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Terrorism and Radicalization- Different Twins

The essence of terrorism is to create terror through violence. It is aimed at employing violence in an unconstitutional manner without the checks and balances of a social contract. It is to employ arbitrary force on the victim to create fear in the minds of the others. Terrorism has goals. While radicalization may lead to terrorism, it is not terrorism per se. For something to be classified as terrorism actions have to be proved and not merely ideas. Ideas by themselves do not harm people. It is the implementation of certain ideas in practical form that leads to terrorism. To define terrorism, one has to look at violence as a problem in itself. Not merely as a symptom of perceived or actual injustice. Terrorism is recourse to action outside the politics of law. Terrorism is the opposite of organized violence of police, army and correctional officers. It has no checks and balances or constitutional authority to make people accountable for their actions. Terrorism by its very nature rejects constitutional authority. This makes it one of the most important security challenges of the 21st century.

The problem begins with the debate around human nature. The Hobbesian view of the world suggests that without a contract enforcing state, humans are self-interested, fearful and anarchic. Therefore, a leviathan has to be created which can ensure security, cooperation through constitutionally sanctioned organized violence with checks and balances. The resulting peace dividend can then be used for human progress. The politics and activities of the society can result in certain people being left behind by design or default. Terrorism borne out of grievances is the biggest challenge for policymakers. But giving it legitimacy would certainly lead to further disorder and in rare cases, chaos leading to more violence and instability. Policymakers therefore have to walk a fine line between following policies that reach the marginalized and neutralizing terrorism which seeks legitimacy on behalf of the former. The terrorist therefore with the benefit of initiative and nothing to lose, carries out frontal attacks on the polity in the name of justice thus looking to prolong the very same conditions of injustice that provides him/her legitimacy. Therefore, the failure of state to initiate policies to reach the marginalized or to mitigate injustice provides the rationale for terrorism to exist in the world. But existence is far from legitimacy. Terrorism’s biggest weakness is to employ violence in the name of justice. The debate about terrorism therefore is fundamental, ideological and elemental in many ways. Its existence is a challenge to human society and its principles of governance. Terrorism provides no answers. It uses violence in a reductionist manner to make a point. Modern day terrorists are willing to sacrifice their future and lives in pursuit of terrorism knowing very well that they cannot withstand confrontation with the armed forces of a state. Therefore, they look to influence the society in these states to draw attention to their cause. However, the constant in these debates is that they look to do this with the use of violence hoping that the international politics will allow their cause to be highlighted even after their deaths. Therefore, inter-state politics allow this unorganized violence to exist and to be used strategically against one another.

The problem of terrorism is reflective of the debates and problems of international law. Sovereignty and National jurisdictions make it difficult to capture terrorists without cooperation of the host state. Modern day states are loathe to allow foreign intervention in their domestic affairs. The terrorist with the starting point of ‘a willingness to sacrifice their lives for a cause’ has given up all individual agency, circumstantial or otherwise, to serve as a tool for individual, collective or state entities. States agencies therefore use these individuals in desperate conditions to employ them in unconstitutional activities for political goals.

Radicalization and Terrorism feed each other just as theory and practice inform each other. Radicalization is a trial and error tactic of circulating propaganda on a mass scale with the use of targeted interpretations of religious texts in a catchment area of large populations. Even a small number of brainwashed youth means that the radical groups are succeeding compared to nation states that have to take care of law and order on a scale of millions. The radical therefore does not have to win the battle. He merely needs to project that he is not losing. The way to separate truth from propaganda is to inculcate reason and critical thinking in formative years of education. Even developed societies are far from such a coherent implementation of education policies. As it is, the qualities of integrity and analytical judgment are intangibles which cannot be taught in short duration and require time and experience to be understood. Therefore, youth in unstable countries are particularly vulnerable to radicalization. The link between lack of education and terrorism is a complex one. Terrorism has been attributed to various causes ranging from injustice, poverty, state failure, authoritarianism, political interests and religious radicalism. The link between religion and radicalization is particularly strong because out of the three units of order- family, community and state, religion is the only force which has shown the organization and ability to penetrate all three even among educated, prosperous societies and countries. The effect therefore that it might have on uneducated poor individuals can be powerful. It gives them a purpose of both belonging to a particular community while simultaneously providing them an outlet to defy other communities due to political, religious and ideological reasons. The collective problem of good social behavior is complex for even well settled individuals. Therefore, young people are particularly vulnerable to religious propaganda. Countries which do not have an agreed upon constitution and robust mechanisms to resolve differences are sitting ducks against the force of religious fundamentalism. The mere questioning then is violently suppressed by self-appointed guardians of propriety. Reform proves too distant. The theories of radicalization proliferate and seeds of conflict are sown in the practical form of terrorism.

The role of state in regulating social forces becomes paramount through the three branches of government which have consistently proven to be strong bulwarks against such national security threats. The state does have governance and political failures. But the very fact that a constitution guarantees recourse to grievance redress is enough to deter majority of the people from violence in addition to the organized forces of police and army with constitutional checks and balances.    

The other challenge is when checks and balances on organized force do not work as they should and the propensity for injustice and marginalization increases. The politicians and constitution then become the most important agents of accountability on behalf of the state. A free press, an independent judiciary, fundamental rights and fundamental duties- all contribute in combating the problem of terrorism. The politicians though are fundamental against the fight against radical groups. Their role and more specifically speeches in peacetime are vastly under-rated in combating the propaganda of radicalism. Most political speeches are conventionally looked at as symbolic and tokenistic. An annual speech at the level of top leadership solely directed against radicalism should be tried by the concerned security agencies to blunt the radical propaganda. The use of local literature, common value systems, and common knowledge education systems is equally important. 

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Prateek Kapil
Associate Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]

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