Traversing a flat, divided world
Travel broadens the mind. It also flattens the world, and not only in the manner that Nandan Nilekani had meant when he referred to technology-driven globalisation levelling the playing field between the North and the South. It reveals that in a globalised world, North and South tend to venerate the same gods and fear the same demons. The flavours of the season are security and its dark doppelganger, fundamentalist terrorism.
I was in Istanbul on Monday, watching a drama unfold on television that I had already seen six months earlier. Three people — including a policeman and a bystander — died in the city in a five-hour firefight between police and members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP), who were accused of planning ‘sensational attacks’. A ‘terrorist’ was killed but everyone else escaped through a watertight police cordon.
In the last few weeks, Turkey has been cracking down on what Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler referred to as “extreme leftist, separatist and radical groups”. But that was not how the young militants were initially described. The first rumour on the street was that they were Islamic activists, and this version even found its way into international television. An outlandish claim, in a land which is 99.8 per cent Muslim, where a Muslim can only target fellow Muslims. Also, it does not sit easily with Guler’s description of his targets as leftist radicals. The notion of a Maoist mullah is too weird to bear scrutiny. Until the encounter, very few people had even heard of the KWP, which is simply a minority group, not defined by religion. And yet the ‘Islamist’ myth got airtime initially because it fit neatly into the clash of civilisations theory, the dominant globalised myth.
Last September, we had seen a similar story unfolding in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar. Though a senior policeman lost his life, like in the Istanbul incident, the encounter proved to be extremely controversial and even today, despite the police producing confessions and supporting evidence, public opinion remains divided. The only point of difference is that the Indian mujahideen, which was targeted in Jamia Nagar, is indeed an Islamist organisation.
Though India and Turkey are 4,500 miles apart, they are remarkably similar. Like the Indian leadership at the time of Independence, Kemal Ataturk was determined to define his nation as a secular State accommodating minorities. Like the Indian police, the Turkish security forces do not have a brilliant human rights record, especially in dealing with minorities. And just like in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, the people of Istanbul were politely sceptical of the authenticity of the shootout in their city.
So perhaps the world is indeed flat. At the same time, perhaps it is divided, but not in the manner that Samuel Huntington had imagined. The world is divided into cultures which can accept that terrorism is born out of obvious inequalities, and those which seek more dramatically satisfying answers such as the Western notion of the Muslim other. Istanbul quickly rejected the latter because the city is predominantly Muslim. The Indian reality is more complex, but I wish we had the sense to keep Western myth-making at arm’s length. The answer to terrorism, whether Islamist or Maoist, lies in the even-handed State, where minorities are neither appeased nor attacked.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
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- According to Indian agencies, the JeI has maintained that J&K is a disputed territory.
- There is a cost difference of about 25-30 per cent in containers made in India and abroad.