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Global Terror The Challenge of Ideologies ^
L.M. Singhvi*

Way back, about twelve years ago, when I wrote a book called Freedom On Trial, I said that the greatest danger to constitutionalism, to democracy and to the rule of law in the world, is terrorism.1 At that time, terrorism was only trying to develop and to spread its wings in our country. But I already felt that constitutionalism was embattled and would be increasingly embattled by terrorism. I had also noted that the terror of terrorism is not only in the act, but in the ideology, the ‘ism’ which is added to terror. It is in that ideology of terrorism that the greatest threat of terrorism lies.

Understanding terrorism requires a multi-disciplinary approach. A time may come, though Ihope this does not happen, that terrorism will become a standard part of the curricula of the world. It can only be hoped that the threat recedes, and is no longer in such a commanding position that it should compel such attention. But over the past years, the shadow of the cloak and dagger of terrorism has become larger and larger. It has acquired an extended infrastructure; certain ideological underpinnings and intellectual support.

There are friends who have spoken of the causes of terrorism, which must command our attention as a priority. I agree that we must study the causes of terrorism. But that the intellectual enquiry into the causes of terrorism ought never to be allowed to be used to condone terrorism, to become an excuse, a justification, for terrorism.

There is always the abuse, the misuse of clichés, of ideas, of religious affiliations. There is always an issue, which lends itself to such intensity of feeling and such ‘fanaticisation’ that you may decide to look at it down the barrel of a gun, rather than confront it through dialogue. That is why the whole thesis that Huntington developed has a certain relevance, and I recall that, when I me him, he said, "This is not my prophecy. I pray that the scenario that I have portrayed will not come to pass." But then as a scholar he said, "I cannot possibly wish it all away." To avoid the scenario of the ‘clash of civilisations’ requires understanding; the carnage can be averted if civilisations begin to introspect. If civilisations began to understand their own ethos, they would not allow their adherents to be exploited for violence. No one particular religion, no one particular nation alone can be picked out to carry the blame for this. But their has to be a clear understanding in the world today that civilisation as we have known it will not survive unless we are able to face this problem with a sense of solidarity, with the armour and equipment of an effective international legal framework to fight terrorism, and with a strong sense of co-operation among the nations of the world to deal with this problem of terrorism. All this must be secured without compromising our basic sense of humanity, without loosing our sense of the ultimate objective of establishing an abiding and enduring peace in the world.

Terrorism is, first of all, a problem of the mindsets of individuals who claim to be aggrieved. In law, an aggrieved person brings his grievance to the court of law and seeks settlement by an impartial tribunal. A terrorist, however, is one who has lost faith in all existing systems of conflict resolution. But terrorism never resolves a conflict; instead, it creates new conflicts. Terrorism is an ideology that challenges freedom, the dignity of human beings, and the peace and order of societies. The possibility of civilisation itself is endangered by the threat of terrorism in the world.

We are, at this point, still to approach anything that can be considered a viable world solution to terrorism. What we do have is a solution offered by one big superpower, and others that have been articulated by many different individuals. The viability of these is still to be demonstrated.

What must, however, be understood and accepted in any effective strategy to confront terrorism is that the breeding grounds of terrorism have to be dealt with first. It is through ideology that terror acquires a certain credibility in the minds of man. This credibility is the source and basis of the fear that is inspired, the intimidation is inflicted on society. The acts of violence that are the hallmark of terror are propelled by an ideology, and this is what makes terrorism a dangerous weapon, a dangerous phenomenon. The ‘ism’ in terrorism is the real source of mischief in our time and age.

I think each case of terrorism is perhaps sui generis. Each area in the world has its own terrorists, many of whom call themselves freedom fighters. There is, of course, a valid argument that, sometimes, freedom requires a certain amount of agitated violence. India’s own freedom was not won merely by the Gandhian way. It was also won because people rose in arms against a colonial regime.2 After the second world war, when the United Nations charter was proclaimed to make the world safe for democracy and for freedom, it was hoped that the age of violence was approaching its end, but the United Nations was unable to match its promise with institutional provisions and modalities of a mechanism for peaceful resolution.

The result has been that many people develop a distorted, perverse view of what they believe is injustice. They lose their faith in the fabric of society, and this leads them to take up arms. When their actions acquire an ideological edge, when funds, training and arms are easily forthcoming, then the picture becomes more and more gloomy for the world.

