Terror attacks have the West paranoid, and India could follow suit | columns | Hindustan Times
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Terror attacks have the West paranoid, and India could follow suit

Terror attacks and massacres such as the one in Las Vegas last week have pushed people in Europe and the United States to the edge. And social media is only fuelling this fire

columns Updated: Oct 08, 2017 17:23 IST
Shashi Shekhar
People light candles during a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, remembering the 58 people killed in Sunday's shooting in Las Vegas on October 1.
People light candles during a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, remembering the 58 people killed in Sunday's shooting in Las Vegas on October 1.(AFP)

As soon the flight from Delhi to Ranchi took off, I noticed that two youngsters sitting on the opposite ends of my row were silently gesturing to each other. Doubts began creeping into my mind. Were they using some secret language to communicate? If they were travelling together, they should ideally be seated next to each other: Not on extreme ends of a row of seats. Could it be that they had other accomplices and they were, through the use of gestures, trying to carry out a conspiracy? Discomfiture was writ large on the faces of others seated near them.

Oblivious to this discomfort, the youngsters kept on raising and lowering the window shades and fidgeting in their seats. They would occasionally straighten out the tray table only to push it back. Both were wearing identical Pathani suits and sported stubbles. If we were on a flight in a western country, we might have been coerced into making an emergency landing. Large-scale terror attacks and massacres have made the people in Europe and the United States paranoid. Thankfully India is yet to reach that stage.

I had forgotten about this experience, which took place a few months ago, but last week’s carnage in Las Vegas has prised out this memory from the dark recesses of my mind.

The manner in which a 64-year-old man killed 59 people at a music concert in Las Vegas is frightening. The Islamic State was quick to claim responsibility for carrying out the attack but American authorities have denied it. You may recall that initially the responsibility for the 2013 Boston bombing was similarly not acknowledged because the arrogance of the American government cannot accept that their State apparatus has proved to be a failure so easily. People in United States are saying that the easy availability of firearms in this superpower nation is wreaking havoc on its citizens. That Americans should consider firearm regulation. They themselves provide an answer to the question about how one man could carry out such a big massacre. A crazed murderer similarly gunned down 77 people in Oslo on July 22, 2011. Here you should keep one thing in mind. Had the mass murderer been a Muslim, social media warriors wouldn’t have had to work hard to spin imaginary conspiracy theories. A few people have begun to view terrorism through the prism of religion. This tendency points to the bigger danger of social conflict.

Whichever way the reality of Vegas turns out, the fact is that the path to social harmony is fraught with dangers these days. We are living with wolves among us, it appears. Whether in the name of religion or owing to individual frustrations they are bent upon taking people’s lives. Intelligence agencies call such people associated with terror groups as lone wolves. But how do you classify mass murderers such as Stephen Paddock, the accused in the Las Vegas massacre?

These attacks have set the cat among the pigeons in the West. Western superpowers are in a state of shock. They are the ones who taught people how to lead comfortable lives after the industrial revolution. Then why is the West being targeted, they wonder. They don’t know what to do.

Distressed governments in Europe and the United States are cutting back on social welfare schemes and raising the budgets for national defence. This can lead to other complications. Already battling with the problems of migration, separatism, economic inequality, social contradictions and numerous other tensions, these bloody massacres have shaken western society to the core and made them jittery. Somebody or the other on a train, bus or aeroplane raises an alarm looking at a Sikh or an Arab. Pilots are forced to make emergency landings even as trains and buses are stopped for security checks.

Fanning the fires of anxiety and distrust, the social media have emerged as a dangerous device. Purveyors of terror such as the Daesh and al-Qaeda have capitalised on it in a big way. This terrible pattern was repeated in Las Vegas. Even as the bloodbath continued, social media were abuzz with rumours. The murderer was identified wrongly and baseless stories spread. Even ‘Google search’ inadvertently played a part in this. This is the flip side of excessive use of technology.

In August, when 50 Nobel Prize winners were asked during a survey what will lead to the end of Earth, one of the answers was Facebook. In social media, have we given birth to a demon that has the power to burn everything down?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan

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