January 26, 2006

Politics of Terrorism.

If there is one thing that defines the political order in the twenty-first century, it must be the concern with terrorism. If we are to believe the political leaders of the non-rogue countries, terrorism is the most substantial threat facing the civilization. And all the countries very conveniently fall into blocks consisting of good and evil countries. As Bush would say, you are either with us (good) or against us (evil).

This whole hullabaloo about terrorism is an instructive illustration of how a particular strand of thought, quite independently of reality, can assert itself and prevail in popular consciousness. I use the word hullabaloo, because I think that is what it is. However, let me clarify emphatically that terrorism is, indeed, a threat and must be dealt with effectively. The deviation from reality that I am lamenting is in the generally supposed extent and potency of that threat.

Many people and indeed governments had always despised the West in general, and the US in particular. That has been very common, but there is no evidence to suppose that they have acted on that hostility in any significant manner. All the acts of terrorism came from isolated groups of people who were sometimes helped by repressive governments. But it must be noted that they never had mass support, in the sense of actually helping them carry out acts of terrorism. It may be argued that there was mass approval, but it is improper to suggest that there was mass support. One would think that all the aggrieved parties (mostly the West) with their military might can easily deal with these groups and no sane person will have legitimate complaints about that.

But what we are seeing is completely different. There is a systematic attempt by the US to ascribe this threat of terrorism to what it deems as evil regimes. There is absolutely no evidence to support that view, except in the case of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The popular consciousness is so concretely set in this way that it is rare to see rigorous analyses of how this particular situation came about or what its nature is. It has almost become an axiom to believe what is believed today. While that may very well be true, I am just arguing for more critical thinking. If contemporary terrorism is treated as in isolated event in the present, without any relation to the history of last few decades, then it will never be totally defeated.

What is troubling about today's world is the blind certainty that some people/countries are good and others are bad. But the truth is that throughout history, good was always what the powerful said it was. Right now, the United States says Iran is an evil regime and hence it is. For all practical purposes, that is the case. When Hamas bombs an Israeli shopping mall, we all call it terrorism. When Al-Qaeda attacks London subways we all call that terrorism. And they are. But when the US invades Iraq and thousands of Iraqis die (30,000 according to this, more than 100,000 according to this) in the resultant mess, we simply think that it is an act of self-defense. When the CIA air-bombs a Pakistani village (to kill a terrorist), we think that it is just war on terrorism.

I am not saying that these acts of the US are equally reprehensible. They may be, they may not be. All I am saying is that the analysis can not end simply by a statement that because the US did, it is OK by definition. I am afraid that is how most people think about this issue.


At 4:18 AM, January 28, 2006, Anonymous Chetan said...

Krishna you scare me. We think alike on so many issues!!! Hmm. Or maybe not. I don't agree with you about the Google and China issue. I support Google there.

But on this post I think I agree with every single word you said in this post. Very true. You should send this post over to desipundit. More people should read this one.

At 11:50 AM, January 28, 2006, Blogger Krishna said...

Chetan:Thanks a lot for your comment. I am glad you agree with me. I feel quite strongly about this.

I am interested in your take on Google and China issue.

Finally, how do I send this post over to desipundit?

At 12:13 PM, January 28, 2006, Anonymous Chetan said...

I think I will write a long post on the Google thing. Till then here is an extremely short version of it in the comments of that post.

It is the same argument that the payton paper which Suchi pointed out during the Tsunami discussion on my blog. I believe his logic applies more to the Google/China controversy than apartheid which was pre-globalisation. Then there could have been a difference. Now whether google goes in or not is not going to change the Chinese regime's heart. Besides if you want to take a moral high ground about freedom then stop dealing economically with China altogether and be willing to bear the global economic downturn that may occur. After all that is the best way to twist Chinese govt. arm and submit them to accepting democracy.

Why was there no hue and cry when Google agreed to censor Nazi related sites in France and Germany? Also paedophilia is censored in many countries. If one takes a 'there should either be complete freedom or no freedom at all' sort of a moral stance then there should be no double standards and the same yardstick should be applied elsewhere. That is the problem with moral stances always. In a globalised economy you can never get away without being a hypocrite. There will always be one small component that will be tainted. Besides I agree with Brin when he says that little freedom is better than no freedom. And you are discounting the ingenuity of the Chinese citizens altogether. Do you think that they aren't smart enough to coin new terms in place of democracy and human rights and falun gong to talk about the same things secretly? Also Google is not starting blogger and gmail so there is no question of the govt. arm twisting it to extract personal info about a user who has accessed some unwanted data. Also Google is going to have a note whenever the results are censored. Currently google results are censored by the Chinese and the readers may not even realise that they are missing out on something because it is being censored. Whereas once they know that they are being censored at least there is a chance of outrage being kept simmering everytime this happens. Only thing where you can fault Google is that they are going agaisnt their moto of 'do no evil.' But as you yourself have said in your post on terrorism evil is a subjective term. Once even dealing with a communist regime would have been considered evil. But we have seen the benefits reaped by the ordinary CHinese because of this so called 'evil.' And besides a company evolves. It is foolish to expect google to have the same policies as it had when it was a small start-up. That is not hypocrisy, that is maturity. Another thing is if and when China becomes a democracy what is google going to get in return if it stays out. a big zero. Because Yahoo and MSN would have a significant market share by then. Why should Google a corporation lose out to competitors through no fault of its own. It is the responsibility of the govt. and not Google to define the interactions permitted with such regimes. So long as it is breaking no law I dont see a problem. Anyways as I said this is just the jist. I am going to make a logically well-argued post. But feel free to point any holes in this one.

About desipundit. Mail them the link the particular post which you want them to link and request them to psot it. desipundit [at] gmail [dot] com This is their email id.

At 1:05 PM, January 28, 2006, Blogger Krishna said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:23 PM, January 28, 2006, Blogger Krishna said...

This is the link that Chetan refered to above.

Chetan: Thanks for your views on the issue. Many points you raise are very valid.

I think your main argument is the fundamental hypocrisy of any moral stand taken against Google's position. I realize that. I buy goods made in China all the time and as such I support the Chinese government. My cousin pointed out this nice article about a housewife who tried to stay "China-free" for a whole year.

I realize also that it will be hypocrisy for google to say that we do not want censor our services in China and at the same time deal with China in million other subtler ways (like selling/offering their products to people who do deal with China, like me). I was going to say that google could have made a big statement by refusing to cooperate with China. But I realize that it is meaningless.

I think this is the only way you can "justify" google's action. In other words, we are saying that no one can escape it and same applies to google (and in fact in their own way they minimized the damage (as you pointed out, by not offering blogger and gmail and informing readers that censor has taken place). But this is not really so much of a justification, as a collective acknowledgment of guilt. For, I think it is guilty to deal with the repressive Chinese authorities, and all of us are party to it.


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