I have studied many cases of terrorism in several countries, as also the various legislative provisions that have been enacted to come to grips with this menace. Legislation in countries like the United Kingdom have been made more and more stringent over the years. When the laws enacted in the early seventies were found to be unequal to the task, a new law was passed in the year 2000, and this British law is even more stringent than recent Indian ordinance, the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, 2001.

This is certainly something that concerns me, as one who has spent almost thirty-five years in the defence of human rights. But we must, first and foremost, understand that terrorism is the greatest violation of human rights. Many of us naively and mistakenly rose to the defence of the would-be terrorist and even of the terrorists, because we thought – mistakenly – that these were cases of human rights violations by the state. But this was far from the case, and as I went deeper and deeper into these issues, I found that there are certain aspects that every nation and the international community will inevitably have to address. The first relates to the problem of organisations that speak in the name of a religion or a political cause. But everyone can build up a fantasy world, based on various presuppositions and assumptions. Unfortunately these groups are not amenable to reason or to dialogue. Nevertheless, a world wide dialogue is constantly necessary to defeat the premises of terrorism, to challenge its assumptions and to belie it at every possible forum. Unless this is done, the ideological base of terrorism becomes stronger and stronger. This effort must also be accompanied by a comprehensive mission for the redress of real grievances. It is possible to look at situations of violence in a way that allows for the resolution of such problems, not on the basis of the propaganda that terrorist organisations unleash on the community, but on the basis of all the values in the civilised community places its faith, and which the terrorists reject. In this, however, we must guard against the danger of the terrorists using and abusing the machinery and freedoms of a civilised society to further their violent cause.

This is a persistent problem. These people speak in the name of ‘freedom’ though they violate the freedoms of others, and this needs to be acknowledged by the international community. Freedom is a beautiful word. It is a poetic, evocative word, one that captures the imagination, seizes the human mind. Byron says it beautifully: ‘Freedom’s battle once begun, bequeath’d from bleeding sire to son, baffled oft, is ever won.’ But the battle for freedom is the battle against terrorism. Terrorism has become Enemy Number One of freedom in every sense of the word. It is the greatest challenge today for humankind, for human dignity, and for justice. And there is not a single example in the entire world, of terrorism having resolved a problem, or having expanding the sphere of freedom

I recall that, when I negotiated a treaty of extradition with the United Kingdom, I told them that if they wanted to provide an exception in the name of those who are purportedly fighting for the cause of freedom, they might as well forget about the treaty, because it would be nothing more than a piece of paper, of no use in any given situation. Any one can claim to be a freedom fighter. It is easy. But freedom itself has to be protected from some of these freedom fighters. Eventually, the United Kingdom came around to accepting the exclusion of this alibi, excuse and defence against extradition in cases relating to terrorism and drug related offences. It is, indeed, now time to create one international convention of extradition, which should become the jus cogens3 of International Law, and which should be binding on all nations. This is one of the first imperatives for a comprehensive legal framework in the global war against terrorism. Unfortunately, there have been many obstructions, and we are yet to move significantly forward in this direction.

For years the International Law Commission struggled with the semantics of the definition of terrorism. Strange as it may seem they spent many hours, not very fruitfully, on something that is not all that complex and difficult. I have had discussions in Universities in America, in Britain and in India, and I can say this: lawyers and academics have one thing in common – we are experts at making simple things far more complex than they are. We refuse to see the realities of the ground situation, and as long as we persist in these attitudes, and deny the operative realities of terrorism, we will never arrive at a reasonable solution to the problem of evolving an international code against terrorism.

Three years ago I spoke at the United Nations General Assembly – it is a daunting experience to speak in that hallowed hall - and I said that if the problem of terrorism is not addressed at an international and global level, it will spread to countries that still remained blissfully oblivious to the dangers of terrorism for civilisation as a whole. The extraordinary and tragic events of September 11, 2001, have brought this reality into the reluctant consciousness of the world. Ours is a media driven society, and the media have now brought to the world’s attention the excesses, the atrocities, the inhumanity, and the indiscriminate brutality of terrorism. We cannot mince matters merely because there are ‘causes’ of terrorism – some assumed and some real; these cannot be accepted as justifications. The world will have to set its face against terrorism.

