SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR (A Hindu)
”All Muslims may not be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims..” This comment, frequently heard after the Mumbai bomb blasts implies that terrorism is a Muslim specialty, if not a monopoly. The facts are very different.
First, there is nothing new about terrorism. In 1881, anarchists killed the Russian Tsar Alexander II and 21 bystanders. In 1901, anarchists killed US President McKinley as well as King Humbert I of Italy . World War I started in 1914 when anarchists killed Archduke Ferdinand of Austria . These terrorist attacks were not Muslim.
Terrorism is generally defined as the killing of civilians for political reasons. Going by this definition, the British Raj referred to Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad and many other Indian freedom fighters as terrorists. These were Hindu and Sikh rather than Muslim.
Guerrilla fighters from Mao Zedong to Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro killed civilians during their revolutionary campaigns. They too were called terrorists until they triumphed. Nothing Muslim about them
In Palestine , after World War II, Jewish groups (the Haganah, Irgun and Stern Gang) fought for the creation of a Jewish state, bombing hotels and installations and killing civilians. The British, who then governed Palestine , rightly called these Jewish groups terrorists. Many of these terrorists later became leaders of independent Israel – Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon. Ironically, these former terrorists then lambasted terrorism, applying this label only to Arabs fighting for the very same nationhood that the Jews had fought for earlier.
In Germany in 1968-92, the Baader-Meinhoff Gang killed dozens, including the head of Treuhand, the German privatization agency. In Italy , the Red Brigades kidnapped and killed Aldo Moro, former prime minister.
The Japanese Red Army was an Asian version of this. Japan was also the home of Aum Shinrikyo, a Buddhist cult that tried to kill thousands in the Tokyo metro system using nerve gas in 1995.
In Europe , the Irish Republican Army has been a Catholic terrorist organization for almost a century. Spain and France face a terrorist challenge from ETA, the Basque terrorist organization.
Africa is ravaged by so much civil war and internal strife that few people even bother to check which groups can be labeled terrorist. They stretch across the continent. Possibly the most notorious is the
Lord’s Salvation Army in Uganda , a Christian outfit that uses children as warriors. While the West amplifies the plight Muslim Darfour region in the Sudan , the Western media has rellatively ignored this Christian sponsored conflict next door in Uganda and the Eastern Congo that has done horrendous crimes against women and children.
Tamil Tigers have long constituted one of the most vicious and formidable terrorist groups in the world. They were the first to train children as terrorists. They happen to be Hindus. Suicide bombing is widely associated with Muslim Palestinians and Iraqis, but the Tamil Tigers were the first to use this tactic on a large scale and surprisingly more suicide bombings have been associated with Tiger (400+ in 2003-2007) than all bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. One such suicide bomber assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
In India , the militants in Kashmir are Muslim. But they are only one of several militant groups. The Punjab militants, led by Bhindranwale, were Sikhs. The United Liberation Front of Assam is a Hindu terrorist group that targets Muslims rather than the other way round. Tripura has witnessed the rise and fall of several terrorist groups, and so have Bodo strongholds in Assam . Christian Mizos mounted an insurrection for decades, and Christian Nagas are still heading militant groups.
But most important of all are the Maoist terrorist groups that now exist in no less than 150 out of India ‘s 600 districts. They have attacked police stations, and killed and razed entire villages that oppose them. These are secular terrorists (like the Baader Meinhof Gang or Red Brigades). In terms of membership and area controlled, secular terrorists are far ahead of Muslim terrorists.
In sum, terrorism is certainly not a Muslim monopoly.
There are or have been terrorist groups among Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and even Buddhists. Secular terrorists (anarchists, Maoists) have been the biggest killers in India .
Why then is there such a widespread impression that most or all terrorist groups are Muslim? I see two reasons. First, the Indian elite keenly and blindly follows the western media (they are the Brown British of the British Raj today, used to eating Roti and Roast Beef and BigMacs), and the West feels under attack from Islamic groups.
Catholic Irish terrorists have killed far more people in Britain than Muslims, yet the subway bombings in London and Madrid are what Europeans remember today. The Baader Meinhof Gang, IRA and Red Brigades no longer pose much of a threat, but after 9/11 Americans and Europeans fear that they could be hit anywhere anytime. So they focus attention on Islamic militancy. They pay little notice to other forms of terrorism in Africa, Sri Lanka or India : these pose no threat to the West.
Within India , Maoists pose a far greater threat than Muslim militants in 150 districts, one-third of India ‘s area. But major cities feel threatened only by Muslim groups. So the national elite and media focus overwhelmingly on Muslim terrorism. The elite are hardly aware that this is an elite phenomenon.
The real threat to India today are the Maouist groups who are getting bigger in numbers, exponentially, now being joined also by poor Muslims youth especially in South India.
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they break your bones, then you win” Mahatma Gandh
Terrorism is not a new phenomenon of the last few decades. It just has acquired a newer flavour.
It was there when man lived in caves, to the Middle Ages, to the classical Egyptian/Greek/Roman empires, to the European colonial era, to communist era, to the Nazis, to apartheid era, and today.
When we talk about terrorism it is not only by a group of individuals but also the states.
Since mankind started to live in communities it found a need to establish law and order in order to provide equity amongst the individuals sharing common resources. When this social order establishes injustices and ignores the inherent rights of others and disenfranchises the weak, then there are always a few who would take the law into their own hands without the consent of the community because the community has been rendered impotent by the greed of the most powerful.
When such disenfranchised groups get organized, both the powerful elite and the group of angry individuals have a showdown.
This is when both the parties lose their moral values of human decency on the pretext that “the end justifies the means” and this is when the innocent civilians get caught in the fight as the so called “co-lateral damage”.
This carnage of the civilians in their midst continues until the injustices are addressed by the reasonable and thinking people and communities of the world.
For that reason the root of the post war resurgence in terrorism, whether one likes it or not, started and happens to be the plight of the six million Palestinians (both 15% Christians and 85% Muslims) who have been made homeless and humiliated for the last six decades or more and the unconditional support given to the state of Israel by some of the guilt ridden leadership in Europe, US and in the West, because of Europe’s Nazi past.
The fact that these “terrorists” are born in the Muslims homes is incidental because Palestine has evoked natural sympathies from Muslims youth of the world in the beginning but now has evoked the same sympathies (the Gaza Flotilla) from the previously indiffernt youth of the West too who were not only brought up in Christian homes but also in the Jewish homes too.
Remember that apartheid South Africa collapsed not only when the disenfranchised poor black communities were marching and protesting on the streets but when the youth of the world started marching with them in their own cities of the world in the seventies and eighties.
Also, more importantly, apartheid regime collapsed because the children of the white parents who supported apartheid in S Africa also started questioning their parents’ crimes against humanity such that it not only bankrupted South Africa but also began to tear apart their white family structure too.