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Terrorism and Extremitis: To Halt Terrorism, We Must Avoid Stepping Into the Polarisation Trap Set by It

By Chetan Bhagat

June 13, 2017

Quick question. What is common to the following cities – Brussels, Istanbul, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Orlando, London and Manchester? Well, apart from being prominent, affluent global cities, they have all been subject to major terror attacks linked to Islamic State (IS).

These attacks together have claimed hundreds of innocent lives. They have also created fear in the minds of millions of people. Cities like Paris and London are expected to be safe. If terrorists can carry out missions in the top first world cities, what hope is there for the rest of the world?

In fact, since June 2014, when ISIL proclaimed itself to be the Islamic State, it has ‘conducted or inspired’ over 70 terrorist attacks in 20 foreign countries according to a running count by CNN. These countries do not include its home base of Syria and Iraq, where thousands more have died in terrorist atrocities.

India has suffered from terrorism. So has Pakistan. And it turns out, now the first world too is not immune.

Thus, there seems to be no solution in sight. In many countries, terrorism does become a political issue. However, it tends to polarise and divide people more rather than bringing them together to solve the problem.

The issue of terrorism today has become yet another casualty of extremitis, a disease endemic to the era of the internet. Today, on social media, it is extremely difficult to be heard if you have a balanced, practical or nuanced approach to solving any problem.

Things are either ‘amazing’ or a ‘disaster’. Modi is either loved or hated. Trump is either ‘100% right’ or ‘completely stupid’. You are either a ‘patriot’ or an ‘anti-national’.

The argument that every situation might have pros and cons is considered a weak one. Truth and facts are irrelevant. Reason and logic don’t matter.

What matters are your feelings, and which side you are on. Welcome to extremitis, the nasty by-product of mass social conversations.

The same social media that was expected to open minds and expose people to various points of view, is now the world’s biggest polariser. The issue of terrorism is no exception.

Extremitis suggests that terrorism can only be one of two things. One, it is ‘completely the fault of Islam’, and hence ‘Muslims should be banned’. On the other side of terrorism extremitis are the ultra-liberals. They believe ‘these terror attacks are not related to a particular religion’ and those claiming otherwise are ‘Islamophobes’ and ‘racists’.

This extremitis generates a lot of noise and juicy headlines. It doesn’t really solve anything. Meanwhile, IS’s ever-expanding footprint reaches new cities and perpetrates new atrocities.

We need to stop getting polarised over terrorism. It is not a right-wing or a left-wing issue, but affects us all. And while terrorism doesn’t have a religion, there’s no denying that IS, the most active global terrorist organisation at present, follows radical Islam. Hiding this truth in the name of political correctness doesn’t help anyone either.

The (mis)use of Islam in recruiting terrorists means the Muslim community at large, and Islamic countries in particular, have to play an active part in solving the problem. Radical Islamic organisations are able to generate funds for their activities. To counter them, strong moderate Islamic organisations need to be created and funded by governments around the world as well. These modern, moderate, liberal Muslim organisations may not have guns, but they need to be prominent and influential enough to stand up to their fundamentalist counterparts.

Also, Islam is the only religion where over a dozen countries are officially Islamic. Many of them are not democracies, and fundamentalists have a big say in how these countries are run.

This complicates the problem, and is perhaps the reason why radical Islamic terror has thrived far more than that of other religions. However, the rest of the world has to get together and put pressure on these countries, through diplomatic, economic or other means, to have a zero tolerance policy on terrorism.

Holding fundamentalist beliefs may well fall within the parameters of religious choice. However, when innocent people get hurt, all bets are off.

Many of these Islamic countries have strict zero tolerance laws against narcotics for instance, and are successful in keeping their countries drug free. Similarly, they have to commit to zero tolerance against terrorism.

Back home in India too, we have to do the same. Terrorism is a hard problem to counter. Only a zero tolerance approach works. To that extent, all our home-grown terror apologists (the types who say terrorists ‘were just misguided youth’) should be condemned.

These solutions do not amount to asking for a ‘Muslim ban’ or labelling a religion as evil. At the same time, they don’t pussyfoot around the issue in the name of political correctness either.

The solution to terrorism will not come from one extreme point of view, but from somewhere in the middle, using logic and reason.

It is time we take a break from extremitis, and work to solve a huge problem and make the world a safer place.


DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.