Recent happenings around the world reveal severe gaps in all existing strategies to defuse terrorism. It is necessary to raise a new generation of Muslim youth who have a stake in the existing polity.
major terrorist attacks in less than a week raise serious questions about public safety and the state of preparedness of security forces across the globe. The growing concern is whether terrorist groups, despite enormous geographic distances, are once again acting in tandem, as in the Osama bin Laden days. First, it was the outrage at the posh Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital (September21), which claimed more than 60 lives, including three Indians. Close on its heels came the incursion into a peaceful assembly at a Sunday (September 22) service in a Peshawar church in which 85 were killed. What should rattle us in India most is the daring incident (September 26) in which raiders from across the border first targeted a police station and later an Army camp near Jammu, and took 10 lives (including a colonel) in the process. That an Army location in a border state could be so easily breached should send a shiver down our spine. Recent happenings around the world reveal severe gaps in all existing strategies to defuse terrorism. Those who claim to be experts are adroit in interpreting an action after it has taken place. They have been disappointingly poor in predictions of the kind that would stave off an offensive. Less said the better about the quality of intelligence available on the field that would forestall events.
First, it was the outrage at the posh Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital (September21), which claimed more than 60 lives, including three Indians. Close on its heels came the incursion into a peaceful assembly at a Sunday (September 22) service in a Peshawar church in which 85 were killed. What should rattle us in India most is the daring incident (September 26) in which raiders from across the border first targeted a police station and later an Army camp near Jammu, and took 10 lives (including a colonel) in the process. That an Army location in a border state could be so easily breached should send a shiver down our spine.
Recent happenings around the world reveal severe gaps in all existing strategies to defuse terrorism. Those who claim to be experts are adroit in interpreting an action after it has taken place. They have been disappointingly poor in predictions of the kind that would stave off an offensive. Less said the better about the quality of intelligence available on the field that would forestall events.
The CIA, FBI, MI5 and 6 and our own RAW and IB are doing their best. Neither their dedication nor their professionalism is in dispute. But what they are up against is a certain religious fanaticism that outwits all theorists. It is preposterous to expect miracles from intelligence agencies. Intelligence collection driven by technology without diluting Humint (human intelligence, gathered through interpersonal contact) could help but will yield only modest dividends.
In the days following 9/11, when Osama was being driven from pillar to post, it was erroneously believed he had been neutralised. Notwithstanding the hot pursuit against him, he was still able to inspire a few minor attacks. Later, after his killing two years ago in Abbottabad, it was once again the assessment that since a unifying force like him was gone, there was no prospect hereafter of coordinated actions by terrorists sitting in different geographies.
What is now happening in Africa, West Asia and the Indian sub-continent puts paid to all theories that there is no meeting of minds and all terrorist acts are standalone, flowing from native inspiration and motivation. Reports indicate that it was not only Somalians, but also many other nationalities that were responsible for planning and executing the Nairobi offensive. Our own Indian Mujahideen seem to be not averse to seeking international assistance to supplement what they receive from the ISI.
I am inclined to believe that, before he went, Osama had successfully transmitted the message that the non-Islamic world posed a serious threat to Islam, and it had therefore to be decimated mercilessly. How else do you explain the ferocity of someone like Samantha Lewthwaite, a young British woman, described as ‘White Widow’ (whose husband Germaine Lindsay was one of the perpetrators of the London Underground bombing of July 7, 2005), who is known to have been a principal brain behind the Nairobi operation. Her participation in the attack may still be a matter of conjecture. But several accounts from intelligence agencies who knew her in England testify to her extremist proclivity. Her case alone proves the complexity of the task on hand. India will be naďve if it ignores such a phenomenon of a woman convert to Islam lending respectability to violence.
The frenzy aroused by Nairobi, Peshawar and J&K incidents should not, however, drive us to panic. What they call for is a nuanced strategy that draws on learning from the recent events. Religion is no doubt an opiate, by whatever name it goes. At the same time, however, we should remember that we are not contending with large numbers here. A majority in every religion, including Islam, is opposed to violence. It is the small radicalised section in each denomination that is driving the forays into rival camps. The overwhelming majority are mute spectators influenced by fear of reprisal.
