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Paris Attacks: Some General Considerations

Every soul is deeply hurt and justifiably furious at the wicked attacks on Paris. The incident is a colossal human tragedy and needs to be mourned as a collective sorrow. Even the most sceptical among the observers is now convinced that there can be no hope of preserving the sanctity of world peace unless the issue of terrorism is solved. It is not for the first time that civilised people have suffered a diabolical onslaught at the hands of terrorists. In fact, the recent history is a recurring tale of such devastating odds.
But the attacks should not surprise anyone rather we must understand that they are bound to remain a routine feature so long as certain questions remain unanswered about the global war on terrorism. Terrorism should be regarded as one of those issues that will always be there as a headache to the world community unless something is sincerely done to suggest it. There are certain questions that make the reality of terrorism even a more dreadful threat to be dealt with.
Firstly, there rises an important question whether a mutually agreed definition on terrorism exists among the world community or is it still treated as a misnomer? As the old saying goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In the absence of an agreed definition terrorism is bound to remain a politically clouded term giving rise to new uncertainties and at other occasions thwarting the mutual progress in counter-terrorism efforts. The impact of this phenomenon will be of terrorists securing loyalties even among the civilised people who will consider their activities to be legitimate. This factor is liable to render terrorism an ever greater threat to global security.
Perhaps, terrorists are the anti-social elements who seldom stake their lives for an impersonal cause. The freedom fighters on the other hand have no personal axe to grind. They are dying for a noble cause and the freedom of their nation. A terrorist may carry out nefarious activities on his own but a freedom fighter’s act is not motivated by personal gain rather for a higher cause. Terrorists are hatemongers and murderers but the memory of freedom fighters keeps on inspiring and ruling over the hearts. Folk tales eulogise their valour and monuments are named after them to honour their sacrifices.
Secondly, what we can learn from our own country as well from the world at large is that terrorism when dealt with sheer force only proves counterproductive in the long-run. In other words, one kind of extremism gives rise to another kind of extremism out of sheer reaction. It sets an oscillation from one extreme to another to the extent that an adjustment to a moderate position becomes hard to achieve.
For instance, in the wake Soviet Union’s dismantling one would have expected the United States to disengage herself from the ideological contention. But the politically powerful military-industrial complex needed a new ‘other.’ This was framed through the invention of fundamentalist Islam. In the post-9/11 scenario when the world yearned for ideals of tolerance, diversity and interfaith harmony, the mainstream western media kept on hammering the feeling of otherness into world consciousness: that which is not us is not good. The media inevitably began to heap whole the blame on the Muslim world which, backed by few of the already existing myths, led on one hand to the culmination of Islamophobia in the western minds, and on the other hand contributed to hatred for the West in the Muslim hearts.
Moreover, certain self-styled intellectuals who did not possess a thorough knowledge of peaceful Islamic teachings further started to weave biased hypotheses in accordance with their own jaundiced visions. Some even began to beat the drums of an impending Armageddon at the hands of Jihadists. But such patently mischievous formulations are designed to distort the peaceful image of Islam and put its real spirit out of focus.
Thirdly, foreign policy of western capitals seems to be marked by contradictions which culminate in fragmented scenarios about the overall situation. The one manifestation of it is American devised dichotomy of ‘Good Taliban, Bad Taliban.’ In other words, good Talibans are reliable for they are suitable to western interests, while the bad Talibans are feasible in no way and must be completely disowned and hit hard.
But the question rises if Talibans are terrorists then does not this mean that there are no good terrorists and all are equally bad? It is because of this distinction that American plan of peace talks with one faction of Taliban while abandoning the rest could not prove instrumental for the cause of peace. Besides, whenever the government of Pakistan succeeded in conducting peace talks with one group, dozens of other groups emerged in terrorising the country in particular and the world at large. Had a distinction between the good and bad Talibans been resolved from earliest, Pakistani state would have engaged with the Talibans in a more concrete and holistic manner which would have proved more fruitful both for Pakistan and the world.
Similarly, the two major powers United States and Russia seem split over the conflict-ridden Syria. During the Cold War, American pragmatism and Soviet political doctrine were motivated by strategic grounds. It was not a positive quest for upholding a middle way in world affairs which has to restrain itself from ambitions of an extreme position or megalomaniacal character. But today’s precarious situation calls for the restraining of extreme positions in the large interest of global peace which may become all the more elusive with a partisan approach.
It would be better if a joint agreement is reached between the United States and Russia about the status of IS as well as the Syrian government over which they remain divided. The civilised people all over the world look upon both the powers as defenders of pacifist ethos and human dignity. At this critical juncture maintaining different positions over vital questions would further add to uncertainty and precariousness.
But at the same time it needs to be reiterated that not merely the use of sheer force but binding the IS into a peace treaty is ought to prove more effective in the long-run. Both the powers must come together and jointly force it to stop forth all the terrorist attacks, shun all the rebellious activities, lay down the arms before entering into talks, and abide by the constitutional ethos.
At present the achievement of peace seems extremely difficult but it is not entirely impossible. The Middle East has a history of another grave conflict which lasted from 1975 to 1990 in the form of Lebanese Civil War and has something significant to teach. In 1989 Lebanon’s new security committee chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi made a significant headway by bringing all the warring factions to table. The acceptance of ceasefire by all factions for a concerted bid to end bloodshed in the country led to the promotion of a durable national reconciliation.
At that time the leaders of two principal Muslim factions Nabih Berri and Walid Jumblatt rejected the Muslim majority to be treated at par with the Christian minority in the distribution of administrative and legislative powers. The overall situation was fragile and threatening and the fifteen years of unceasing warfare seemed too strong a habit to break. But the taste for peace ultimately created its own compulsions which was finally achieved with the Arab-League sponsored Taif Agreement on 22 October 1989.
The point of emphasis is that peace is still not a forlorn dream and can be achieved, provided the underlying causes that prompt terrorism are suggested. Back in 1977, eminent historian and one of the foremost experts on terrorism Walter Laqueur in his significant study on the subject reminded that, “Terrorism is believed to appear wherever people have legitimate grievances. Remove the grievances, poverty, injustice, inequality, lack of political participation, and terror will cease.” This is an insightful observation and gives a vital clue about the kind of acts that feed extremism, violence and terrorism.
At the same time it is important to remember that recent attacks have proved that the terrorist of today has an international personality and can easily move from one country to another by seeking support from other groups. Moreover, he is backed by new breakthroughs in technology which enhance his capability and help him perpetrate his vile acts. Therefore, only a strategy based on complete international coordination can counter his moves and make him less deadly. This necessitates a joint effort to be built against terrorism in which all nations need to cooperate with one another not only by means of multilateral treaties but also by coming to an agreement through a reconceptualisation of the basic terms.
Writer: Inayat Atta
The writer is a civil servant and researcher, works as a columnist with THE PASHTUN TIMES. He has an M.Phil Degree in history from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He can be reached at

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