui in executing this formidable task of safeguarding its citizen. The crux of this failure lies in a confused mental apathy that translates into a self-destructive inertia.

For the greater part of the last 15 years during which Islamic terror has become a way of life in this country, India has been under the influence of the Congress party. The Congress party"s approach to terror has been handicapped by its domestic political compulsions and its warped mindset of minority appeasement.

The Congress perceives the Muslim community as a monolithic block and not as a spectrum with varying shades of black and white. And in this process equates the upright Muslim citizen with the lawless terrorist, assuming that the bonds of religious camaraderie transcend the chasm of right and wrong. Otherwise how can you explain the working presumption that pardoning a convicted terrorist like Afzal Guru would somehow ingratiate them with the wider Muslim community. Such an action apart from relegating national security to second place insults the integrity of the average Muslim.

It was reasoning along similar lines that prompted the government to rescind POTA in October 2004. POTA, though not a perfect instrument had proved at least partially successful against the terrorists. A flawed law is better than no law at all.

Four years later the government is yet to formulate a cogent terror edict testifying to its quandary of thought.

The intellectual elite and English language media with its libertine slant has created a milieu that mirrors the government"s dichotomy of thought and sustains this state of limbo. Rather than an outright, unequivocal censure that terrorism merits, the media indulges in a redundant debate that seeks redeeming facets for an evil where none exists. In short, the English language media has inadvertently proved to be an apologist for these terrorists and a tandem partner in the government"s desultory policy.

Time and again, the media has emphasized vendetta as the etiology of Islamic terror. However a meticulous analysis of this charge finds it to be a dubious one. It is a premise that does not conform to the cannons of morality or the logic of sequence.

Human civilization accepts albeit grudgingly the killing of a human only in one situation: war between armed combatants. Terrorism that revels in the massacre of innocent unarmed civilians clearly falls into the nether zone of lawlessness. There can be no mitigating factor, no justification and no place for defense in the moral ledger.

For the sake of debate, let us apply the logic of sequence to ascertain the merits of these polemics. The present reign of terror can be traced back to March 12, 1993 when a series of bomb blasts ripped through India"s commercial capital, Mumbai, targeting the stock exchange, prominent hotels and the Air-India building. Three hundred innocent people lost their lives in this deadly act. Columnists were quick to propound a cause and effect between these blasts and the Babri-Masjid demolition that took place on December 6, 1992. Over the next few years this premise became a chanting mantra to justify one act of terror after another.

But is this equation so simple and direct? Hardly so as Praveen Swami indicates (A Bend in the Road. Outlook India Mar 18, 2008):

"Towards the end of 1991, SIMI began its turn towards terror -- an event precipitated by the Ram Janambhoomi movement, but one for which the ideological foundations had long been laid."
"SIMI was formed in April, 1977, as an effort to revitalize the SIO. Building on the SIO networks in Uttar Pradesh, SIMI reached out to Jamaat-linked Muslim students" groups in Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Kerala. From the outset, SIMI made clear its belief that the practice of Islam was essentially a political project. In the long term, SIMI sought to re-establish the caliphate, without which it felt the practice of Islam would remain incomplete. Muslims who were comfortable living in secular societies, its pamphlets warned, were headed to hell."

So it appears that the seeds of Islamic terror were sown far back in 1977, long before the demolition of the Babri Masjid or any other instigating factor came into play.

The second cardinal event hypothesized by our intelligentsia as an antecedent to terror is undoubtedly the Gujarat riots of 2002. Obfuscating the gory massacre of 59 unarmed Hindu men, women and children by a Muslim mob that provoked the Gujarat riots, our arm-chair ideologues sidestep this heart rending atrocity and focus exclusively on the subsequent event to draw another faulty link between the advent of terrorism and this communal riot.

The Kandhahar hijack and the audacious attack on Parliament both preceded Gujarat 2002 and occurred almost a decade after the Babri Masjid Demolition. Both events again belie the cause and effect theory.

More recently, terror attacks have been deemed to be fallout of a supposedly unjust judicial system that is seen to favor Hindus. Writing in Outlook India (July 25, 2008), B. Raman comments:
"Since last year, one has been noticing a fresh wave of anger after the convictions awarded to a number of Muslims by a Mumbai court in the case relating to the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993. A common theme in all their Internet chatter is what they see as the inherent unfairness of the Indian criminal justice system towards the Muslims."

Saba Naqvi reiterates this same point in OutlookIndia (Birth of the Septic Fringe, August 11, 2008) writes: "The irony, as usual, is that it is only a small number of the educated Muslim that has become radicalised. The e-mail sent by the Indian Mujahideen is worth deconstructing. Written in fluent English with several references to the Quran, it does vent ire against Hindus, "the infidels", and mocks at Narendra Modi"s "asmita" (pride). Yet, eventually it is a record of perceived injustice by the courts, lawyers, commissions of inquiry and state governments against Muslims. The group says it is issuing an "ultimatum to all the state governments" but specifically mentions Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra."

But is this Muslim grievance legitimate and one that reflects ground reality? The facts tell another story. Within its own constraints, the judicial system has acted in an exemplary fashion stretching its resources and statues to the limit to ensure justice to the aggrieved. The Best Bakery case is a standing example of this. First, the case was moved out of Gujarat to a more neutral setting in Mumbai and in February 2006 a Mumbai court convicted 9 of the 21 accused. Second, the conviction of Madhukar Sarpotdar, a high profile, Shiv Sena leaders for his role in the 1992 Bombay riots is another testimony to the impartiality of our courts.

The perception of injustice within an insular ghettoized community is hard to allay even with the aid of objective evidence when a devious coterie has its own nefarious agenda in mind and that seems to be the case here.

Islamic terror was an event waiting to happen conceptualized far earlier than what are claimed to be sentinel events. These so called trigger events only served to accelerate the pace of this monstrosity and force out into the open.

When we seek a justification for these dastardly acts where none exists, we weaken our resolve and embolden the terrorists imbuing them with a false sense of righteousness. This is the biggest fallacy of our anti-terror drive: a lack of clear thinking that befuddles our mind, cripples our actions and makes us cut an apathetic picture in the face of evil terror. This has to change.

Vivek Gumaste

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