It is common understanding that terrorism is used by anti social elements as a tool to achieving their political objectives. But what about the terrorism that plagues us in forms not regarded as terrorism in day to day life? Police harassment of people especially women, political pressures disregarded by us as “normal” like during elections or political protests and acts of vandalism by party workers, ill treatment, even torture of people in prisons like the notoriously famous Guantanamo Bay are all acts which are aimed at creating fear in the minds of people. Let us not forget that the first wave outspoken feminists were branded terrorists by the conservative patriarchs and our own national freedom fighters called terrorists by the then British rulers of India.
Thus, terrorism takes many forms and has various social, political, intellectual, economic and religious dimensions.
How to stop terrorism is a question that has been haunting us for the longest time and no satisfactory answer seems to have emerged from the countless debates and experiments with different methods by state machineries worldwide.
One of the methods supported by people is death penalty for terrorists. But is this a viable option? Can we eradicate all forms and manifestations of terrorism by introducing the death penalty? For this we must first understand the various kinds of terrorism we face today.
Like any other ideology which has been in existence for over a century and practiced by certain sections of society, terrorism too is a deeply ingrained ideology and will not be curbed easily
It is a dangerous ideology which permits and promotes the use of any extreme measures to achieve its goals. State Sponsored terrorism is one of the most alarming yet one of the lesser talked about forms of terrorism employed by many Nations for their advantage. The assassinations of the Presidents of Panama (Omar Torrijos) and Ecuador (Jaime Roldos) in 1981 by USA to further its economic and political interests, the generous funding received by the IRA from USA, the support received by Muslim dissidents in Kashmir from Pakistani military’s intelligence wing are some of the examples which highlight how far a government can go to ravage another country to gain some kind of economic or political victory for itself.
It is a cruel irony that nations which talk about “a terror free world” and “combating terrorism” are the ones employing terror for achieving their goals.
They may justify it as a means to achieving the greater good but cannot fathom the extent of damage they inflict on those around them in the process. It is much easier for Nations to get away with such acts because doing them in the name of country and patriotism is a justification which satisfies many an ignorant citizens.
We only know of international terrorist organizations like the Al Qaeda, Indian Mujahideen, the IRA (Irish Republican Army), PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) etc and speak only of bombings and other violent acts of terrorism by such radical elements.
But have you ever pondered over some of the acts of World Bank and International Monetary Fund, two of the strongest world organizations as being terroristic in nature? The biggest, most well known example of this is the Structural Adjustments Program (SAPs) which came as a pre condition to loans made by the World Bank to developing countries. Briefly, SAPs policies include currency devaluation, reduction of government services through public spending cuts/budget deficit cuts, reducing tax on high earners, wage suppression, privatization, lower tariffs on imports, increased free trade, cuts in social spending and business deregulation.
Simply put, these organizations wanted the developing nations to implement free trade policies to benefit the already rich and powerful countries running the World Bank and IMF. This had a disastrous effect on nations which were not ready to open up their markets or reduce government’s social spending like many sub-saharan African nations which could not manage the sudden changes and their economies ended up in a worse state than they were in before the SAPs.
Wouldn’t this be called economic terrorism by the rich on the poor?
From these examples of unconventional types of terrorism it is evident that death penalty for terrorists may not be useful in preventing all kinds of terrorism, especially ones that are backed by States and legitimate state machinery and some which are more subtle in their form and manifestation.
In this day and age where technological advancements are at their peak and violent terrorism is rampant, a solution, a way out of the potential destruction of the world is the need of the hour.
Many countries affected by and facing threats of terrorist activities have joined hands in the “war against terrorism”. But a “War against terrorism” is an impracticable concept if it means fighting terror with terror.
It is difficult, if not impossible to uproot this ideology, for terrorism, like viruses, is everywhere. And the threat of rebellion to extreme measures looms large. Certain practices carried out by nations to prevent terrorist activities or to punish the culprits only seem to provide more reasons for terrorists to continue. Their minds are so deeply influenced by radical ideologies propagated by terrorist leaders that they are ready to do anything for their “cause”. Death to them is merely a step closer to Jannat because they have been brainwashed to think so.
The death penalty, in my understanding is only an expression of the outrage of the people and their desire for revenge against the terrorist for causing disruption in their lives and damaging life and property. Death penalty may provide us momentary solace, but are terrorists going to be deterred? Are terrorists going to be scared if we react violently? No. they love it. That’s what they dote on. They dote on violence. They dote on more reasons to commit more terrorism.
How then, would the death penalty be sufficient to curb terrorism?
Death is the ultimate fear in any human being’s life. Death penalty in cases of heinous crimes like rape, murder, etc is effective because any criminal would be afraid of death and would be repentant. But if in the perpetrators of terrorism that fear of death is absent due to their training or beliefs, we are rendered helpless since death is the harshest punishment that any court of law can impose on a criminal.
The need for power, superiority over others and the need to be able to control actions of others is at the heart of terrorist activities. This need for power will never be satisfied and therefore there will always be people who will want to inflame, divide and produce consequences which they can then use to justify further terror.
Everyday there are new rebellions popping up across the globe to fight for a variety of causes. The declared goals of terrorism may change from place to place. Some supposedly fight to remedy social, religious, national and racial wrongs. And for all these problems their only solution is the demolition of the whole structure of society. India for example is fighting terror from outside as well as from within the country from groups like the Indian Mujahideen, the Maoists, LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
Some say terrorism is an ideology born from the seeds of discontent among people; some believe it to be a thriving business aimed at accumulating power and suppressing the masses. Terrorism has no face, it has no real identity, and so because we don’t know who exactly our opponent is, it is tricky to fight them.
The fear of death and death penalty may slow down the momentum of terrorists, but it is a fact that we will never truly be able to get rid of terrorism because there will always be evil in this world. And till we keep giving people a reason to be unhappy to an extent that they are willing to take extreme steps for their demands to be heard, there will always be a threat of terrorism.
About the Author
A patriot and hopeful change maker, Riddhima is a believer in the power of women to change the world. She has studied Political Science with special reference to the feminist movement, feminist theory and the position of women in Indian politics. She is currently pursuing Law in the first year and hopes to specialize in women related laws and work with an organization in a related field. She enjoys public speaking and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sharma is a quick learner and is keen to gain new experiences especially in the areas of public policy, politics and strategy.