July 18, 2005

Who is and who isn't

Got involved in an argument on a late-night drive in a Qualis in Tamil Nadu last week. Here's the gist.

A couple of weeks ago, a few men launched an assault on a religious structure in Ayodhya. The security forces shot them dead. Call this Episode A.

In 1990, thousands of men launched an assault on a religious structure in Ayodhya. The security forces shot some of them dead. Call this Episode B.

In 1992, thousands of men launched another assault on that same religious structure in Ayodhya. The security forces did nothing, and the men destroyed that religious structure. Call this Episode C.

The men in Episode A, we call them terrorists. The men in Episode B and C, we don't call them terrorists.

Why?

Take this argument further.

A week ago, four men set off bombs in London, killing a few dozen people. Call this Episode D.

In March 1993, bombs went off in Bombay, killing about 260 people. Call this Episode E.

In December 1992 and January 1993, mobs killed about 1000 people in Bombay. Call this Episode F.

In November 1984, mobs killed about 3000 people in New Delhi. Call this Episode G.

The men in Episode D and E, we call them terrorists. The men responsible for Episodes F and G, we don't call them terrorists.

Why?

And if we are this selective about as basic an issue as who we call terrorist and who we do not, how will we ever fight and defeat terrorism?

***

Postscript: I forgot one part of the argument. To my knowledge, episodes B, C, F and G have never had that other non-sequitur applied to them, "this was an attack on our way of life."

Why?

19 comments:

Eswaran B said...

IMO, Terrorists plan and attack civilians with weapons like bombs where the aim is to kill the maximum number of civilians.

I think the emphasis should be that the terrorists 'plan and attack civilians'.

anangbhai said...

I'm sure you've heard it before, but if you take that basic definition of terrorism, then the US and Israel have committed the largest acts of terrorism in the world. The only difference is one side wears uniforms and has better weapons.
How would George Washington be any different from Bin Laden to the English king in the 18th century?
Why is it when Israel hijacks palestinian freighters and kills and arrests people without charges its called national security...oh what the hell.

Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

McElroy studied the relationship of foreign policy and ethics http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0691086214/qid=1121642945/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/002-1934638-1822446?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

I thought it was reasonably readable. It was written in 1992, so it didn't have to be terribly defensive.

Eswaran B said...

Anangbhai,

I am not sure if George Washington actually killed civilians during the war - because targetting civilians is usually the definition of terrorism.

Also, would you say that India committed terrorism in, say the 1971 war against Pakistan or the Allies committed terrorism in Germany during World War II. If not, why?

Anonymous said...

You Earth people glorified organized violence for forty centuries. But you imprison those who employ it privately.

-- Spock, "Dagger of the Mind", stardate 2715.1

uma said...

excellent post, dilip. a post like this makes me want to find a quiet corner fo the world and go read harry potter. :(

Anirudh said...

Good one.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Eswaran, "plan and attack civilians", you said? Well, such plan and attack was a feature of the killings in Bombay in 1992-93 (Episode F above), as well as of the killings in Delhi in 1984 (Episode G above). So by your own definition, those criminals were terrorists?

And if targeting civilians is the definition, why was what happened in Ayodhya 2-3 weeks ago (Episode A above) called terrorism?

If we're willing to wink at our own homegrown perpetrators of terror, seems to me we had better forget about fighting terrorism.

Eswaran B said...

Dilip,

I see your point. Some of the killings in Delhi in 1984 and Bombay in 1992-93 did involve 'plan and attack'. But, frankly, I have trouble associating the word terrorists with these people. I realize I am trying to rationalize the meaning of the term after forming my conclusions about events. Perhaps to paraphrase the US Supreme Court (originally referring to pornography) "I cannot define terrorism, but I know when I see it."

Even though the Bombay (and Delhi) riots involved some planning, that wasn't the central element(atleast I think so). The targets were very specific and the aim of all these killings were the killings themselves - not some other political purpose.

samuel said...

