Terror’s many di­men­sions and the chal­lenges it poses


Last Satur­day, a seminar was held at the Mul­ti­me­dia Univer­sity in Malacca on “The Threat of Global Ter­ror­ism in the 21st Cen­tury.” It ex­plored the many di­men­sions of this chal­lenge to civ­i­liza­tion.

Par­tic­i­pants were re­minded that ter­ror­ism has ex­isted through­out the ages.

No na­tion and no re­gion have es­caped its evil. No race, re­li­gion or re­gion is with­out guilt in per­pe­trat­ing it.

Much de­pends on how we de­fine “ter­ror­ism.” There is an Alice in Won­der­land qual­ity about the term.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scorn­ful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — nei­ther more nor less.”

“The ques­tion is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many dif­fer­ent things.” “The ques­tion is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

A per­son hounded by some as a ter­ror­ist may be hon­ored by oth­ers as a free­dom fighter.

The Nazis used this ap­pel­la­tion for the hap­less Jews of Ger­many. The Is­raelis and the Amer­i­cans use it to de­scribe the ter­ror­ized peo­ple of Palestine.

Third World per­spec­tive: The ten­dency in the West is to con­fine the con­cept of ter­ror­ism to acts of vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by non­state ac­tors in pur­suance of their re­li­gious or ide­o­log­i­cal goals.

What is glossed over is the shame­ful re­al­ity that the state and its func­tionar­ies are equally cul­pa­ble of this per­fidy through wars, in­va­sions, bomb­ings, mis­sile and drone at­tacks, tar­geted killings, po­lice bru­tal­ity, eco­nomic em­bar­goes, forcible an­nex­a­tion of pri­vate lands, de­lib­er­ate de­struc­tion of ba­sic ameni­ties and will­ful at­tempts at eco­nomic stran­gu­la­tion of a peo­ple.

War is the ul­ti­mate form of ter­ror­ism. Na­tions like the United States, the United King­dom, Is­rael, Ger­many, France and Aus­tralia, while prac­tic­ing hu­man rights at home, bru­tal­ize and pul­ver­ize the “lesser” na­tions of Asia and Africa in pur­suance of geopo­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary goals.

Many of their ac­tions are in fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of the an­titer­ror­ism Con­ven­tions and Pro­to­cols of the United Na­tions. Many as­pects of their “war against terror” qual­ify as ter­ror­ism.

A just world must con­demn ter­ror­ism in all its forms and man­i­fes­ta­tions, as the U.N. puts it, “by whomever, wher­ever and of what­so­ever pur­poses.”

To the vic­tims of ter­ror­ist bru­tal­i­ties, it makes no dif­fer­ence whether the bomb that shat­tered their lives was demo­crat­i­cally man­u­fac­tured or let loose by a tyrant or fa­natic.

An un­re­solved is­sue is the use of terror tac­tics in free­dom strug­gles.

Ar­ti­cle 1( 1) of the In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights rec­og­nizes the right of a peo­ple to self- de­ter­mi­na­tion. Should free­dom fight­ers and lib­er­a­tors be branded as ter­ror­ists?

It is sub­mit­ted that noble strug­gles should be waged through noble means.

Ter­ror­ism in all its forms is an abom­i­na­tion. It is not morally jus­ti­fi­able to blud­geon in­no­cent peo­ple into terror and hor­ror, or to use hu­man be­ings as pawns or in­stru­men­tal­i­ties for po­lit­i­cal ends.

Al­ter­na­tive mod­els of lib­er­a­tion like Ma­hatma Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s are avail­able.

Leg­is­la­tion: Around the world, a fair amount of leg­is­la­tion has emerged to com­bat ter­ror­ism. There are 16 counter-ter­ror­ism Con­ven­tions of the United Na­tions.

Un­der our Pe­nal Code, 19 sep­a­rate sec­tions deal with of­fences re­lat­ing to ter­ror­ism.

