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ISIS: "Rationalizing" an Invisible Enemy

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Message Prakash Kona

All that terrorism will at best achieve is a mere ripple albeit, given the role of the media in the 21st century, one that can lead to paralyzing fear among the general population. A state exists based on the general consent of the population. No act of terror, however well executed, can challenge that. So I do not think that France as nation-state is in trouble or that its politicians and businessmen spent sleepless nights since the coordinated attacks on Paris on 13th November. When President Hollande says the attacks are an "act of war" I have a feeling that he is referring to the gravity of the attack in a very metaphoric sense rather than a factual description of the situation.

Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With Polish Foreign Minister Schetyna After Commenting on the Terrorist Attack in Paris
Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With Polish Foreign Minister Schetyna After Commenting on the Terrorist Attack in Paris
(Image by U.S. Department of State)
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The thing is that in politics more than in life it is important to see your enemy as a rational person making rational choices and with the full consciousness of someone who knows what he is doing. He may be inhuman and barbaric but rationalism never had anything to do with humanity. Socrates and Bertrand Russell associated reason with humanness, which is fine, but the human person is anything but a rational animal. ISIS can be extremely rational in the way it operates while at the same time dedicating its rationalism to the most irrational of goals.

There is a world leadership vacuum as far as politics is concerned. Politicians do not enjoy the kind of power they had to influence situations as they did in the past. It's an open secret that they are chosen by powerful business groups that provide monetary support to political parties, armies or dictators.

That is why intelligent and committed men and women do not want to waste their time on politics because they cannot see themselves as stooges of self-serving interest groups. In effect this means that mediocre leaders are the order of the day, from Obama to Putin to Cameron to Hollande. A greedy consumerist public cannot expect anything better.

According to Einstein's theory of relativity a person sitting in a train compartment cannot know if the train in which he is sitting is moving or not unless there is a reference point like a platform which tells him so. The reference point to the Paris attacks is American foreign policy in the third world, especially its completely skewed version in the Middle East which is shaped by the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In toeing the American line, nations of Western Europe that have significant numbers of Muslim populations, are falling into the dangerous trap of isolating minorities in their own backyards, something they cannot afford to do, except with disastrous results as we can see in the case of Turkey in relation to the Kurdish people. They have to find ways of reaching out to the minorities, as the best possible way of dealing with extremism. The politics of moderation is the time-tested antidote to extremism.

No state can afford to have disgruntled groups within its borders plotting against its existence. The "black" revolution that Malcolm X spoke of was averted thanks to civil rights being extended to the blacks. Otherwise, even a powerful nation like the United States can easily implode. A ruptured appendix, unless dealt with beforehand, is much more dangerous to the body, than a knife attack from the outside that could perhaps be thwarted with sufficient precaution. There should not be a situation where ISIS is able to reach out to Muslims living in Western Europe, or anywhere else for that matter making recruits. It ought to be the other way round. That's the situation that needs to be addressed.

Without a local base, a terrorist attack of the magnitude witnessed recently is virtually impossible. The local base has to be made to feel a part of the nation-state, unless we want attacks of these kinds become a normal affair. My own feeling is that western politicians consider terror attacks a small price to pay for the profits corporations accrue in the third world. On a more cynical note, I think they also rehearse their lines beforehand as to what to say in the aftermath of a terror attack.

After the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, which killed innocent Sikhs, for years no peace was possible in the state of Punjab and government attempts to restore order were futile.

Where people have a memory of hurt, injury, loss or when their way of life is destroyed, you cannot expect them to be normal. Aerial bombing is the cruelest form of warfare, and drones even worse. Maybe a few guilty ones are hit. But what happens to those who are innocent? Inevitably they are pushed into extremism. If I lose a member of my family or friends for no good reason it is obvious that I will embrace extremism and make every attempt to see that my enemy pays for it. Given my sense of powerlessness, this would be the most rational thing to do.

I have not seen the world united on any issue for a long time, except now when most people on the planet are convinced that ISIS must go. If I had to contribute a part of my salary for the defeat of ISIS I would gladly do so. But I don't want innocent Arabs to be killed by a plane or a drone hovering thousands of feet above their heads. I am not willing to contribute to that under any circumstances. On the contrary I would fight to defeat such an agenda. I see ground warfare as a feasible alternative where there are losses on both sides, but at least the killings are not as arbitrary as in aerial bombing.

The infantile notion that there is a third group which is opposed to both ISIS and Bashar Al-Assad and fighting for democracy is a myth that you can only expect Americans to subscribe to. Maybe there is such a group or groups of individuals but I do not think that they need to be taken into consideration for the present. They are not a factor in realpolitik decision-making.

For instance, Jaish al-Islam, one of the so-called rebel groups opposed to Asad condemned the Paris attacks. The same group takes captured Syrian soldiers and civilians, puts them in cages and uses them as human shields. With this kind of barbarism, do you expect me to believe that these people actually care for the victims of the Paris attacks? Americans are indifferent as long as the victims are Syrians and not somebody living in Europe or the US. But, unfortunately for the makers of their inhuman foreign policy, more and more people living in the third world feel that their lives are as important as those living in developed societies.

As Machiavellian as it may sound, supporting a powerful dictator such as Bashar Assad, who is able to brutally repress extremists while also containing dissent that threatens his own position, thus establishing order of some kind, provides a much safer solution for citizens living in the West, or Syria for that matter. The American video game foreign policy of changing rulers in the Arab world is a complete failure and its hapless victims are common people who are least prepared for terror attacks.

On the one hand, nobody wants refugees. On the other hand, there no war is ever fought without creating refugees. Given the scope of the refugee crisis, order should be restored in Syria as soon as possible. If there is order in the third world, citizens in the first world are less at risk of facing the violence of the oppressed through acts of terror.

You only have to guess the depth of virulent suspicion of Muslim Arabs across the Middle-East and North Africa when it comes to the motives of Europeans and Americans. It is impossible to remove that suspicion which, in its violent forms, turns into acts of terror, out of anger, helplessness or a feeling of powerlessness. It is a dangerous game played by politicians, especially those in the United States and Western Europe who might want a war to be going on in some part of the world to ensure that the weapons industry, which is at the heart of their economies, continues to thrive.

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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