Guest Blog by Zeeshan Khan
She crouches in a corner of her humble abode
Fear writ large in her light brown eyes
In her heart she cries out to the world,
“How much more will we be terrorized?”
There has to be something about the term ‘Terrorism’ which makes it the most misused term in recent history in my opinion. Whoever feels like it, picks it up, chews it into a thousand particles and spits it out to be then picked up by another and abused likewise.
Many debate and articulate what “terror” means? Can we, with our safety-bubble lifestyles even come close to understanding what it means? You switch to the news everyday, witness scenes of “blood curdling horror” and human limbs scattered on pavements like nonentities. You shake your head in pity then switch the channel to find out who is the latest “American idol”!
Ask the little girl crouched in a corner, palms pressed tight against her ears to muffle out the screams and firing. Ask the young woman who stares defenselessly at the approaching group of bulky men. Ask those people what terror is, who jumped off the World Trade Center on the ill-fated morning of September 11. My point is that without knowing the essence of this all-encompassing term, great powers, intellectual giants and so-called religious bodies alike use it to promote their own vested interests.
It has been almost a decade since Pakistan got engulfed in this wave of terrorism or Islamic terrorism. It lost its soldiers and citizens while battling to safe-guard its own people and also to stop the spread of it on a global level. How ironic is it when you read sentences like these in reliable sources of information, “At present, the International community has been unable to formulate a universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism.” Yet, this term took on a whole new meaning ever since the unfortunate 9/11 attacks. That shaking incident unleashed such an intense wave of apprehension amongst people at large, that in the eyes of all, everyone is a potential terrorist. May be they were justified in forming opinions but generalization took over rationality when deciding. Overnight, the world was divided into two groups, “either with us or the terrorists.” Suddenly, there was a universal air of intolerance and hatred. The world today has come a long way from that regretful day. Today, more divisions have been made but by large religious inclination and geographical location are two very easy attributes to label someone as a terrorist.
The question on what triggers a normal mindset to transform into a terrorist mindset has escapes the conventional sets of inquiries. Some hold poverty and social inequality as the basis for someone turning into a terrorist. Others believe its religious fundamentals who lure a common man to be a fighter or Jihadist in the name of God. The latest addition in the list of terrorists is Faisal Shahzad, the alleged bomber of Times Square in NYC. Faisal does not fit in to any of these definitions or popular notion or standards of being labeled as a terrorist. He is not poor and hails from a privileged social background. He did not look like an ‘American or Pakistani psychopath”. He was married and was living an ‘American Dream’ in my opinion. Much has been written about Faisal Shahzad but no one has tried to make the connections from the past. To me he in some ways resembles the alleged suicide bombers of 7/7 in London. Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Germaine Lindsay and Hasib Hussain, all were born, raised and educated in UK, a liberal, secular and developed society. Before they turned radicals, excluding Germaine Lindsay, it was proven that all three visited Pakistan. Upon their return, they were completely changed human beings with a strong ‘Islamic spirit’ in them. The same has been reported in case of Faisal Shahzad. He visited Pakistan, got infected by the radicals and turned into a terrorist. The question which baffles me here is that all these men, directly or indirectly received the training to be liberal, law-abiding and peaceful citizens, they have no ‘Criminal record’ before their terrorism attempts. So how can years of training be washed away in weeks or even months? The ‘Islamic Clerics’ can lure a rather peaceful and liberal man to be a warrior in the name of God but the liberal forces are having a hard time convincing a militant to give up his arms and become a peaceful man.
Rehabilitation can be an important step in this war against terror. But how remains the questions? Efforts are under-way but they still have to produce the expected results and may be its too soon to comment on the results achieved so far.
Yet the question remains, who is the terrorist? Why don’t we for once forget geographical boundaries, racial differences and religious preferences? Why don’t we look beyond the bearded, gun-swinging “Jihadists” or political bigwigs using common man as a tool to achieve their own agenda? To those who are terrorising the world today, it does not make any difference whether you’re a dark-skinned Arab or a blue-eyed blonde “Yankee”. If it is the common innocent man who is suffering across the globe, then the common man in question should also think beyond the obvious. To make things even more complicated, how do you explain terror attacks in our country? What would the notorious “terrorists” achieve by killing many innocent people with ideological views similar to theirs?
This brings me to another cliche’ of this time, “a terrorist follows no faith or race”. Well, if that is the case, why don’t we act like we actually believe this statement and stop pointing fingers like everyone else? Meanwhile, the powers-that-be will continue to use the weak to further their own purposes, and at the end of the day no one suffers but the common man. The very famous assertion that it’s “Islam” which has put young minds on the road to terror, needs to be reevaluated. I believe it’s not ‘Islam’ or any other religion which would compel young minds to revert to terrorism but the need to change whatever is going in their surroundings. When they can’t find a peaceful or conventional way of inducing change in the society, they end up taking things in their hands thus leading to violence.
Instead of indulging our empty minds in the mindboggling “conspiracy theories” of the higher-ups, we should instead apply our energies in encouraging a tolerant and apprehension free environment. Terrorists don’t fall from the sky. They are a product of all the negative aspects of our society. In a country where the rich have egos that touch the sky and every man gets hyped about being over-taken on the road, it’s no wonder people look for ways to give vent to all their angst, some even turning to inflicting terror. While everyone is out to look for the “terrorist”, have we ever stopped to think of the intangible terrorists living amongst us? Ignorance, intolerance, inflated egos, suspicion etc and the list goes on. We are so busy pointing fingers at others, that we conveniently overlook our own faults.
Do I still need to ask, “Who is the terrorist”?
The writer is a Development Practitioner based in Islamabad.