Just got done writing two different articles on the IISc tragedy, and I'm left numbed, though with a splitting headache. Because I've been wondering yet once more about what's possibly the world's most overused word these days.
There are contenders for that crown -- "WMD", "globalization", "Bush" come to mind. But the one I'm thinking of outstrips the others in one respect: the aura it has acquired over the last several years.
The word is, of course, "terrorism".
Especially since 9/11, terrorism as term and phenomenon have come to stay. But gruesome as its effects are, it retains a strange appeal: everybody longs to be seen as its victim. Just following the news in recent years, I recall at least these countries that have laid claim to being greatly affected -- the worst affected, they often hint -- by terrorism: Israel, Cuba, the USA, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Pakistan, England, Russia and of course India.
(Don't snort, or at least not just yet).
Few in India have any doubts about Pakistan's culpability in terror attacks like at IISc. Yet consider this: Pakistan itself claims to be a victim of terror, and points the finger at India. Snort all you want now, but it's what you will hear in that country. Further afield, you will find more such paradoxes. Israel suffers regular tragedies from Palestinian suicide bombs -- though I wonder if it is just my imagination that they've slowed down somewhat -- but cross into the Palestinian enclaves and you will hear tales of Israel's brutal oppression. Russia is regularly devastated by the horrors Chechen terrorists perpetrate; but in Chechnya, Russians have committed horrible atrocities against Chechens for over a century.
So what do we believe? Where's the terror? In fact, what really is terrorism?
I ask because of these opposite views on terrorism. But I also ask because I get letters that read like this: "Why is every terrorist attack condemned -- but only [with] a simultaneous condemnation of riots?" (This particular writer began by saying he was so disgusted with my writing that he "want[ed] to vomit down my gullet" -- but that's another story).
The implication here: riots are somehow different from terrorism; so different that we must separate our condemnations of each. After all, terrorism, you'll hear said with purpose, serves political ends.
Yet it seems to me that for a whole lot of scheming politicians, riots certainly serve political ends -- just as much terror does. Besides, Indian victims of Indian riots certainly felt terror as they were burned, sliced or lynched to death. The scale of slaughter in these outrages was certainly comparable to anything that's happened in Kashmir, or Russia, or Israel.
So what's the difference?
Answer: none. Riots amount to terrorism, that's all, and that's how we must see them.
Well, there's one difference: the perpetrators of riots live unpunished among us. Not some shadowy figures from across the border, but our own fellow citizens. You'd think that would make it easier to catch and punish these criminals, but no. Because they are our fellow citizens, they each have their defenders who will not admit their crimes, their claws sunk deep in the circles of Indian power and influence. Not only is it impossible to punish them, it is impossible even to point a steady and unanimous finger at them.
What's the answer? As far as I can tell, there's just one. Recognize terror for what it is. Riots, bomb blasts, attacks on temples and scientists: all are ghastly assaults on India and Indians. All leave ordinary Indians bloodied and dead. All must be punished swiftly and severely.
That's hard. I know. But tell me another way.