Monday, 19 May, 2008

Why don't terrorists bomb the West?

Terrorists bomb the poor countries of the East, Middle East, Africa and South America far more frequently than they bomb the rich countries of Europe, Japan, USA and Canada.

(One has to strain one's memory hard to list terrorist attacks on USA, other than 9/11, though a couple of its embassies have been bombed and a few of its civilians killed in foreign lands.)

Why is this so?

After the recent attacks on Jaipur, there was a great deal of discussion in the press, both in print and on TV. Almost all of it was finger-pointing; all of it was juvenile.

And none bothered to tell the public how it can be more cautious (what are the tell-tale signs of a 'suspicious object' or person, which number should one call, etc), or what it should do in the aftermath of an attack.

But the sum of all the steam was that we are targeted because we are a soft state, incapable of “sharp, strong... statements... that we will not negotiate with terrorists.”

Perhaps. I'm no political commentator, but I do think there is some merit in (a) looking at terrorism through the prism of internal security, which is a matter of ways and means and not so much about (political and religious) rights and wrongs and (b) asking why some countries suffer relatively less from it.

There is surprisingly little discussion about internal defence in the media. It certainly doesn't grab headlines as often as, say, filmstars' tiffs do. The little there is, consists of absurd comparisons between India and UK and USA, and of calling the authorities various derogatory names in clever language.

(I am probably being grossly unfair here, because I have next to no exposure to the vernacular media, which addresses a far more matured audience than the English press does.)

But let's try to answer the second question. I am severely handicapped by ignorance here too, yet would like to see how far commonsense can take me.

Well, first there are far fewer of them to kill.

Then, over there it's so much easier to notice if something is amiss. Here, nothing and nobody are in their proper places. How do you know if you've discovered a terrorist's bomb or pushed a fellow passenger into some bribe-loving cops hands?

Third, our government hasn't learnt what our forefathers have taught for ages: To stop 'crime' you need to punish, though not necessarily punish the guilty.

One low caste fellow drinks of the Brahmin well; so all low caste women are raped and men murdered. One Bihari cabbie refuses you a ride; so all Biharis must be hammered. A bus runs over a boy; burn all buses that come down the same road, along with their drivers.

Of course, it isn't fair. But its effective to make an example. The populace is so scared that it ensures that everyone falls in line, and stays behind it.

The West understands this.

Let's say A bombs you, but you have no clue who did it; so you bomb C. C protests that he's your friend, and he condemns all bombing in the strongest terms, that his family, forefathers, and god are all peaceful, and his tigers are vegetarian. “Never mind,” says the West, “Bombing will continue unless we have calm.”

So C finds out who's backing A. Most probably he follows the money till he reaches the final financier, say, B. It tells B, “Buddy, tell A to back off, or I'll kill you.” The message goes through, though circuitously.

(In the Godfather, there is a family whose profession is to supply hostages. It's so ferocious, both sides keep their promises to avoid extermination. This system of slapping Peter to teach Paul works on somewhat similar lines.)

Should we do this? Why not? Because it's unfair and immoral? All war is immoral. All modern conflict is total war and, by definition, unfair.

Besides, how moral and fair is the terrorist?

Ok, if we take to terror, what would be the difference between us and the terrorists? None. So what? Total war is terror on a mass scale. What's the point in spending on forces to wage total terror and not waging it to defend your citizens?

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