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Terror as a path to power

Published Jun 30, 2012 03:02am

RECENTLY, I came across a quote ascribed to Albert Camus: “No cause is worth a single innocent human life.” Applauding the sentiment, I did a quick search for the context in which the Nobel Prize winner might have written the sentence.

Sadly, I failed to find the reference in the French philosopher and novelist’s works. If a reader can supply the exact quote and where Camus expressed the thought, I will be grateful.

The reason I want to pin it down is that increasingly, I am depressed by the rising violence in actions and rhetoric, not just in Pakistan, but the world over. The last decade, in particular, has witnessed a steady upward trend in state-directed violence as well as terrorist activities.

The rise in the number, sophistication and reach of non-state actors has been met with disproportionate force from some governments. Often, states have supplied terrorist groups with the justification to turn to violence. But mostly, romantics, utopians and nihilists have flocked to the extremist banner in their search for adventure, identity and self-worth.

Nine-eleven has given rise to the perception that terrorism is the exclusive preserve of Islamic extremists. But the fact is that it has been widely used by secular groups just as it has been by groups drawing their inspiration from religion.

Terrorism has always been a weapon of the weak. The targets are undefended civilians, and the objective is to destabilise the state by repeated blows at the innocent.

Thus, when the Zionist Irgun gang attacked the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing a number of British soldiers and civilians after the end of the Second World War, their aim was to drive the British army out of Palestine. Incidentally, the leader of the terrorist group was Menachem Begin, the future prime minister of Israel.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers, a secular group, pioneered many of the terror techniques and weapons copied by other groups around the world. Suicide bombing, in particular, is a gift to us from this deadly, and now defunct, band of killers. But whatever we may think of their methods, the fact is that their goals were political, and the causes of Tamil discontent persist three years after the end of the civil war.

After 9/11, many nationalist movements with legitimate political goals were lumped into the category of terrorists. However, in many cases, they lost legitimacy and respect by deliberately slaughtering innocent civilians. In Kashmir and Chechnya, for example, freedom fighters often turned their guns on bystanders, thereby losing international support. This also gave New Delhi and Moscow an excuse to increase their repressive measures.

Fred Halliday was, until his early death at 64, one of the leading British experts on the Middle East. A scholar and linguist, he brought an impressive degree of intellectual rigour to his writing. With 20 books to his name, he contributed a number of essays to the webzine Open Democracy that were later published as a collection called Political Journeys. In the section titled ‘Violence and Politics’, Halliday writes:

“…[ T ]errorism, as ideology and instrument of struggle, is a modern phenomenon, a product of the conflict between contemporary states and their restive societies. In rich and poor countries alike, it has developed as part of a transnational model of political engagement. Its roots are in modern secular politics; it has no specific regional or cultural attachment; it is an instrument, one among several, for those aspiring to challenge states and one day to take power themselves.”

So as I have observed in this space before, religion has little to do with the acts of terrorism that have become routine in Pakistan. Although the Pakistani Taliban and their many evil offshoots use Islam as a fig-leaf to hide behind as they slaughter innocent men, women and children, the truth is that what they really seek is power. The Sharia is merely a device they use to browbeat and impress the rest of us with.

Their success in their asymmetrical struggle against the Pakistani security forces and the state has been made possible by the enabling space created by politicians, the judiciary and the media alike.

In many cases, terrorists have been released by judges either on bail, or because of insufficient evidence. Being armed at the time of capture apparently is not proof enough. In TV studios, there is seldom any condemnation of jihadi terrorism; similarly, politicians hardly ever criticise terrorist groups for their actions. The recent beheading of seven Pakistani soldiers went largely unnoticed by our media and the political class.

This benign attitude towards vicious killers lends them a spurious legitimacy that encourages them to further violence. Many fail to condemn them because they are supposed to be fighting for an avowedly Islamic cause. But anybody even vaguely familiar with the tenets of the faith would know the Taliban’s claim to be utterly false. No religion in the world permits or justifies the violence these people have inflicted on thousands of innocent people.

Ultimately, violence dehumanises us all. But paradoxically, its prevalence and increased intensity is met with acceptance at various levels. Governments are reluctant to make the political decisions necessary to drain the swamp of the poison of extremism.

