Morality of terror? There isn’t any

Since the Woolwich murder, there have been calls for less tolerance of those who disregard the basic rules that govern public life

The lazy journalist, it is often said, invariably equates his taxi driver with the aam aadmi. I must confess to falling back on the oldest shortcut in the trade on my journey from Central London to Heathrow airport on the day after two fanatics decapitated a British soldier in mufti on a busy street in Woolwich.

The taxi driver turned out to be an Afghan living in Britain since 1999. A Moscow-trained specialist in drip irrigation from Mazar-i-Sharif, he was an ethnic Tajik who fled the Taliban. He was a middle-class Afghan who has been reduced to driving taxis in a country that has no real use for his expertise.
So, I asked, as he helpfully re-tuned his radio to a station devoted to Bollywood music, what did he think of yesterday’s killing in Woolwich. “They are crazy people”, he burst, “and they make our lives miserable. They destroyed Afghanistan with their jihad and now they want to destroy Britain.”
“If they asked me for advice”, he went on, “do you know what I would tell the British government? I would tell them that you can’t reform these people because their minds are full of half-baked nonsense. There is just one solution: just shoot them.”
London’s taxi drivers are always full of certitudes, but even by the exacting standards of the Daily Mail this was going a bit too far. Today’s Britain is so overwhelmingly obsessed with “human rights” that the deportation of a hateful jihadi who entered the country on false pretexts and who has since been subsidised by welfare payments has been endlessly delayed because of fears that Jordan (a country from which he is a fugitive) uses torture to extract information.
Or take the case of a guy named Anjem Choudary, a trained lawyer who was the main inspiration for a group called Al Muhajiroun, which has subsequently been banned for its hateful and murderous bigotry. This gentleman, a favourite of BBC talk shows that need a “balancing” voice, is said to subsist on welfare payments that come from the earnings of decent individuals. To put it another way, the British state actually pays for Choudary to motivate young British Muslims into jihad and even helpfully provides him a platform to broadcast his demands for the destruction of tolerance and the British way of life. If this isn’t an example of liberal self-flagellation, I don’t know what is.
Since the Woolwich murder, there have been calls in Britain for less tolerance of those who disregard the basic rules that govern public life in a democracy. Pressure is being put on universities to be less indulgent towards students’ Islamic societies that misuse the pluralism of institutions of higher learning for the promotion of sectarian conflict. There have also been calls on the free media to be more circumspect in providing the oxygen of publicity to the overground voices of the underground.
The last issue is a tricky one. There are many supporters of terrorism and jihad who mask their real intentions with clever arguments and diplomatic silence. To demands for outright condemnation of jihadi atrocities, they invariably fall back on the “roots of terrorism” argument. The real culprit, they proclaim grandly, is the British policy of persecution of Muslims in Afghanistan and Libya, its deep links with the US and its friendship with “racist Zionists” who are out to annihilate the Palestinian people.
“Leave us in peace,” one of the Woolwich killers hollered at passers-by while flaunting his bloody hands and blood-covered machete. In his mind, he was the victim and the British state the oppressor.
Last week, I heard the very same arguments on Indian TV. Following a perfunctory condemnation of the Maoist massacre of a Congress yatra in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, they would invariably shift tack and talk with poetic indignation of the brutality and even the criminality of the Indian state.
Just as the London-accented jihadi will invoke Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan and even Kashmir, these well-heeled individuals will romanticise those who are fighting for the rights of India’s tribals against rapacious corporate houses and their politician friends. Whether it is the massacre of 75 CRPF jawans in a carefully-planned ambush, the decapitation of a tribal policeman in Jharkhand and the orchestrated massacre of political activists last week, the notes of the theme song are common.
The feigned victimhood has been carefully crafted. The overground friends of the terrorists have systematically drawn a moral equivalence between a democratic way that, despite all its many imperfections, rests on the will of the people, and an armed struggle that takes Mao Zedong’s infamous assertion of political power flowing from the barrel of the gun as its inspiration. The jihadis are not really fighting for either the Palestinian or the Kashmiri but for the establishment of a medievalist political order. Likewise, the Maoists couldn’t give a damn about indigenous peoples and poverty; their single-minded goal is the creation of liberated zones that will be used as launchpads for the capture of political power.
Both sets of political predators need what Lenin called “useful idiots” to enlarge the arena of struggle. They are the poets and wordsmiths of murder. And not only do we tolerate them, we accord them social sanction. Perhaps we are the real idiots. Maybe we should employ taxi drivers as counter-insurgency experts. They have the right instincts.

The writer is a senior journalist

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