Who Is A Terrorist?

Shame being a condition New Delhi has long consigned to flames, news of red faces in India’s capital is hard to come by after Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s dewy-eyed request to the world, during his current US visit, to define terrorism and terrorists. Scripted adulation and glitzy receptions do tend to obscure minor points that Mr. Modi owes his elevation to the prime ministerial position specifically and precisely because of the world’s, and the UN’s, failure to revise a narrow, selective and politically and financially expedient (un)definition of terrorism and give it a comprehensive meaning to include, for example, denominationally or ethnically directed mass violence incited for electoral gain and political office. Singling out Mr. Modi would not do, given that India’s highway to democracy is lined with trees grown so big in republican soil as to shake, as a matter of right, the very earth with their fall, and that recurring episodes of communalist and casteist carnages are not only a much more reliable index than the stock market but lately also a highly dependable tool to ensure commonality of interest between Capitol and Raisina Hills – a process formally set into motion by LK Advani’s campaign against a 16th century place of worship and the still-unresolved and continuing bloodshed of the minorities it unleashed.

So far, officially, terrorism is what the US says it is (and ditto for terrorists), a situation not likely to change since Washington usually gets around the tricky task of including scruples into the definition by turning around entire states and their formidable military machines to decimate the very assets it had propped, equipped and lionized just the day before as the first line of defence for the values and practices of the Free World. Nevertheless, a spate of brutal mass killings domestically, the racially-inspired shooting inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, this June being the latest, has seen some US leaders make feeble noises for broadening its definition, presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton being among the most notable with her unequivocal use of the term to describe the killings. Undoubtedly, Ms Clinton had her electoral prospects weighing heavily on her mind, but even with that disqualification, how does it compare with Mr Modi’s learned invocation of Newton’s third law to justify one of the bloodiest communalist butcheries in India – one that eventually propelled him into North Block, his disdain for the Western sciences notwithstanding?