Many people find it utterly unacceptable to make any “categorization” of terrorism. They say that terrorism can not and should not be categorized on the basis of religion, community, ethnicity, etc. This is because a terrorist is never a representative of any community, religion, ethnicity, or any other such entity.
It is very common to come across objections from the liberal minded Muslim ladies and gentlemen on the use of terms like “Islamic terrorism”, “Islamic terrorists”, etc. I have also come across people who object to the use of terms like “Kashmiri terrorists” and “Tamil terrorists” (i.e. the LTTE people). And now India’s enterprising Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram is being criticized across the political circle for his “Saffron Terror” remark.
Well, I have due respect for people who dislike such religious or communal or ethnic categorization of terrorism. But I think such categorization is necessary? Why? Well, let me explain my view.
We must remember that when a government (or a group of governments or an international body like UNSC) fights against a group of terrorists, it broadly pursues two agenda.
The first agenda is purely based on guns and bullets, aimed at countering the disruptive acts of the terrorists and reducing their manpower as much as possible, thus reducing their power to create mayhem.
The other agenda is based on identifying the “root cause” that is behind the birth of that particular group of terrorists, and addressing that issue through political and ideological means, which entails strategic use of negotiations and dialogues.
This identification and addressing of the “root cause” of terrorism is very crucial. If the government simply focuses on the killing of the terrorists, then the problem will never be solved. The “root cause” will keep giving births to terrorists, with the movement never getting short of manpower no matter how regularly the government guns down the terrorists. On the other hand if the government successfully identifies the “root cause” (poverty, feeling communal or ethnic alienation, etc., then it will be able to address the very source of the problem.
And this identification of the root cause is not possible if we do not make appropriate categorization of terrorism and terrorists. If we perceive all acts of terrorism in the same colour, thus generalizing all terrorist groups as bunches of misguided people involved in heinous activities, then it will be a “Himalayan” blunder. Every terrorist group works with a certain objective that is unique to it, and in that way one terrorist group is different from another one in the same way chalk is different from cheese. Yes, sometimes the objective of one terrorist group is found to be similar to that of another terrorist group. For example, the Bodo, Khalistani and Kashmiri terrorists have the same objective - the “liberation” of a certain region from India. But even then there is an element of dissimilarity. While the Bodo movement is purely based on ethnic sentiment, the Khalistan movement has a mixture of both ethnic and religious sentiment. And the Kashmiri movement is purely a religious issue, sometimes unsuccessfully projected by its supporters as a fight to establish ethnic self-identity of Kashmiri people. Therefore, the government can not handle the Kashmiri separatists in the same way it has handled Khalistan separatists, though the character of both the movements is apparently the same. At the same time, while the ways to handle the Khalistani separatists and Bodo separatists can probably be almost the same, there will nevertheless be some elements of difference in the approach.
Again, while both Kashmiri and Al-Qaeda terrorists are “Islamic” terrorists, there is a difference between their objectives. The Kashmiri terrorists want “liberation” of a certain region from India, not out of any ethnic pride, but simply out of religious consciousness. The Al-Qaeda terrorists are also working out of misplaced religious consciousness and pride, but their objective is not confined to liberating one “Muslim” area from the so-called domination of a “non-Muslim” area. They are rather determined to spread Islam across the world, making it the only ruling religion of the planet. So while we have to handle the issue of misplaced religious sentiment while countering both the groups of terrorists, the ways to handle them will certainly differ given the difference in the “quantum” of their objectives.
So we can find that terrorist groups differ from one another in terms of their objectives, even when the characters of the objectives appear to be the same. Some thrive out of ethnic sentiment, some out of religious consciousness, while some have other “causes”. And, significantly, it is not that the “root causes” of terrorist groups are always unacceptable. And when a terrorist group has a genuine grievance, then that group and its demands must be handled in a different way.
So, at the end of the day, probably we must accept that categorization of terrorists is important. We have to remember that when the government or other such entities pronounce terms like “Islamic terrorism”, “Saffron terrorism”, “Tamil terrorism” or “Red terrorism”, they actually refer to the basic characteristic of a particular group of terrorists, without any objective to generalize the members of a particular religious/ethnic community or supporters of a certain political ideology.