It is, therefore, not policing in the conventional sense that is likely to offer the antidote. A clever strategy would concentrate on reversing the insidious attempts to radicalise the impressionable youth in each religion who have grievances vis-ŕ-vis the existing social order. The operation undertaken by the New York Police Department (NYPD) to have their plants in each mosque in the city may be crude and insensitive. Its efficacy may also be limited.
This is why it is necessary to raise a new generation of Muslim youth who believe they have a stake in the existing polity and hence they have to oppose terrorism tooth and nail. This will, however, take decades. I see no other way to handle fanaticism. Till this happens across countries we have to continue to grin and bear periodical slimy attacks on all our soft targets. No policing can halt this madness.
— The writer is a former CBI Director
Many literature festivals are now popping up all over the country. One advantage is that the dependency on foreign authors appears to be diminishing and local writers are finding more space.
It’s been a busy time at the Bangalore Literature Festival, one of the youngest on the literary horizon, organised by the talented author Vikram Sampath as well as Shinie Antony. Though only two years old, it has attracted some of the best and brightest authors, creating a unique ambience. One of the better organised festivals mushrooming all over the country, it offers something for everybody ranging across different genres of literature and poetry, including a special emphasis on books for children.
Thus, there has been a parade of authors, lyricists, filmmakers and actors, including Gulzar, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Farhan Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Shashi Deshpande, David Davidar, among many others, discussing a host of subjects from cinema to gender. Perhaps the venue this year, a little far from the heart of Bangalore, at the Electronic City, has also made it into an enjoyable literary and cultural island.
This weekend at the festival, following the launch of my novel, The Sea of Innocence, we had a lively discussion on ‘endangered gender’ with author Gita Aravamudam, Shobhaa De as well as the former TV anchor Vasanthi Hariprakash. After grappling with the marginalisation of Indian women, we mulled over whether there was any real change in Indian attitudes post the terrible Nirbhaya rape case. Nonetheless, it was shocking to learn during audience interaction that women in Indian cities no longer feel secure when they step out of their homes, regardless of whether they are accompanied by a male friend or relation, even in Mumbai.
But one has to admit that the largest audiences were drawn in to listen to Farhan Akhtar on the brilliant biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. He spoke movingly of the hard physical and mental work he had put in preparing for the character. Later, while speaking to Gulzar on the other merits of the film, I was also pleased that he (Gulzar) now regarded the film as one of the three best films on the Partition that he had ever seen — the other two being Garam Hawa and Tamas. Rakeysh also told me that he is planning a trilogy on the Partition.
The festival featured varied literary discussions as well, including one on whether the age of the commercial best seller had arrived. I also participated in a session on the urban narrative, as described in our writing.
Again my co-panelists brought in excitingly different perspectives and all of them (another all-women panel!) — Usha KR, Nirmala Lakshman and Anita Nair spoke of our individual experiences — and I realised how much the rise in urban violence had influenced my writing.
But like many of the newer festivals there some unusual touches and a specific effort to push the boundaries, and so there were sessions on erotica and even on literature from the conflict zones.
Of course, much of the festival enjoyment comes from the conversations taking place on the periphery, during breaks — and though every evening the organisers had thoughtfully provided classical music to unwind with — it was not unusual for many of us to gather for an after-dinner discussion on many issues that we felt deserved further exploration.
Since the festival was based this time near the hub of software giants like Infosys, it also meant that a great number of extremely bright young people were able to drop by and participate in the ongoing debates both during and after the festival.
Perhaps the fact that so many literature festivals are now popping up all over the country — from Chandigarh to Kolkata, and Srinagar to Chennai — one advantage is that the dependency on foreign authors appears to be diminishing and local writers are beginning to find more space and acceptance for their writing. Many regional languages are also being celebrated more intensely as a result of this. In fact the Bangalore Literature Festival, I felt, showcases an increasingly modernising literate country celebrating its own diverse authors and languages.
While there were authors such as Ian Jack and William Dalrymple to provide a global flavor, the overall impression of the festival remained one of exploring local talent. Some of this might have been due to a slightly more constrained budget as we were told that after the anxiety and stress over sponsorship issue in the previous year, this time the young organisers decided to raise most of the funding through their own friends and well wishers.
It also meant that everyone at the festival demonstrated a keen sense of commitment, as there were many stakeholders who wanted the festival to succeed. This energy will definitely ensure that the festival will continue to thrive and grow.
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