Terrorists and extremists need discourses in the inculcation of eternal moral values and practicing of yoga and meditation that can contribute immensely to attaining a perfect and balanced personality as described in ancient Indian classical texts, writes Prof. Sudhanshu Tripathi for South Asia Monitor
Why do we need to understand and deconstruct terrorism? That’s because the issue concerns the very existence or survival of the human race as the continuing gory violence or such brutal acts - particularly in the present age of nuclear weapons, cyber warfare and bio-weapons - may create a situation where no one can survive.
What has brought about this change in the present times? This needs to be carefully understood by uncovering or penetrating the inner core of terrorism. Terrorism is a kind of large-scale organized violence aimed at challenging the very might of the state, but that does not explain its real meaning because terrorism is no ordinary crime. As such terrorism continues to evolve as an agenda of brutal cruelty or savagery targeting its distant goals rather than immediate victims, leading to wider repercussions in the world.
Indeed terrorism is an exceptionally complex matter that human beings continue to encounter. The danger is that without skill in dealing with its complexities, one will drastically oversimplify the phenomenon. The extent to which empirical analysis of terrorism can be approached as art or science may be a hotly debated issue. If it is considered a science there are a few important differences between those who seek to emulate the natural sciences like physics and chemistry and those who believe that the study of human beings is inherently different from the study of nature in its non-human manifestations like terrorism.
Those who hold the second view argue that one cannot grasp a human action without understanding its subjective meaning: what it means to a terrorist who commits it and what that person intends to achieve by it, and so on. As regards pure science, an atomic particle does not intend anything; what it does has no subjective meaning to the physicist because Physics does well as a
science by describing activity in purely external, physical terms. But can the phenomenon of terrorism be understood like that in the discipline of physics in simple terms? No, because terrorism is not just a simple physical activity as it is concerned with the very complex human psyche.
An extremely violent human action
Terrorism is an extreme form of violent human action wherein reason gets superseded by cynicism or complete mental distortions. The terrorist has a perverted mental frame and observes no restraints - temporal or spiritual - and becomes insane as the person’s mental faculties and mind-based rationalities cross all normal bindings: social, political, legal, cultural, or spiritual.
Also, this process of horrible human action involves a possible penetration into those realms of consciousness that go beyond the normal comprehensible level of the peaceful ‘mind’.
Terrorists do possess different psychology, which is entirely different and devoid of conscience because that fails to differentiate between good and bad actions, like acts of brutal violence or terror. This phase in a terrorist’s psyche may be momentary or permanent as is evident in most of the present-day terrorists who always repeat their ghastly acts despite being provided with an opportunity to reform their distorted inner- selves. The question then arises as to how such an obnoxious transformation takes place in an individual which propels him to repeatedly commit such barbarous acts of terror.
Analyzing these complexities in a terrorist needs a distinct approach involving multidimensional and different tools of investigation and research available in psychology, sociology, criminology, law and justice. Further, one’s orientation, upbringing and genetic lineage towards oneself and others including the entire society do significantly count in this regard.
Pessimistic and optimistic views
The incompleteness of purely external, physical descriptions of human activity, combined with the difficulty of arriving at an adequate understanding of those subjective factors have led some scholars to the pessimistic view that a scientific understanding of terrorism is almost impossible.
Others optimistically view the problems posed as difficult but not insuperable. The pessimistic view suffers from the usual weakness of perfectionism. In this case, the perfectionist appears to be saying that there is nothing worthwhile between utter ignorance, at one extreme, and knowledge of regularities as exhibited in the laws of pure science, at the other. Indeed, a few reductions in uncertainty are better than total uncertainty. But, systematic analysis can reduce some of that uncertainty.
Hence the intelligent analysis about terrorism will inevitably rest on the assumption that knowledge has distinct limits, even though these are not permanent.
Here one may suggest that for the sake of a better understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism one should actively get involved in it and acquire the knowledge that he needs from direct experience. But then should one become a terrorist or an extremist for the aforesaid end? Does the terror experience provide better knowledge about terrorism than books, analysis, theory, and abstractions? Though there is much to be said for knowledge from direct experience that too has its limitations.
As it is terrorism is not a new phenomenon because struggle and violence in one form or the other have always been present on the earth. These basic human instincts - security, shelter, food and sex - gradually evolved in the form of customs and traditions and later as rituals thereby helping in the formation of societies and afterward propelling to codify the form of international law, to regulate their innate evil aspects.
Societal causes of terrorism
Since good aspects are also present in the very human nature since birth, the inevitable clash between good and evil is, therefore, a foregone conclusion and that manifests into different kinds of struggles and violence in their behavior.
As is obvious, the timely resolution of all these abnormal and unsocial actions is very much required to maintain peace and security in the world. Because the suppressed or hurt feelings in an individual are just like a dormant volcano which, if it does not get vent to come out, will inevitably explode into a massive catastrophe before humanity. This was explained by the celebrated ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote in his immortal work Politics that inequality is the root cause of injustice and that inevitably leads to revolutions all over the world.
All external behaviors of human beings are caused by an internal stimulus that is the product of the best of their reasoning, reflecting their mental or extra-mental consciousness. And all mental frameworks are themselves governed by different aspects of temporal or spiritual aspects of human life. While love, peace, truth, non-violence, kindness, charity, liberty, equality, fraternity, etc. are the eternal-universal moral values enriching the quality of life of all human beings, these have their equal opposites which destroy the entire spirit of humanism or spirituality. And that essentially leads to violence and terrorism as well.
No one is today safe from the reach of terrorism in one form or the other as the phenomenon of terror has got a global spread. Hence, if terrorism is inescapable and also a threat to the very existence or survival of human beings as it can blow up into smithereens the entire humanity, the global community must collectively strive to make sincere efforts to stamp out this menace from all corners of the world.
Global effort needed
Thus, if terrorism is to be eliminated forever, leaders and saner minds all over the world must come forward to evolve something new in the form of political-social arrangements which may enable the human species to survive in full protection. Apart from exercising force and counter-terror measures as an immediate short-term action - though that has inevitably failed except for ensuring a brief lull before yet another bang - global leaders must embrace powerful and elevated concepts of universal love, peace, and brotherhood to gradually substitute violence.
The present conditioning of mind-based rationalities regarding terrorism, as reflected in the dominant Western intellectual tradition in international relations, will have to be suitably modified to pave the way for the inculcation of extra-mental consciousness, thereby incorporating the eternal-universal moral values and cosmopolitan outlook to see the good in human nature.
If these universal-cosmological features are incorporated into the curricula of all educational institutions, accompanied by the necessary deterrent and preventive measures to fight terrorism, the security of the world and survival of humanity can be ensured to a large extent, including rehabilitation of the terrorists into national and global mainstreams.
These can only pave the way for establishing a perfect or beautiful balance in the overall relations of human endeavors. Carrying forward this idea, the phenomena of terrorism must be overshadowed by the idea of love, peace and non-violence which are true essentials of nature.
These noble sentiments can restrain the terrorists and radicalized fanatics and that can only be done through pious and peaceful teachings of religions and other moral discourses. This is why terrorists and extremists need discourses in the inculcation of eternal moral values and practicing of yoga and meditation that can contribute immensely to attaining a perfect and balanced personality as described in ancient Indian classical texts of Yog Sutra of Maharshi Patanjali and in other ancient religious literature and mythologies. Their diet needs to be vegetarian and alcohol and sedatives must be banned for them as their excessive intake may lead to their meta-dehumanization. Further, their daily routine should also align with nature to propel simple living and noble thinking.
(The writer is a professor of political science in MDPG College, Pratapgarh (Uttar Pradesh), India. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)