With every terrorist attack, a standard set of people crawl out of the woodwork. These are human-angle-finders who dig out human stories linked with a terrorist and build a narrative to justify his/her act, however heinous or inhuman it may be.
If we look at the profile of such story-tellers, more often than not, they are educated, urban and liberal intellectuals.
As Pulwama attack has also its own share of liberal intellectual explainers, I am tempted to point out a deeper pattern that is not getting recognised.
To understand this better, we need to look at the psychological backbone of terrorism, i.e. brain’s response to fear.
Using fear to modify human behaviour is possible because we have a unique and quirky way of dealing with fear, referred to as Stockholm syndrome. It was once thought to be a rare brain-state found only in those who have faced a survival threat but it is now appearing that it is a far too common a brain-state that we all live with.
The core idea of Stockholm syndrome is that when a person feels a survival threat that he/she can’t find a way to mitigate, brain opts to start justifying all the acts of the threat-causer. This innate brain algorithm does make survival sense as not antagonising the threat-causer is bound to provide a slim but real survival possibility.
With this mechanism in mind, if we look at the intellectual liberal response to actions of Muslim and Hindu hardliners, there is a subtle difference.
A Muslim act of terrorism has a greater chance of finding its explainers and justifiers amongst the intellectual liberals while aggressive acts of Hindu hardliners never find such support and face only criticism.
If we rise above the religious taboo and look at this objectively, it is clear that Muslim terrorism has a built a strong brand, as it has really succeeded in what it is attempting, i.e. scaring people, while Hindu hardliners are not there as yet.
The intellectual liberals’ justifications for heinous acts like Pulwama is possible to explain from Stockholm syndrome perspective. The act has caused real fear and hence there are scared brains in need to explain it with a comfortable narrative.
On the other hand, acts of Hindu hardliners fail in throwing liberal intellectuals in Stockholm mode as they are not scary enough.
A goon chasing couples out of a park on a Valentine Day never earns human angle story of childhood abuse and is laughed at instead because he fails to scare enough. Strange though it may sound, I am perfectly sure that the day he manages to scare enough, he too will earn sympathetic narratives from liberal intellectuals.
While liberal intellectuals and the rest of us may fight over denial or acceptance of the concept of “religious” terrorism, the bigger truth is, fear is the true religion of terrorism.
Terrorism is all about causing enough fear in the hearts of the subject to press the Stockholm button, and every terrorist regardless of the religion is trying to do just that. The sign of success for any terrorist is when he/she finds justifiers of his/her acts because it means that the act has caused enough fear.
As intellectual liberals world over are living in comparative comfort, their fear threshold is bound to be lower, and hence I don’t see a reason to criticise them for wanting to find a comfortable narrative for their own peace of mind. But, as they are getting increasingly vocal and aggressive about their imaginary narrative, they are now causing a real problem, as they prevent the execution of a possible solution to terrorism.
As terrorism is all about causing fear, the practical way to counter it is a display of fearless aggression in response. Those who want to scare and thus control others by their scary acts must be given a reason to fear.
Let us realise that all human beings, including terrorists can be put into Stockholm mode using varied levels of fear. So the logic of avoiding aggression by fearing a backlash (that we are inspired to use by our liberal intellectuals) is not always right.
We need to rise above fear and cause fear if we really want to fight terrorism.
-by SAMIR SHUKLA (Visiting Professor of Bionics at IIM Ahmedabad)
(This article first appeared on The Times of India-blog and has been reproduced here in full.)
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