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Ayushman Jamwal
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 02 : 57

The aftermath of terror: Test of a democracy


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Uncontrolled fear is the greatest threat to the sanctity of liberty and freedoms that mankind has struggled to attain for centuries. Terror incidents that shock the psyche of people across the world, shattering perceptions of safety, can force society to spur that very fear to hastily reassess their laws and security protocols. A strong enough push can easily snowball that state of mind into jingoism that makes society fertile for draconian laws and inhumanity in the name of security. The biggest chapters in history, which we now consider to be dark episodes of humanity, sometimes fail to become strong reminders of what society can descend into in the face of fear. There is a mindset that 'we will be different', 'it's the necessity of the hour', as in the aftermath of terror, extremist groups gain the political space to pitch their ideologies. Yet, the 21st century is a testament that democracy is strong and tough. As two powerful nations of the world were recently rocked by terrorism, their political leadership and judicial machineries have stayed the course and not succumbed to the fear perpetuated either by extremists or the fourth estate.

The Boston bombings in April this year spurred a nefarious debate on the Fox network's channels. They proposed the suspension of the legal rights of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, even though he is an American citizen, and trying him as an enemy combatant. The second pitch was to stem the entry of Muslim students to the United States in order to mitigate against the risk of terrorism. Fox news may be a vocal player in American politics, representative of the Republican Party narrative, but they hardly had any influence on the course of the law. President Obama made it very clear in the aftermath of the bombings that American freedoms will not be compromised while the accused will face the full brunt of the law.

Obama eloquently argued that the terrorists had failed in their endeavour. He said, "They failed because, as Americans, we refused to be terrorized. They failed because we will not waver from the character and the compassion and the values that define us as a country. That American spirit includes staying true to the unity and diversity that makes us strong." He also added, "In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there's a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes to jump to conclusions. It's important that we do this right." The Obama administration has done exactly that. Tsarnaev has been extended his full legal rights as an American citizen as he faces trial for the bombings.

Last month in the United Kingdom, a soldier was hacked to death near his barracks in Woolwich by two men. One of the perpetrators ranted in front of a camera after killing the soldier saying he committed the crime in retaliation against violent British foreign policy in the Middle East. The men attacked the police who arrived on the scene of the crime and were shot, but were then immediately ferried to the hospital for treatment. When they were well, they were charged and produced in court to face trial. Extremist groups in the UK from both sides of the spectrum tried to exacerbate the situation. The notorious London based Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun said the root of the incident was British foreign policy in the Middle East which had caused the deaths of thousands of Muslims, while the anti-Muslim English Defence League protested against Muslim groups in the United Kingdom. Yet, these views were never entertained in British political circles. For the Conservative government and the major Opposition parties the situation was clear-the guilty had to be brought to justice with the full force of the law. No narratives lobbying for the suspension of civil liberties or a crackdown on Muslim groups were launched by party leaders who kept faith in the law and order machinery. Going a step ahead, Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leaders all condemned the act as a perversion of Islam. They unequivocally stated that the faith does not preach violence and appealed to the nation for calm.

Cameron said, "There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror. We will not be cowed by terror, and terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them. The best way we can defeat terrorism is to carry on as normal and that includes our personnel wearing their uniform."

In the case of the Oslo murders of July 22nd 2011, where Anders Behring Breivik bombed a government building and murdered 69 people as a retaliatory move against the influx of Muslim immigrants into Norway, the country's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reacted with resounding statesmanship. He reiterated the need to defend multiculturalism in the nation. He said "I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22. But I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before." Breviek was produced in court, and was even subject to a psychological evaluation. After a thorough trial, he was given the maximum punishment of 21 years in jail.

In the case of India, after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, Indian citizens did react with outrage, but that was a human reaction. India did not raise arms against Pakistan's people. Instead, the Indian government sowed the seeds to dismantle the animosity with Pakistan through economics, with the aim to achieve bilateral prosperity. With the other democratic nations of the world, our nation has also grown. Our system of governance, regardless of which political party is at the helm, has achieved a level of maturity. With the advent of time, democracy has become stronger, because those who uphold it have become tougher, understanding the need to protect its sanctity against extremism. Their words may seem soft and weak, but it takes great courage and spirit to protect the dignity of society when it may seem to be turning on itself. They are fighters, best described in the words of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa- "The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done."


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More about Ayushman Jamwal

Ayushman Jamwal works on the foreign desk at CNN-IBN.

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