We see terrorism as isolated acts conducted by some groups whose business it is to do such things. Our responses are thus focused on the latest incident we are trying to patch. Reactive, episodic attention that is rather disjointed in terms of continuity. We don’t have much of an understanding of terrorism as an evolving or continuous phenomenon or the psychology that makes it effective.
I am no security expert, and my views are strictly from reading news, thinking about people and development dynamics, reading opinions of other people including journalists and strategists.
I think terrorism is not just about blasts or attacks. It is an entire political offensive rooted in loss, hurt, threats, fear, violence and disruption of government credibility and authority. Terrorists may not have professions we like, but they have careers, they have conditions suitable to the market, they have conditions unfavorable. It is an ecosystem where many dots connect to create those spectacular “events” from a terrorist’s perspective, professional milestones.
Many experts have spoken on these matters and the systems we have in place, etc. Far wiser experts than me have detailed what needs done abundantly. I am trying to look at the less visible aspects of terrorism and see what else is there. When acting to disrupt a system, the main idea is to disrupt the system enough to prevent function. Thus, it makes sense to me that our anti terror efforts looking at more aspects that can be disengaged will lead to greater results and reduced terrorism.
By conditions, I mean all circumstantial factors that are part of the chain of an attack coming to fruitition. We currently look at detecting the planning and disrupting it. We can’t stop what terrorists do, but we can throw wrenches in the works, and as long as they fail, it is good. However, there might be others. Some that come to mind:
- Removing or reducing “fodder”. Terrorists are recruited through perceived sense of injustice and convinced that the government has an intent to attack their interests unless stopped by illegal force. In a country with a communal history and a lot of delayed justice, there is a lot of this kind of fodder. It doesn’t matter that our judiciary is independent and largely functional if the more difficult issues simply keep getting put off. Upgrading our justice system will go a long way in restoring credibility to the country’s justice situation. That credibility will go a long way in denying belief to tales of injustice and victimization and mal intent aimed at brainwashing segments of society.
- Quick justice is also a deterrent.
- Making intelligence interfaces really easy to approach and confidential.
- Making visible legal career options that would fit objectives susceptible to terrorist influence. Some such work could be challenging injustice, defending rights of specific communities, dangerous work, etc. Something that provides legal tools for problems perceived. Such opportunities could be as informers, whistle blowers, parts of sting squads, activists, etc.
- Moving away from torture to evidence based investigation – reduces fear of existing terrorists to back out and aid police as well as takes away another kind of story of victimization that is used to inflame people against the state.
- Increasing awareness of preventative and investigative measures like CCTVs, security plans, identity cards, records, etc.
- For police to take a more aware surveillance of their localities including knowing where there are CCTVs and where there aren’t, recommending CCTVs to high risk targets, etc
- The government needs to stop acting like an obese couch potato. Yesterday, the CCTV coverage for the blast site was missing because of the same red tape. There needs to be a priority status for security related requirements – as a matter of process. On the other hand, people making requests should also keep pushing requirements till filled. This whole “chalta hai” attitude needs to be discarded from all aspects of our life, but more urgently from security.
- Security forces need to come together with media and devise a response plan for emergencies with full understanding that in a war where the target is the psyche and the weapon is fear, the counter measures need psychological defenses too. The media can be a resource in a mind game that can be engaged in preventing psychological damage to the country.
- Damage to life and property
- Feelings of insecurity
- Feelings of frustration and anger against the government and/or segments of society
- Government looking powerless and ineffective in the face of an unpredictable and effective power
- Increasingly complex and expensive methods of security.
- Disillusioned and dissatisfied population with lower optimism about its well being.
The common factor is that it damages the country by hurting its people, its well being, its functioning, its credibility, its economy…
We ignore that we have the possibility for terror acts to yield less results. Out of the results, the first is pretty much immediate and can be lowered through efficient emergency responses. This gets attention. This gets addressed. A lot of our reforms have targeted this, and are also showing results.
