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Terrorism and Irrationality: A recipe for perpetual gloom and doom

August 2006
Terrorism and Irrationality: A recipe for perpetual gloom and doom

Terrorism and Irrationality:

A recipe for perpetual gloom and doom

A recurring theme—one that seems perfectly suited for mob mentality—manages to show itself amongst media pundits who are supposedly disgusted with India's constrained response (or what they call, "a lack of response.") to the recent Mumbai bombings. Their hyperactive sentiments can be summed up as follows: Revenge! Action! Do something! Strike back! Now!

They feel that not doing so is a sign of weakness and it will forever condemn India to such acts of terrorism. By that standard, one would think Israel would have long been rid of terrorism against it. After all, no one can blame Israel for not taking decisive action every single time the conflict has risen to a pitch. Ironically, though, it is Israel that takes the largest brunt of terrorism in the world.

And then there is the American response to September 11 that is also curiously put forth as an example by these armchair gladiators: "Look at the U.S. It acted decisively and massively. And presto! No new terrorist attacks since then." Yes, the U.S. sure did act. And in so doing it converted Iraq, one of the most secular of the Middle Eastern countries, into another rabid (and extremely volatile) theocracy – the kind that is fertile soil for jihadi fundamentalists. So let's thank our lucky stars, if we must, for no new attacks; but certainly not the fact that we catered—on the proverbial silver platter—thousands of fresh recruits to the al-Qaeda types.

Lamenting about India's "lack of response" to Mumbai bombings, an esteemed peer writes, "When somebody directs terror at you, nation-states are expected to hit back with maximum force?" The question that begs answering is, "Hit who? Hit where?" Would he want the Indian government to carpet bomb the bhendi bazaar area of Mumbai? Or Shah Alam in Ahmedabad? Or is it Pakistan that he wants to "hit back with maximum force?" Does he believe that by doing so Indians will live in communal harmony ever after? Since when is the fear of retribution (with or without "maximum force") been a deterrent to a culture of suicide bombers?

Take the most spectacular instance of retribution that the world has ever seen—the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the massive global criticism, it has been credited as having ended that war. What is overlooked is that Japan and the U.S., being oceans apart, had no overlapping or interwoven land, resources or people to fight about; nor did they have a deep historic rivalry dating back decades, if not centuries. If either were so, then, undoubtedly, the atomic bombing would have intensified, rather than quelled the enmity between the people.

This is not about wearing blinders or about not doing anything at all. No one can blame Gandhi or MLK of being weak or fearful. It is safe to assume, though, that neither of them would shout for blood each time there was an irrational stimulus. And yet, despite what critics may say, they were extremely powerful and influential.

It is true that contemporary Islam is disproportionately tainted with violent fundamentalism. But before individuals and nations can direct their energy to what should be done, at least let's have the wisdom to know what doesn't work: impulsiveness, a mutually escalating culture of hate, and more irrationality.

--Parthiv Parekh

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