The State And Non-State Violence
Mumbai bomb blasts of July 2006 and the recent Israeli raids on Lebanon have brought on focus for the umpteenth time the issue of violence - as perpetrated by state and non-state players.
The Mumbai bomb blasts have been blamed on 'Muslim Terrorists'. Several such violent incidents - both in India and elsewhere - have also been blamed on 'Muslim Terrorists' in the past. Ordinary Muslims have reacted in different ways to these incidents. Majority of them would condemn such acts in principle and would try to clarify that Islam doesn't sanction killing of innocent civilians under any circumstance. Some understand the explanation, many do not. It wouldn't be far-fetched to say - in the eyes of a significant number of non-muslims - there is the perception that Islamic teachings somehow condone violence against civilians. This is a public relations crisis facing Muslims. Whether muslims like it or not, value it or not, this is something that has to be addressed and educated upon seriously - before we reach a point of no return - with regard to relations with other communities.
Any such explanatory effort - addressed at non-muslims - must be two-fold. One is the common-sense explanation: Just because somebody quotes from Quran or the Prophet's sayings to justify violence on civilians, the act doesn't become islamic. Second is the root-cause explanation: It is true many muslims are agitated about many issues - be it Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq or any other issue. Not all the muslims who are aggrieved by these issues - however - take to violence. It is but a tiny minority amongst them who use these causes to perpetrate and justify violence against civilians. To contain the violence that is perpetrated in the name of religion, we must solve - fairly and squarely - those issues which the extremists flaunt to gather support. Once they are solved and dead, whatever cause the extremists may choose to espouse would fall on deaf ear to an overwhelming majority of people. It is this indecent delay in solving those political problems that is providing the oxygen to sustain extremism.
International Law in recent decades has delegitimised the use of violence by non-state players. That simply is not enough. As long as the state and the various international bodies fail to manage conflicts ably, violence as a tool would continue to be deployed by non-state players. This is tragic, but obviously inevitable.
War and violence were never like this in the past. Armies mostly met in battlegrounds (Kurukshetra, Badr, Waterloo etc) and the civilians were largely spared from becoming casualties. One estimate shows - till the beginning of 20th century, civilian deaths in conflicts were less than 15% of the total. This rose to over 50% during the Second World War and some estimate - by the end of century - it stood at 75%.
The reason is simple: From using swords for combat, the societies have 'advanced' and moved to using bombs - a variety of them, deployed on artillery, aircraft, rockets and missiles. The whole framework of war has changed. Whereas in the past the battlefield was clear, today it is not. It is the whole country of the enemy that is fair game - that is the battlefield.
Many scholars - from ancient times to till recently - have tried to enunciate a 'Just War Theory'. It broadly used to be like 'There must be a direct provocation', 'War must be for a just cause', 'All other options must have been exhausted', 'Innocent and non-combatant people must be spared' and so on. These were the broad principles - but it was never a unified theory - etched forever not to change. The first Caliph of Islam after the Prophet, Abu Bakr (Ral), is quoted as having ordered his troops about to go to war: "You must not mutilate dead bodies... Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man... Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful... Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food... You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone".
The 21st century humanity has paid no heed to these theories and advises. Many armies today - western and non-western - use air power and missiles to wage their war. In terms of saving their own lives, it is the easiest way to fight and so the most preferred too. The inevitable loss of civilian lives to those 'precision munitions' is dismissed as 'collateral damage'. This is the 'new Just War Theory'. For the extremists, their own excuses: people are combatants by having voted for these rulers and so on. Though the tenor in the tones may vary, the language that both speak is the same.
In a world that is wired end-to-end, where things that happen in one corner of the world are visible in real time to the other corner of the world, exposition of Violence as a tool for resolving conflicts - whether in the hand of a state or non-state player - is decidedly primitive. Sooner we realise this, better would it be for all of us.
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