‘Terror within’ makes fight against terrorism tricky

opinion May 31, 2017 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

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The big trick terrorists are trying to pull is to convince the world, little by little, that there is no other way out.

Whether they are doing a good job or not, the “Stay Strong” or “We Are With You” taglines expressing solidarity with the latest city attacked are sounding less and less inspirational the more often they appear. The increasing frequency of terror attacks, however, is just half the story.

The world shakes every time a big bomb explodes or a truck ploughs through a crowd, but the aftershock of terror and dismay is getting shorter with each attack. Which is probably the worst effect terrorism can have on the human soul. It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it? On the one hand, we are supposed to be defiant and move on as if nothing has happened. On the other hand, defiance has not only failed to stop the senseless killings, but also threatens to alter our views or attitudes toward violence.

The change within us is already happening, albeit subtly and gradually. While it should be that “an atrocity is an atrocity”, regardless of the death or injury toll, we quickly forget yesterday’s incident because the one today killed more victims. The media spotlight jumps around from Europe to America to Southeast Asia, giving us little time to think. Headlines keep changing. Condemnation keeps shifting. Taglines keep mounting. Condolences keep pouring.

People say terrorism is about seeking attention. That’s true, but it also wants to “normalise” itself. It attempts to do so through the sheer number of attacks and propaganda that misleads us into thinking that one act of terror may be more evil than the other.

The situation today is more complicated than ever before. Religious fanatics aren’t the only people using bombs and guns to meet their objectives. Political animals without obvious religious affiliations are behind some of the attacks. Then there are those driven by neither ideology nor religion, but by self-interest or the nihilistic thrill. Meanwhile those in authority often have their own axe to grind, and are all to willing to wield it in clandestine “false flag” attacks.

But the many different species of terrorist have one thing in common. They all are trying to create a world wherein violence is a means to achieving their goals. This is also a world where the suffering of innocent victims is being judged differently, from country to country, ideology to ideology. Some terror attacks are condemned more than others simply because the focus of critics, commentators or human-rights watchdogs is on politics or religion, not the victims.

Thailand may be a case in point. What should be simple and universal condemnation of killing and bloodshed is warped by the lens of political ideologies. The impulse to first check who perpetrated the attack, and against whom, has not discouraged future acts of terror; it has promoted them. This is why bombs kept on exploding at political rallies. This is why, when children were killed in Thai political violence, their deaths escaped the attention of even certain “human rights defenders”.

The definition of terrorism has always been contentious. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is an oft-cited adage. That should not be the case, however. Whenever innocent people become victims, it should be terrorism pure and simple. This line should be clear, but politics has repeatedly blurred it so we can no longer see straight.  

Accept the “freedom fighter” notion and you accept the principle that killing innocents is tolerable as long as it helps advance the cause you advocate. It also means that terrorism will continue to plague this world, because for any cause, there are people willing to consider innocent victims as collateral damage.

Terrorism is notoriously difficult to combat and control. As such we should probably focus on what is within our control. We need to take politics, religion, race and ideology out of how we react to the killing and injuring of the innocent. We must not perpetuate such suffering by responding differently and selectively to each bomb attack on defenceless civilians. The attacks are growing in number not only because more people are able to make bombs and are prepared to use them, but also because the world is divided in its attitude to their actions.

All tricksters fool us into us looking elsewhere, anywhere but the most important spot. The terrorists are hardly different. They make us look everywhere but inside ourselves. And as with all magic tricks, whether this one works depends on our willingness to be fooled.