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Monday, December 15, 2008

Terrorism as Civilisational Paranoia

Randomness and unpredictability are the defining characteristics of terrorism; the way it selects its targets, the manner in which victim-hood gets displaced and dispersed from those under threat to society as a whole are of the essence of its diabolic hold on our imagination. One may not have done anything to hurt the cause of the terrorist and yet be sucked in the vortex of revenge and retribution as it happened in Mumbai recently, where revelers, business travelers, party goers or ordinary commuters were cut down by a hail of gunfire. The loved ones that they left behind to mourn did not have even so much as a faint reason to attribute their misfortune to. The terrorist attacks, have succeeded in instilling fear and anxieties in the minds of not only the Mumbaikars but of the country as a whole, about the ability of the state to ensure their protection against these depredations. Mumbai’s anguished cry- enough is enough- has been taken up, amplified and finds a resonance all over the country. Make the police more efficient is the rallying war cry. The prayers seem to have been heard-not here, not yet any way-but in Hein Reich Boll’s nerve wracking novel The Safety Net.

Fritz Tolm’s election as the President of the “Association", which is the consortium of all the industries of Germany, makes him the most visible symbol of capitalism. His position automatically earns him the tag of the enemy and a place on the hit list of the radical group, alternative society identified merely as “They” which is perhaps just as well, because the discourse on terrorism is largely couched in shadow hints metaphors, unprovable claims, plausible deniability etc. The threat is undefined, yet perpetually present because the suspects include members of the family as well. As the safety net is spread farther and wider to apprehend the assailant before he strikes, the placid and tranquil suburb transforms into a schizoid world; the people stand designated in their fate either as the terrorists or the terrorized, presided over by the ever present security apparatus. The Safety Net is the finalized and teleological promise of comprehensive and fool proof security. But it comes at a price. The lives of the protectees are no longer their own and they must live and die, marry or mate under the gaze of the omniscient, omni present security, like so many fish in a gold bowl. And yet the all-encompassing security, this achieved utopia of a carcereal society fails to reassure. "The best that we can do is to acknowledge that we are prisoners-that we will perish in security perhaps from security", rues one of the characters.

Meanwhile, even in this highly sanitized world Sabine, the daughter of Fritz, gets “impregnated” outside her marriage. It is in keeping with the whole atmosphere of the novel where even inch of that space which we call private – the conversation between spouses is monitored- the whole issue is treated only as a lapse of security, and not as a breach of trust between the spouses “only the security people can know who the father of our grand child, is if the surveillance is really functioning”. The lover incidentally is Herbert Handler, her guard. On the other hand Breur’s nice little escapade, which did not hurt any one gets blown up with unfortunate consequence, “If we hadn’t been living in a palce, that was always swarming with cops, it would never have got out”. The decadent world of the rich and the spoilt with their fetish for porn and promiscuity is stood on its head and in the ironic trade off the it is only the policeman protectors who have the opportunity for adultery because they have invaded every one’s privacy while carving out a large private space for them selves.

The cops have taken position allover, but still fear takes up permanent residence, living secretly in the bones of the denizens and an undemonstrative distrustfulness to ones neighbour becomes the necessary attitude to have in your survival kit. All ready in our terror stricken cities paranoia in medicinal doses is being prescribed to keep ones sanity intact as the checklist of “to do” and “not to do” increases after every terrorist incident. In the Safety Net somebody reads a book called Castro's Path and immediately attracts silent, icy, hostile and grim looks" as if they were ready to strangle me any minute", which is chillingly close and contemporary. One can be taken off the flight, detained, grilled and deported for lesser crimes: from finger printing to thought reading, from surveillance to racial profiling, whatever the security apparatus can dream up is translated into a gadget, but how can one stop a nihilistic thought arising in some head, some where specially if he has been so thoroughly schooled in the ethic of hatred. “Holger I was, the time bomb; he had become a stranger to her……”They"-who-probably Bev too, had fed something into Holger that was more dangerous than the stuff used to make bombs. Holger was in urgent need of-treatment…… obviously the boy had the bomb in the brain…. How to handle him-hands not words, might be able to heal him". . . Veronica the potential assassin gives up at the last moment but the issue of the bomb in the brain lies unresolved. .
That's how it is. Guns and surveillance are all right but shouldn't we be addressing ourselves with much greater urgency, than we have done so far, to devising an equitable global order, which ensures freedom, equality and liberty for all. The absolute numbers of the starved, disenfranchised, depoliticized, the waifs and refugees, the stateless and asylum seekers of the globalized world order are growing, just as newer records are being notched up for personal wealth. Terrorism is a mere “side show” compared to these problems, says Prof Walter Laquer the acknowledged authority on such matters. The systems and institutions built over the years to contain these pathologies and come to an equable association in healthy ways seem to have become immunodeficient. Alienation starts with the first letter of the alphabet, A, and addressing ourselves to this problem must be one of our first tasks to stem the tide of terrorism.


random rambler said...


I completely agree with the sentiments expressed and acknowledge that the terrorism is here to stay, fighting it effectively would mean systemically. Having said that, this has to be the long term vision, what about the short/immediate term? If I can draw an analogy to education, improving primary education has to be the long term goal, but that does not mean that we dont address the immediate/short-term requirements (reservations for instance, although I strongly disagree with the political implementation of it).

What we are hearing from the people in power are mealy-mouthed platitudes of the sort that are now nauseating and a depressing replay of "diplomatic parleys." Why is it that no-one is addressing the immediate term? What is going to be done about co-ordination between agencies? No one addresses these practical issues. Would not creating an "Indian FBI" exacerbate these co-ordination issues? I mean, if the existing agencies could not co-ordinate, how do expect more (especially with a chip on their shoulders) to act collectively?

Why isn't anyone talking about implementation of existing laws instead of "more stringent" laws? Do we even realise what we are signing away with these new laws? If some of the newspaper reports are relied on, the burden of proof has shifted to the accused. I shudder to think of the nature of abuse that this can be put to, especially by the unscrupulous, scumbag political class. 180 days imprisonment if investigation is not completed- Why? Surely, under existing penal laws, an extension in remand can be sought on legitimate grounds.

Has anyone ever researched the issue of implementation of laws in India? This has got to be the problem...As you have pointed out, I dont think I want my country to become a regressive/oppressive regime just so that it can protect the citizens.

About the issue on "alienation", I really dont know how this would ever happen...the best way would be to increase awareness- but in a divided society like ours, where education is collecting degrees not opening minds, I hope to see it happen.

Hope alls well with you. Its a great thing that you have started blogging!! Love the entries, writing and relevance.

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