Homeland Security

Fight against Terrorism and the Moral Dilemmas
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Jan , 2011

Terrorism is a phenomenon operating on both sides of morality. Dilemmas, therefore, arise not confined to any one side. This is best apparent by examining some well known cases.

Take the case first of Arab Israel dispute in Palestine. The point at issue is restoration of Arab lands by the state of Israel. Having failed militarily to get back the lands, what is the alternative available to the Arabs. Their answer is revolutionary violence which is how they define terrorism. The principles on which such an approach rests are the following:-

Many in the Western world have accepted that terrorism and national liberation belong to the same scale of legitimate violence but lie at its two different extremities. Implicit in this view is that a freedom fighter cannot be a terrorist.

  1. Revolutionary violence is not to be confused with terrorism or ordinary political violence.
  2. Struggle for national liberation against foreign occupation is just.
  3. Islam sanctions legitimate struggle of oppressed and subjugated nations against their tormentors.

From the Arab point of view means of terrorism are justified by the end which is national liberation. Terrorism then becomes the conveyor of a message: larger the impact of terrorist act, stronger is the message. Civilians, women, children and the old, all become fair game.

Many in the Western world have accepted that terrorism and national liberation belong to the same scale of legitimate violence but lie at its two different extremities. Implicit in this view is that a freedom fighter cannot be a terrorist.

The state of Israel of course holds a contrary view and in its reprisals makes no distinction about who gets killed when it carries out bombing raids. It does not accept that its actions of a matching nature against Arab terrorists can be described as terrorism. For Israelis see their act as justified warfare because Arab terrorists are not civilians but guerrillas whose status equals that of combatants in a proper war.

Also read: Pakistan’s duplicity

How will anyone decide who among the two is or is not a terrorist.

Another example may be considered, the American action in Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s case was that Islam is under siege by the West, particularly the US. He cites the presence of US troops on the Islamic holy lands of Saudi Arabia. And full US support to Israel’s seizure of lands which belonged to Muslims. Bin Laden sees no terrorism in his activities. For him his offensive related to a struggle to save the creed and religion of the Muslim people. Therefore it did not matter who became his victims, civilians, women, children. Ethno nationalist groups like Al Qaeda of Bin Laden even if small in size, weild a disproportionate influence with large populations from where they spring out, owing to their common aspirations and ambitions.

“¦Islamic countries have been consistently exploited by the IS to serve its narrow objectives and its so-called friendships with Muslim countries last only so long as such purposes are fulfilled.

Many reasons are responsible for the presence of a large amount of antipathy against the US among the Arab and Muslim people in general. US is considered to be a practitioner of double standards while implementing resolutions of world bodies like the UN or carrying out obligations under international laws. They question its motivations in its advocacy of globalisation which they feel hurts the interests of the weaker nations. They also believe that Islamic countries have been consistently exploited by the IS to serve its narrow objectives and its so-called friendships with Muslim countries last only so long as such purposes are fulfilled. Such frustrations are truly of the weak, born out of their sense of helplessness, when confronted by the power of the mighty.

The Arab and the Muslim peoples have generally been nursing such grievances over several decades and there is no doubt that a palpable sense of a mass anger prevails against the US and other western countries generally, It is this phenomenon which contributed to Samuel Huntington’s theory of clash of civilizations. In such situations, forms of terrorism become the self justified instruments of the weak and terrorist networks like Al Qaida are born which are more expressive of the mass anger than programmatic of a common design. Terrorism becomes a redemptive act. Through its practise the weak get a sense of power over their mighty adversaries.

Is US action in Afghanistan in response to 9/11 terrorism? To judge, its morality, legality and thoughtfulness have to be evaluated.

US bombings have resulted in widespread suffering and loss of innocent lives. This is sought to be explained away as collateral damage. Starvation would take away many more innocent lives. The Afghan population had done no harm to the US nor were a source of threat to them. Morality, thus, faults US action.

Legality is questionable. US Congress did not declare war on Afghanistan. The US action against the Afghan Government can not be construed as self defence. Security Council did not explicitly authorise military action in Afghanistan though it asked states to work together to bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of terrorists.

The efforts to control militancy in Punjab received critical scrutiny from many, including apologists doubling as human right activists. The fact remains that success in controlling and liquidating the menace could be achieved only through the use of coercive force, as employed in counter terrorist strategies.

Thoughtfulness can be adjudged from the impact of US action on the cycle of violence. It has not succeeded in containing terrorism but a danger exists that US may extend its action to Iraq and other countries. It is also stated it will be a long war. Even if Osama gets killed, terrorism of Arab fundamentalists will not end. What have the Americans achieved? History will answer that question but there is no doubt in the minds of many that what was on display in Afghanistan was a battle between two forms of terrorism.

Two other examples can be cited to underscore US insensitiveness to moral questions and its philosophy of might is right, bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and carpet bombing of Viet Nam. The Afghan events do place an obligation on the US, as did the other actions, to examine how its policies affect other parts of the world such as West Asia.. Can any one be certain that the US would be led to think more for others than for itself or place world civilizational interests at a peg higher than its own? How should the weak orchestrate their pain and anguish?

The third scenario to be examined is domestic, the dilemmas which plagued the militancy situation in Punjab.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anand K Verma

Former Chief of R&AW and author of Reassessing Pakistan.

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