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Saturday Feature
Understanding modern form terrorism
Syed Fattahul Alim

          A single word that can define the prime concern of the present day world is terrorism. The war that the president of the world's most powerful country, the United States of America (USA), had declared against terrorism nearly six years ago is still on. The kind of terrorism that the western world led by the USA is wrestling with is something new in human experience. In the western perception, this is a kind of terrorism that is a threat to 'western civilisation.' Well, someone may like to contend such branding of civilisation as western, eastern, and so on and put a counter argument saying that any civilisation is the common legacy of entire humanity. Even if one is talking about the geographical location of a particular centre of human civilisation, then that, too, did not come out of the blue. It is through a protracted process of give and take that civilisation moves from one geographical spot to another. Most of what is now Western Europe was peopled by barbarians even a millennium before. Modern Europe is not really a legacy of the ancient Greeks or the Romans. The civilisation that has been thriving in the European continent for the last half a millennium is a latter-day development. It can rather be traced back to the time Christianity came from the East to enlighten the barbarian hordes who consolidated their grip on the continent on the wreckage of the Roman Empire. They were probably roaming around through the architectural marvels of the city of Rome without understanding what those stood for. Then they first came in contact with the old civilisation of the East through the Bible and then with the Middle East where Arab Muslims were at the zenith of excellence on every front of human endeavour. And in course of time, the centre of civilisation began to shift to modern Europe. Hence, what is now known as Western civilisation at the peak of its excellence in Europe and North America has hardly any direct connection with the classical antiquity of the Greeks or the imperial Romans. On the other hand, it was quite a new civilisation that started to flourish there on the ashes of the Roman Empire.
The digression is not uncalled-for, since the ongoing war on terrorism has a unique western interpretation. The present version of terrorism can be traced back to the 9/11 tragedy in the USA. It has a religio-cultural connotation. Terrorism perceived in this form targets only symbols of Western civilisation and its democracy. Unquestionably, it is a convoluted perception of the phenomenon of terrorism as going the rounds in the media, the political debates, the intellectual discourses and in the Western military circles.
Strangely, terrorism has nothing in common with any particular culture, religion or political systems. It has always been amongst the populace anywhere in the world. The difference lies in the vehicle the terrorists use to propagate their particular agenda.
Unlike the earlier populist struggles waged usually against dictatorial regimes in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the ongoing war on terrorism has no such populist edge. On the contrary, the anti-terrorist struggle is now the rallying cry of the pro-establishment forces all over the world. The protagonists of terrorism are not popular, either. They are carrying out their own brand of war against establishment from their secret hideouts, not backed by any popular support. In a word, the war for or against terrorism, though it has taken global proportions, is yet to catch the imagination of the common people as it lacks the most fundamental element that gives any movement the cause it needs for its enduring appeal.
A new dream?
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Orwellian nightmare of a totalitarian world order should have been over. At least that was how Western media representing 'free world' had been assuring the world people. The world should have by now turned into a far freer and safer place to live in. The fear of a globe-devouring nuclear war that haunted the popular psyche over the entire span of the second half of the twentieth century is a thing of the past now. But the hope that the twenty-first century would be a century of uninterrupted freedom, peace and progress has been shattered in its dawn. The forces of evil are raising their ugly heads in yet unknown shapes. Let us hear from Alvin Toffler, who foresaw such a topsy-turvy world that eludes all common sense attempts at elucidation: "In a time when terrorists play death-games with hostages, as currencies careen amid rumours of a Third World War, as embassies flame and storm-troopers lace up their boots in many lands, we stare in horror at the headlines….. Faced with all this, a massed chorus of Cassandras fills the air with doom-song. " (Third Wave, pp 17). But amidst this baffling developments all around, Toffler still tries to piece together the apparently senseless pieces of the all-engulfing jigsaw puzzle and makes a sense out of it with these words, "A new civilisation is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it." So there is still some meaning in all this 'massed chorus of Cassandras'.
Modern terrorism and the war that is being fought against it is then just the tip of the still bigger iceberg of change the world is going through. But that is about the entirety of the advanced waves of a time yet to come and the terrorism that we are afflicted with in modern times may only be the symptom of an era in its death throes.
Terrorism, the way we know it until now existed even in earlier centuries and was undoubtedly a major threat to social peace, security and prosperity. True, the problem of terrorism was then considered by the states as one of the irritants disturbing the existing order of society from time to time. But in spite of that, in the past, the states did not find any reason to devise a consistent policy to fight the menace of terrorism. Most importantly, in earlier times terrorism could never rise to such a level as to throw a challenge to an individual state, let alone the existing world order. But of late terrorism has not only extended its scale of operation in its different localised theatres, it has also taken an international dimension.
Now about the question of why terrorism has precipitated a global crisis the way it did especially after the September 11? Is the terrorism that struck New York and Washington the usual kind of terrorism or something new that the world has not known before? Who are the perpetrators of these new kind of terrorism and why are they so powerful so much so that even a superpower seems helpless before their onslaught?
The composition of new terrorism one needs to understand before one goes to it fight it. Bangladesh now is faced with two types of terrorism-the political and the criminal.
Before entering upon any discussion on terrorism it is important to distinguish between the two types of terrorism. As in the case of Bangladesh, the perpetrators of common crime, here known as terrorists, are a bunch of cowardly self-seekers who seek rent, kill or hold people to ransom just for money and work in collusion with a section of society that has gone corrupt. These terrorists or criminals, though in possession of sophisticated arms, are morally so weak that they are unable to stand any well-meaning assault from the enforcers of the law. The other kind of terrorism it has recently been fighting is religio-political in origin. The latter variety bears resemblance to the Bali bombers or the hostage-takers of Moscow theatre or those who blow up their bodies along with their intended victims in occupied Palestine, in Iraq or elsewhere. The US-led led war on terrorism is being waged against this second kind of terrorism. What impels these terrorists to be so dedicated as to lay down their precious lives with such abandon? The Israeli and the Western analysts of the phenomenon of suicide bombings, especially those carried out by some Palestinians, Iraqis and other varieties of Islamic militants, want to say that such self-destroyers are a 'brainwashed lot' rather than fighters for any real cause. They term the Hejbollah fighters, who represent a large section of Lebanese society having their legislators in parliament, as terrorists. The term terrorism is thus often being used conveniently as a brand to demonise certain social or political groups by their rivals or by the establishment. Such evaluation or branding notwithstanding, the terrorism of the second kind is gradually becoming a serious challenge to the traditional military method of facing it.
The phenomenon of new terrorism, therefore, deserves a deeper look than it is receiving now. In the face of this new terrorism, the Western pro-establishment thinkers are either trying to dismiss it as something passing or churning out the most convoluted explanations. They are even trying to demonise a particular faith or group of people and setting them against the whole civilisation--by civilisation, however, they understand a particular kind of geographical civilisation. This new crop of official 'civilisation theorists,' however, are not only grossly misinterpreting their time, they are in fact deliberately misguiding the process of finding a way out of the absurdity and madness that the world community has been sliding into. The reigning politics of the world metropolitan centres, on the other hand, is toeing the line of these pro-establishment pseudo-theorists and their own brand of xenophobic philosophy. It is prescribing a militaristic solution to the problem that may have its root in nationalism, religion or maybe in terrorism pure and simple.


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