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New version of Cronus

Terrorist groups attacking its own cadre remind one of Cronus, writes Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2005 18:53 IST

In ancient Greek mythology, Cronus, the son of Uranus and Gaia and the youngest of the twelve Titans, was known for (besides castrating his father, ruling justly and giving birth to the senior gods) his atrocious habit of devouring and swallowing his own children. In recent weeks and months, we saw terrorist groups carry out actions, which remind one of Cronus. The IRA in Northern Ireland, Kashmiri terrorists in Kashmir, FARC in Columbia, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Hamas in Palestine, Chechnyn separatists in Chechnya and so on and so forth have devoured their own. Let us look at some of the recent incidents and try to figure out why they do so and what could be done about it besides condemnation.

First, some details on the instances are necessary. For example, Kashmiri separatist militants shot dead a grandmother, mother and her infant daughter after the child's father, a former Kashmiri separatist rebel, surrendered to Indian security forces. This form of going after your own is quite common in Kashmir. It is only through a culture of fear that they need to inculcate. Whether it be forcing women to wear the hijab or to ethnically cleanse Kashmiri Pandits or to threaten passengers on the bus, or to kill innocents, it is much easier to go after the easier targets that do not fight back. The terrorists know fully well, that what they did was “bad”. This is one of the reasons, why nobody came forward to claim responsibility for the murders of the surrendered militant’s family. Threatening the bus by the militants was also a massive counter-productive move and smacks of desperation. The thought of their people actually wanting to go their own way is dangerous.

The sisters and fiancée of Robert McCartney alleged that IRA members were involved in the killing of Robert McCartney. Very strangely, after the IRA was lambasted across the world and Ireland, they tried to make amends by offering to polish off the murderers. Well, one is thankful that kneecapping was not involved. It is well known that the British State’s writ does not run that far in some of these areas. The cult of fear is so strong, that despite the presence of tens of people, not even one person has come forward willingly, to talk or testify about the murder. It was the amazing courage and persistence of the women, which finally managed to get the IRA on the defensive. While saluting their courage, I am afraid it is very doubtful that the IRA will give up the guilty men. The fear aspect is far too important for them to maintain control over the general population and thus give birth to the seeds of their irrelevance.

Then we have the situation in the Gaza strip. A group of Hamas gunmen shot and then mutilated the body of a woman out of a car, where she was travelling with her husband, her sister and his brother (who were engaged to be married as well) after spending a lovely day on the seaside. The two brothers were beaten up. Why? Well, apparently the gunmen suspected “immoral behaviour” and the seniors of the Hamas family called it an “honour killing”. Hmmm, fascinating! The pathologically sick perpetrators are never going to be brought to justice and the poor girl’s death is going to remain in vain and only for some seriously stupid and moronic concept of moral behaviour.

Last week, Tamil Tiger rebels killed a Tamil government-official in eastern Sri Lanka, who had refused to hang up the photograph of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the head honcho of the LTTE. The government official concerned was shot four times while riding his motorcycle. All that because he did not want to put up Prabhakaran’s photograph in his office. Again, it was solely the cult of fear that the gunmen wanted to portray. If a bureaucrat, for crying out loud, a measly bureaucrat decides to remove Prabhakaran’s photograph, then what about the rest of the people? What happens to the objective of Tamil Eelam?

Columbia is one of the most dangerous states in the world right now, with right wing paramilitaries and government soldiers battling a vicious Marxist insurgent group. Drug fuelled and with no presence of the state over vast swathes of territory, extra-judicial killings are rife. On April 11, a legislator, his sister, and driver were sprayed with bullets near Valencia. His crime was to belong to the liberal party and to ask for a reduction in armed attacks with requests for ceasefires. The suspicion has fallen on the leftist guerrillas. Will anything happen? Very doubtful!

In Iraq, Abu Musab el Zarkawi’s gang and the rest of the Sunni militants have done the same. The terrorists frequently attack the Iraqi soldiers, police, bureaucrats, ministers, and politicians; considering them to be collaborators and traitors. These Sunni terrorist groups are desperate to kill Shia’s to fire up a civil war and regularly blow up mosques. Ok, fine, in an extremely twisted way, it does make sense to see them as enemies. However, how do they explain killing barbers whose sole fault was to cut beards or to trim hair according to a “western” style? Hmm, what is next? Killing people who use the Internet, because the Americans invented it?

