Terrorism and democracy

If The Times of India is to be believed, the mood of the public after the latest terrorist attack is different – it is one of outrage and anger.

…this was one outrage which finally snapped the endurance and infinite generosity of India. In the past, every assault on Mumbai — where, at times, the death toll was higher — had produced a flicker of anger, followed by an astonishing display of fatalism…
The mood is different this week; it is palpably angry…

So a country of men who look to the state to solve their personal problems is outraged that the government they have elected has failed to solve its problems? A country of men who cannot take personal responsibility in social and economic matters is outraged that their government has failed to take collective responsibility in political matters? A country of men which believes in a political system that grants voting rights to men who perpetrate honor killings and communal riots is outraged that their government lacks the moral courage to take appropriate measures?

Jug Suraiya writes

This is why 26/11 is tantamount to a blood-drenched referendum on India: which of the two Indias the world’s largest and most irrepressible democracy, or the world’s most corrupt and cynical mobocracy will emerge from the ordeal?…
It’s referendum time for India. Are we going to remain weak and vulnerable to repeated assault because of our inner divisiveness? Or are we going to beat the bastards, are we going to triumph over terror by surviving it, not on its dehumanising terms but on our own terms of a proudly free society and a strong and cohesive democracy impervious and unsusceptible to the exploitative politics of caste, creed and ethnic division? It’s time to choose.

Indeed it is time to choose. But what are the two choices that Suraiya is writing about. I see only one choice there. Suraiya is calling for a strong, free and cohesive democracy. Sounds good, except for the fact that the meaning of these words will be decided by a vote. And among the voters will be the men who perpetrate and condone honor killings, who kill their new-born daughters, who participate in riots, who indulge in violent strikes and hold cities to ransom. And manipulating these voters and ruling over them will be the men who are best able to play ruthless games of power. And cheering them on and waxing eloquent will be fools like Suraiya who believe that there is some magic in a democratic vote that turns vice into virtue. No, we will not achieve either freedom or security by going down this path. The path of democracy is what we have been following all this while. And this is where it has brought us. Care to see where it will take us next? We will have stronger laws and more teams of trained commandos. And when the next terrorist strike happens, these commandos will be busy raiding a party of teenagers high on drugs or settling some political score in a country that will have turned into a police state.

What is the alternative? It is to develop the moral courage to assert that political principles are not open to a vote, to assert that the right is a matter of fact and not of consensus, to reject a system of government that allows the least scrupulous to grab the most power, to develop a sense of personal responsibility for our problems, to value our lives and freedom enough to reject any interference.

So long as we do not value our own lives and allow our freedom to be chipped away in small pieces – by laws that ban smoking and make helmets mandatory – and large ones – by laws that enforce reservations, ban the setting up of educational institutes for profit, ban people from selling their property on their own terms – we have no cause to be outraged that the government does not value our lives either.

It is time to choose – freedom, responsibility and security or democracy, corruption, paternalism and terrorism. And if we make the wrong choice we will find that the rejection of all principles in a democratic free-for-all does not magically turn into sound politics. The last century saw the collapse of socialist governments under the weight of their flawed principles. Democracies do not have that risk – they have no weight to collapse under. But that will not prevent them from being blown away under the onslaught of Islamic terrorism which does have an ideology, believes in it and is committed to do whatever it takes to establish it.

8 Responses

  1. I have little knowledge of Indian culture. The Times article refers to “fatalism.” If fatalism is indeed widespread in India, what is its source? A particular religion?

  2. Burgess,
    I think Dasgupta, the author of the article is refering to the tendency to treat a terror attack similar to a natural catastophe. Over the past decade, after every terrorist attack, the intellectuals and opinion makers have written about the resilience shown by the common man in returning to his work shortly after an attack and claimed that this resilience is a defeat of the terrorists’s motives. Whereas the plain fact, obvious to every one is that what was on display was not resilience but helplessness.
    I am not sure what exactly the source of this tendency is. It could be the lack of worldliness in Hinduism, but I doubt that it is a sufficient explanation.

  3. Your last paragraph gives us timely words indeed; and for all ears that will listen. It is not only India that needs to listen.

    Here in the United States we prattle on about ‘democracy,’ completely willing to forget that our founders gave us a Constitutional Republic.

  4. Very well and strongly argued post. I completely agree. The Rule of Law has nothing to do with “democracy.” Indeed, we say that the Rule of Law prevails when the minister’s powers are checked and when the minister’s son is jailed for violating the Law. That is, the democratic government must be Under the Law. Today, they are above the Law – in the sense that they call themselves “lawmakers.” But “legislation” is NOT The Law – as Friedrich Hayek and Bruno Leoni have both forcefully argued.

  5. Elisheva,
    And unfortunately, the debacle in Iraq – caused by a misguided belief in democracy as a magic solution to any problem – has made the job of advocating overwhelming force against terrorism much harder.

  6. Sauvik,
    Thanks for your comment and for drawing the explicit distiction between democracy and “rule of law”.

  7. Makes a lot of sense. True. We ourselves are a cause of the rot. Had blogged about this some time back. You’ve expressed my thoughts very powerfully.

  8. […] Update : I just read an article posted by K.M. which makes a related argument in a powerful manner. Here it is. […]

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