Monday, 1 December 2008

i don't excuse anything

it's really very difficult to have a discussion about terrorism without being accused of siding with the terrorists, or better yet, excusing their behaviour. it's an accusation that you will see thrown at any left-winger who wants to discuss the causes of terrorism. it's thrown at anyone who wants to add more to the discourse than "this group of people are all evil and we must hate them". it's a favourite tool of the neo-cons, and they used it successfully for quite a while, as a way to suppress dissent against the wars in afghanistan and iraq.

it's a problem faced when discussing terrorism, but not so much when discussing other forms of violence. let me give an example, say that of domestic violence.

if i were to talk about causes of domestic violence, then i would talk about unemployment. because we know from the research that the level of domestic violence tends to rise when men are unemployed. feelings of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem, and the loss of the role of breadwinner within the family have tended to result in higher levels of violence.

another factor is cultural attitudes. where there is strong culture of seeing women as subservient and of accepting violence as a response to disobedience, then there is likely to be more violence. yet another factor is a failure of not having a strong police and judicial response to violence when it presents itself. in such an environment, there is likely to be more violence.

no-one would accuse me of sympathising with the offenders if i were to say that if we want to reduce domestic violence, then we should understand the context in which it occurs and implement strategies to reduce the causes. if i were to say that we should have strong policies to reduce unemployment and increase the availability of free training and upskilling; if i were to say that the police should no longer have a policy of treating domestic violence as a family matter and ignoring it (as they did in the 1970's); if i were to say that the courts should hand down reasonable sentences that would act as a deterrent and provide rehabilitation while offenders were incarcerated; if i were to say we should conduct a nationwide campaign to effect culture change; if i were to say any of these things, no-one would accuse me of condoning violence. no-one would say that i was providing an opportunity for offenders to escape personal responsibility. no-one would say i was trivialising the suffering caused by the victims.

by looking at institutional, cultural and socio-economic factors, and developing policies that took those factors into account, almost everyone would agree that i was taking a positive approach to reducing violence within the home. everyone would acknowledge that i abhor violence and took it seriously.

yet when i apply the same approach towards terrorism, when i ask that terrorist acts be understood in their context, then some people seem to interpret that as condoning violence. if i point out that muslims make up 13% of the population of india but only 3% are employed in the government sector and less than that in private hindu businesses; if i say that the result has been a mass migration of muslim men to other countries to find work; and if i went on further to make the point that there is generation of young men who have grown up without strong male role-models around them which has impacted in various ways, but most strongly in a significant drop in educational achievement; then it seems i would be wrong. to point these things out would apparently be making excuses or diminishing the suffering caused by terrorist acts.

if i were to raise the issue of violence against muslims in india, of the brutal slaughter, of the burning of homes and businesses in a country where few people have insurance and there is no social welfare system; if i were to say that these are also acts of terrorism and should be called such; then why should that be interpreted as saying that terrorism is justified? of course it's not justified, but if you don't deal with terrorism in all its aspects, if you don't recognise that violence breeds violence and revenge, if you don't seek to protect minorities and provide proper and transparent justice, then consequences will flow from that. just as, if you fail to police domestic violence and you fail to charge the perpetrators, then consequences will flow from that. one of which is that children brought up in such relationships are likely to carry on the pattern. and so with terrorism: if you fail to look at what's happening and why it's happening, if you fail to deal with why it's happening, then the violence will continue.

but it seems these are things i shouldn't say. because to do so somehow implies that i don't care about the people who died and were injured. or that i'm trivialising their suffering. i don't understand how that can be so. i find such accusations to be deeply offensive and hurtful, and very far from the truth. i hate the violence, i want it to stop as much as anyone else does.

which leads to the question: how can we deal with those underlying issues? how can we combat the hate-filled political rhetoric, how can we combat the systematic discrimination, how can we start to solve some of these pressing social inequalities if we are not even allowed to raise them as issues without being accused of condoning violence? how can we make terrorist organisations less appealing to the downtrodden and the disaffected if we refuse to talk about these issues but the terrorist organisations do talk about them? if we refuse to take them seriously and refuse to act, but the terrorist organisations do take them seriously and do act, in the most violent and vicious way possible?

failing to talk about the context around terrorism and failing to act where injustice occurs just plays into the hands of those who follow extreme ideologies. by trying to silence valid concerns, we don't make those concerns disappear.


Anonymous said...

asalamualaykum do you have an email contact?

Anonymous said...

Short answer is that you can't. Even if you're a big dumb white guy {hello}. The best I've managed is persuading someone to accept that it's not one-sided, but I failed at "people don't choose terrorism as their first resort". C'est la morte.

One question that interests me is whether this ongoing conflict is being seen as a failure of partition - wasn't the formation of Pakistan supposed to reduce/remove the conflict between Muslims and Hindus? Instead you've got Kashmir and alleged support from Pakistan for conflict in India (and vice versa?)

I'm becoming more convinced over time that we need to shuffle our levels of government somewhat. I wonder how to move faster to a local government model for nation-states where much of the nation-level stuff is delegated upward to a regional body (like the EU). The faster that happens the happier I'll be. And the sooner we see a spawning from Europe the better - instead of just growing and growing, they should start a second and third copy with the more distant areas. Coz at some point they have to realise that Vietnam really doesn't fit in the EU, even if everything up to Thailand has joined...


stargazer said...

anonymous 1, you can reach me at kiwistars at gmail dot com.

moz, to me the problem really lies in the political arena. the ability to create a public enemy out of a minority group, and to whip hatred and anger against them is a common theme across the world. there are so many, many conflicts around the world that are inflamed by exactly such tactics. the trouble is that us lefties do believe in freedom of speech, particularly when it comes to political dissent, so to curb the freedom of extremist groups would require a level of restriction that would be harmful. i really don't know how you get around this dilemma.

as to the formation of pakistan (and bangladesh), well i think that the british had more of a hand in that than anyone else, and for none to altruistic motives either. however, i don't know enough of history to have an intelligent debate about that. i do know that the partition was the bloodiest and most shameful period of india's modern history. how anyone could have expected that anything good could come out of that mess, i don't know. but you're right, nothing good really did come of it.

Anonymous said...

no-one would accuse me of sympathising with the offenders if i were to say that if we want to reduce domestic violence, then we should understand the context in which it occurs and implement strategies to reduce the causes. i

Oh yes they would.