The complex question of terrorism insists on resurfacing in the public domain and it is not only the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan that has highlighted this tendency of the problem in recent days. The issue has upstaged most other worries of a political kind in South and South West Asia in particular through also what seems to be the ‘Lone Wolf’ terror rampage on September 3, in Auckland, New Zealand.
Investigations in New Zealand into the terror strike in an Auckland supermarket where a young man of Sri Lankan origin knifed half a dozen persons would need to focus on whether he acted alone or whether he was a member of a terror organization that has societal destabilization, for instance, as one of its aims. If the latter is the case, investigations would need to probe as to whether the organization has an ideological motivation and what the contents of this ideology are. At the moment, no premature inferences could be drawn from the fact that the attacker was of Muslim origins.
The issues that grow out of the attack need to be probed with caution and immense foresight. Much harm could be done by publics and even states harping excessively on the attacker’s seeming religious and ethnic identity. Communities as a whole should not be denigrated on account of such terror attacks by individuals even if it is revealed that the Auckland attacker was not acting alone. ‘Terror specialists ‘in Sri Lanka in particular need to be guided by these considerations.
Suffice it to know at present, to quote New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the terror strike was “carried out by an individual and not a faith”. That is, faith communities as collectivities cannot be held responsible for terror attacks of this kind.
However, this does not rule out the possibility of the attacker having had an individual religious belief and of his having construed this belief as obliging him to act in a violent manner. Once again, the faith in question cannot be faulted for any individual interpretations or misperceptions that are read into these collective faiths.
The above observations point to just a couple of the complexities that surround the question of religion-inspired terrorism. It cannot be avoided that there exist obscure cults and sects in every major religion and that they operate outside the mainstream and interpret the religious doctrines in question in ways that are peculiar and amenable to them.
This has been the historical tendency and it is the responsibility of the official religious establishments concerned to rectify these harmful trends among those who claim to be their followers. But in polities that claim to be ‘free’ reining-in these tendencies could prove to be challenging.
However, considering these complexities, the use of the term ‘Islamist terrorist ‘should be seen as highly misleading. This amounts to damning an entire faith community for the outrageous conduct of a few and it obviously stands to reason that such labelling practices should be dismissed out of hand as dangerously misleading. The above phrase was favoured by the former US administration under President Trump, for instance, but it was high on the domestic and foreign agendas of the said government to pursue a white supremacist policy which necessitated the demonizing of the Muslim community in particular, for the purpose of strengthening its support base locally and internationally.
Sufficient thought should be given by investigators and other sections probing the Auckland attack to the reported finding that the young aggressor was emotionally unstable. If this is true it opens another dimension to the incident in question. It is well known that the impressionable and the psychologically disturbed are often chosen by terror groups for the purpose of indoctrination.
If so, terrorist acts of this kind cannot be simple-mindedly approached and sought to be managed. The psychological profile of the aggressor needs to be insightfully studied and mental or psychiatric rehabilitation should be seen as part of the solution to the problem of terror among the vulnerable in the religious and ethnic group concerned. The death penalty, as proposed by some Sri Lankan ‘experts ‘for those found guilty of committing terror, could be highly misleading, considering these facts.
Equally importantly, those institutions that are seen as imparting instructions of a religious kind to youthful minds in particular should be supervised, ideally, by those mainstream, moderate bodies that have supervisory management over religious communities. This is just one way in which the teaching of misleading doctrines to the impressionable could be prevented. There has to be a stepped-up conversation within the communities concerned on these questions.
However, Asia’s terror-related worries could be expected to intensify in the wake of the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan. This is mainly on account of the fact that the religiously militant Taliban would be strongly supportive of Jihadist forces in South Asia and its adjacent regions in particular.
The approach of the Taliban, essentially, over the past 30 years has been to supplant the traditional tribal leadership in particularly Afghanistan’s border regions with Pakistan, with a militant religious leadership. This development has been acting as a prop to Jihadist organizations of this region. To the extent to which the Taliban would be supportive of these Jihadist forces and to the degree to which the Taliban would be financed and armed by states of the region that find it to be in their interests to fuel Jihadist strife, to the same proportion would South and South West Asia be destabilized by religious militancy.
It stands to reason, therefore, that the influence and power of the Taliban should be contained by the democratic world. The latter would need to figure out as to how financial and other forms of pressure could be imposed on the Taliban without compromising the best interests of the Afghan people in the process.
This is of the first importance because starvation and deprivation are already being reported from some parts of Afghanistan. Equally importantly, the Taliban would need to be subjected to an accountability process by the world of democracy to ensure that the growth of political terror is stymied.