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What makes a young terrorist tick?

What makes a young terrorist tick?

Publication: Sify News
Date: August 31, 2007
URL: http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=14519996

[Introduction from the Hindu Vivek Kendra: One would get an impression that in this whole four days only one person spoke, namely one Maloy Dhar! On a serious note. It is people like Maloyji, identified as "former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau", who make it difficult to have a serious attempt to deal with the problem of Islamic terrorism. One would get an impression that the motivation of these terrorists is the same as the hippies!]

Youth and terrorism make for an explosive mix. What inspires youngsters to take up arms against the system? What steps can be taken to check the increasing alienation of today's youngsters? These were the questions raised at a four-day conference at the Ramada Rajpark in Chennai last week. Janani Krishnaswamy reports.

"You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust funds weren't enough. Your vodka and cognac wasn't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything."

These were the words of Cho Seung-Hui, a young student who gunned down 32 fellow students and teachers in Virginia Tech campus on April 16 before committing suicide. It was the deadliest shooting in modern US history.

Cho could have been speaking for millions of youngsters; particularly those on the wrong side of the have and have-not divide.

'If the expectations of young people are not fulfilled in time, it results in frustration, making them deviate from the mainstream,' believes Maloy Dhar, former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau.

Addressing a conference on 'Youth at Risk,' co-organised by Commonwealth Youth Programme Asia Centre and Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development in Chennai from August 22-26, he said young people around the world generate two powerful emotions in our minds - fear and hope. The fear, that they would disown and destroy all our civilization values, and the hope that they could revive, enrich, recreate and carry forward all the positive aspects of our collective heritage. These fears, hopes and frustrations are growing each day.

Nearly a million people worldwide kill themselves each year. There are an estimated 10 to 20 million attempted suicides every year. Many of them are youngsters unable to cope with these emotions. Many others rebel, and youngsters are constantly in conflict with law. Add terrorism to this mix, and you have a million disasters waiting to happen.

The Chennai conference, which had young -and some not so young --representatives from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and the Maldives - was an attempt to understand these linkages and arrive at some solutions.

In his address, Dhar explained how and why young people resort to militancy. Youth militancy was a pattern of behavior, which has various stages, and it starts with change in attitude, frustration, anger and ends in militancy. It depends on social, environmental, political and economic conditions and the attitude towards life. However, he clarified, taking up of arms alone cannot be considered as militancy, and went on to cite the following instances wherein youth unrest brought about major social transformations:

* The uprising of Black youths in support of Martin Luther King paved way for the onset of a new political and economical order which ensured equality to Black community.

* Charu Mazumdar, a brilliant student from a good family of Presidency College, Kolkata, spearheaded the Naxal movement to fight against the prevailing socio-economic order, and brought a permanent change in West Bengal.

* In India, when emergency was imposed in 1975, a large number of youngsters rallied behind Jayaprakash Narayan's movement, which finally forced Indira Gandhi to call elections, which she lost.

"Would you categorise any of these activities as terrorism?" asked Dhar.

The word "terrorism" was first used in reference to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution - the first public display of violence against the aristocratic class. A 1988 study by the United States Army found that more than one hundred definitions of the word exist and have been used. The lack of agreement on a definition of terrorism has been a major obstacle to meaningful international countermeasures. As the saying goes, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

However there is an academic consensus definition given by a UN committee which says: "Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by semi-clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators."

The participants then evolved a simple linear equation to understand how a cheerful youngster turns into a terrorist: Expectation - Frustration - Loss of faith - Deviation - Resistance - Armed Militancy.

Reiterating that the expectations of the youth are not being met in time, Dhar noted that taking up arms alone should not be attributed to militancy. Quoting an example, he said the Hippie movement, that radically altered global cultural values, was a result of the unhappiness of the youth about the prevailing social order.

The Hippie movement was a subgroup of the counterculture that began in the United States during the early 1960s, becoming an established social group by 1965, and expanding to other countries before declining in the mid-1970s.