But the war against terrorism must be fought, not only with violence, but also with understanding. We must establish what the UNESCO Charter spells out: the defence of peace in the minds of men, women and children. The rising tide of violence in the world today is a result of our failure to do this. What has been done to create awareness among the people of the world, in whose name the United Nations Charter was proclaimed, and to prevent the world from being engulfed again in the scourge of war? What has been done to educate the minds of men and women during the fifty five years of the existence of the United Nations? UNESCO, indeed, was defunct for many years for want of funds. The United Nations is, for most of the time, deadlocked in fruitless semantic debates – the time I spent in the United Nations was really like going through a maze. Being a lawyer I enjoy mazes – we create our own where none exist. But being a citizen of the world, I found that we were overlooking the most pressing imperatives, ignoring challenges that confronted the world for years.

For the last nearly twelve years, I have raised my voice at human rights fora, arguing that we need a better reconciliation between human rights and the rule of law, on the one hand, and the battle against terrorism, on the other. I must say, there is now increasing understanding and appreciation of this point among human rights organisations. We must join forces. Civil society has a vested interest in both these objectives – the preservation of human rights and the battle against terrorism. And if we cannot provide a foundation – an ideological foundation, a conceptual foundation and an operational foundation – for such reconciliation, we will continue to remain bogged down in the semantics of terrorism, and will fail to deal with the problem of terrorism.

We need to go back to the roots of our respective civilisations, and to provide a massive cultural and educational plan for the world. All the relief camps and efforts that are being organised in Afghanistan cannot suffice – and some, at least, have suggested that part of the assistance that is being provided is in danger of being diverted into training camps for terrorists. The gigantic aid packages that are currently being devised may end up nurturing another Taliban. I say this not merely as an Indian citizen, but as a student of terrorism. A study of the anatomy and genesis of the Taliban, their organisation and operation, underline this danger.

It was not by Pakistan alone that the Taliban was conceived and delivered. This was the region that, at one time in recent history, had been transformed by the ‘Frontier Gandhi’, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, into a different kind of society, one that had completely rejected fundamentalism and communal politics. Yet, it was here that the Taliban were eventually reared and nurtured. Who did this, and why? Let us face the truth squarely. The Taliban is the child of two parents, the United States and Pakistan. It was one short-sighted, ad hoc policy devised by the US that created the Taliban. The United States had sown the wind; they have reaped the whirlwind.

The audacity of Taliban came later; it was their ideologies, their training and their camps that were set up long before. The harm these did can only be understood in personal histories, very few of which have actually been documented. I remember the case of one young student who had been admitted to the London School of Economics, a very bright student – to be admitted to the London School of Economics is itself a measure of your merit. This young student was born in Great Britain to Pakistani parents, whom I knew well. It was at the London School of Economics that the terrorist recruiters got to him. They took him to Bosnia, not so much to see the human conditions there, to understand the human predicament and tragedy, but to prepare him for training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The boy’s parents were deeply distressed that he had been recruited by the terrorists. Nevertheless, after being indoctrinated and trained, he flew from Karachi to Delhi, where he was able to induce a few foreign visitors to accompany him to a house that he had rented with money he received from the ISI. He travelled and I am speaking on facts which I know personally, which can be documented. This young man was trained in Pakistan was sent to Afghanistan, was Talibanised. and they were distressed that their son had been recruited by terrorists.

After having been indoctrinated he flew from Karachi to Delhi on a British passport. He was able to induce a few young foreign visitors to accompany him to a house, which he had rented with money he had received from the ISI. After this, he raised demands that the government should release some other terrorists then in custody if it sought the safe release of these foreigners. On this occasion, fortunately, the police – which is not usually credited with any great efficiency – was able to locate the house, free the hostages, and arrest the young man.

Here we see this young man taken by ISI on its payroll, given a ‘cause’ to fight for, provided training and resources. His imagination was fired. He thought he had become a soldier of a religion, which I respect very much, which is a part of the religions of my country. But this young man was recruited in the cause, not of religion, but of terrorism. I related his story in Britain, at London during a Press Conference. The London School of Economics4 was ‘hurt’. I was on their board of governors, and they communicated to me that the incident was giving the School a bad name. I told them it was not the School’s fault. It was important to disclose to the world how the recruiters work, how deep is their penetration, how money plays a part, the role of religious and ideological indoctrination, how networks of training, the supply of arms and resources have been established, and how our silence allowed a whole army of terrorists to be raised.

It is necessary to return, again and again, to the urgent need for a massive international initiative to reach the mindsets of people, to overcome intolerance and hatred, to neutralise the processes of ‘fanaticisation’ that increasingly afflict religions, and create the breeding grounds of terrorism. We have already witnessed the creation of Taliban I in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today, with large amounts of money are flowing into the same region, all the guns and arms that are still there – and may in fact be turned against India at a later date. I recall that Lord Tebbit, a member of the British House of Lords told me that his nurse, a young Afghan lady, told him that she began to handle a Kalashnikow at age thirteen. She had received the weapon as a gift from her father because it was very cheap – almost as cheap as a toy.

