“India lost more people to terrorism than wars since independence. When we first raised the issue of terrorism, we were told (by the West) that it is an internal law and order issue. But, they realized its challenge when the ground slipped beneath their feet on 9/11”
Prime Minister Modi recently visited the tiny, landlocked nation of Belgium, a country which was just over a week ago, shook by twin terror attacks on its very soil. In an attack that killed dozens in Brussels, Belgium was forced to confront its own callous and lax policies on terrorism as the world looked on in despair. PM Modi’s visit therefore, was certainly going to have echoes of the pain the world collectively felt as news of the bombs spread fast and wide.
PM Modi’s visit to Belgium, a useful, if not unimportant country however is in the news for all good reasons today. The PM was very forthright and straightforward when he confronted and pointed out the lack of collective and strategic response of organisations such as the United Nations against terrorism.
“United Nations has documented the definition, consequences, and the ways to prevent war,” he said. “But when it comes to terrorism, the U.N. has not been to deliver a structured response.” It’s hard to argue with the troubling context PM Modi clarifies in his statement.
The United Nations isn’t the problem. In fact, the UN was, and to a large extent, still is a significant part of the larger problem which is the callousness with which western civilizations have often treated acts of terrorism. Reactions were unanimous in condolence and grief from across the world when terror attacks ripped apart our streets and cities.
However, none of these condolences ever amounted to anything.
India was left to struggle against the war it fought with its own people, as well as a terrorist network that has long festered on the border with her most potent neighbour.
For the western world, India’s struggles were not terrorism but, an issue of domestic order and security.
And to think, this was the era of the most lethal of American domestic ‘terrorism,’ an era which peaked with the Oklahoma City bombings and similar acts of domestic terrorism in Japan with the failed Sarin gas attack on the Metro.
What was the difference then? How is the same act treated differently, just because it has happened in different nation-states?
The answer is, it is not different and nor should it be. India might have been the first to point out this hypocrisy of the West. This may be a question of valuing Western lives more than those across the world, or may simply be a case of ignorance. But, the point is that by failing to adequately and timely recognize the threat posed by terrorism both within one’s borders and across it, the West lost precious little lime and a whole lot of lives.
However, I do disagree with PM Modi’s comment that terrorism came to be realized as global threat only after 9/11. I don’t think so. The Munich massacre was the 26/11 of its time, in terms of sheer television tragedy. The Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon a reflection of the trans-national ability and the suicidal motivation of religious and nationalist extremists. The failed bombing of the World Trade Centers in New York in 1993 was an indication of the terrorists’ willingness to claim symbolic victories and attack targets which were thought to be unprecedented and impossible until a few months ago. 9/11 however, was a potent and unfortunate combination of all three, a tragedy left to happen by the failure of the world to act collectively against terrorism.
Act, they did. But, not alone and not very well. Take the United States, for example. After the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, they fled. Yes, the mighty American eagle fled the Middle East leaving civil war and extremist factions in its wake. Over a decade later, when Al-Qaeda bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the U.S led missile strikes across Sudan and Afghanistan. They failed, with the ones in Sudan killing a security guard outside a pharmaceutical company (Which was a major supplier of medicines across Africa) and the ones meant for Afghanistan, falling undetonated into Pakistan territory (Which Pakistan gladly sold to the Chinese for $10 million each). In each of these cases of terrorism pre-9/11, action was unilateral and not collective.
This changed after 9/11 and to carrying degrees of success and failure, the world did work collectively. But, the organisation which was meant to lead the fight itself was ill-equipped to fight terrorists who had no lands or borders. With a failure to define what constituted terrorism, the UN allowed stateless actors and sponsor states to flourish in their web of extremist ideologies.
Pre-9/11 the world was thought to be a safe place. Today, as IS rises to be a global threat on a level unprecedented even for Al-Qaeda, no country in the world seems safe anymore. And therein, lies the problem. The world was never safe, not even before 9/11. The world knew terrorism before 9/11. Terror attacks weren’t a rarity but, countries and continents came to view it merely as an unusual anomaly. Complacency crept in and terrorism flourished. The few countries like India, which had painful memories of 1993 were too powerless to inform the world of their folly. And by the time they came to their senses, it was too late.
If terrorism is a global threat, the solution to this scourge must also be a collective effort of a multilateral nature. Few countries alone cannot defeat terrorism, and words of condolences will not mend the wounds inflicted by terrorists. PM Modi is right when he says that the world must fight terrorism together. And it must start with the world clarifying what terrorism really is.
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.