Selective memory dictates | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 18, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:02 PM, October 11, 2016

Selective memory dictates

Persisting with selective remembrance, fuzzy logic and contrived debates is what sustains global Terrorism. Let me explain. If suddenly asked to comment on the scourge, most of us would think back to the murder of publisher Dipan and the latest “French 9/11” terror attacks. That's how it works: we understand abstract concepts in terms of narratives, events, places and personalities. Specifics. Recent attacks rank high on recall; ones from yester-years fade. As a result, the layman's understanding of Terrorism is limited by a peculiar historic amnesia and a lack of cultural, social, economical or political context. The amnesia is transformed into Denial by meta-narratives and tribal allegiances. This is why leaders and Media can easily tell us which deaths to mourn and which lives to eulogise, thus sowing the early seeds of Division. 

Terrorism in the present day is a concept that arose and received meaning in the West. The narrative is therefore a one-sided saga of armed barbarians wreaking havoc on civilised, soft targets. Western intellectual-political-industrial consensus on Terrorism is sustained by two basic tenets: (a) the opposition has no morality or legitimacy and (b) the allied forces can never be stripped of moral high ground or legitimacy. Terrorists are thus the modern-day Others, opposites who define what First World citizens are not. Even terror suspects are treated as sub-human beings without any basic rights. 

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What this means is that moral judgment is predicated not upon intentions or actions, but upon tribal-religious identities and political affiliations. It is not what but who that elicits labels of Terrorism. Consider the evidence: even the use of White Phosphorus or bombing of orphanages is spared the tag of 'terrorism'. But the 'kidnapping' of a soldier of an invading army is painted as terrorism. Such is the power of interpreting. This meaning-making is neither unorganised, nor is it arbitrary; analysts' and Media's eagerness to stick 'terror' labels to certain events/persons, while blaming aberrations or disabilities for others, is by design.  

A crucial outcome of this distinction, whether intended or otherwise, is the continued refusal to allow adversaries a motive or a voice (unless it is a threat or responsibility-claim). As a result, fantastic ideas like “they hate our Freedom” or “the Quran wills it” can be advanced as the root-cause of Terrorism. Any deeper resentment or grievance thus remains unknown. 

Western academics, analysts and experts have produced heaps of theories on Terrorism, but have lent little credence to Muslim/Eastern interpretations. This creates a monopoly of meaning-making concentrated in the West, enforced by premier think-tanks, international media conglomerates and social media giants. Ask yourself: would the news stories be the same if the apparatus were based in Muslim countries and owned by Muslims? Would we not hear more of the ravages perpetrated by western colonialism and invasions? Would Facebook profile picture campaigns then be about Paris or Beirut? 

The Muslim World's experience of Terrorism is a grotesque reflection of itself as mirrored by western media. It has been divided and rendered incapable of articulating its opinions, values and morality. Though some Gulf States are involved in patronising Salafist extremism, the Muslim World generally has no interpretive or analytical role in Terrorism discourse. This leaves them with only the symbolic responsibility of routinely conveying condemnation after each terrorist attack. 

Significant political power is bestowed through absolute control over 'meaning'. A discerning reader may notice that Terrorism is often times more useful to western leaders, than they are to terrorists. The French 9/11 alone has allowed President Hollande to invoke 'acts of war' and launch airstrikes. In the aftermath, Poland has suggested creating an army out of refugees and sending them back to 'liberate Syria'. Donald Trump has used it to advocate the need for more guns. Soon, another al-Qaeda offshoot may be funded and armed to engage Assad. It is unkind to say so, but 120 odd European deaths carry enough political capital to justify airstrikes, militant funding, racial profiling and anti-immigrant policies for years. 

Yet the deaths will not lead nations to wonder why so many precious lives were taken. The spectrum of Terrorism debate is narrow and protected. Terrorists' motives are a taboo topic. As are 'WTC Building-7' and 'entrapment'. Take unwritten, social dictums for example: 'researching the motive of terrorists is the same as trying to justify killing of civilians' or 'if you invoke American/European atrocities in the East, the terrorists win'. These civic norms – not unlike religious edicts – are geared to protect precious narratives and symbols. For example, you may not suspect or claim that the official 9/11 story is not factual. You may not theorise that Charlie Hebdo stood for anything but Free Speech. You may not suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood had a democratic power-base. Such secular edicts govern how Terrorism may be spoken about, and to what end.

Selective remembrance, fuzzy logic and contrived debates are what sustain global Terrorism. But then, are the terrorists free of blame? Of course not! Terrorism is evil. Even when carried out by non-Muslims. But our opinion of Terrorism must not be conflated with our study and evaluation of it. This entails treating both the terrorists and the western War on Terror bloc as rational, rival sides in an unannounced, unauthorised war. The contrast in methods is merely a reflection of unequal capabilities. Terrorists are guilty of genocide, human rights violations and contravention of International Law but such crimes have also been committed in the name of War on Terror. Both sides are vying for public support: one by portraying itself as victims of barbarism, the other by painting itself as a force of resistance against imperial forces. There is no compelling reason to unquestioningly accept their war-propaganda or to favour any one over the other. Our sympathy, for either side, only furthers this unholy war. 

The writer is a strategy and communications consultant.

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