By Voice of Micah
Constructionist theorists constantly remind us that the social world is a human invention. It does not have independent and objective existence of its own, is fluid and operates driven by interests. Thus these interests, arguably, are neither permanent nor fixed. Behind these interests is power, either raw or refined in its diversity of manifestation. When configured, power always gets shrouded in myths and mysteries, signs and symbols irrespective of its form of expression: religious, economic, social or political.
In effect, these myths and mysteries, signs and symbols create mental distance within which authority is exercised for good or otherwise. Interestingly, power is based on belief. While there are sections of the human society that contends and finds difficulties in assenting to the existence of God for what they argue as lack of objective evidence, surprisingly, the same is not the case with regard to power. Since power is based on belief, it is contingent upon that belief. Its sustenance requires continuous persuasive or coercive reinforcement through reward or sanctions.
There is growing use of the term “terrorism” by a section of politicians in Malawi precisely for political benefits. Peter Mutharika, president of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is on record characterizing civil society organisations, opposing his style of leadership, especially the Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition, as terrorists. This has been emulated by the Malawi Broadcasting cooperation (MBC) which, though funded by the taxpayer, hence a public broad-caster has transmuted into a party mouth piece for political propaganda. Sadly, neither Mutharika nor MBC seem to understand the implication of such uncritical use of the term in as far as national interests are concerned.
Generally, irrespective of how sophisticated a particular country’s security could be, or its level of socio-economic development, still just a mention of the word “terrorism” invokes fear bringing to memory images of destruction and unprecedented loss of life in many countries around the world.
We have sad examples on record which include the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, activities of drug cartels in the Latin America especially Colombia and Mexico drug the brutal reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the ongoing attacks in Kashmir, the Oklahoma City and Twin Tower bombing in the US, the activities of ETA, the Basques, East Timor, Jamal Islamia, Al Qaida, Al-Shabab, Islamic state, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Abu Sayyef and numerous terror groups around the world.
Surely no serious and responsible leadership or media house could joke or talk lightly about terrorism, let alone call a group of citizens exercising their constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate with permission from public authorities and under state security agents.
Precisely for its seriousness, terrorism is integral to the global security agenda and nearly every country has legal and policy instruments meant to fight against this threat. Terrorism creates fear, mistrust and unpredictability; it destroys public infrastructure, innocent lives and property
What do we mean?
Those familiar with security studies will quickly remember the saying attributed to Sun Tzu, “…kill one-frighten ten thousand…” The term has been overused cynically and hypocritically based on political purposes. Political leaders and the media tend to brand as a “terrorist” anyone who uses violence for political purposes that they do not agree with. However, any form of political violence, such as assassination, targeted killing or bombing, or kidnapping amounts a “terrorist” act.
If measured purely in terms of the number of people who have been terrorized, or actually killed or injured by attempts to create terror, the most common terrorists in world politics are governments and their agents: members of the armed forces, secret intelligence services, internal security forces, public safety agencies, the police, politicians who direct their activities, approve their operations.
Therefore, with this definition of terrorism in mind, even the Democratic Progressive Party’s youth wing commonly referred to as Cadets, qualify as a terrorist group. We need to bear in mind that there are always death squads that operate on the behest of political leaders. For instance, there used to be Ngorokos in Kenya during the reign of late President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, and also the Jeshi la Mzee during President Daniel Arap Moi. In short, terrorism is a specific act of violence to obtain political advantage, or to score political gains.
There are specific objectives that terrorism always seeks to achieve. In the first place, terrorism seeks to terrify and communicate a clear threat, whether in pursuit of a grievance or to warn enemies off. This is one of the key objectives. Also critical is the drive to send a clear message to three key constituencies, namely, the enemy, the domestic population, and the international audience.
Overall by pursuing these objectives, terrorism functions as a tool for publicity. It is politics by other means. Assessing the activities of the Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition, in no way does it come any closer to qualifying as a terrorist organisation. None of these key objectives that terror organisations pursue could be associated with HRDC.
Popularity of terrorism
Worth noting is that terrorism can be relative depending on whose interests are threatened or to be protected. As a practice, terrorism is old. Records show that during the Roman occupation of Palestine, in the 1st century, for example, there existed some Jewish fanatics called “Sicarii”. These used to plunge curved daggers into the backs of official legionaries in the dark alleys of Jerusalem. In India, the “Thuggees” used to attack travelers on behalf of their god “Kali”. And in Italy, there is the Mafia with old roots in Sicily, just to mention a few examples.
In recent years, there are tools that are considered valuable in enhancing the popularity of terror or organisations. Studies point at the availability of accurate, quick-loading fire power or arms. More than ever before, individuals and organisations are able to acquire different types of weapons with relative ease. In addition to this factor is the availability of reliable explosives. These can be deployed in places with potential for mass destruction. Equally critical is the role of political ideology. This provides a direct attack on the power of the state and its symbols.
Political ideology gives reasons for any undertakings by terror organisations. In contemporary times, the popularization of terrorism is also accredited to successes registered by political violence since the end of World War I and guerilla warfare for liberation around the world especially in Africa. Also critical in this regard is the modern media. This has managed to carry and convey terror messages, propaganda and news on the acts by terrorists groups. A third factor is the use of and ability to manipulate advanced technologies in carrying out terrors acts.
This includes cell phones, computer triggering devices, and also improved explosive devices like cars and planes. A simple analysis shows quite clearly that the HRDC is far from the image of a terrorist organisation.
Root and road map of terrorism
At the root of terrorism or terrorist acts is a deep and burning grievance. This deep and burning grievance makes women and men abandon normal sense of values. It extinguishes all sense of proportion or mercy to embrace terrorism as a higher calling in trying to resolve the grievance. Although terrorism is rarely a mass movement, still it exerts influence on national, regional and even global security. An example along this line are organisations like the Al Qaida; Islamic State, Al Shabab, and Boko Haram.
Also crucial is the fact that at times terror groups can be sponsored by governments, wealthy individuals or frontline businesses in order to either secure, or promote and protect their strategic interests. Closer analysis shows a clear path in the evolution of terrorism. The first stage is the existence of grievance. Inability to resolve grievances at an early stage triggers protests. This is second stage. The longer it takes before a grievance is resolved the greater the potential for groups to begin the form.
Once groups are formed, the next course of action by citizens tends to be legislation, sometimes supplemented by parliamentary action. When all these fail, more daring steps are embarked on and these involve direct action, targeted attacks and generalized attackers. This suggests that complaisance by state governments in dealing with grievances can gradually push people to extreme means in search for solutions.
Therefore, either by design or default, governments create terror groups. Instead of spending to condemn citizens protesting within the frame work of law, governments would do better to quickly look at concerns raised by citizens and find practical ways of addressing them.