The Attack on Mumbai: The Tragedy of Moral Bankruptcy in Politics

by S. Hewage

(December 01, Cololmbo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In one of his most brilliant analyses of the seemingly complex relationship between politics and morality, Immanuel Kant argued that if the art of politics is to be perfected it should be laced with morality. If morality and politics are incompatible in a single command, then these two are really in conflict. “But if these two qualities ought always to be united, the thought of contrariety is absurd, and the question as to how the conflict between morals and politics is to be resolved cannot even be posed as a problem.” (Kant, “On the Opposition between Morality and Politics with Respect to Perpetual Peace,” para.370).

The problems of “politics” around the world today are essentially the problems of moral bankruptcy on the part of all political leaders. Today, politics have deteriorated to the point that morality is treated as the opposite of politics, and to talk about morality in politics is to lose political power big time. It is in this context that I wish to ask the following questions: Are there lessons to be learned from the carnage that took place in Mumbai, India on November 25-27, 2008? Or, should it be treated as just another terror strike in an already volatile India? Specifically, should this attack on Mumbai by jihadis be taken as an important reminder to all democracies that we are all in this struggle together against terrorism in a globalized world.

First, let it be clear that there are no good terrorists or bad terrorists, and terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere. To classify terrorists as good or bad is already a sign of a moral weakness on the part of any government, and it sends a profoundly wrong signal to all present and future terrorists. It is the violent act that we abhor as terrorism not the individuals or groups, per se. It should be noted, that in this context, many Indian citizens feel that their government has been too soft on terrorists, and that their government leaders have unwittingly contributed to the boosting of morale among terrorists in the region.

Terrorism has become one of the main challenges to democracies around the world. As the 21st century nation-states are predominately multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, this challenge of terrorism has been further exacerbated by the process of globalization. The ethnic and religious groups are increasingly bonding with similar ethnic and religious groups beyond the borders of nation-states. Common ideologies of ethnicity and religion have contributed to weakening loyalties to a nation-state. These groups, wanting to create a pan-ethnic and/or religious state, have used violent campaigns to attain their political objectives. For example, extremist Islamic ideology of Al-Qaeda extends to all Muslims to be united against the perceived threat of western European and North American political and economic domination. The call to unite against the west transcends all borders where there are substantial Muslim populations. Likewise, the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) promote the ideology of a pan-Asian Tamil state incorporating the southern state of Tamil Nadu and the northeastern part of Sri Lanka. Terrorists groups with similar ideologies operate in other parts of the world, as well.
Just as radical Marxism challenged the democratic state during the cold war period, ethnic and religious nationalism has become the greatest threat to global security. In the same way that Marxists wanted to create communist states in the 20th century, radical ethnic nationalism is fueling political conflicts aimed at carving out mono-ethnic states out of multi-ethnic societies in the 21st century.

Terrorists carefully monitor each other’s techniques, and share technology—the modus operandi — they help one another in fundraising, money laundering, and procuring weapons, as the LTTE helped the Columbian terrorist group FARC to transport drugs for weapons. Also, it was the LTTE that perfected the suicide bombing technique that was adopted by Al-Qaeda, Hamas and other Middle East terrorist groups. By mimicking the LTTE techniques, Al-Qaeda carried out a suicide bombing attack on the American navy destroyer the USS Cole on October 12, 2000 while it was harbored in the Yemeni port of Aden. Furthermore, the terrorists glorify each other’s successful attacks on military and civilian installations as motivational techniques during training exercises of their own combatants. For example, the LTTE praised Timothy McVeigh, the American homegrown terrorist, who attacked the Federal Building in Okalahoma City on April 19, 1995 killing 169 people.

McVeigh effectively used easily available material such as chemical fertilizer with devastating effect. Because all terrorists portray themselves as underdogs, any successful operations against state infrastructures and security forces by one terrorist group is a major psychological boost to all terrorists.

It is against this background that we need to examine the lessons to be learned from the devastating attacks in Mumbai. What are those lessons?

Lesson # 1: Never provide sanctuary to any group suspected of conducting a violent campaign against another state, no matter how much you dislike that particular country or its government’s policies. Remember, when it comes to politics, there are no permanent friends, or permanent enemies. However, if you provide sanctuary to terrorists to weaken the government of your neighbor, you are only inviting trouble in your own country sooner or later.

Lesson # 2: Never provide material, psychological, or logistical support to a terrorist group operating against another nation, no matter how unjust the political system or the leadership of that country may be. Bring the issues or concerns that you feel unjust to the attention of a regional or global forum such as the United Nations, so that you are not doing an illegal act. By helping terrorists you will not contribute to democratic principles, but degrade all human values. Take the moral high ground.

Lesson # 3: Never recruit, train or arm citizens of any country to carry out terrorist activities against legitimate armed forces of another country. If you do not like the conduct of the armed forces of that country, bring the issue to the attention of an international body, such as the UN, and through persistent dialogue the issue can be resolved. History provides ample evidence to prove that clandestine operations have often backed fired in the long run because terrorists are not loyal to any one nation, but to their cause. Remember, the United States and Pakistan recruited Osama Bin Laden and other young Muslims, trained, and armed them to fight against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, Osama and other terrorists showed no gratitude to any of their creators, and the rest is history. Likewise, India trained, armed and provided logistics to the LTTE terrorists against the Sri Lankan state for short term political rivalries, which brought as much disaster for India as for Sri Lanka. The simple fact is that terrorists show no gratitude to anyone, except to achieve their own goals.

Lesson # 4: Never to negotiate with terrorists is one of the cardinal principles for freeing this world from the scourge of terrorism. To suggest or to encourage a legitimate nation-state to negotiate with terrorists means to legitimize terrorism, and it convinces every terrorist group around the world that violence pays dividends. The ultimate goal of every terrorist group is to weaken the legitimate state and for it to kneel down to the demands of the terrorists. Those who suggest a legitimate nation-state should negotiate with terrorists are only strengthening the hand of the terrorist.

Lesson # 5: Take every possible legal measure to prevent citizens and civil society organizations in your country in supporting terrorist organizations directly or indirectly. It is a well known fact that terrorists use bogus charitable organizations to raise money, and to launder money around the world. For example, the LTTE is one of most successful terrorist organizations that collect money through various front-organizations, such as the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), the World Tamil Movement, the Tamil Children’s Aid, to mention but a few in many Western countries. They organize various social and cultural events with the patronage of local politicians who knowingly or unknowingly end up supporting terrorist groups. These politicians in Western countries are essentially contributing to the mass murders and destruction of properties in other countries.

Lesson # 6: Remember, terrorists are not concerned about human rights, or freedom of expression. Rather, they exploit these democratic principles and values for their own advantage, and to promote terrorist propaganda. While legitimate governments have to ensure the security and safety of all citizens, they are also compelled to uphold democratic values such as human rights, which can prevent law enforcement authorities to carry out their work effectively. It is imperative to understand that in times of fighting terrorism, there will be some limitations to democratic practices for the greater good in the long-run. In this context, organizations dedicated to protecting human rights should not become the guardians of terrorists by unduly forcing nation-states to uphold human rights laws at the expense of national security measures.

In the 21st century globalized world, terrorism is the biggest threat to democracy. As the terrorist groups world over share their technology, know-how, and resources, the democratic states cannot be divided over petty political advantages that give opportunity for terrorists to raise money, procure weapons, and carryout devastating attacks on innocent civilians and state property to consolidate their positions. Remember, terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere. Terrorists have no loyalty to any individual except to their own cause. Those who lend support to terrorists today may become a victim of terrorist violence tomorrow.
- Sri Lanka Guardian