Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tackle Terrorism

After over sixty hours of fierce fighting, the terrorist attack on Mumbai has been finally brought to an end. Although there is a sense of relief that the nightmare is now over, the anger still lingers on. The bloody criminals killed close to two hundred innocent civilians and injured several hundreds. "I hope the bastards burn in hell," I feel like screaming, though my rational mind says there is no "hell" out there; "hell" is what those cold-blooded killers created on this earth.

The anger that I feel is shared by a lot others: The civil society in the international community are all aghast by the attack; the residents of Mumbai and the citizens of India feel violated. "How could anyone commit such despicable acts?" The anger is not just towards the murderous maniacs; it is also towards the Indian government whose job it is to provide security in the country. "How could the Indian government be so lax in not taking enough precautions to prevent such attacks?" It may be impossible to guard every nook and corner of the country twenty four-seven, but the lapses observed this time show how little the government has done to put a system in place that can ensure swift response. I also think we do not have proper systems at place to guard our cities and towns from external threats. See, for example, this video that had been telecast sometime ago on CNN-IBN; the video proves that our sea front is not well protected. Is it any wonder then that the terrorists could easily sneak into Mumbai and cause a murderous mayhem?

In today's world, no country is immune to terrorist attacks. This, however, does not mean that probability of terrorist attacks is equally likely around the world. Certainly, terror has stricken nations like US and UK, but these are nations who have taken strong steps towards maintaining internal security, and - I believe - that is the reason we haven't seen as frequent attacks there as we have in India. I know, some may argue that I should not be equating US and UK with India; those nations do not have rogue neighbors, they do not have a huge Muslim population, and so on so forth. These arguments may seem very legitimate but they aren't. Given that India has neighbors that support terrorism, India's security system should be the best in the world; if there is a constant threat to our internal security, then we should be having the best preventive and reactive system to deal with those issues. Unfortunately, that is not the case; despite, several terror attacks in all possible corners on India, including the parliament, our system is among the worst to deal with terrorism. We certainly have great soldiers who lay down their lives to protect ours, but our internal security system is among the most archaic in the world.

The argument that India has a huge population of Muslims that makes maintaining internal security difficult is also superfluous. First of all, terroristic attacks have not just been made by Islamic terrorists in India. India faced and continues to face several terrorist attacks from non-Islamic groups too - from the Tamil tigers, from the Ulfa and Naga terrorists in the North-East, the communist Maoists (or the Naxalites) in the hinterlands of the country, and more recently even from some Hindu fundamentalist groups. I agree, the greatest damage has always been committed by Islamic terrorists, and that they may have the most organized network; however, we should be careful not to equate Islam with terrorism. Even if all terrorists were Muslims, majority Muslims are definitely not terrorists. Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains it really well in the following paragraph from the book The Black Swan:
Many people confuse the statement "almost all terrorists are Moslems" with "almost all Moslems are terrorists." Assume that the first statement is true, that 99 percent of terrorists [in the world] are Muslims. This would mean that only about .001 percent of Muslims are terrorists, since there are more than one billion Muslims and only, say, ten thousand terrorists, one in hundred thousand. So the logical mistake makes you (unconsciously) overtimate the odds of a randomly drawn individual Moslem person (between the age of, say, fifteen and fifty) being a terrorist by close to fifty thousand times!

Thus, having a large Muslim population is not and should not be considered the factor that allows terrorism in India. Equating Islam with terrorism is a myth that partly exists because of the unconscious logical error that's described above, and partly because the myth is propagated by the major political parties in India - I am refering to both the BJP and Congress here. The BJP is guilty of highlighting primarily the terroristic acts committed by Muslims, and the Congress is guilty of playing it soft on terrorism to appease fundamentalist Islamic groups. In other words, it's not the large Muslim population per se which is the problem while dealing with terrorism; instead, the problem is the political opportunism by our political leaders that divide our society based on religion - it is this opportunism that has prevented the establishment of proper systems that can prevent and fight terrorism efficiently and effectively.

I hope the Mumbai 11/26 attack brings the political establishment in India together - the way Democrats and Republicans buried their differences on matters of internal security in the US post 9/11. Being a man from the academics I firmly believe in the importance of debate, disagreement and discussion; however, in matters of internal security the bias should be more towards action rather than discussion. The action should not be some kind of knee jerk reaction that usually happens post any disaster, but about building from the ground a smooth system that will be able to adeptly tackle terrorism.

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