Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The two faces of terrorism

Terrorism in the modern era has two faces.

One face portrays the violence inflicted by organizations identified with the Islamic resistance against the influence of Western secularization epitomized for the most part by the United States. The other face represents the response of the U.S. and its Western allies in the form of counter-terrorism or counter violence.

Both sides harbour deep animosity against each other. Each one responds to the other through violent means that can aptly be described as terroristic. From their perspectives, their actions are justified and necessary. Because the U.S. and the West have more influence and greater political power and economic clout, world public opinion tilts in their favour and so their response to the other side’s terrorism is widely accepted as righteous and just, but not enough to deter zealous Muslim organizations in expanding the reach of Islam which already covers roughly 25 per cent of the world’s population.

The recent assault on Mumbai has been dubbed by observers in the West as India’s 9/11. But unlike the United States, India has never been immune from violent attacks from its minority Muslim population. Equally blameworthy is its Hindu population which has also perpetrated similar violent assaults against Muslims, especially those radical Hindus who see the minorities in India like the Muslims and Christians as a threat to India’s dominant Hindu heritage.

This is not the first time Mumbai has been the target of terroristic attacks. In 1993, Bombay (now Mumbai) was rocked by a series of thirteen bomb explosions resulting in up to 250 civilian fatalities and 700 injuries. The attacks were believed to be carried out in retaliation for widespread massacre of Muslims in Mumbai that happened two months previous and the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Also in 2006, the Suburban Railway in Mumbai was bombed over a period of 11 minutes. More than 209 people were killed and over 700 were injured. According to the Mumbai police, the bombings were carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Students Islamic Movement of India.

Every time the majority of a country’s population is threatened by its minority group, particularly by Muslims, the world readily condemns threats or assaults against the democratic ideals and the rule of law. But if the situation is reversed, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, where close to two million people have died, or Israel’s air raids in Lebanon or Palestinian strongholds, such military incursions have been justified under the rubric of self-defence or considered necessary to combat terrorism.

This double standard mentality is also true in the Philippines which has a Muslim minority in the south. Heavy offensives by the Philippine military and visiting American forces embedded in the local army have not only resulted in deaths of innocent civilian Muslims that included children, but also in a massive exodus of refugees. No blame attaches to these military attacks, and they are seen as justified and necessary in the war against terror.

Whenever terrorism strikes back against civilian targets such as bombings in Metro Manila and other densely populated cities in the south, easily any one of the following groups is the usual suspect: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the New People’s Army (NPA). For example, the bombing that resulted in the sinking of SuperFerry 14 on February 27, 2000, killing 116 people on board, was considered the world’s deadliest terroristic attack at sea.

In December 2000, a wave of blasts in five separate locations in the city of Manila left a total of twenty-two people dead and about 100 injured. The attacks were known as the Rizal Day Bombings because they took place on December 30, the death anniversary of the country’s national hero. Immediately, the MILF was blamed, but it denied involvement, so police investigators turned their finger on the Abu Sayyaf for the attacks. Yet the police came up with another theory that members of the police and the Philippine Senate could be responsible for the attacks.

Later, in May 2003, a terrorist group called Saifulla Unos, involved with the MILF and with links to Al Qaeda, admitted to leading the Rizal Day bombings. During the fourth blast in that attack in Manila in 2000, two men were arrested and found to have ties to the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group.

Like the recent attacks in Mumbai, the Philippines has also had its share of terroristic violence, now almost a daily occurrence at the rate the government’s army and U.S. forces continue to bombard and raid Muslim strongholds in the south. The government of India has suggested that Muslim organizations such as the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al Qaeda based in neighbouring Pakistan could be responsible for the Mumbai assault, although a group called Deccan Mujahedeen has claimed responsibility.

Another group which cannot be discounted is the home-grown Indian Mujahedeen which has been blamed for attacks in the recent past. It is widely known in India that there has been much anger within the poorest sections of the Muslim community against the systematic discrimination and acts of violence carried out against them. A blatant example of this was the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.

All these Muslim organizations, both in the Philippines and India, are alleged to have known ties to Al Qaeda, which implies that the breadth of the Jihadist movement is no longer confined to the Arabs in the Middle East.

Observers and security analysts in the West, however, may have exaggerated the strength and influence of Al Qaeda. The dreaded Osama Bin Laden terror group has not been active in recent terroristic attacks against U.S. installations or institutions, indicating it is on a decline which the CIA has confirmed.

Home-grown separatist movements, or terroristic organizations to the eyes of the West, have mushroomed and blossomed in countries where minority rights have been in jeopardy for a long time. These movements could be Islamic-inspired or simply motivated to achieve their own free and independent state based on a distinct culture or language. Apparently, they are now capable of launching effective and more organized strikes against their majority governments.

Every once in a while, the United States has also experienced this kind of onslaught by extremist groups, such as the bombing of a federal government building in Colorado or even the Columbine school massacre some years ago. In the past, Canada too has suffered from terroristic violence in the hands of Quebec separatists.

Mumbai or Manila cannot compare terroristic assaults on their institutions to the September 11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon building. Terrorism in their own realms is too close to their heart. It is a problem that lies at the root of their minority population’s struggle to be free and to be recognized as equal with the majority population, a fact their present governments, the United States and its Western allies, cannot forever ignore.

Nothing ever justifies terrorism. But it’s about time for the leaders of India and the Philippines to direct their attention to the prevailing conditions in their own country. Profound economic disparities persist in both countries. It is absurd to believe that the so-called trickle-down effects of global capitalism would solve these countries’ problems, considering that the real benefits from the new global economy accrue only to the already-affluent nations in the West, and reinforced by new forms of transborder capitalist exploitation.

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