Anil Athale.

The last major conflict of the 20th century, the Second World War, was an ideological conflict against Nazism, Fascism and Japanese Militarism. Despite several overtures for a negotiated peace, at great cost, the Americans insisted on ‘Unconditional Surrender’ as the only outcome acceptable. The first war of 21st century is also ‘War Against Terrorism’ and neither against Bin Laden or Afghanistan. Destruction of the ideology of terrorism is the eventual goal. Without hedging let us face it, it is a war against ‘Radical Islam’. With followers in over 60 countries, the distinction between radical Islam and peaceful Islam is difficult. The danger of this turning into a clash of civilisation is very real and one false step on either side and mankind will slip into a quagmire.

Islam in general and radical Islam in particular, presents a great problem in a world that is increasingly integrated. While there is indeed great similarity in the teachings of all religions, Islam is particularly vehement about rejecting all other faiths. The division of world into Darul Hrab and Darul Haram, the constant invocation to destroy non-believers and Haj rituals like stoning the Satan, makes Islam a particularly militant faith. The use of Islam for political purpose and confining teaching of Islam in regard to peace and brotherhood to the Muslims alone has given birth to radical Islam. The Muslim Ulema’s attempt to obliterate pre-Islamic history has been a contributory factor. Is it any surprise that the moderate Islam flourishes in those countries that have managed to retain their links with their pre-Islamic past. This is so in case of Egypt (Phrohs & Pyramids), Iran (Darius and Zorastra) , Indonesia (Hindusim) , Iraq ( Babylonian) et al. It is in this respect that Afghanistan, Pakistan , Saudi Arabia are unique. It is this syndrome that led to ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Pakistan, destruction of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan or ousting of Kashmiri Pandits from valley.

It is patently unfair to single out Islamic fanaticism. There are fanatics in all religions and while the world deals with radical Islam and its terrorist manifestation, it cannot ignore the Jew Zealots, Christian fundamentalists, Hindu fanatics or militant Buddhism. Then there are racist like Aryan Nation in the US (members of which were responsible for Oklahoma City bombing) , National party in Britain, Neo Nazis in Germany and Tamil language fanatics in Sri Lanka.

There is also a danger in equating the Radical Islamic terrorism that has destruction of existing world as its goal, with the other forms of violence that is used by many aggrieved groups as a form of weapon to fight perceived injustice. Thus the Palestinian resistance, the LTTE, Chechens and Kashmiri insurgents have one time or the other used terrorist tactics. The justification for this has been state terror. But it must also be pointed out that the Vietnamese successfully fought against the Americans without ever using terror tactics. Neither did the tribals of India’s North East, Nagas and Mizos use this tool. To successfully eradicate terrorism from the world, even as a tactic, a non-discriminatory, universal and compulsory regime to curb state terrorism would be necessary. This would mean putting restrictions on the sovereignty of nations. Is the world ready for it? As long as this does not happen, the ‘Radicals’, for whom terrorism is not just a means but an end, would continue to justify their actions by pointing out at the injustices being heaped on some. One way out of this would be ( as pointed out in a previous article) to concentrate on the ‘acts’ of terror and outlaw them. But as mentioned earlier for this to succeed, there will have to be corresponding commitment by ALL the states to the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights. One of the reason for a certain ambiguity in response by countries like China, is rooted in this. In short what one is looking at is a world order in which certain values will be forced on all the states of international community.

Logically the fight against terrorism is a fight against fanaticism. There are socio-economic causes that promote it. These range from restrictive social practices, discrimination based on caste & creed, poverty and over population. Elimination of terrorism thus implies end to conflict on earth, indeed a tall order.

It is also obvious that the terrorists involved in the September 11 bombings abused the liberties available in a democratic and plural society like the USA. India has been facing a similar dilemma for decades. After all, the ideological trail of Osama Bin may well end up at the seminary in Deoband , India. There is a great danger that to curb the menace of fanaticism, plural societies may have to give up their liberties and curtail the freedoms enjoyed by their citizens. That would signify a victory to the perpetrators of murder on 11 Sep. It is indeed a Hobsons choice for the free world.

One is sure that the intellectuals and policy makers in the US, who have declared a Crusade or Jihad against terrorism ( we will not rest till the last terrorist is eliminated) , would be becoming aware of the pitfalls of the sweeping objective of the new war. Unfortunately, history is witness to many occasions where flippant rhetoric and statements soon solidify into positions from where retreat to pragmaticism becomes an impossibility. Rhetoric and commitments have their own momentum and there is a snowballing effect.

This article is a small attempt to point out the pitfalls ahead in the war against terrorism.

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