On coping with terrorism, but justly

No other country is a better case study for society facing chronic terrorism and suicide attacks than Israel. And the study of Israeli society in the second intifada reveals that there was a counterintuitive trend: society did not become increasingly traumatised when terrorist attacks and thwarted plots regularly dominated news headlines; instead people became accustomed and learned to cope. Consequently, their impact declines.


Terror attacks are not just commonplace in Pakistan. The world is now dotted with attacks, mostly by what politically correct news channels are afraid of calling “Islamic terrorism”. It is unlikely that the December 16, 2014 terrorist attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the US, the March 11, 2004 terrorist attack in Spain and the July 7, 2005 terrorist attack in the UK are standalone events. Terrorism has always been a tactic historically and will continue to remain so, perhaps even on a larger scale given the rise of technology.


Just like in Israel, Pakistan’s losses to terrorism cannot just be calculated in the crudest form: in terms of the number of fatalities. The economic loss to foreign direct investment (FDI) especially, the psychological trauma, particularly in terms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the political impact in terms of rolling back hard-earned democratic safeguards, the social demerits in the form of the brain drain and mass migration of minorities and other communities and in terms of the loss of a sense of pride in the country. Perhaps the latter is the bigger tragedy because with this comes the glue to propel future generations to ignite positive change. Without this, there is despondency and chaos.


Established that this is a permanent phenomenon, what can we learn from societies that have already dealt with commonplace suicide attacks? How did society learn to live with terrorism rather than in terror? At one point, 92 percent of Israelis reported fear that a member of their family or they would fall victim to a terrorist attack. Statistically, such a death may be more likely in a traffic accident.


Research shows that the irrational fear evoked by terrorism is less likely to be employed by the educated. The media has a critical role here. Terrorism runs on two wheels: one, the actual deaths directly attributed and, two, the mass hysteria that those fatalities create when over-projected in the media. Careful programming, one that has a clear aim to educate as well as to report accurately, can successfully remove national panic from these attacks. Sadly, the media in Pakistan, underfunded and overregulated for religious sensitivity, is a basket case of sensationalism — fully charged with dramatic music and flashing gory content without viewer discretion advisory.


Another major casualty of terrorism is the sense of worth of a society. A society that is targeted feels an immense sense of victimhood. Sadly, feeling victimised is almost always accompanied by a series of dark forces: vengeance, dehumanisation and stereotyping. This is practically what happened to Israeli society and they considered all Palestinians as violent, dishonest and without value of human life. After the Peshawar attacks, Pakistan took to public hangings. This is a dangerous trend, particularly where forensics are so weak and innocent people are likely to be scapegoated. It is also dangerous because it tends to band-aid this growing menace with the simplistic solution of appeasement of public sentiment. You cannot fight injustice with more injustice. You have to fight it with the rule of law. And rule of law begins with the premise of human dignity.


Pakistan cannot possibly think it has a chance against the growing menace of terrorism unless it first punishes the sentiment that nurtures it: religious extremism. Without just persecution of Mumtaz Qadri, a murderer in custody, there is little hope for beating those who have not been caught yet. Without the resolution of hundreds in jail for being falsely accused of blasphemy, there is only a slight possibility that Pakistan has any moral authority to break the backs of those who want to bring it down on religious grounds.


There is a complete and total breakdown of those societies that are built on the premise of religious superiority. Pakistan is not one of them. Pakistan won its right to exist based on a just, democratic demand for self-determination. Later, yes, there were all sorts of fairy tales that overrode its founder’s golden words: Pakistan is not to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.


We find ourselves in the middle of a tumultuous period facing the monster of terrorism that attacks our psyche. There is some solace in knowing we are not alone in the world. We can be beaten by it or we can see it for what it is: a war tactic to wade its ways into our nightmares. We simply cannot let it. Refuse it and deny it entry. If there is a way to avenge our dead, then we owe them our fortitude. We owe them our resolve to not let the terrorists win.

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