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Complex Realities

Amit Baruah

Edited by Wilson John and Swati Parashar
Pearson Longman, Delhi, 2005, pp. 253, price not stated.

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Terrorism has not just gripped the globe  – discussion on this seemingly all-encompassing phenomenon tends to dominate not just the print media and television – but the world of books. If you pick up a western or Indian newspaper these days, it’s quite possible that three out of five reports are related to terrorism. There’s a huge amount of information pouring into households on the menace, but how much of it is authentic and based on fact?   Most writing on the phenomenon is dominated by retired spooks, who would have otherwise led reasonable boring, superannuated lives. Whether it is a police investigation or an editorial page article, there’s a need to demand more “facts” in the writing on terrorism. Turning to the book under discussion, a collection of papers for a seminar organized by the Observer Research Foundation, one can see the collection has some authentic insights into the operation of some new terrorist outfits in Southeast Asia.   At a conceptual level, Surat Horachaikul highlights the dangers of explaining away complex issues by simply labelling them as terrorist-related.“Far worse than anything else, September 11 has begun simplistically converting many countries’ historically complicated problems, which are ethnic, political, or socio-economic in nature and often resulting in groups demanding separatism into acts of terrorism, especially if the groups involved in the conflicts or those pursuing acts of separatism are people who believe in Islam,” Surat writes.   Whether it is the separatist, nationalist strands in the southern Philippines or in Thailand, all these groups now tend to be coloured by the broad brush of terrorism. In my view, by simplifying everything into terrorism, we have complicated the search for solutions. In actual fact, the law-and-order approach to complex issues simply doesn’t work. Political accommodation – or facilitating the entry of these groups into democratic politics – remains the only sure method of ensuring peace and stability in any part of the world.   Bilveer Singh in his paper on the Jemaah Islamiyah correctly points to the links with Afghanistan – the fact that many JI activists were veterans of the Afghan war –  who then turned their attention to “nationalist” causes after the end of the CIA-sponsored, Pakistan-run “jehad” against the Soviet Union in 1989.One can, however, join issue with Singh’s contention that Southeast Asia is “particularly prone” to Islamic-oriented terrorism for a number of reasons, including his statement of fact that there is a ...

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