How about not using medicines, because the pharmaceutical company who has the patent was American or (goodness me, shock, horror, awe) Jewish? (You think that is far fetched? It did happen in Nigeria with the Polo inoculations!) However, we are not interested in their illogical and mad justifications, but more in their way of controlling people through fear.

I should point out that largely; security forces are no angels either. In many cases, they treat the population with disdain and frequently carry out human rights abuses. In many cases they also do treat civilians badly. As we all know, one of the main reasons is that terrorists are indistinguishable from the civilians and that is their best form of camouflage. So when they chuck a grenade at a security patrol in the middle of a crowded bazaar, not only do civilians get killed as collateral damage, but the wild return fire hits the civilians as well. ‘Cordon and Search’ sessions are also frequently biased towards civilians.

Why do terrorists mistreat and devour their own people? It is a difficult phenomenon to explain. Logically speaking, the terrorist groups would protect their own, but their logic works in a different manner. There is a certain method to their madness and this has to be understood clearly. Terrorist groups sit on top of a layered pyramid. The top layer comprises of the actual militants. The next layer includes the active sympathizers, the third layer are the inactive or ad-hoc sympathizers and finally the large general population who want to be left alone or due to events – may progress into the upper echelons. This last group is the feedstock. If the feedstock is drawn away from the terrorist groups, then they wither or die. They may thrash about, but they will die if their bedrock feedstock is removed.

Usually this core bedrock group, the Kashmiri Muslims, the Palestinians, the Northern Irish, the Tamils, etc. etc. are driven by the identification with the cause. This could be separatism, religious causes, caste, gender, political ideology, or what have you. The normal equilibrium state of a group of people however, is the pursuit of happiness, work, live and let live. Ideologies are good and fine for a period, but after some time, all that the people want to do is to live in peace. That is where the control starts slipping and the terrorist groups start devouring themselves. Fear of the gun is a very big factor in keeping their people in control.

The second rationale is that the rule of law has broken down severely. Since it has broken down as such, these terrorist groups establish their own rule of law, which may or may not be good. As we have seen, their idea of a rule of law is mob rule, jungle rule, anybody who has an AK 47 and can swagger, becomes Judge Dredd. They decide, try, and sentence people based on their own twisted sense of justice. In disturbed areas, states have a devil of a time trying to sort this out and apply judicial processes, but this is perhaps the most potent weapon against these terrorists. The rule of law as enshrined in the Constitution or legal corpus will show the general population that the state exists and these terrorists are nothing but murderers and petty criminals, who are hiding behind a veneer of ideology to commit crimes.

The third rationale flows from the second. It is because they want to clearly differentiate themselves from their enemy; their idea of justice, morals and ideology is as different as possible from that of the opposing state. Consequently, they would seriously and consciously try to push and establish acts, guidelines, and standards of behaviour and actions, which are as different as that from the state. As we have seen, it’s quite easy to justify, based upon weird and incomplete readings of religious books and strange ideology, which only makes sense in their minds.

The final rationale, as we have seen repeatedly, is that it’s much easier to go after their own people who are unarmed, unable to gather protection from a just rule of law and have to live within the same society as that of the terrorists. Going up against trained soldiers is a bit of a more risky matter, so it is by far easier to go about stamping on poor unarmed civilians who cannot fight back. When the pressure starts building up by the security forces, they start thrashing around and one can see incidents such as this increasing. In addition, if there is a cease-fire or peace, what will these gunmen do? Go back to becoming farmers, cobblers, or civil servants? Nope, all they know is the gun and it’s to the gun that they turn to.

How can one stop it? As I mentioned before, the only way to stop this kind of non-judicial killing is to strengthen the rule of law. This should be done at all levels, starting from local police stations staffed with hopefully non-corrupt police officers to district courts, to state and national courts to finally the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yes, I know that many countries have not ratified the ICC, but in the end, every country will sign up to it. There is nothing like threatening a sponsor state with an ICC lawsuit to make it disgorge criminals and terrorists in their maw. While saying that, the current ongoing process with Sudan is very important, all I have said above about the ICC may well be a pipe dream. Having a rule of law will have multiple benefits, it will not only hope to stop situations like the above from happening, but also start rebuilding the defences of the state against terrorist groups. Arthur J. Goldberg said: “Law not served by power is an illusion; but power not ruled by law is a menace which our nuclear age cannot afford.”

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: Sep 02, 2005 00:00 IST