Thursday, August 7, 2014

A matter of time - An essay on ideology and terror

NB: This article was written for an edited volume on contemporary terrorism, more specifically, terror in the name of Hindutva. I disagree with the habit of approaching terrorism with a prefix, but nevertheless wrote it, in order precisely to make my point more explicitly. It was completed more than a year ago and the book (to which it was a contribution) is more than overdue. I understand that the current political atmosphere has motivated the publishers to re-think the project, and have no idea if they will ever publish it.  After consulting with the editor of the proposed volume, therefore, I have decided to post it on SACW and my blog. It is posted here in commemoration of Hiroshima Day, 2014: Dilip

A matter of time 
The state of war suspends morality; it divests the eternal institutions and obligations of their eternity and rescinds ad interim the unconditional imperatives. In advance its shadow falls over the actions of men. War is not only one of the ordeals – the greatest – of which morality lives; it renders morality derisory. The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means – politics – is henceforth enjoined as the very exercise of reason - Emmanuel Levinas

Once crime was solitary as a cry of protest; now it is as universal as science. Yesterday it was put on trial; today it determines the law - Albert Camus

Introduction
This essay derives its inspiration from the need to engage with and understand the phenomenon of totalitarianism, which appears to me to be a central feature of terror and terrorism. My argument is not restricted to India, nor to a specific religious provenance of Indian communal politics. (Communalism refers to the assumption that shared membership of a community automatically results in a shared political interest). Rather, the relevance of totalitarianism is itself evidence of India’s assimilation into a globalised reality. The sub-division of communally inspired violence along religious categories is self-defeating, for it follows the habitual practice of analyzing communal phenomena through a communal lens – in other words, taking as given precisely those terms and usages that require analysis.

In a recent article, the Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy describes his conversations with Indian and Pakistani generals on nuclear matters. Senior officers on both sides evinced delight and enthusiasm at acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The place these weapons held in their mental universe was inhabited by passions of honour and glory – values that Hoodbhoy rightly describes as Neolithic.[1] When the Pokharan tests took place, India’s Home Minister L.K. Advani advised Pakistan to give up its claim on Kashmir because the ‘geo-strategic’ context had decisively changed in India’s favour. He too was delighted, as if an atavistic yearning had been consummated. Maybe it had to do with myths about virility. Hoodbhoy recounts such appreciative comments emanating from various senior and respected analysts. I remember the leader M.L. Khurana, Union Minister in the third Vajpayee government, saying that if Pakistan wanted a fight it could “name the time and place” – comments more suitably emanating from the precincts of a wrestler’s gymnasium than the mouth of a cabinet minister.  Some years prior to that, India’s then defence minister M. S. Yadav declared that nuclear war would only affect the cities – presumably this was meant to allay our fears. What could be more terrifying than the prospect of mass nuclear death? Yet that is what the leaders of the world’s largest democracy seem to contemplate with equanimity. When we speak of terror and terrorism therefore, it is wise to begin with the terrorism not of so-called radicals, but of the so-called mainstream.

The words ‘terror’ (meaning intense fear and dread), and ‘terrorism’ (the systematic employment of violence and intimidation to coerce a government or community into acceding to specific political demands) are steeped in controversy and admit of multiple usages. From the time of the French Revolution, ‘terrorism’ has been used to describe various types of violent political activism, including Russian populism; Italian, Serbian and Irish nationalism, and anarchism. After the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, a ‘war on terror’ was launched by the United States. It has tended to be identified with Islamist fundamentalism, the Taliban, the Tamil Tigers, Palestinian militants and Maoist revolutionaries. Although terrorism is clearly a form of political violence, mainstream commentary does not associate it with state supported actions. Armed actions by American and Israeli special forces against real or perceived enemies, kidnapping, collective punishments and encounter killings by the apparatus of various South Asian states, are not seen as terrorist practices. Even the recent documented genocidal actions by the Sri Lankan government (for example) do not merit more than mild reprimand by the international community of states. In India ‘terrorism’ is not the word we use to describe the activities of the Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS, the Ranvir Sena or the Shiv Sena, even though some of their activities would qualify them as terrorists within the dictionary meaning of the word. Today, the United Nations has no agreed definition of terrorism, even though there are twelve ratified conventions relating to different aspects of terrorism that have signed and ratified by UN members.

The characteristic feature of modern political reality is the predominance of extremism –paradoxically not at the extremes, but in the very heart of the established order. Across the partisan spectrum, we can observe the contempt for human life, sociopathic behaviour, disdain for the letter and spirit of foundational statutes, and disregard for limits in speech and action. Persons entrusted with high executive authority think nothing of abusing the public trust for accumulating power and wealth. Political utterances by high-ranking personages bespeak contempt for law, for women, for restraint in public life. Sentiment is invoked constantly to intimidate government and to justify hooliganism. Controlled mobs are kept in waiting, to be unleashed at the appropriate moment to build and consolidate constituencies of sentiment. Private armies and militia are a commonplace, and remain active despite adverse Supreme Court judgments.[2] Judges on occasion have even resorted to arguments suggesting that communally-inspired murder is less culpable than some other variety.[3] The very distinction between lawful conduct and legitimate practices on the one hand, and unlawful conduct and illegitimate practices on the other, seems to have become pointless. It is precisely under the mantle of legitimacy and lawfulness that criminality is flourishing. In a word, the constitution, the foundational statute of the Indian polity, is under attack from all sides, left, right and centre. Leading the charge is the ruling elite, comprising powerful corporate executives, high-level elected officials and civil service officials – of whom the latter two categories are sworn to uphold the law. The established order is extremist and terrorism is its excrescence.

Ideology as a law of motion
Ideology means the logic of an idea. The dictionary defines it as a system of ideas pertaining especially to political or economic systems, and lays stress on the tendency of ideologies ‘to justify actions and be maintained irrespective of events.’.. read more via the link below:
Download and read the full essay here: http://sacw.net/article9283.html


[1]Pervez Hoodbhoy, ‘Scientists and an atomic subcontinent’; February 2013, in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: <http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/scientists-and-atomic-subcontinent

[2] See Chief Justice Balakrishnan’s remarks on Salwa Judum dtd March 31, 2008: ‘How can the State give arms to some persons? The State will be abetting in a crime if these private persons kill others.’
[3]See my article on the Staines judgement, ‘What about the murdered kids?’, published in Mail Today, February 4, 2011; at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/what-about-the-murderedkids/1/128636.html
_______________________________________