How to comprehend terrorism?

By Sudhanshu Tripathi

How to comprehend terrorism? Because the issue is concerned with the very existence or survival of the human race as the continuing gory violence or such brutal acts particularly in the present age of nuclear weapons, cyber warfare and bio-weapons may create a situation where no one can survive. Why is this change in the present times? This needs to be carefully understood by uncovering or penetrating into the inner core of the terrorism. In fact, terrorism is a kind of large-scale organised violence aimed at challenging the very might of the state but that does not explain its real meaning because terrorism is not an ordinary crime. As such terrorism continues to evolve as an agenda of brutal cruelty or savagery targeting its distant goals rather than immediate victims leading to wider repercussions in the world.

Indeed terrorism is an exceptionally complex matter that human beings continue to encounter. The danger is that without skill in dealing with its complexities, one will drastically oversimplify the phenomenon. In fact, the extent to which empirical analysis of terrorism be approached as art or a science may be a hotly debated issue. If it is considered a science there are few important differences between those who seek to emulate the natural sciences like physics and chemistry, and those who believe that the study of human beings is inherently different from the study of nature in its non-human manifestations like terrorism.

Those who hold the second view argue that one cannot really grasp a human action unless one can understand its subjective meaning: what it means to the person like a terrorist who commits it and what that person is intended by it, and so on. As regards pure science, an atomic particle does not intend anything; what it does has no subjective meaning to the physicist because Physics does well as a science by describing activity in purely external, physical terms. But can the phenomenon of terrorism be understood like that in the discipline of physics in simple terms. No because terrorism is not just a simple physical activity as it is concerned with the very complex human psyche.
In fact, terrorism is an extreme form of violent human action wherein reason absolutely gets superseded by cynicism or complete mental distortions. It is a state of perverted mental-frame of a terrorist who observes no restraints – temporal or spiritual – and becomes totally insane as one’s mental faculties and mind-based rationalities jump to cross all normal bindings: social, political, legal, cultural or spiritual. Also this process of horrible human action involves a possible penetration into those realms of consciousness that go beyond the normal comprehensible level of the peaceful ‘mind’.

Obviously terrorists do possess a different psychology, which is entirely different and devoid of conscience because that fails to differentiate between good and bad actions, like acts of brutal violence or terror. This phase in a terrorist’s psyche may be momentary or permanent as is evident in most of the present day terrorists who always repeat their ghastly acts despite being provided with an opportunity to reform their distorted inner- selves. Obviously the question arises as to how such an obnoxious transformation takes place in an individual which propels him to repeatedly commit such barbarous acts of terror.

Obviously these complexities in a terrorist need a distinct approach involving multidimensional and different tools of investigation and research available in psychology, sociology, criminology, law and justice. Further, one’s personal orientation, upbringing and genetic lineage towards oneself and others including entire society do significantly count in this regard. In fact, the incompleteness of purely external, physical descriptions of human activity, combined with the difficulty of arriving at an adequate understanding of those subjective factors have led some scholars to the pessimistic view that a scientific understanding of terrorism is almost impossible.

Others optimistically view the problems posed as difficult but not insuperable. The pessimistic view suffers from the usual weakness of perfectionism. In this case, the perfectionist appears to be saying that there is nothing worthwhile between utter ignorance, at one extreme, and knowledge of regularities as exhibited in the laws of pure science, at the other. Indeed, few reductions in uncertainty are better than total uncertainty. But, systematic analysis can reduce some of that uncertainty. Hence the intelligent analysis about terrorism will inevitably rest on the assumption that knowledge has distinct limits, even though these are not permanent.

Here one may suggest that for sake of better understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism one should actively involve into it and acquire the knowledge that he needs from direct experience. But then shouldn’t one become a terrorist or an extremist for the aforesaid end? Doesn’t the terror experience provide better knowledge about terrorism than books, analysis, theory, and abstractions? Though there is much to be said for knowledge from direct experience but that too has its own limitations.

As it is that terrorism is not a new phenomenon because struggle and violence in one form or the other has always been present on the earth. These basic human instincts- security, shelter, food and sex – gradually evolved in the form of customs and traditions and later as rituals thereby helped enlarging the formation of societies and afterwards propelling to codify the form of international law, so as to regulate their innate evil aspects. Since good aspects are also present in the very human nature since birth, the inevitable clash between the good and bad is therefore a foregone conclusion and that manifests into different kinds of struggles and violence in their behaviour.

As obvious, the timely resolution of all these abnormal and unsocial actions is very much required so as to maintain peace and security in the world. Because the suppressed or hurt feelings in an individual is just like a waiting volcano which, if does not get vent to come out, will inevitably explode into a massive catastrophe before humanity. This was explained by a celebrated ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote in his immortal work Politics that inequality is the root cause of injustice and that inevitably leads to revolutions in all over the world. Indeed, all external behaviours of human beings are caused by an internal stimulus which is the product of the best of their reasoning, reflecting their mental or extra-mental consciousness. And all mental frameworks are themselves governed by different aspects of temporal or spiritual aspects of the human life. While love, peace, truth, non-violence, kindness, charity, liberty, equality, fraternity etc. are the eternal-universal moral values enriching the quality of life of all human beings, these have their equal opposites and that destroy the entire spirit of humanism or spirituality. And that essentially leads to violence and terrorism as well.

Since no one is today safe today from the reach of the terrorism in one form or the other as the phenomenon of terror has assumed global spread. Hence, if terrorism is inescapable and is also a threat to the very existence or survival of the human-beings as if the entire humanity will be blown up into smithereens, the global community must collectively strive to make sincere efforts to stamp out this menace from all corners of the world.

Thus if terrorism is to be eliminated forever, the leaders and saner minds in all-over the world must come forward to evolve something new in the form of such political-social arrangements which may enable the human species to survive in full protection. Apart from exercising force and state-violence as an immediate short-term measure, though that has almost failed except for ensuring a brief lull prior to yet another bang, they must explore the powerful and constructive idea of love, peace, or brotherhood to gradually substitute violence. Obviously, the present conditioning of mind-based rationalities regarding terrorism as reflected in the dominant Western intellectual tradition in international relations will have to be suitably modified to pave way for incorporation of extra-mental consciousness, thereby incorporating the eternal-universal moral values and cosmopolitan outlook which have always been permanent and beautiful ever since primeval days.

If these universal-cosmological features are incorporated into the educational curricula of all educational institutions, accompanied by the necessary deterrent and preventive measures to fight terrorism, the security of the world and survival of the humanity may to a large extent be ensured, including rehabilitation of the terrorists into national and global mainstreams. Evidently, these can only pave the way for establishing perfect or beautiful balance in overall relations of human endeavours. Carrying forward the idea, the phenomena of terrorism must be overshadowed by the idea of love and peace which are true essentials of nature as truth, peace, love and non-violence. Obviously the noble sentiments can restrain the terrorists and radicalised fanatics and that can only prevail over them through pious and peaceful teachings of religions and other moral discourses. This is why, they need discourses of eternal moral values and practising of Yoga and Meditation which can contribute immensely to attain a perfect and balanced personality of their selves. Their diet be also vegetarian and alcohol and sedatives be banned for them as their excessive intake may lead to their meta-dehumanization. Further their daily routine be also in consonance with nature to propel simple and sahaj living and noble thinking.

Prof. Sudhanshu Tripathi, U.P. Rajarshi Tandon Open University, Prayagaraj (UP)

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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