Hippies rejected established institutions, criticised middle class values, opposed nuclear weapons, opposed the Vietnam War, embraced aspects of Eastern religions, championed sexual liberation, were often vegetarian and eco-friendly, promoted the use of psychedelic drugs to expand one's consciousness, and created intentional communities. They used alternative arts, street theatre, folk music, and psychedelic rock as a part of their lifestyle, and as a way of expressing their feelings, their protests, and their vision of the world and life.

Recent trend studies on terrorism reveal shocking facts. Terrorists at will and with chilling regularity have hit various parts of the globe. Outside of Iraq, 20,781 people were killed in terrorist violence between January 2004 and March 2007, according to data available from the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS) of the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

Afghanistan has seen 2,405 lives being lost while more than 1,000 each have been killed in Pakistan and Nepal. Sri Lanka has had 866 terrorism-related deaths and Bangladesh 158. Bhutan and the Maldives are the only South Asian nations not to have lost lives to terror in this period. India alone lost 3,674 lives over the same period of three years and three months.

In response to another question, Dhar said 'World leaders, political and religious, have not taken major steps to contain the militant trend in the youth, but instead have consciously promoted its growth for personal gain.' For instance, when the US wanted to pin down the USSR, Muslim youth from all over the world were mobilized to fight the Russian army on the soils of Afghanistan, Kosovo and Chechnya.

But not all terrorism can be blamed on external forces.

The latest data shows that there has been an increase, though marginal, in overall incidents of Naxal attacks across India. While 971 incidents involving Left-wing extremism were reported between January and July this year, the figure for the corresponding period last year was 967.

Attributing this trend to the frustration of young people with societal, economic and governing rules, influx of refugees, lack of agrarian and industrial reforms and the indifferent attitude of law enforcing authorities, Dhar expressed concern and urged the government to takes immediate steps to curb it, as it might lead to 'serious consequences' later.

Religious fundamentalists also capitalize on the weakness of youth to a great extent. They brainwash them into believing that they are working for a noble cause, so that they turn into religious fanatics.

In Bangladesh, there has been a serious exodus of young skilled workers, manual labourers and illegal immigrants to India and other countries due to the government's to tackle the problem of population explosion and the lack of economic infrastructure. The growing expectations of the youth pose a major problem to the government. 'The youth of Bangladesh are at crossroads and there are religious fundamentalists waiting to take leverage out of the frustrated youth who are on the verge of an uncertain future,' warned Dhar.

Similarly, in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the army was called in to flush out armed militants from the Lal Masjid, a clear sign that religious fundamentalists were motivating the youth to fight against innocent countrymen. 'The spurt in Islamic militancy is due to the conviction of the youth that the West has been pursuing policies which did great injustice to their countries, particularly during colonial rule disintegration of states took place in reshaping of boundaries and today, these young people want to take revenge,' Dhar said.

Dhar also blamed the fact that the youth have not been educated enough about their potential for excellence. Parents and peers unfortunately mislead them by equating their intelligence with their capacity to make money. And naturally the youngsters eternally chase 'more' money.

The upward mobility of youth from the lower middle class to upper middle class is a new trend due sparked by the growing number of MNCs and BPOs. The expectations of the young are growing by the day, and this had serious ramifications. Calling for a coordinated action, Dhar said 'Education systems do not match the market requirements and hence more educated youth end up being unemployed or underemployed. In rural areas, lack of unemployment lead them to migration to urban areas. These migrants do some service to the urban people and they often emulate urban lifestyles. When they cannot afford to do so, they indulge in criminal activities.'

But what is the solution to all this? What will be the future of the next generation if this trend continues?

A participant from Bangladesh had an interesting solution. Let 'the government spend less money on military and divert the same in bridging the inequalities between the rich and poor. This will definitely put an end to terrorism,' she felt.

But no government or anti-terrorist outfit is likely to agree with her.

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