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Saturday Feature
 
Bewildering array of events and old establishment
Syed Fattahul Alim
12/3/2005
 

          A man kills himself under compulsion by another when that other turns the other hand, with which the man had by chance laid hold of a sword, and compels him to direct the sword against his own heart; or the command of a tyrant may compel a man, as it did Seneca, to open his own veins, that is to say, he may desire to avoid a greater evil by a less.
Baruch Spinoza

It is not natural for human beings to commit suicide. But still they are doing that in great numbers. It is also not that the irrational behaviour of killing oneself is demonstrated by few individuals who are weak or even coward and have no control over their emotions. But then all the cases of suicides are not guided by pure emotion. How much emotion is there among the members of the Islamic militants, who, of late, blew themselves up as human bombs, at Gazipur, which is not very far from the capital city, and in the port city of Chittagong, ostensibly to put across their own brand of ideology? Again, is the action of the suicide bombers of Iraq, who are killing themselves along with their targeted enemies in order to free their country of occupation forces, a matter of pure emotion?
Those incidents of self-destruction are not something done on impulse. The suicide squads of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka are not some wayward youths who have no control over their emotions. The terrorists who turned planes carrying them and other passengers into missiles that crashed into the Twin Towers in New York were not an emotionally unstable lot either. All of them were purposeful and were in full control of themselves till the last moment. Are those people then behaving like Seneca and thus trying to 'avoid a greater evil by a less" or that some unknown causes have turned our world upside down since the time of Spinoza?
All this is happening at a time when humanity has reached an unprecedented level of development in science and technology. The suicide bombers are using the discoveries of technology to their advantage and committing acts that defy science, or in other words, the scientific analysis of human motive that is guided by rationality.
The western thinkers, who from time to time express their views about the psycho-social causes of such behaviour on the part of the suicide bombers, attempt at explaining away the phenomenon in a fashion that more often than not appeals more to the point of view of the establishment on the issue than of science proper. It is very easy to dismiss the behaviour of the self-destroying individuals or groups as the conduct of a bunch of religious bigots or fanatics hell-bent on destroying the heathen even if that may cost them their own lives. But it is not that easy to explain the sociology that begets such behaviour of individuals or groups, which to the western-educated mind, is nothing but another form of insanity. On the contrary, they are otherwise sane adults.
Whatever motives one may impute to the men and women who are negating their existence in the prime of their lives, one needs also to consider that the community in which they had lived and grown up must have provided them the social, economic and psychological support so much so that the families so traumatised after their deaths may continue to survive after the loss. And the justifications for what they are doing? Well, here comes the question of the religio-political inspiration of their actions.
And it is the sociological, historical and even economic factors that should be given more attention than only the religio-cultural causes that are being attributed to the seemingly grotesque behaviour, which is manifesting itself through the increasing number of suicides being committed by different individuals and groups as part of their political struggles. The phenomenon of suicide bombings does not have its origin in the culture and the belief-system of the people who are prone to it and in the region where it is endemic. The tendency of analysing the phenomenon in religio-cultural terms is too simplistic and even nave.
And those who are of the opinion that the method of force or counter-terror is the only way to solve the problem of terrorism born of suicide bombings are in fact living in a world of make-believe. The establishment's response to the incidents of suicide attacks is understandable, because politics, whether of old or of recent origin is wont to simplify issues to suit the dominant discourse of power.
In spite of the fact that the world is changing fast, what could not keep pace with this change is the establishment. It is not the establishment of any particular society that is yet to come to terms with the change. Like the phenomenon of global terrorism, the global establishment is yet to come out of its antiquated belief in the method of power. The attitude is the same whether it is in the Occident or in the Orient. Science and technology have not been able to change the perception of the powers-that-be about their appropriate role in the modern world. On the contrary, they are clinging to the old notions of power and politics, which has hardly undergone any change since the time of the pharaohs.
But even if one may understand the obligations of power to which establishments all over the world are beholden, it is still hard to understand why a section of the intelligentsia likes to put themselves in the shoes of the establishment think tanks. Had they been able to free themselves from the trappings of the discourse of power pursued by the establishment ideologues, that could at least work as a deterrent to the single-mindedness of the pro-conformity establishment?
The solution to the crisis of terrorism that the world is plagued with cannot be fought with the ongoing battle-cry of war on terrorism only. The war needs to be fought on many fronts at a time. And one of these fronts is the intellectual front, where the weapon should be one of rationality against unreason. The rational mind needs also look into the socio-economic and historical roots of terrorism including one of its variants, the suicide bombing.
It is about time the analytic minds of the world had second thoughts on the problem of terrorism. That is why Guy Claxton, who in his book, 'Hare Brain and Tortoise Mind,' criticised this prevalence of one dimensional pattern of thinking among the intellectuals of the world, said: "As a culture we are in consequence, very good at solving analytic and technological problems. The trouble is that we tend, increasingly, to treat all human predicaments as if they were of this type, including those for which such mental tools are inappropriate'.

 

 
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