However, the rest are results too, and are worthy of attention, because they are the results that may not seem to deliver much to us by preventing, but they deliver a lot to the terrorists by being allowed and indeed are the things making their method viable.
It could be possible to devise and execute response strategies that cause terrorist attacks to backfire on terrorist goals or at least mute the impact. To some extent, we intuitively sense this, which is how terms like “spirit of Mumbai” or the city fights back, etc come about, where people see their victory on some level in continuing undaunted.
Seriously, for a minute, think like a terrorist. They have little resources that can attack an entire country. Their impact is insignificant compared with the size of a country, unless it is magnified using the resources of the country itself. In this, mental trauma is both a desired outcome, as well as an enabling tool for the terrorists.
The news media is sensationalist in its coverage of events, and the potential for horror is subtly played up constantly without overtly focusing on fear. Subtle ways this manifests is incoherent and jittery anchors in an otherwise polished and sophisticated platform, cameras panning around without pausing attention on anything – as though the person can’t make sense of what is happening. These things make an unconscious impact on the viewer of conveying shock. Other things include constant repetition of very simple and scarce facts – people in shock do that – they repeat simple things as though they can’t comprehend them. Through media, the public is literally taken on a guided tour through a shock response.
This can be seen in the way people hang on to the least bit of news once they begin watching.
Angad Chowdhry really sums it up in one tweet:
It’s the waiting that kills you. Which is why we go ballistic when something happens on the news. The rest of our lives are spent waiting.
Yesterday, an email from HuJI claiming responsibility for the attack became almost as big news as the attack. In spite of the fact that these have been proved false before. In spite of the fact that the email was unverified. In spite of the fact that our news channels ended up adding to the aura of HuJI as a dangerous organization and threat to the safety for everyone – exactly what any terror organization wants.
I am not saying that the media should not report news. However, there can be and there needs to be a conscious attempt to not magnify the impact of terror attacks. This should seriously be seen as an anti-terrorism mechanism, because it is. If the terror from one place can be made to infect the entire country, the media has literally served to expand the scope of terrorists. That simple. This can be prevented by educating media on the psychological impact of crisis/shock on them and that will help them to consciously take a minute to orient themselves so that their body language of panic doesn’t reach every home in the country.
Can we tune our responses and focus to deprive terrorists of attention and success? What if, instead of focusing on the stories of death, devastation, government incompetence, police incompetence, apathy, disillusionment, etc. We focus on facts of the incident without melodrama – like a bad plane crash, for example. And choose instead to focus on information, support for emergency services, politicians leading the country, people reaching out to aid injured and dead, and so on. In fact, this practice of politicians providing dramatic reactions to terror attacks should be completely stopped. What is happening is that this process allows a terror attack to discredit the political leadership of our country at will – at the hands of its own people. What can a politician say about an attack that is urgent? Why should they be hauled over coals at the will of terrorists? What is really happening? Very predictable – terror attack, anger, fear, politicians make generic statements, get lampooned. The people become a weapon against the pillars of the country.
I am not saying that people shouldn’t be angry, or that they shouldn’t demand answers, etc. But the immediate signature response to the attack should be of a country coming together and ignoring terror to swing into purposeful action. The questioning should happen, but more distanced from attack. Later, or brought up separately from blame games and fear. Difficult to suppress natural reaction, but important to try and not attack pillars of our own country on the trigger of an enemy – no matter who is wrong. We are doing it to some extent, but we seem to have created some kind of an unstated norm of an obligation to watching and feeling outraged to the max – which is not necessary. Described some of this in previous post too.
Where does that leave terrorists if their big attack hurt lives in its immediate impact but didn’t harm the country? They don’t know the victims, they have no joy or sorrow in those deaths. They want to disrupt the country, which can be prevented, even after an attack. If the attack holds risk of justice and yields low publicity, it ceases to be viable as a weapon – which is the greatest protection.
Just some raw thoughts.