Monday, January 24, 2005

Militant vs Terrorist

NPR : Internal Contradictions on NPR?

The above link is just for reference. It has a discussion on the use of the word militant versus the word terrorist. I've been thinking for some days now on who exactly is a terrorist and who is a militant. tells me that a militant is

Having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause
or Fighting or warring.

However, a terrorist is one who practices terrorism and terrorism in turn is defined as :

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons

With this small introduction, think of the Kashmir problem. Look at cross-border terrorism happening in Kashmir. We daily see that a few people are killed here and there. And this is every day. Not a day goes by without somebody or the other getting killed in Kashmir. Now what do you call the perpetrators of these acts ? Moreover the victims are usually innocent. Are they terrorists or militants ? Look at it from an Indian perspective.

Looking at the above definitions - any Indian would say that the Islamic insurgents are without a doubt, terrorists. But look at what the Indian press says.

Even when the Indian Parliament was attacked - the perpetrators of these acts were referred to as militants. When Akshardham was attacked - the perpetrators were called 'fidayeen' and militants. The word 'fidayeen' seems to justify that act! Calling them that will bring sympathy to the terrorist cause - but not do justice to the victims. If they were really fighting somebody, militants shouldn't be killing innocent people. By doing that these so called militants have already crossed over to "terrorist-land".

Yet our newspapers (the Indian English media) don't seem to understand. I think they don't want to understand. I've seen them refer to somebody who throws a stone at a bus as a militant. Somebody who blows up a bus full of people in Kashmir is also called a militant. Is this characterization fair ? Doesn't it seem obvious that the Kashmir problem perpetrators are terrorists ? Why desist from calling a spade a spade ? Why that pussyfooting around this problem ? Isn't conveying the truth the most fundamental responsibility of a newspaper ? By using words like "militants", they just condone these violent acts.

But I have to say that the Indian English press uses only one word all the time. So they can't be blamed for lack of consistency. Step up and call a spade a spade!

In the above link, there is talk of inconsistency in reporting news by NPR. Though I've enjoyed and occasionally still enjoy NPR programming, I've seen them leaning left on several occasions. Not that leaning left is bad, but the truth is more important. If you as a news disseminating agency know the truth, you should report it as close to the truth as possible.

Of course, the choice of terrorist vs militant (or even martyr) depends on who is making the choice. Words themselves lend to this subjectivity as one man's terrorist can unfortunately be another's freedom fighter. The British during their occupation of India could refer to Bhagat Singh as a terrorist (I don't know if Bhagat Singh killed any innocent people) whereas for Indians, he was a revolutionary and a freedom fighter. I suppose only history decides whether X was a martyr, terrorist or militant (or that word extremist). And history is always written by the victors. I've come full circle now. I don't seem to know what word to use any better now than before writing this.

I still have a gut feeling though, that Kashmiri insurgents should be called terrorists. And this is because of the systematic killing (genocide ?) of Kashmiri Pandits and chasing them away from their land and households. This is also because of their killing and kidnapping of other innocent people (Muslims, foreigners). We've seen LeT members being referred to as terrorists all over the world. When the same people engage in violence in Kashmir, why not call them terrorists ? It is for this uniformity that I think they should be called terrorists.

But at the end of all, I sometimes feel, the act has been done. People died. How can a small word change help those who are dead? Those alive can continue to quibble over words, but all thoughts stop when you think of those that died.

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