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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 49, Dated Dec 13, 2008
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interview

‘Crimes are transformed into moral acts’

Philosopher SN Balagangadhara tells SHOMA CHAUDHURY terrorism is functioning like a multinational firm, with local franchises

Cover Story - Mumbai Terror Attack 2008Could 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 attacks.

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 Mumbai?
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.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 49, Dated Dec 13, 2008

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