The Hamas attack on Israel and this colossal human crisis that is unfolding before our eyes has key lessons for India and the world
Historians and political scientists can dissect and apportion blame on one or the other side, but there can be no doubt that such impending travesties have to be nipped in the bud for a peaceful world.
That the Israelis were taken unawares, that this was a failure of their intelligence and the professedly impenetrable iron dome is but one of the worries. That nobody could fathom the possible manifestation and intensity of this hatred for the Israelis – a deep-rooted and festering abhorrence for them by extremists is another worry. That Israel and the world were lulled into complacency with the winds of change in the Middle East – freshly inculcated modernity of the prime Arab states and their suave posturing to the Western world – is another concern. What is truly worrisome is that this attack dispels any doubts that terrorist acts are isolated and far between.
It proves that terrorism is incipient, lurking, and raring to destroy. Even more disturbing is the ambivalence displayed at the political, social, and cultural levels – whether to label Hamas unequivocally as a terrorist organisation or not. Even in a country like India which has lost so many lives to terrorist attacks, opinion was divided. In that light, long-term solutions should be found to address the subject of terrorism – not least at the diplomatic, social, and cultural levels.
One key reality that has emerged is that illegitimate, non-state actors can exploit and extract financing from legitimate state actors who use them and support them to wage a war by other means. Attempts to choke this nexus are far from successful, as the case of Hamas proves. To have thousands of missiles, heavy-duty military vehicles, munitions, and manpower requires serious funding. To be able to wage a war against a heavily equipped and competent state that is in a state of eternal battle-readiness requires resources, competence, and the backing of rich patrons.
Felicity in handling high-intensity weapons has come about because super-power armament companies are seeking widespread dissemination of their innovations and so encourage their propagation by clandestine means. The ubiquitous internet is yet another platform for sharing information and enabling do-it-yourself capabilities. That is what should worry military strategists the world over – that the technique and technology of terrorist warfare waged through fringe groups has gotten easier. It has become commoditized.
Terrorist groups the world over should be so unequivocally labeled. Surprisingly, groups like Hamas have not yet been castigated by the United Nations as terrorist groups. Even immediately after the attack, there was political wavering about whether Hamas should be designated as a terrorist organization or not – a noted Indian politician went on to say that Hamas had not been formally so designated even by India. It is indeed unfortunate that in the United Nations, motions can be easily vetoed on political grounds in the Security Council. Similar efforts by India in the past have been disallowed merely because of vetoes by countries unfriendly to India. Therefore, between the binary of extremist and terrorist, a new category should be created for those groups who are arming themselves militarily, routing funds through illegal channels, and continuing to voice and mobilise opinion against sovereign states. These should be labeled as Groups that Display Traits of Terrorism. After the Hamas attack and the revelation that the preparations were undertaken over a year or more, it is evident that terrorist attacks are not spontaneous acts of peeve or anguish; they are pre-meditated and carefully planned. That is why, to await a full-scale terrorist attack by an extremist group before declaring them as terrorists is fraught. It is appropriate to at least designate them as displaying traits of terrorism if they have bought arms and obtained illegal funds.
It should be legitimate for governments to highlight those groups that have a history of terrorist activities as those displaying traits of terrorism.
What are traits of terrorism today that carry a high probability of becoming acts of terrorism tomorrow? They need to be treated firmly and clinically. The world must know that such groups need unequivocal confinement and oversight. Of course, governments would have to build an ironclad case against them globally. If another nation blocks this move, they should be asked to give an undertaking that the organisation in question will not commit any act of terrorism on foreign soil. In that breath, India should not take the Chinese veto in support of Masood Azhar lying down. We should talk unrestrainedly about the Chinese encouragement of traits of terrorism.
Currently, civil opinion against terrorism is sought to be built through an anodyne oath taken on the National Anti-Terrorism Day on 21 May every year, to commemorate the terrorist assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Instead, the government should seek to pointedly denigrate those with terrorist traits. Genesis and historical rationale of persecution aside, a murder is a murder and so a terrorist attack is a terrorist attack. One must remember that proactive state vigilance against extremist groups makes it incumbent upon the state to rise above petty majoritarianism and to enforce a rigorous rule of law that is non-discriminatory. Initiating, encouraging, and facilitating dialogue and confidence-building amongst communities and groupings is the need of the hour.
Stately restraint entails sobriety and not allowing domestic peeve to be exaggerated to a point where it becomes a national issue and divides the body fabric of citizenry. Only in an environment of domestic empathy can one render hard-nosed and unremitting action against terrorism.