In ad­di­tion, there is a plethora of laws like the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act 1960, which was re­pealed in 2012 but res­ur­rected in the Preven­tion of Ter­ror­ism Act 2015, Preven­tion of Crime (Amend­ment and Ex­ten­sion) Act 2014 and the Se­cu­rity Of­fenses (Spe­cial Mea­sures) Act 2012.

In ad­di­tion, we have the Avi­a­tion Of­fences Act 1984, An­ti­Money Laun­der­ing and An­tiTer­ror­ism Fi­nanc­ing Act 2001 and the Spe­cial Mea­sures Against Ter­ror­ism in For­eign Coun­tries Act 2015.

Holis­tic ap­proach: Ter­ror­ism can­not be de­feated by a mere law-and-or­der ap­proach.

Tough counter-ter­ror­ism mea­sures, in­tel­li­gence oper­a­tions and mil­i­tary mea­sures must be ac­com­pa­nied by a holis­tic ap­proach that pro­motes con­di­tions con­ducive to preven­tion and peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of pro­longed con­flicts.

Ter­ror­ism can only be com­bated if its ide­o­log­i­cal ap­peal is neu­tral­ized.

All so­ci­eties need to counter rad­i­cal­iza­tion and dele­git­imize ide­o­logues and theocrats who dis­tort race and re­li­gion to gain power and jus­tify heinous crimes. This is a chal­lenge for the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

In Mus­lim so­ci­eties, in­clud­ing Malaysia, pro­mo­tion of sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions by re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal fa­nat­ics is pro­vid­ing fer­tile ground for ex­trem­ist ideas. A strong, co­her­ent counter-nar­ra­tive is needed.

If peo­ple have some­thing to live for, per­haps they may not seek some­thing to die for.

Fair wealth dis­tri­bu­tion and de­vel­op­ment can blunt the ap­peal of rad­i­cal ide­olo­gies within dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties.

In this con­text it must be noted that if poli­cies and pro­grams to help the marginal­ized are to suc­ceed, cor­rup­tion must be elim­i­nated.

Wher­ever there is op­pres­sion and in­jus­tice, there will al­ways be peo­ple pre­pared to die on their feet than to live on their knees. Is­rael must bear this in mind in Palestine.

Amer­ica’s blind sup­port for Is­rael’s con­quests, mur­der­ous at­tacks, apartheid poli­cies and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions has hugely con­trib­uted to the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of many Mus­lims around the world. As a me­di­a­tor, the U.S. has been shame­fully un­fair.

Wher­ever demo­cratic change is im­pos­si­ble, some find vi­o­lence a nec­es­sary al­ter­na­tive.

The West must bear this in mind in its sub­ver­sion and vi­o­lent over­throw of many un­friendly but demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ments like Mo­hamed Morsi’s in Egypt.

The ex­cesses of the U.S. war on terror have spawned much ter­ror­ism.

Amer­ica’s over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity and “full spec­trum dom­i­nance” leaves those who op­pose the U.S. no choice but to use des­per­ate mea­sures for hope­less sit­u­a­tions.

There is a pos­si­ble op­por­tunis­tic link be­tween ter­ror­ist out­fits, or­ga­nized crime and arms deal­ers. In a world in tur­moil, the arms in­dus­try is the great­est ben­e­fi­ciary.

The Is­lamic State-re­lated tur­moil in Iraq and Syria can­not be over­come un­less there is open­ness about the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s roots. Much like al-Qaida, the IS is a rad­i­cal Sunni group which is armed and fi­nanced by the U.S. to di­vide and con­quer the oil-rich Mid­dle East and to counter Syiah Iran and pro-Rus­sian Syria.

The U.S. is us­ing IS in four ways: to at­tack Syria which is Is­rael and Amer­ica’s en­emy; to main­tain its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Mid­dle East as it winds down in con­quered Iraq; to sell arms and mil­i­ta­rize the re­gion; and to use ter­ror­ism as a pre­text to ex­pand in­va­sive do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance.

In sum, ter­ror­ism is a mere symp­tom. We may be in de­nial about its real causes.

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