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War on error

As far as terrorism is concerned, there’s only the government’s side of the story and everyone has to fit that version of events, writes Soumitro Das.

books Updated: Feb 26, 2010 22:50 IST

Evidence of Suspicion

Amitava Kumar
Picador India
Rs 350 || Pg 223

This book tells us how the mainstream media in India systematically misrepresent, deal in half-truths and tell outright lies while reporting on the ‘war on terror’. No newspaper gave us the details, as this book does, of the circumstances of the arrest of S.A.R. Geelani, Lecturer in Arabic at a Delhi college, in connection with the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. To think that Geelani was actually sentenced to hang for a crime he had never committed.

Afzal Guru, another accused in the case, could not get a lawyer of his choice. The court-appointed lawyer never turned up. A second lawyer was appointed but she didn’t take instructions from her client and accepted documents without proof. Afzal himself submitted four names of lawyers, but they all refused to appear for him. The lawyer who was then chosen by the court said he wasn’t eager to appear for Afzal and the latter, too, expressed his lack of confidence in him. But this was the lawyer Afzal had to stay with.

One has to present the other side of the story in the interest of objectivity. But as far as terrorism is concerned, there is no ‘other side’; there is only the government’s side of the story and everyone has to fit the government’s version of events.

Kumar’s book is about the missing ‘other side’, the side that is known to the world in videotapes of a virulent Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, or the bland denials of those charged with terrorism. Kumar tells the story of those accused of terror and he challenges the given representation of the terrorist. He tells two stories: that of Hemant Lakhani, which we may call ‘Portrait of the terrorist as a bumbling fool’; and of Miran Siraj, the ‘Portrait of the terrorist as a sucker’.

The media and the government want us to believe that the terrorist is a robotic destruction machine, without qualms of conscience, perfectly objective, without self-doubts, killing and destroying in a rage that is all the more terrifying for being mechanical. Kumar shows us the terrorist as a human being. He talks about the 26/11 terrorists being overwhelmed by the luxury and modernity of the Taj, which reveals their provincial origins.

He also talks about the tape presented in court in which Siraj can be heard saying that he does not want to be the one planting the bomb and that he would have to take his mother’s permission before committing himself to certain actions.

Kumar writes of the entrapment of Lakhani, who was convicted of selling a shoulder-fired missile to a terrorist organisation, in which he is represented as being worth $300 million. The truth is that he didn’t have any money of the kind required to be an illegal arms trader. Even the weapon was smuggled into the United States by the FBI. All Lakhani did was talk big and make anti-American statements to impress what he thought was a client but was actually an FBI informant.

This is a war about representations, about images and their meanings, about imagination against power. Which is why art, the possibility of exploring the unstated, or the suppressed, is so important. Kumar talks of the videos and the books produced after 9/11 and how they challenge the official notions of the war on terror, about how they underline the injustice of it all.

Evidence Of Suspicion is a must read for all those who suspect that we aren’t being told the truth about the war on terror, whether that war be the American-led one against al-Qaeda or the Indian one against Kashmir-related terror.

Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer

First Published: Feb 26, 2010 22:45 IST