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Book a la Mode

S. Kalyanaraman

Edited by Adluri Subramanyam Raju
India Research Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 469, price not stated.


Terrorism has emerged as the defining word in the early years of the 21st century and it did so in a spectacularly devastating manner. And like mushrooms after rain, books have begun to crop up on this subject. Terrorism in South Asia – the edited volume under review – is a part of this new crop. The book is divided into seven sections and has a useful set of appendices including UN Security Council Resolutions, the SAARC Convention on Terrorism, and the counter-terrorism laws of some South Asian countries. It also provides us two chapters (by Subramanyam Raju and Rashmi Bhure) on the suffering endured by women, caused by the actions of both terrorists and counter-terrorist agencies; an aspect that seldom gets highlighted and therefore noteworthy.      The most vexing aspect of terrorism is our inability to arrive at a precise definition of the term. Though this is generally captured by the cliché “one person’s (or state’s) terrorist is another’s freedom fighter,” in actual fact several contentious issues have to be finessed into a definition. For example, is terrorism an act carried out only by non-state actors? Or can state actions also be characterized as terrorism, either as defined by the term ‘State Terrorism’ or by the sponsorship of terrorist groups? Is terrorism a military strategy adopted by the weak (irregular warfare or low-intensity conflict) or is it essentially a criminal act? In other words, should the focus be on the political motive underlying the use of terrorist violence or on criminal intent?       V. Nageswara Rao provides an overview of these issues, which are also discussed by Shibashis Chatterjee. Chatterjee concludes that the issue “has to be addressed primarily through the criterion of legitimacy.” But as demonstrated by the failure of the United Nations to arrive at a universally acceptable definition, this is indeed a Herculean task. As one analyst recently commented, “perhaps the only honest and globally workable definition of ‘terrorism’ is an explicitly subjective one – ‘violence that I don’t support’.”      An important aspect of terrorism over the last decade or so has been the growing linkages between terrorist outfits on the one hand and gun-runners, drug traffickers and organized criminal groups in general on the other. Terrorism in South Asia highlights this aspect, but in a haphazard manner. Chapters dealing with these trends are inexplicably spread over two separate sections—one dealing with new trends and the ...

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