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Writing from India, Subhadip Mukherjee argues that the "war on terrorism" is bringing inhuman suffering and misery to an already impoverished population, and that economic depravation and the threat of monoculture are driving forces behind certain acts of terrorism.
Towards a peaceful world: a student's perspective
The world is in grave danger. The global scenario has completely changed since 11 September, with just one terrorist attack on the United States. In the name of wiping out terrorism from the world the US are now engaged in counter-terrorism with the large-scale killing and torture of innocent people. Those who were earlier considered freedom fighters are now branded terrorists.
Today the United States has assumed the role of a messiah with its disciple-like Great Britain delivering “good” to the people by indulging in counter-terror. No terrorist outfit can ever compete with a highly militarised state superpower.
Such a situation has serious implication for countries like India where, in certain areas, every day is like 11 September. The terrorists can strike anywhere, any time and they have done so many times in the past. In Kashmir terrorism has taken many more lives than those lost at World Trade Centre.
In the past we would never have thought of crossing the border to Pakistan to strike the terrorist training camps. But now such a demand is often vehemently voiced. The logic is simple - if America can, why can't we?
Our world today is unquestioningly accepting the US style of dispensing “justice”. Many states are blindly following the US theory of “war against terrorism”. Encouraged by the new “war” many governments have asked for military support from the United States to fight their own “terrorists”. The Philippines and Indonesia have already received such help for their local struggles. Moreover it now appears that insurgents who are not supported by the US as “freedom fighters” will indiscriminately become the targets of the new “war against terrorism”.
In India the media are playing a biased role by protecting the state's actions. They never criticised the attack on Afghanistan as an act of terrorism. But recently an Indian newspaper praised the role of army in Kashmir by citing the number of terrorists it has killed!
Then there is a large section of the population who have already been victims of terrorism. Their life has been shattered and many more are yet to overcome painful memories of the traumatic experience. Out of shock and fear, they develop their desire to take revenge by violent retaliation. Be it in India, the United States or elsewhere.
The situation thus poses a far greater challenge to the peace movement. Our first and foremost task is to deconstruct people's minds from believing that the “war against terrorism” is the only, and right, means of combating terrorism. Violent retaliation and repression beget further violence only. People need to understand that by creating the frightening
The Student Christian Movement in India - Students' Initiative for Peace
Formed in 1912 The Student Christian Movement in India (SCMI) is a platform for students from different religio-cultural and socio-economic backgrounds to come together to promote life in all its fullness, to build up a holistic community of communities. Members of SCMI work towards minimising the differences and inequalities that promote discriminations nurturing violence. Our national office is in Bangalore and there are separate state units for carrying out the campaigning work at a local level.
Condemning the genocide at riot-torn Gujarat, SCMI has taken initiatives to promote interfaith relations amongst the younger generation. One of the major concerns of SCMI is the growing tension between India and Pakistan, the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern region of India. Last year SCMI organised a conference on “Terrorism and its Impact on Students: Issues and Challenges in Education” attended by about 100 students from all over India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong and a three-day regional seminar, also held last year on Peace and Conflict Resolution at Tamil Nadu in south India. Under the common banner “People's Initiative for Peace”, SCMI held a peaceful demonstration everyday from 8 to 15 March 2002, with 350 people attending. The group exhibited posters, distributed leaflets and sang songs about communal harmony and peace. SCMI has also created 21,000 stickers conveying the message of peace and communal harmony.
The West Bengal Region in its magazine Info-mag brought out a special issue (July 2002) on Terrorism and also produced two T-shirts with the messages “Live and Let Live” and “Stop Killing and Start Living”. Designed by the students these T-shirts were released at special functions on Hiroshima Day at 16 places and distributed to 1000 students all across the country, which they later wore at a rally in Nagpur. On the same day the West Bengal unit also organised a poster writing campaign for the students and later organised a rally using them; this was followed by a special prayer service at the College chapel.
SCMI (email firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.scmi.netfirms.com).
image of “a nation threatened” the US is mobilising public support only to advance its own military interests.
Opposing the claims of the mainstream media, the peace movement should expose how the “war on terrorism” is actually bringing suffering and misery to an already impoverished population thwarting their development. This “war” seeks to bring peace through the loss of innocent lives, through destruction and desertification.
People must know about the harrowing suffering of the innocent civilians in Afghanistan - how families have been displaced, forced to stay in migrant camps, ousted from their roots for no fault of their own. They must see the painful pictures of the terror of death by starvation, children crying in hunger and dying on the roads and their dead bodies left behind uncared for.
To find meaningful solutions to terrorism one has to look into the root causes of the problem. Grievances born out of deprivation and discrimination give birth to terrorism. Today a large section of the global population live in abject and dehumanising poverty, people who have always been exploited and oppressed by the rich. They seek to quench their thirst for justice originating from years of economic exploitation and deprivation by resorting to violence.
This breeds terrorism. But the destructive forces within them can be harnessed. Their power and potential can find the most creative expression through meaningful activities. So there is need to create a social order where everybody lives with their basic needs fulfilled. One in which the economic disparity which creates the differences no longer exists.
Actions are to be taken on two levels - at the grassroots working with people to design and implement their own development and at the macro level, advocating policy changes towards an equitable and just social transformation.
In an interesting document produced by the Catholic Church in Latin America in 1977 it was revealed that the military regimes used terror to pursue its ruthless economic policies, as was the development model by which they helped transnational companies with favourable opportunities for investment (ie crushing the unions).
This created a “revolution” that never existed before. The “liberation theology” with its “theology from the underside of history” and its “preferential option for the poor” (Gustavo Gutierrez) is actually an outcome of the “turmoil and victimisation of this era of U.S. sponsored counter revolutionary violence”.
Creating harmony in diversity
But economic deprivation is not the only cause of terrorism. We must also remember that the young men who attacked the World Trade Centre or the men who masterminded the attack on the Indian Parliament were all educated intellectuals. Their frustration is not born out of poverty. They were fighting for their religious ideology. They acted out of their insecurity arising out of a society being gradually swept away by a monolithic culture. Therefore our task is to create asocial atmosphere where pluralism is recognised and respected.
Intolerance and hatred, which are becoming ever more evident, must give way to tolerance and love. “Value orientation” for children through various cross-cultural activities is an important step towards creating harmony in diversity.
The capitalistic culture of control, possession and accumulation of wealth, must be replaced by the equitable culture of caring and sharing. Finally we must remember that in our struggle against the menace of the “war of terrorism” our greatest strength is the people. Only socially empowered people with good attitudes and values can bring about a new holistic world order with justice and peace.