Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: TERRORISM

Published: 11.01.2009


Before attempting to find the exact means and methods needed to tackle the ever-growing menace of terrorism in different areas of the globe, we need to understand that it is a self-sustaining phenomenon. It is a fire that finds its fuel as it spreads, without any outside help. And this makes it all the more dangerous and difficult to contain. This is a reminder that we must treat this disease, like any other, at the time of its inception, irrespective of the fact that the affected area could be far removed from us in terms of time and space. If we neglect it because of its distance from us, or nurture it for ulterior motives and postpone devising means of confronting it until it reaches us or has become full-blown, we are risking an unending battle in addition to inflicting suffering upon unsuspecting and innocent masses.

The root cause of terrorism is acute adversity in both financial and intellectual development, and these are interrelated in most cases. These adversities are the breeding grounds of religious fanaticism. Such problems tend to be grossly neglected, sometimes due to the urgency of some competing problem, but mostly due to callous neglect of the ‘have-nots’ by the ‘haves’.

Leaving aside persons who are mentally deranged, violence has its roots in the basic survival instinct of every living being. In nature, violence, as we understand it by observing the food chain, is associated with survival. In absolute terms, violence forms an essential component of the survival mechanism intrinsic to every being no matter how micro or macro it is. Under normal circumstances, this survival instinct works as a constructive force driving us to utilize the means of survival with which nature has provided us. But in adversity, when we are deprived of these means, justifiably or unjustifiably, we are faced with a threat to our survival. Terrorism is born out of this threat. It would not be wrong to conclude that all violence, other than that associated with natural survival needs, is dependent on the threat perception of an individual being or a group.

Under the influence of this threat, the natural survival instinct turns into a potent and destructive force, driving beings to grab and snatch to meet their needs. Among human beings, who are equipped with highly evolved faculties of perception and imagination, the scope of ‘need’ continues to expand, and the dividing lines between need and desire, ambition, covetousness and greed become hazy. The intellectual tools of rationalizing and justifying provide durability to this destructive force, which then becomes nearly limitless.

Once this turnaround takes place and finds an atmosphere conducive to its spread, it grows with ever-increasing speed and overpowers the normal functioning of mind. When this happens, even a normal person begins to behave like a mad and deranged person, and a new terrorist, who is ‘sanely insane,’ is born. The evolutionary journey from being an animal to becoming a human being has been long, but that from human to animal is very short.

When working against evil, it is essential to condemn it unequivocally and to dissociate oneself from it. The moment any “if or but” conditions are laid down, one is associating oneself with those who do evil. Maybe the medicine should be different for the diehards and the fence sitters, but both should be counted among the sick. The diehards, who are beyond any chance of retrieval, have to be given the ultimate treatment of punishment. But fence sitters are to be quarantined within fences of proper education and social uplift. The extreme treatment could involve acts of violence, but as it is curative in terms of the larger human interest, punitive violence need not be considered violence as such.

If violence is to be reduced or curbed, it is essential that the looming shadows of threat be diffused or removed. As there is no standard formula for this, it has to be tackled at different levels and in different dimensions. However, because adversity is the prime source of this threat, it is of fundamental importance that adversity be addressed on a high-priority and long-term basis. We need to remind ourselves frequently that if sincere and concerted efforts are not made in time, humanity could soon be overwhelmed by the choking stink of cordite and its own decaying carcass.

Polarization is another cause of conflicts. Polarization leads to dogmatic absolutism because it is not aimed at the search for truth, but rather the vindication of previously established beliefs. The increase in the tendency of imposing our thoughts on others is the cause of the spread of the prevailing stressful atmosphere.

Intellectuals these days are mostly involved in discussions that lead to an unpleasant and unproductive hardening of attitudes. The basic purpose of any discussion should be to develop better mutual understanding. But this kind of discussion seldom takes place- not in visual or print media, nor in seminars or meetings, general or private. Instead, we usually find argumentative exchanges or heated debates propagating dogmas.

The first thing we should do is prevent any further escalation of violence in our own lives, for it is we who provide fodder to terrorism. We should understand that an increase in the tendency of imposing our thoughts on others creates the kind of tense atmosphere in which terrorism thrives.

We have to realize that terrorism, or any sort of extremism, thrives on partisan attitudes hardening into dogma. We must understand that deliberation or action confined to a small group or area has no immediate influence on the major incidents of violence unless we are at the spot or are involved directly. Those who are at the helm of affairs should be allowed to do what is required of them. Even if they have some shortcomings, our spur-of-the-moment reaction is not going to help them in any way. In fact, it may distract them by turning into a new local dispute and drawing on their limited resources.

Any discussions or debates engaged in by people not concerned directly and immediately with the issues involved have a tendency to inflame both sides and provide fuel to the already blazing fire. This grows in importance in direct proportion to the level of influence of an individual or organization. The wider the reach, the stronger is the momentum of the dogma. Therefore, instead of reacting immediately, we should stop and think. And that cannot be done when attitudes harden.

As terrorism depends not just on threat but threat perception, it has to be primarily tackled at the psychological level. As psychology covers almost all dimensions of conscious and sentient life, the task at hand seems impossible. But reality is to the contrary.  Precisely because it is connected with psychology, social psychology can provide a basis for sound and effective measures to deal with the causes of terrorism.  And that is where the importance and efficacy of ‘ahimsa way of life’ lies.


Prakrit Bharati Academy
D.R. MEHTA, Founder & Chief Patron

First edition: 1987
Second enlarged Edition May: 2004
Third Edition July: 2008

© All rights reserved with the author

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  1. Ahimsa
  2. Greed
  3. Space
  4. Violence
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