Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 49, Dated Dec 13, 2008
are transformed into moral acts’
Philosopher SN Balagangadhara tells SHOMA CHAUDHURY terrorism
is functioning like a multinational firm, with local franchises
you outline your thesis on the nature of terrorism?
My thesis is that it’s a mistake to think of terrorists as deranged
or pathological. Like many of us, they have a high ethical sense and are
driven by an acute sense of injustice. For these crimes to become attractive,
they are transformed into moral acts. They think of themselves as moral
exemplars to be emulated. It is also a mistake to think of terrorism as
specific to a particular religious or political doctrine. It moves easily
across religions and politics. This is why the West’s discourse
on Islamist terrorism is so misleading and ineffective. Also, terrorism
horrifies most of us, we think of it as monstrous in size and scale, but
the truth is the number of deaths even in an event as momentous as 9/11
is dwarfed by traffic accidents or smoking deaths in any given year. Despite
its relatively small impact and lower probability of occurrence, terrorism
induces changes incommensurate with the act itself. Reminding ourselves
of this might go some way in helping us contain the fallout of these terror
What framework do you think is
more suited to understanding this?
The most troubling aspect is the emergence
of terrorism as a kind of multinational
firm. Terrorists no longer function
in isolated groups with local grievances.
The business model is that of an international
criminal organisation using small
terrorists as links in a supply chain. It is
useless to think of it as having a centralised
military structure, where you
think that killing the general (an Osama
Bin Laden figure) will disband the army. It
is more appropriate to think of it as an international
firm with a Board of Directors
and many local franchises. Dismissing the
Board will not dissolve the company.
How would you process the attack on
After the series of bombings India has
seen, I think this was a demonstration by
the firm to its franchises of how such attacks
ought to be done for maximum impact.
It is easy to get over the deaths of ordinary
travellers and bhelpuri wallahs.
This was a lesson in how it should be done
to get global attention.