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Terrorism & Extremism:KAMAL’S STRATEGIC ENTRY, By Dr S Saraswathi, 10 November, 2017 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 10 November 2017

Terrorism & Extremism


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The entry of Kamal Haasan into politics, even before it actually takes place, has raised heated debates over some observations attributed to him regarding “Hindu extremism”. He was responding to a query from the Kerala Chief Minister in his weekly column in a popular Tamil magazine in which he mentioned about the existence of “Hindu terror”.   

What he actually said and what he meant, and the context of his remarks may be left in the domain of his political supporters and opponents at various levels to settle among themselves.     

For the general public, the advent of a famous film personality into active politics in a State used to this kind of linkage politics is not any big excitement by itself. But, its timing is significant as the State is undergoing prolonged political uncertainties and awaiting court decisions on many crucial political issues to decide the future of State politics. Haasan’s plunge into politics with a big bang raising a storm over a loaded statement is bound to receive nationwide reaction for some time.

The controversy has brought out the need to understand the meaning and connotation of the two terms “terrorism” and “extremism” along with associated term “radicalism” which are in common use all over the world and bother governments and people alike. Equivalent terms in Indian languages also need precise definition.

For, they are often used by speakers and writers not to speak of readers and listeners thoughtlessly as synonyms to refer to any degree of disturbance to prevailing thoughts and pattern of life with actual, potential or perceived violence. Terrorism and extremism are different, but are considered as interrelated concepts associated with violence. Loose usage of the terms creates panic and needless exchanges among people.   Secondary reports of Haasan’s observation are not careful in reporting.

A lawyer from Varanasi has filed a complaint in a local court against the actor for hurting his religious sentiments by his comments linking Hindu religion and terror. Strong reaction from some members of the Hindu Maha Sabha has added substance to the issue which perhaps would have escaped discussion had it been ignored.

The situation has only pointed to existing political atmosphere and the urgency to cleanse Indian party and electoral politics by wiping out the use of communal, caste, religious, linguistic, ethnic and other such expressions indicating the presence of narrow attachments in political speeches and actions which encourage divisive politics. While real extremists, terrorists, and radicals may not listen to the voice of democratic and peace-loving people, political organisations eager to play a fair political game can join the cleansing operation.   

Haasan is reported to have stated that he was aware of the difference between “extremist” and “terrorist” and that he deliberately did not use the latter word. So much the better.

Extremism literally means the quality or State of being extreme or the advocacy of extreme measures or views. It is an ideology considered to be far beyond the acceptable mainstream attitudes of majority of people. The term is usually meant to be pejorative, i.e. to express strong disapproval.  However, it can also be used in purely descriptive sense without condemning anything. The term was popularised by centrist sociologists in the 1960s and 70s.

Extremists are usually contrasted with moderates or centrists. The first big split in the Congress Party occurred between moderates and extremists.   The Freedom Movement in India included both moderates and extremists and not all extremists believed in violence. Moderates believed in constitutional reforms and gradual progress towards freedom while extremists wanted swaraj in one go.

Besides political parties, several religions have split into sects due to differences between staunch adherents to the original beliefs and reformers willing to adjust to changes required.

Several traits of political extremists have been identified from “name calling and labeling” to “threat and intimidation”. They produce extremists in varying degrees of conviction in their ideals.

Violent extremism refers to use of ideologically motivated force to realise some radical ideals. In 2015, the UN Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism was launched. It emphasised the importance of education in preventing violent extremism and radicalisation. 

American President Robert Kennedy once stated: “What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents”.

In these days, extremism is generally associated with uncompromising political and/or religious beliefs. In this sense, it becomes inconsistent with democratic principles though holding some extreme views by itself does not make anybody undemocratic. When these views are sought to be advocated or forced on others with violence or any undemocratic methods, extremism will undermine democracy. Canadian government describes it as “violent extremism” which may become a threat to national security.

Extremism is vociferous or active opposition to a nation’s fundamental values expressing intolerance of different views. It is considered as enemy of democratic freedom, but sometimes extremists arise to establish a democratic system in quick and drastic steps.

Extremists can be found all across the world, but many of them have no capacity or will to cause destruction to the society. Such extremists concentrate on converting people to their convictions and cause. In this way, they become unacceptable and targets for individual attack by their opponents, who may too be extremists at another end.

The menace of terrorism is widely recognized and felt. Its extreme form was experienced in France after the French Revolution during 1793-94 – the period known as the Reign of Terror.

In the post-War world, until the destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001, there was no consensus on the meaning of terrorism. After this ghastly event, it is widely agreed that use of force or violence to indulge in acts that cause destruction of property and loss of innocent lives are acts of terrorism.

Historically, terrorism is receiving support from organisations nurturing political ambitions or promoting any cause(s) that requires political support.  Such organizations need the wherewithal to create terror in those sections considered enemies to the concerned group of terrorists. They may be in active politics or remain an organised group with strong conviction in some political ideology. 

Terrorists want to intimidate their opponents i.e. those obstructing their way.  They are action-oriented group and need publicity. They are totally opposed to moderation and generally resent mediation as they are firm and uncompromising on their beliefs. 

The Terrorism Act 2000 adopted in the UK defines terrorism as “use of threat of action designed to influence the government or intimidate the public which is done for the pursuit of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause and which endangers or causes serious harm to people or property or seriously disrupts or interferes with an electronic system”.

Democratic governments and parties want to uproot terrorism. But, the story is different with non-violent extremism that can be encountered without using force or hate speech.

Meanwhile, it is better to avoid using these controversial terms in normal political speeches and election campaigns to malign opposition parties and legally recognised organisations and confuse common people. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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