Noam Chomsky

"Terrorism Works – Terrorism is not the Weapon of the Weak

That is the culture in which we live and it reveals several facts. One is the fact that terrorism works. It doesn’t fail. It works. Violence usually works. That’s world history. Secondly, it’s a very serious analytic error to say, as is commonly done, that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Like other means of violence, it’s primarily a weapon of the strong, overwhelmingly, in fact. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong also control the doctrinal systems and their terror doesn’t count as terror. Now that’s close to universal. I can’t think of a historical exception, even the worst mass murderers view the world that way. So pick the Nazis. They weren’t carrying out terror in occupied Europe. They were protecting the local population from the terrorisms of the partisans. And like other resistance movements, there was terrorism. The Nazis were carrying out counter terror. Furthermore, the United States essentially agreed with that. After the war, the US army did extensive studies of Nazi counter terror operations in Europe. First I should say that the US picked them up and began carrying them out itself, often against the same targets, the former resistance. But the military also studied the Nazi methods published interesting studies, sometimes critical of them because they were inefficiently carried out, so a critical analysis, you didn’t do this right, you did that right, but those methods with the advice of Wermacht officers who were brought over here became the manuals of counter insurgency, of counter terror, of low intensity conflict, as it is called, and are the manuals, and are the procedures that are being used. So it’s not just that the Nazis did it. It’s that it was regarded as the right thing to do by the leaders of western civilization, that is us, who then proceeded to do it themselves. Terrorism is not the weapon of the weak. It is the weapon of those who are against ‘us’ whoever ‘us’ happens to be. And if you can find a historical exception to that, I’d be interested in seeing it."

http://www.zmag.org/GlobalWatch/chomskymit.htm

Anonymous said...

Dilip,

Isn't an "ism" a theoretical concept, a mere idea, a symbol, rather than the thing it represents?

Any one spreading terror is a terrorist. No playing with semantics here. The mobs in '84, the mobs in '92, the so-called hate-crimes in NYC after 9/11 - they were all intended to terrorize people. The distinction, then, is entirely ours - the observers.

Ask the victim of a rape or a bullied elementary school kid - is their suffering not at the hands of a terrorist?

The real distinction, however, could be one of identity and belonging. The mobs that torched Sikhs in '84 were made up of elements that were seemingly diverse and therefore, unclassifiable as an "ism".

Krishna

Ken said...

I can take these episodes even further:
Regards episodes B,C,F and G, the author of the blog has devoted several columns. By now readers have known where he stands on these issues.
The people guilty of the above are communal and should be punished.

Regards the country already proven to have a hand in episodes A,D and E, we should have friendly relations and even emulate Europe by breaking down borders and giving up so called hatred. Even to stay silent on what M/s Teesta Setalvad did on her webpage - Show the map of India without J&K and the North -east.

Let us add a few more episodes

Episode H- Rewind to Year 2000. The govt declares a ceasefire in J&K. The end result of this-more than a 100 laborers massacred. Not a word from dilip or his sabrang/sahamat pals about this incident.

Episode I - Remember the series of bomb blasts in churches. dilip writes a column blaming the govt. The media declares the VHP responsible without any evidence. The guilty men are found - Deendar-Anjuman. Not a word further from Dilip Dsouza.

Episode J- The Imrana case. No condemnation from Dilip. Only an article revisited on Personal law in general. Nothing to condemn the Darul Ulema's fatwa or any of the bile he reserves for the VHP and Shiv sena

Now even I have difficulty in stating whether this is an unbiased columnist or somebody with an agenda.

Ken
Is this what we call 'secularism'
Please define

k said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dilip D'Souza said...

All right, I've had enough. There is now a comment policy in place.

k said...

Gee Dilip what part of my examples of did you find offensive?

uma said...

i'm glad, dilip, about the comments policy. good for you.

k said...

No response from Dilip his of sick-olrsim :-(

Anonymous said...

Episode Di: In 1976, the Indian government censored anti-government comments in the media. We called it dictatorial censorship by cowards.
Episode LI: In 2005, a so-called Indian Columnist and Defender of Freedom (call him DDS) censored anti-DDS comments in the media. Why don't we be honest and call this dorky censorship by a dork who can't stand his low-IQ "wisdom" being laughed off the internet?

Dilip: To add to your grand broad definitions of terrorism:

When the Germans bombed London it was called a cowardly Nazi attack on civilians. When the British firebombed Dresden and Berlin, wasn't that too a cowardly attack on civilians? Shouldn't the British have "turned the other cheek"?

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