J. J. Baloch
Media ‘construct’ about terrorism dominates the terrorism discourse and influences the public perception of terrorists. Such construct miss ground reality and actual truths about what actually makes terrorism. Bringing forth the most common and the most questionable stereotypes about terrorism and addressing fears as well as anxiety associated with it would help in building resilience in the society by refreshing public faith in their socio-political institutions.
In media representations, ‘construct’ dominates the reality. Stories, therefore, are presented to make them seem relevant to the everyday experience of the audience and to engage the audience’s emotions. ‘They begin buzzing the security laps issues, law enforcement limits and tragically glorify terrorist capability to damage and destroy leaving the public with least option to trust the society and state.’
As a police officer, we should not consider everyone as a terrorist. Our this attitude of doubting everyone when we fail to unearth actual facts due to our own limits and incapacities make public hate us. It is true beyond any doubt that terrorists come in many shapes and sizes. Most of the terrorists are young males with the only handful of females. It is most unlikely that all veiled women and the young men with the beard from any part of the Muslim world or Pakistan are terrorists, even if they are sometimes behaving in a suspicious manner. They are much more likely to be confused or ignorant of the rules, and that should be the assumption when police officers approach them. They should reserve their suspicions for those who most closely fit the terrorist profile. It is here counterterrorism get complicated, sensitive, and sometimes very taxing.
Similarly, all foreigners, immigrants, and internally displaced people living in slums are not criminals and terrorists. But most of us assume they are! This is a fundamentally flawed approach to assume all disadvantaged and immigrants people displayed due to war and disasters are or can be terrorists. However, it cannot be denied that they live in a very vulnerable environment as happy targets of terrorist conversions. But that never means those who have least or little tendencies to smile on violence may be forced to believe that they are bad guys because of the status and environs they are designed to live with by sheer default of destiny.
The major difference between approaches of terrorists and law enforcers in targeting the unwanted stuff in the society is that the terrorists are reckless and indiscriminate without any consideration of who and how many they are going to kill while on the contrary states behave responsibly as mothers of all souls flourishing within their bounds to learn the art of differentiating between good and bad guys.
Most of us are fancied that the terrorists are crazy, fanatics, mad, frenzied and blinded by blind faith in what they do as extremists. However, much we may disagree with the reasons for their actions, but we should remember that cold rationality guides much of terrorist behaviour. Like all organised criminals, they plan their acts carefully, they try to avoid capture, and they are determined to succeed at the cost of even their lives.
In our discussions in the back drop of suicide attacks we, the cops, get startled with the idea that the terrorists are eager to die. As we have discovered to our cost, some terrorists are willing to die for their cause. But many terrorists are careful with their lives. Not only do they have the same ambitions for success and happiness as everyone else, but they would prefer to escape and strike again rather than to fail and die. That is the reason perhaps why it took world powers long to catch Osama bin Ladin and same is true in the case of many notified terrorists and their leaders as Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.
We are also prone to imagine terrorists as evil geniuses. Not every terrorist has the mind of an Osama bin Laden. Most are ordinary, fallible individuals. They might plan their acts carefully, but they are engaged in a risky business. They cannot anticipate every setback and on occasion will be forced to improvise and take chances. Some of their decisions will lead them to fail and perhaps be killed. Most of them play robots. Here too we need to clear our mind. This, however, does not mean to underestimate their anything but fact remains that all are not geniuses.
We believe terrorists are strong and fear nothing. But believe you me they do fear. We also fear the emotional compositions of terrorists and are carried away by the constructed stories of their violence as the tales of their bravery. We also take them people with strong nerves who never lose their balances in the face of grave challenges. But had these assumptions been true then the terrorists would not have operated secretly, clandestinely, sometimes treacherously and unfairly against the values of humanity? During recent years it has been seen that when arrested they play very coward and disclose everything in the custody of law enforcement agencies. They have displayed very softer and cowardly in comparison of hardened criminals. Take the example of facilitators of charring cross Lahore suicide blast who revealed everything like a parrot. Similar are the other instances of terrorists in government custody.
In theory, terrorists are believed to have the capacity of striking anywhere, but in practice, they cannot. We have seen conserving their resources and striking where they are likely to achieve the greatest effect. If we think like terrorists we can anticipate their choices and act accordingly to protect the most vulnerable targets. There are very thin chances of terrorists attempting for impossible. Had this been true the terrorists would perhaps have destroyed many things but they cannot and hence they have not.
Many argue with strong assumptions that terrorists are unstoppable and all efforts of the government and the community are the waste of resources. But they are stoppable and there is nothing of this sort to not to prevent if proper policing initiatives are taken well in time. Mostly the history of terrorism has revealed that most of the terrorist groups last only one to two years before falling apart. There are many examples which have shown a substantial reduction in terrorist incidents and some types of terrorism like aircraft hijacking in the 1970s, embassy takeovers in 1080s, school buses kidnappings in 1990s are just a few examples. If we carefully study the steps that terrorists take to execute their targets then we find that when police intervene to make their aims and targets more difficult or risky and protect the targets that are most attractive, the terrorists have substantially been less successful in their nefarious designs.
We believe we can win the war on terror by minimising the chances of the success of terrorists. This too is our hallucination. Failing terrorists in achieving their targets do not qualify for claiming the elimination of the scourge of terrorism once and for all. This matches with the winning war on crime in which we succeed in displacing and reducing crime but we never ever claim a zero crime because of policing only. There is more to it which we all need to explore together for getting rid of terrorism.
We are also wrong in our assumption that the terrorists will not attack us with nuclear weapons. Terrorists can. The issue is not the nukes are not part of their planning but the problem is they don’t own them. While we look into terrorist innovations we find that Islamic State (IS) war strategy is quite different and in many cases opposite of Al-Qaida. IS hosts educated lot in its missions while Al-Qaida was without such brains with western education backgrounds. Madrassa stuff had dominated the show. However, Islamic State is also reported involved in social media operation and digital terrorism as well as in using chemical weapons of deadly nature in Syria and Iraq which are unresented before. Modern terrorist organisations are hunting talent and work on conversions of high-profile government officials to the level of military generals and top politicians through their strong propaganda and captivating discourse.
The ultimate wrong with us is our belief that only our specialised counterterrorism units and forces can fight terrorism by the help and sharing of information by our intelligence agencies specially tasked for it. Taskers only can avail nothing. Fighting terrorism tantamounts to fighting for our rights and freedoms because it deprives most of us of life, damage our properties, restrain our liberties, paralyse our societies, undermine the writ of the law and lower the state profiles. Therefore terrorism is a joint venture which can best be accomplished in partnerships of all public and private stakeholders in a holistic approach involving the common man, women and down to street watchman and town whistleblowers.
As a main source of public information the media storms us with spicy news items and sensational content to create uncertainty and anxiety among the people who start losing faith in their protecting agencies and guardian states and who start believing in terrorists, their capabilities, their warnings and in many cases their narratives as justification for their violence. We need to incorporate these and similar observations as a part of our policy and discourses so we can give a sustained and viable continuity to our struggle against all fears that govern our life.
Writer is a policing educator and practitioner