The Congress-led UPA apparently put the war on terror at great risk. At least that is what the regime that replaced it at the Centre seems to think. “In this House in 2013, the then home minister had coined the new terminology ‘Hindu terrorism’ in order to change the direction of probe. It weakened our fight. As a consequence, (Lashkar founder) Hafiz Saeed of Pakistan had congratulated the then home minister. Our government will never allow such a shameful situation again,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha on 31 July after reading a written statement on the 27 terror attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab.
Clearly, the BJP-led Centre has upped the ante on the war on terror and considers keeping the terrorist activities of groups inspired by Hindutva outside the purview of India’s counter-terror policy and operations.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Most Terrifying of Them All?
While the home minister said the term “Hindu terror” was coined to divert counter-terror agencies from taking on Islamic terror, the word “terrorism” itself has been widely questioned ever since the 9/11 attacks in the US when its usage enabled an unprecedented assault on civil liberties and democratic rights of citizens and was used to justify “endless war” on the people in Third World countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The historical development of the word and its meaning reveals how it is ideologically loaded in favour of the State against citizens, powerful countries against oppressed ones, and the dominant sections of society against the rest. When the French revolution swept the monarchy into the dustbin of history in 1789 and birthed a republican government, it led to excesses that made the guillotine a lasting symbol of what Charles Dickens called the “Reign of Terror” in his novel A Tale of Two Cities.
So the word “terror” came to be used for the first time in a political context to describe the intimidation of citizens by the State. It was only in the 20th century that “terror” gradually became an “ism” and the term began to be used in connection with anti-State violence, so much so that the original meaning was inverted and some States even began denying the existence of “State terrorism”. “Denying that States can commit terrorism is generally useful, because it gets the US and its allies off the hook in a variety of situations… The American definition of terrorism is a reversal of the word’s original meaning, given in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘government by intimidation’. Today, it usually refers to intimidation of governments… (and has) a simpler — and perhaps more honest — definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of,” wrote Brian Whitaker in The Guardian (7 May 2001).
The home minister’s take on “Hindu terror” being a misleading term completely ignores the etymology of “terrorism” and how the term misleads by including only those acts of violence that target the State or the dominant sections of the population and excluding the violence perpetrated by the latter. In fact, the statement reeks of an attempt to do away with the little ambiguity that remains over the usage of “terrorism” — with concepts such as “State terror” and “Hindu terror” — by making it a leaner descriptor for violence by non-State actors, excluding those claiming to act on behalf of the dominant religion.
Muslims in the Crosshairs of Counter-Terror
Tagging terrorism with religion started after the Cold War and the theory of ‘clash of civilisations’ gave it the necessary ideological impetus. Ever since 9/11, Muslims have been represented as a simple binary in the mainstream discourse, with the “good Muslim” pitted against the “bad Muslim”. The “bad Muslim” is blamed for terrorism, while you can become a “good Muslim” by adopting Western manners and proving that you reject the “primitivism” associated in the Western mind with Islam. You are also expected to constantly prove that you do not support the “terror” perpetrated by “bad Muslims”.