Citizens must master empathy to reclaim our humanity against terrorism


The terror attack across multiple locations in Paris is a declaration of war by the Islamic State. It must be seen as such because 9/11 terror (2001) attack in the United States was a deadly riposte by Al Qaeda and Taliban to draw the Western hemisphere in a bloody “Us versus Them” conflict across the Islamic arc from West Asia to Afghanistan-Paksitan. The 26/11 terrorist attack (2008), preceded by the 1993 bombings and several other terror strikes, in Mumbai (India), were an extension of a proxy war strategy of Pakistan military establishment carried out by terrorist groups supported by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). In South Asia, Mumbai was the most favoured terror target by Pakistani military terror planners. Now Paris has emerged as the most favoured terror target by the Islamic State because this city is the birthplace of the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, ideas that are repugnant to Muslim religious extremists. This is why it is a declaration of war by the Islamic State and the world and its citizens must rise up to this challenge.

President Francois Hollande has declared that the French response will be “merciless” and “pity-less”. Countering violent extremism requires a democratic civilizational confrontation between citizens and terrorists. Citizens across the world, irrespective of the political systems they live in, must shed their religious identities and fight the demons within their communities. Irrespective of where they live and what their governments believe in, Muslims, Christian, Hindus, Jews and all other religious groups must resolve to weed out terror from within their communities. Governments across the world can hardly do anything to stop the cowardly terrorist attacks by religious extremists, if citizens do not help in countering violent extremism.

How can citizens across countries help? They should reach out to communities that are experiencing marginalization and radicalization to embrace them and their problems. Citizen groups must work pro-actively with their governments to help communities facing marginalization and radicalization and help those communities stem the tide. Citizens must reach out to those who are angry and susceptible to joining extremist violent groups and persuade them to join the mainstream. Extremism can be withered, shrunk and eventually annihilated through citizen-centric and citizen-powered empathy strategies.

Governments cannot fight religious radicalization. They can, however, make enabling policies and environments for citizens to take the fight to terrorists by engaging radicalized youngsters through empathy. Places of worship, ghettos and community gatherings across the world which could be potential sites for recruitment and radicalization must witness battles of ideas powered by empathy. Citizens in multi-cultural and multi-religious countries must preserve their progressive and liberal ways of life by persuading and bringing those who are angry, dejected into their enlightened mainstream. Only genuine embrace of differences and deep empathy can persuade people of different religions to accept that religion does not have any authority over individual choice and freedoms.

All citizens across the world must understand that countering violent religious extremism is mandatory to defend and protect democracy. Religious extremism is premised on an ideology of dictatorship and tyranny. That is why it is critical for 21st Century to outlaw religious extremism and create an impregnable wall of agnosticism around fundamental rights and freedoms for all humans on planet earth. For this governments across the world must quickly and urgently arrive at a universal understanding and declaration of terrorism. Apologetic clichés such as one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter has no place in our 21st Century discourse. Instead, the governments across the world must create enabling conditions for citizens to mobilize around empathy strategies in order to reach out of those who support terrorists or are amenable to terrorism or are radicalized but silent supporters of terrorism. This is the surest way to outlaw terrorism because when citizens claim their citizenship, they claim it for everyone including those who are angry, disenfranchised and violent.

Meanwhile, the governments across the world must set a clear deadline to countries that support terrorists and terrorism related ideologies. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel and Iran must be told to rein in and eliminate their State sponsored use of terrorism, which serve their national interests. Saudi Arabia under the Saud family promoted the dangerous ideology of Wahabism and Salafism, which provide the dangerous intellectual rationalization for Islamist terror groups. The global community must bring overwhelming pressure on the United States of America to withdraw its protective arm around the House of Saud. Riyadh’s petro-dollars funded the rise of Islamic extremism powered by the magnetic pull of radical Wahabism and Salafism, channelizing the disenfranchised frustration of Muslim citizens across the world towards extremely violent religious radicalization.

The fight against Islamic State must begin at Riyadh and Islamabad. These are the original places where the foundational pillars of the global Islamic terror infrastructure were first sunk by the disastrous diplomacy of the United States in the decade between 1980 and 1990. The trigger that shield’s Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s complicity in promoting violent Islamic extremism is embedded in Washington’s long standing support for terror-supporting Saud Family and Pakistan’s military establishment. The fights against the Islamic State need a unified global action by governments and citizens. Governments must unapologetically annihilate political – security establishments supporting terrorists and their infrastructure. Eventually, it will be citizens who will help governments win this war by squeezing out radicalization and terrorism from society through empathy, compassion and consciousness.

(Shashikumar Velath is an investigative journalist and led CNN-IBN’s Special Investigation Team from 2005 to 2009. He is currently a Leadership Group Member in Ashoka – Innovators for the Public. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

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