Monday, August 07, 2006

The Art of Living in Terror

The Art of Living in Terror

Ali Asghar Kazemi
August 7, 2006


Close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself in Lebanon, Beirut; Israel, Haifa, Iraq, Baghdad; Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bali, Rouanda, Mombay… Where else you want to fly the bird of your imagination? Moscow, New York, London, Madrid… for business, vacations, holiday, tours… at the theater, at the seaside, in the subway, in nightclub, in a restaurant, supermarket…? No matter who you are, where you might be, what you may be doing, when … at any moment of time and any where your very existence and life might be exposed to some kind of terror and violence.

To be more explicit, these days the chances that you get killed or injured by some unexpected terror attack or be arrested without much explanation have become very high. It does not really matter for what reason, purpose or cause, legitimate or not, the fact is that we are constantly exposed to unpredicted peril. This is indeed a terrible situation that we, modern peoples of 21st century, are experiencing. Indeed, life has become an art and we seem to have no other choice than to continue our daily activities in permanent state of alert, unless we choose to live in hermit condition.

The sad thing is that states and political entities equally live in the same vulnerable conditions as individuals. In fact, the Hobbesian “State of Nature” where the rule of jungle governs the fate of all is now the predominant condition in the world and whoever is more cruel or more powerful determines the fate of the others. This is why states that feel threatened in this hostile surrounding are doing every thing in their capacity to protect their survival from the unexpected dangers of this harsh environment.

When we read with astonishment the history of the past centuries about wars that lasted thirty and even hundred years, we wonder how peoples of warring states lived in those days. The two world wars of the twentieth century lasted only few years but left millions of deaths and injured. As means of hostilities became more and more sophisticated the duration of wars got shorter but bloodier and casualties increased. With the advent of weapons of mass destruction WMD, including nuclear, biological and chemical armaments, we reached the threshold human tolerance and an unavoidable halt had to take place through international treaties in order to save mankind from complete annihilation. But, in the midst of this stalemate, a new kind of war –terrorism- emerged with all its vicious and cruel misdeeds and tactics.

Terror and terrorism have existed throughout the history of human civilization. Despite its long history, terrorism and low-level violence associated with religious movements are more recent phenomena. In the past, despotic rulers used terror as a means to subjugate their own people. The post-revolutionary France has passed through the trauma of Robespierre’s terror. The memory of systematic state terror in Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany and other dictators is still alive.

But today this dimension of terrorism has changed drastically. We are now witnessing the tremendous spread of a new face of terror, associated with violent behavior of religious extremists, whose cruel actions and drive to cause extensive bloodshed, go beyond sane imagination. This phenomenon is described as one of the sad paradox of our time; the myth of “romantic revolution” whose promoters are the ideologues, whose dupes are the young and idealistic and whose victims are the weak and the little men, the children, the old and defenseless.

With the advent of sophisticated communications and relations among nations, terrorism, whether directed toward states or individuals, has gained new dimensions and consequently attracted the attention of world public opinion. It has also provided appetizing food for mass media around the world and hence incentive for terrorists to gain reputation through wide publicity. Unlike the past when conventional media, such as radio and television broadcast and newspapers could limit the propaganda impact of terrorism, today the internet has become a rather uncontrollable, easy and handy tool for murderer to expose their horrifying acts to the public around the world. We have seen with revulsion the shocking video clips showing the act of beheading of innocent people in Iraq.

In recent years, especially after the American military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorists have gone to the extreme by conducting suicidal attacks against their targets. Of course, we shall not forget the suicide attacks against embassies and troop’s headquarters of Western powers around the world before that period; among which militia actions in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Argentina… are the most notorious. Despite extreme precautionary security measures, these operations and the likes are still being carried out by terrorists, for the purpose of gaining attention of the media, intimidating an opponent or toppling a shaky and weak government. The present Iraq is an ill-fated example of such daily occurrence.

We are living in a dangerous world no prophet ever predicted. The spread and magnitude of terror activities have made all nations very vulnerable. What happened in New York, London and Madrid can occur at any time and any where without discrimination. Terrorists have already demonstrated that they can achieve disproportionately large effects in world order with a relatively small number and limited capacity for violence. They have caused widespread alarm, compelling governments with a clear preponderance of conventional military power to negotiate with them, to grant them concessions or simply to back down with humiliation.

Thus far all endeavors to effectively deal with this kind of terrorism seem to have failed. It is not quite clear how the world should approach this evil of the 21st century. Use of force and naked power has proved to be inefficacious. It would be rather hard to believe that terrorism may be uprooted for good in the years to come. Perhaps we should think of some unconventional means to contain this unusual phenomenon called terrorism.

Living in peace and quiet for individuals and states has become an art for which we are not so much prepared. However, we behave by our instinct and perhaps, from a psychological standpoint, we as human being or state, end up to cohabitate with this awful situation and gradually get used to terror and violence and just become more conscious of our vulnerable condition and do whatever we can to protect ourselves from unforeseen occurrences here and there./


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