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Statement by KPS Gill,
September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks On The United States

The enormity of the events of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington, will have reverberations across the world in the days and years to come, and will certainly transform the attitudes of ambivalence towards terrorism that have been reflected in policies and practices of the Western world till now. But there are, equally, the dangers of over-reaction or of an undiscriminating response as a result of the rising prejudice against what is clubbed under the crude category of the "Islamic world", and this is something that needs urgently to be guarded against.

We must, in this context, ask ourselves why the dominant expression of Islam has taken this cruel form? Why is it that the world, the moment such an event takes place, and even before the bare facts of the incidents are generally known, concludes almost automatically that this must be the work of Islamist terrorists? And is this an image that the Islamic world seeks to project of its Faith?

It is, of course, the case that large numbers of Muslims across the world are as horrified by these acts of catastrophic terrorism as are the Americans themselves, and many of the conservative regimes of West Asia are in shock and feel perhaps more threatened by the wave of fundamentalist violence that could envelop their systems with even greater ease.

It is only through the complete and surgical isolation of the extremist element within Islamic nations and societies that a way can be found out of the tidal wave of terror and hatred that is being built up through these acts, the inevitable retributive violence that will follow, and the imitative carnages that these will inspire and provoke. The hypocrisy and the dishonesty of the nations that have found it expedient to sponsor and support terrorists, to provide safe havens, training and the instrumentalities of mass murder, must now be exposed utterly, and rejected without the equivocation that has characterized the international and diplomatic responses of the past.

It is interesting, here, to note that the three swiftest and most vehement responses to the bloodbath in America came from Pakistan, the Palestinians and the Taliban – the three primary suspects in the incident. Indeed, the absolute cynicism of Musharraf’s statement on Pakistan Television is remarkable. The world has also been witness to images of men, women and even young children rejoicing in the streets of Palestine. And while some of the Islamist terrorist groupings have found it necessary and expedient to distance themselves from the perpetrators of this latest and greatest outrage, they have simultaneously couched their statements in the language of justification and implied threat. Thus the spokesman for the Democratic Liberation Front for Palestine, the group that first claimed credit for the multiple hijackings and suicide attacks, while subsequently denying the involvement of the group, at the same time said that the US should reconsider its policies in West Asia, or risk provoking the ‘anger’ of the people of Palestine and of the entire "Islamic World". Osama bin Laden, similarly, distanced himself from the perpetrators, but said he supported their actions, which he described as ‘Punishment from God’.

The impact of these appalling attacks will be manifold, and the character and scale of retaliation is already being hinted at by the US. President Bush has stated that the perpetrators will be identified and ‘hunted down’, and that ‘no distinction will be made between terrorists and those who harbour and support them’. It is interesting that this statement of sweeping retribution has not provoked the very voluble ‘human rights’ lobby to any expressions of outrage which are its habitual response even to entirely justified and legitimate state action against terrorism in India.

The US response is truly interesting in view of the unending succession of terrorist attacks in India that have conveniently been ignored for decades by the West for supposed ‘want of evidence’. It will be interesting to discover what quality of ‘evidence’ is eventually produced by America to justify its retaliatory strikes against whoever it unilaterally identifies as the perpetrator of these mass murders. It is also interesting, in this context, to recall the hijacking and destruction of the Air India passenger aircraft, the Kanishka; the whole conspiracy in this case was hatched under the watchful eyes of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who dutifully recorded the illegal purchase of arms and explosives and their testing, the conversations of the conspirators, and virtually the whole sequence of events till the hijackers boarded the plane – but failed to lift a finger to prevent that tragedy – which was the highest-casualty single incident before the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Indeed, the Canadian government was more worried about what they claimed was a ‘fake encounter’ with Talwinder Singh Parmar, than with this act of terrorism that cost as many as 329 lives.

The entire civilized world, the world that has been painstakingly claimed by liberal democracy, must now accept the inescapable and inevitable truth: there can be no compromise with terrorism and its perpetrators. This is a lesson that India must also learn in its fruitless and suicidal quest for a ‘negotiated solution’ with mass murderers, or with their state sponsors in Pakistan. The world must understand, equally, that there is no geographical ‘locus’ of terrorism; terrorism is not just a threat to the limited areas where it temporarily finds the largest number of its victims. The American theory of a "shift in the locus of terrorism" enunciated last year by the then US Secretary of State and the State Department, fails to realize the unyielding truth that a victory for terrorism anywhere in the world is a victory for terrorism everywhere. The methods that succeeded in Afghanistan will be applied to Kashmir; what succeeds in Kashmir will, eventually target the US; and successes in that country will replicate themselves in other countries of the West. The insular cultures of many of the affluent nations of the world live in a false cocoon of complacence that can be easily and suddenly shattered by attacks no less devastating than the events of the tragic Tuesday in America.

No longer can the world afford the luxury of the false sociologies that have found a justification for terrorist violence in a wide range of economic, social and political ‘root causes’. Political grievances will have to be clearly separated from the acts of terror that are executed in their name, and a message must be sent out across the world that, once a group kills innocent civilians, it passes beyond the pale of all justification. The democracies of the world cannot base their responses on an assessment of the proclaimed objectives of terrorism. The norm is that, once innocent civilians are intentionally targeted by a group – irrespective of its declared objectives – its members are terrorists and nothing more, and immediately and automatically invite swift and extreme retribution upon themselves.

K.P.S. Gill
President, Institute for Conflict Management,
Editor, Faultlines: Writings in Conflict and Resolution

New Delhi
Septemebr 12, 2001
e-mail: icm@del3.vsnl.net.in

 

 

 

 

 
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