All those guns which were distributed, all those funds which was given by the United States at the time of its fight against Russia, have boomeranged today. But the writing on the wall seems to be illegible to American policy makers – and it is crucial to note here that the US is not only its own policy maker, it has become the policy maker of the world. I have spent many years of my life in that country and deeply admire it; I share their sorrow over the events of September 11. But when I see their policies, which threaten to carry the world to the brink and precipice of destruction, that encourage and nurture terrorism, my conscience revolts. Even now, it seems, they are unable to see that they are launching a new project that could breed Taliban II in Pakistan.

True, Pakistan is a ‘frontline state.’ The US needs Pakistan, and consequently gives it support. But Pakistan itself has been ‘Talibanised’ as a nation. This is unfortunate. These are my kith and kin, we share the same blood. But, willing or unwilling, they have become victims of these processes and have been Talibanised. As for General Pervez Musharraf, he is no longer in charge of public opinion. He leads a nation, he leads a military coterie, but he does not lead the nation today. A greater fanaticism has taken root in Pakistan, and while the very attractively packaged gifts and aid that Pakistan is receiving from the US may, in the short run, appear justifiable, the truth is, short run strategies are often short sighted.

We cannot win the battle against terrorism if we give up the long-term view, if we are unable to devise a common strategy to fight the ideologies of terrorism in the minds of men women and children. For this, we will have to develop a deeper understanding of terrorism and to learn from its recent history, particularly in this part of the world (South Asia). Unfortunately, it appears that the historians lament, "the only lesson of history is that we never learn any lessons from history’ is uncomfortably close to the truth.

This is a danger signal and a warning, not only for India, but for the entire world that is now being mobilised to join the coalition against terrorism. This coalition must have a framework, it must create a consensus. It will have to define a consistent short and long term agenda that is clearly committed to the creation of a lasting peace and global justice. Tribunals of adjudication will have to be established at the same time, to set the face of the world against terrorism in an unequivocal way.

It is imperative, finally, that the Muslims of the world are made to understand their own best interests, and, equally, that others are able to see current grievances and conflicts in a perspective different from the clash of civilisations. A dialogue of civilisations is the only alternative. But that dialogue will have to wait until some kind of peace is re-established in Afghanistan. The Pax Americana is still to crystallise, and the situation is far from clear. There were some who were talking of a ‘moderate Taliban’, a contradiction in terms that is laughable. But there is no dearth of the credulity in the department of state and the department of defence in the United States. Sadly, those who do not read the writing on the wall, pay a heavy price. Having paid the price, it is hoped that they will also learn the lesson.


^ Inaugural address delivered by Dr. L.M. Singhvi, on October 29, 2001
Dr. L.M. Singhvi is a distinguished Jurist and Member of Parliament. He served as India's High Commissioner to UK between _________ etc. __________.

  1. L.M. Singhvi, Freedom on Trial, New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1991, p. 11.
  2. Ibid., p. 12.
  3. Principles of international law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt to contract out of them through treaties. For example, genocide and participating in a slave trade are thought to be jus cogens. [Ed.]
  4. Quoting intelligence sources a news report has indicated that at least three persons linked to the Al Qaeda had studied at the London School of Economics (LSE). While two of the men are at large, the third was arrested in New Delhi in December 2001 for his alleged involvement in the December 13 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. The most prominent of the three is Omar Sheikh, who was released by the Indian government in the hostage swap in December 1999 consequent to the hijack of Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is now reported to be linked to the January 22, 2002 terrorist attack on the American Centre in Kolkata. Omar Sheikh, a Mathematics student at the LSE is also reported to have been one of the main financiers of Mohammad Atta, who piloted one of the aircraft that crashed into the World Trade Centre Towers on September 11, 2001. The other terrorist with an LSE background has reportedly been arrested by the Delhi Police in connection with the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament on December 13. Although his name is yet to be released but according to media reports quoting intelligence sources, he used to lecture Muslim students in 1993. The third man had reportedly enrolled for a computer course at the LSE in 1992. He allegedly recruited students for the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed. (Ed). Source: “Kashmiri militants find a haven in LSE”, The Times of India, New Delhi, January 27, 2002; “Kolkata attack accused were active in LSE terror hub”, The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, January 27, 2002.






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