The arrest in Germany of two white terror suspects this week has demolished stereotypes of jihadi terrorists.
Until now the Jihadi was perceived as a person of West Asian or South Asian extract, fanatically religious, and unable to separate politics from religion.
Now it is that boy next door ! As if the number of west Asian and south Asian immigrants were not a large enough threat, it is the boy next door turning against Western civilization.
What makes a youngster, in the prime of life, strap bombs to his body, head to a crowded place, and blow himself and others around ? Until now this was an almost academic question about some people across the borders, or in some ghetto. Now it could be a question about a youth at home or in the neighborhood.
Rather than ask these questions, Germany is not unexpectedly slipping into knee jerk reflexes like exploring the option of monitoring the activities of German converts to Islam. See this report in Spiegel
It is becoming more clearer that unlike in conventional warfare, the “war against terror” will not be won by a large defense arsenal. Those were to an extent useful against organized terrorist militias in the Middle East like the Taliban, but they are increasingly less so when the new face of terrorism is increasingly an ordinary civilian in your neighborhood – most often a migrant, but sometimes that blond boy across the road..
Our weapons may be superior to that of the terrorist, but pray tell me where do you find him first ? He may be in our neighborhood, in our community. He may even be at the same place of work. And he will show his or her hand at a time suitable, typically when our guard is down.
We could get ham fisted, and back our government to search, intimidate, and harass communities which are suspected to breed terrorists . In the past our governments dropped some bombs hoping to kill terrorists, but also killed a lot of civilians in the bargain, as the Americans did recently in Afghanistan, hoping to kill some of the Taliban in a village. But you can’t do that on native soil.
If we harass and kill a lot of people in trying to catch a terrorist, we are doing a part of his work for him by alienating large parts of the community. If our laws become more draconian, we are again doing his work for him. Most terrorists have always believed that democracy is a sham that conceals an iron, dictatorial hand.
The American decision to house prisoners, suspected to be terrorists, in Guantánamo Bay, without access to the provisions of the Geneva Convention, did not cover America with glory. The fig-leaf of a pretext that Guantánamo was not American territory, and therefore the prisoners were not under the jurisdiction of US law, once again showed that we can expediently abandon democratic principles. Now Germany seems to be veering towards a surveillance policy that could seriously curb personal freedom.
It helps to have an army or police in the background to protect people, repeat to protect people if there is an attack. But soldiers and police armed to the teeth cannot be your diplomats, the carriers of your message of reconciliation.
Politicians and concerned people have to start communicating with suspects and those on the fence, break down the barriers, get around their fears and anxiety. The old ploy of identifying a “bogey-man” and attacking him may bring votes, but will not save lives.
Let us not try to change their way of life, their culture, because that is exactly what they suspect is our hidden agenda. When some of us talk, as does President George Bush, of exporting democracy to countries known to have large terror groups, we may in fact be insulting their way of life. It comes across as patronizing as some colonialists of yore who wanted to bring the colonized in Asia and Africa our of their “backward” living and beliefs into a more European and Christian way of life.
The NGOs should move in with aid, rather than prescriptions. The American people, the Indian people, the Russians, the British people, and all others who have been affected by the threat of terrorism should reach out to these people, talk to them about helping them, talk to them about restoring their dignity, their lives. This is not a job for governments, or the military, but for civil society.
The terrorist is in our midst. That brings up the opportunity for civil society to win them over on mutual terms. It is also a time to look within – what about US and European politics and culture, for example, are driving its young to other religions and culture ?
At the same time civil society cannot harbor the illusions that this will be an easy process. There will always be the more determined terrorists, planning a bomb attack, even while you are talking peace with them. While communicating with terrorists as people, civil society has to also communicate with one another, to keep a discreet eye on unusual activity, unusual objects lying around in our neighborhoods, unusual people.