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No Time for Finger-Pointing: Taking a Long View after the Mumbai Blasts

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  • July 14, 2011

    Terrorist attacks, no matter the forms they take or the ideologies that fuel them, share a number of common characteristics. In their immediate aftermath, speculation is rife - headlines are made and broadcasts filled by conjecture over who might have wrought such bloodshed. But the underlying characteristic of all terrorist attacks and the reason non-state violence is a distressingly popular weapon, is the fear such acts provoke. Without the terror that can in theory cause political change, political violence is impotent - “terrorism” is just an “ism,” and one that can become racism or anti-Islamism when equanimity and caution are sacrificed in the face of few facts.

    Much has been written about terrorism and counterterrorism as forms of communication, but theory and academic analyses are usually jettisoned in the arena of “breaking news alerts” and real-time reporting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: heightened emotions and angry responses are natural in the face of events like those in Mumbai yesterday, and publics have every reason to be angry when subjected to senseless violence; moreover, they have an obligation to ask searching questions of the perpetrators, as well as those charged with protecting the public. But caution should be exercised in assigning blame - when we rush to point fingers at groups, we risk demonising whole communities. We gain little from it, and often do more harm than good, risking the radicalisation towards violence of previously agnostic individuals.

    So, as we slowly learn the facts of what happened yesterday in Mumbai and why, we should bear in mind that knee-jerk reactions and rash assignment of blame can foment more violence in the long term. And while surprise attacks on human targets naturally switch us all to “short-term mode” we must also take a long view. Even if our suspicions are ultimately proved founded, entire communities can be alienated if they are blamed - or even persecuted - without evidence. Mumbaikers have had more than their fair share of terrorism - a fair share would be none - which makes preventing “future Mumbais” all the more important. Let’s bring those few individuals responsible to justice, but remember just that - that those responsible are a minority, who have more in common with violent criminals than with the peaceful majority they target.

    Indeed, the negative “isms” of the opening paragraph serve only to help violent extremists recruit more terrorists over the long term. And if terrorists take a long view, those countering them should, too.