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Faces of terrorism

Condemnation of terrorism or the death of innocent people should be unequivocal, writes Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2005 20:00 IST

A little known side alley in the vast panoply of terrorism related “root cause” analysis and literature is the blame put on mass tourism. I bet you are reading this and going, “eh?” Well, I kid you not, gentle readers. According to some mass tourism is to blame for suicide bombings. The theory goes something like this: the victims of suicide bombings in New Delhi, India; Sharm-al-Sheikh, Egypt and Bali, Indonesia deserved all they got, because they were citizens of rich nations behaving loutish and boorish in these places, mad consumerist and essentially foot-soldiers of the evil capitalist, unequal global trading system of western regimes. Here’s a poke in the eyes for this very dangerous and silly reasoning.

When I started researching this, it was hard not to laugh at the hugely torturous (il)logical reasoning that was given behind this claim. A fascinating mixture of anti-capitalism, Marxism, shreds of “victims being culprits” and “boohoohoo victimisation syndrome”. The more I read about it, the more I figured that there was something wrong when ordinarily smart analysts and commentators suddenly take leave of their senses and start banging on about how mass tourism actually encourages terrorism and how the victims are to blame. This is an extreme example of how twisted some analysis becomes when victims of terrorism suddenly are turned to being the perpetrators. This is where people start confusing law, economic systems, patterns of living, culture, religion, and everything.

Several aspects need to be addressed in this overall issue. First is how people wilfully confuse terrorism. As we have mentioned several times before, what matters is how terrorism is defined in the statute books and more importantly, whether the country can afford to make this crime stick. Mauritius may define terrorism as including any state which attacks another country without UN authorisation, but I don’t think it will declare war on USA for going to war in Iraq or put President Bush on trial. See what I mean? Common sense and practicality should rule! So, the bottom line is, when all those poor innocent tourists in Sharm or Bali were killed, they were killed illegally and by Jove, Australia, Indonesia, USA and Egypt do have the power to lock them up.

Secondly, there is no moral equivalence. Condemnation of terrorism or the death of these innocent people is and should be unequivocal. It does not matter whether the victims were tourists, surveyors, businesspeople, NGO workers or what have you. How does it matter? It does not! For people to qualify the condemnation by pointing at these victim’s occupation or activities is plain and simple silly.

Third, how is Mr. Joe Bloggs sunning himself on the beach in Bali or Sharm connected with mass tourism? Mr. Joe Bloggs comes to Sharm or Bali because it is cheap, cheerful and has lots of sun and sand. So the idea is that Joe Bloggs can be knocked off because he is interested in saving some money and desires to enjoy some beach holiday? I find the reasoning bizarre. Does this mean that we shouldn’t go for cheap flights and inexpensive holidays? The people in New Delhi were shopping for the festival of lights, one of the most important days in the Indian calendar. Some were shopping for Eid. Hmm, so I shouldn’t buy clothes or a new oven? Does this mean I am a consumer? Does this mean that people should stop travelling? Stop purchasing stuff? What? The mind boggles.

Fourth, the poor chaps were there for a holiday and the last thing anyone connects with while on holiday is their own country’s foreign policy. So the foul beards went after these vacationers because of the country issuing their passport? And just how was this these vacationer’s fault? Strange indeed are the thought processes of these terrorists; but more importantly, these analysts are even more bizarre. If I, as a British Citizen, go off to Bali and get my legs blown off, just how is that going to change the foreign policy of the UK? Or why is it my fault that Tony Blair is sending troops to Iraq? Ah! Now, I know! This thinking is along the same lines as “Jesus was killed by the Jews”, or “the world media is controlled by the Jews” or “US policy is driven by the Jews” and with predictable results like Hitler’s final solution and Ahmadinejad’s remark that Israel should be obliterated. Sounds like a great idea to me. No?

Fifth, the international tourist industry is fungible. While these terrorists manage to kill a few hundred of tourists in a tangible way, they condemn millions of others in Egypt and Indonesia to a lingering poverty. This is one of the reasons why there was a riot in Bali when the local population wanted the jailed first Bali bomb perpetrators to swing. Guess what? The analyst’ as well as the terrorists’ ideology is rejected by the very people they call their own. But I forget, they are infidels, who are helping or working for companies and places which cater for westerners.

Sixth, income differentials as a driver for terrorism is such a ridiculous idea that I am hesitating to even comment on it. More importantly, it seems like Bali, Phuket, Sharm etc. are places which have been ‘tarted’ up to cater for the white, low class tourist. By the way, if one would really like to carry this argument forward, just what do the Gulf tourists do in Cairo? What do the Saudi tourists do in Dubai? I am sure they all come to Cairo and Dubai for the culture (big snort here). So how come we don’t have terrorist incidents against the tourists in Dubai?

I know this is a rant, but sometimes ranting is good for the soul. Sometimes I indulge myself when I am faced with a spectacularly stupid piece of analysis which is considered to be very good. Terrorism is terrorism! Death of innocent people is murder. Blaming mass tourism for terrorism is plain and simply wrong. Millions of people (yes, white and black, brown and yellow, all shades of people) get to see new places, enjoy their lives and they deserve to do so without some morons trying to blow them up, or worse, silly analysts trying to justify the tourist’s deaths on mass tourism. Closing with a very apt quote by Thomas Mann as suggested by my wonderful editor. Analysis as an instrument of enlightenment and civilization is good, in so far as it shatters absurd convictions, acts as a solvent upon natural prejudices, and undermines authority; good, in other words, in that it sets free, refines, humanizes, makes slaves ripe for freedom. But it is bad, very bad, in so far as it stands in the way of action, cannot shape the vital forces, maims life at its roots. Analysis can be a very unappetizing affair, as much so as death.

All this to be taken with a grain of salt!

(The opinion expressed herein are strictly the author's and do not reflect the positions, official or otherwise, of any firm or organisation, that the author is associated with at the present or has been in the past or may be in future. Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta, currently lives in the City of London and works there in various capacities in the Banking Sector.)

First Published: Dec 02, 2005 00:00 IST