While Sri Lanka continues to reel from the mind-numbing Easter Sunday attacks that claimed some 260 lives and injured scores of others, recent terror attacks in the West serve as ominous reminders that no country could afford to be complacent about the seeming inviolability of its security. Hardly a couple of weeks back, terror attacks on London Bridge and in The Hague drove home this disquieting truth.
The killing of three American naval personnel at a US naval base in Florida on December 6, by who seemed to be a Lone Wolf terrorist, underscores the pervasiveness of the insecurity stemming from present day terrorism. Understanding this phenomenon, calls for a thoroughgoing paradigm change in current thinking on terrorism.
What makes current terror seemingly intractable and mind-bogglingly complex is its uniquely ubiquitous and uncontrollable nature. Terrorism of the religiously inspired kind in particular occurs everywhere and seems to be nonchalantly dismissive of states’ military might and their law and order muscle and preparedness.
It is this apparent nonchalance that should have the world immensely and increasingly worried. It lends a fiendish edge to terror of this kind that civilian populations in particular should find disconcerting in the extreme. In short, this terrorist of relatively recent origin stops at nothing because he regards nothing as sacred or reverential. Life is held in utmost disdain. It should be plain to see that an individual with a mindset such as this would pose unprecedented difficulties for law enforcers everywhere.
To be sure, the problem has been receiving the attention in recent times of all who matter – political scientists, military experts, psychiatrists, religious leaders etc. However, surprisingly, it is to creative writing that one must go to acquire a more concrete and true-to-life understanding of this terror mindset.
There is the outstanding novel, “Terrorist”, by renowned American writer John Updike, for example, that delves into the consciousness of this terrorist of modern times as few other source of importance, perhaps, do. Essentially, what is set out in this novel is the process of degeneration that the consciousness of a young male in the West undergoes before he decides to strap a time bomb to his body with the aim of triggering a mass killing. The cultural and moral environment in parts of the US that sparks off this mental process is detailed for us graphically and cogently. Briefly, it is the moral and spiritual decadence of the West that drives the young American of Arab and Irish origin to join the religiously-oriented terror group that becomes his handler and mentor.
It is no co-incidence that the terrorist who gunned down the three US naval officers recently in Florida had tweeted before the shooting that America is ‘a nation of evil’. We have here a mind that conceives of cultures in stark black and white, with no allowances made for in between shades of grey. When impressionable minds are thus conscientized or ‘brain-washed’ by scheming vested interests, destruction and death of the most ineffable kind should only be expected.
Accordingly, protecting impressionable minds all over the world from being ‘brain-washed’ into perpetrating terror becomes a number one task for not only the West but for the entire international community. After all, no country or culture could expect to be safe and free of designing religious demagogues who are obsessed with furthering their divisive political ends by using as pawns the impressionable and the uneducated. These demagogues of a warped disposition are sparing no theatres of conflict that could be used by them and Sri Lanka proved the point on April 21st this year. Accordingly, the world should join as one to contain and manage religiously-influenced terror since no country could expect to be safe from this blight.
The use of violence for whatever reason should be condemned and this columnist joins millions of persons and institutional actors all over the world in expressing outrage at the recent terror acts that have snuffed out thousands of innocent lives in numerous countries. In a democratic state people are free to lead the lives of their choice without being made to pay for it with their lives and this applies to both Western and Eastern cultures. In a democracy the norm is that people must live and let live and this principle must prevail.
However, the world is bedevilled by insecurity sourced by runaway terrorism and short and long term measures need to be worked out to deal with this crisis. In the short term there is no choice but for security and intelligence agencies the world over to cooperate in dealing militarily with terror. Besides, law and order measures must be steadily beefed-up locally and internationally to manage the menace. But the gruelling challenge presents itself in the form of long term answers to the problem.
This is because mind-sets must be changed and the latter made to see the world in a humane light that will make peaceful coexistence and tolerance possible. The US in particular would be obliged to project itself as a civilizing and democratizing force and not as an ‘evil’ of any kind. A less domineering and protectionist US would help greatly in this process. It will need to live up to its traditional image as a bastion of democracy and accountable governance.
The US would be helping itself in these challenges by also reflecting a strong penchant for multi-lateralism and cooperate living with the rest of the world. Besides, it would need to establish that it is a truly inclusive and welcoming home for all its cultures and communities.
On the other hand, moderate, democratic and peace-loving sections in the Muslim world must stand up and be counted. They would need to take it upon themselves to demonstrate that Islam is, indeed, all about peace and not war. They would need to inculcate these values in particularly their young and impressionable wards. This process must begin right away if the stepping stones are to be laid for a more peaceful and stable world.