The harsh Israeli occupation of the West Bank continues to infuriate and radicalise Muslims. Nato’s ill-conceived operations in Afghanistan, and American drone attacks, provide militants justification for their attacks on innocent civilians. In the wake of the Second World War, a system for peacekeeping under the UN was put in place to prevent future conflicts. Never perfect, these institutions did manage to make the world a safer place for 50 years. And when the Cold War ended, we thought an era of peace would finally emerge. Dream on.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (20) Closed

Jun 30, 2012 07:58am
I like the tone of article. Very balanced and objective
Jun 30, 2012 06:39am
Irfan Husain, in your 'comprehensive' analysis of terrorism, you have failed to write a single word about state sponsored world-wide terrorism from Pakistan, the home and refuge of terrorism all over the world.
Agha Ata
Jun 30, 2012 04:05am
Nature's selection, survival of the fittest and logic of the fish. These three things come to mind when I see so much killing and blood shed in the world. What else can you say? I used to think that man has progressed enough to guide his own evolution, but, may be I was wrong.
Jun 30, 2012 10:28pm
Husain sahib, it,s been a pleasure to see you back.
Jun 30, 2012 04:32am
Thanks to the modern means of instant communication, we can hear and see all the cruelties and terrorism being perpetrated. If we go through the world history, we may realize that cruelties and terrorism are not a recent phenomenon at all. The various battles and wars, spread throughout history, are the proofs.
Rehman Khattack
Jun 30, 2012 03:50pm
Mr Hussain you are finally digging up the courage to write without fear or favour.
Jun 30, 2012 05:34pm
I agree with Mr. Husain. The entire world tolerates sickening violence, yet will run to the streets by the thousands for their own political causes. Terrorism. Why aren't we all horrified by it? Has it become our new normal?
Jul 01, 2012 01:08am
Dear Irfan, I await your column like a little child in anticipation of a toy when his father returns from a trip. Regarding today's subject, you may be softening your stance and argument by stating that the perception of Muslim monopoly of terrorism is false. As far as the West is concerned, violence against innocent civillians is almost exclusively a Muslim domain. Hutus and Tutsis may do far more killing but their focus is limited to their own. Lankan Tigers also were primarily targeting their government not another ethnic group as much. Only Muslims (particular sect) have the insatiable thirst for blood of another innocent community. Unfortunately masses don't read the philosophers, and those who do are non-killers anyway.
Jul 01, 2012 04:57am
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.- Mahatma Gandhi
Cyrus Howell
Jun 30, 2012 07:28am
"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." -- Ernest Hemingway
Vijay Kanchan
Jun 30, 2012 08:50am
Dear Mr. Irfan Hussein. The closest I can come to Albert Camus' quote is one from Gandhi: There may be causes that I may die for, but there is no cause that I will kill for. Regards
Jun 30, 2012 08:58am
Violence feeds Violence is a known concept. Though I can't understand simple thing, how does one sleep after killing someone? Wont it hunt this guy in night or guess he/she feels the cause for which this was done is worth it?
Jun 30, 2012 09:07am
Aoa..i have been reading your article since 2 year. but i didn't comment ever, today's article forced me to write something.... it's really awesome article and shows the true picture of Islam. we love you Irfan bahi. keep it up....
Jun 30, 2012 09:10am
Very nice article. You have rightly unveiled some double standards of the world. Unfortunately, every flag bearer of non violence has used the same violence as a tool in past.
Rehman Khattack
Jun 30, 2012 09:45am
This Mr Hussain is an article that is worth reading. For a change you just don't criticize the terrorist but also address the root causes of terrorism.
Jul 01, 2012 09:50am
The usual Pakistan-hating comments are absent from this blog. Guess the usual commentators are too surprised to comment by seeing Irfan Hussain taking a holistic view of terrorism and addressing root causes of militancy as well.
Siddharth Shastri
Jun 30, 2012 02:17pm
Husain Sahib, Camu's original quote must be in French, while the English translation may be hard to find with Google unless you know the translated text fairly accurately. Perhaps his book of essays ("Ethics of Suicide" was one of them) may have it. Nearer home, Gandhiji (while talking to the famous LIFE photographer-journalist) is reported to have said that he can think of a hundred causes for which to give his life, but not a single cause for which he would take one.
Jun 30, 2012 02:00pm
"There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for." - Albert Camus. Source unknown.
Jun 30, 2012 11:44am
Killing a man to protect an ideology is not an ideology -its killing a man ( unfortunately don't remember where i read this)
saqib baloch
Jul 03, 2012 08:22am
Very nice article. You have rightly unveiled some double standards of the world. Unfortunately, every flag bearer of non violence has used the same violence as a tool in past. major reason is unjust policies of the west.

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