Terrorism a new kind of threat in South Asia
Keynote paper: Sangram Guha

I am sometimes asked why a nice guy like me would want to involve in terrorism matrix. Those who ask this question usually brush the intellectual explanations aside - as if our theatre group, Spandan or my interest in the global dimensions of religion, politics and society weren't reason enough. They search for something more personal.

One answer I give is that our work on nationalism and global conflict has led to a concern about areas of the world where social transformations have not been easy, and where peaceful options have shredded in to violence.

Yet another answer is more personal i.e.our feeling. We observed that now the world has bonded itself to fight against terrorism. Whose call is this? Is it a people's mandate? It needs introspection. We owe it to posterity that in this dark hour we shed light on some dangerous and growing trends, misconceptions, and misperceptions which, if not cleared, may lead the world into even greater disorder and disharmony.

Terrorism is meant to terrify. The word comes from the Latin terrere, i.e. to cause to tremble, and came into common usage in the political sense, as an assault on civil order, during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution at the close of the eighteenth century. But in the present context the word terrorist is problematic. The term makes no clear distinction between the organisers of an attack, those who carry it out, and the many who support it both directly and indirectly. Are they all terrorists, or just some of them- and if the latter, which ones. The slogan of fight against terror endorsed simple logic that terrorism exists because terrorists exist, and if we just got rid of them, the world would be a more pleasant place.

Although such a solution is enticing, the fact is that the line is very thin between terrorists, their non-terrorist supporters and the driven force of the vested political interests. The studies of the psychology of terrorism deal largely with social psychology, that is, they are concerned with the way people respond to certain group situations that make violent public acts possible. We know that there is no study in the world that suggests that people are terrorist by nature. The most important factor is who used this term and for what reason? To a large extent the use of the term depends on one's world view: if the world is perceived as peaceful, violent acts appear as terrorism. If the world is thought to be at war, violent acts may be regarded as legitimate.

Our deep concern over the fact that all the leading terrorists organisation totally mastermind by experts from many fields such as communications, medicine, chemistry, physics, computer programming, engineering, finance, and the sciences. We also observed that terrorism is hatched in South Asian countries specially because the whole region is infested with intense economic backwardness, unemployment, poverty etc. That is how this malady has been able to grip millions of affected youths.

We observed that frequently religious language is used to characterize this conflict. When it is, what difference does religion make? Do acts of violence conducted by Hamas have different characteristics from those conducted by secular movements, such as Kurds? Similarly, how could we differ the attack of Lasker-e-Taiba in Kashmir with RSS in Gujrat? Who are the terrorists? If both of them, then the list declared by FBI for War against terror should have to be amended. But who will do it?

We sensibly use the term cultural protest against terrorism. Because culture entails both things - ideas and social groupings-that are related to terrorist act.. Needless to say, we are using the term culture beyond its cinemascopic meaning as the aesthetic products of a society. Rather we employ it in a broad way to include the ethical and social values underlying the life of a particular social unit.

We are seriously concerned over that fact of using the term religious terrorism., which is symbolic, dramatic, theatrical-suggests that we look at them not as tactics but as performance violence. In speaking of terrorism as Performance, I am not suggesting that such acts are undertaken lightly or capriciously. Rather, like religious ritual or street theatre, they are dramas designed to have an impact on the several audiences that they affect. Those who witness the violence-even at a distance, via the news media- are therefore a part of what occurs. Moreover, like other forms of public ritual, the symbolic significance of such events is multifaceted, they mean different things to different observers.

This suggests that it is possible to analyze comparatively the performance of acts of religious terrorism. There is already a growing literature of studies based on the notion that civic acts and cultural performances are closely related. The controversial parades undertaken each year by the protestant Orangeman in Catholic neighborhoods of Northern Ireland, a Camp demonstration of RSS for instance, have been studied not only as cultural events but also as political statements. So it is not unreasonable to view public violence as performances as well.

Terrorists acts, then, can be both performance events, in that they make a symbolic statement, and performative acts, insofar as they try to change things. When Yigal Amir aimed his pistol at Israel 's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Sikh activists targeted Punjab 's Chief Minister with a car bomb in front of the state's office buildings, the activities were aware that they were creating enormous spectacles. They probably also hoped that their actions would make a difference - if not in a direct, strategic sense, then in an indirect way as a dramatic show so powerful as to change people's perceptions of the World.

In 1998 U.S. Department of State defined terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." Then how can we interpret the incidents in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq ? Who are the terrorists there? Are we really an audience only?

 

 

 
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