'Three Nations and the Terrorization of Democracy' - Nandana Sen on Terrorism

By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network

"In the last five weeks, I've caught myself constantly flying back and forth and across three continents while working out of three countries, each of which is going through a peculiar and crucial political phase.

I'm writing from Cape Town, a city I've worked in many times before. Every time I'm in South Africa, I am shocked again to remember the brutality of apartheid that existed here barely 14 years ago. And every time I feel a gush of pride about all we learned in school about our famous "unity in diversity." And every time this "pride by comparison" - as pathetic as the pride I may feel that my street is less polluted than my neighbour's - is tinged with the guilt that this business of making inhuman classifications between human beings is no stranger to India, even if it's not the law (as it was in South Africa). Even so, I've always been terribly proud of our diversity, just as proud as I've been of being the "world's largest democracy." But ten days ago, I realized it only takes ten deluded, maniacal and heartless men to wreak senseless havoc in my city for us to start spewing hatred toward our neighbour, for us to absurdly question the very principles of democracy.

The massacre of so many innocent lives in Mumbai is heartbreaking, revolting, and utterly petrifying. Almost as petrifying is the fact that those ten young men could inflict unspeakable carnage believing, in their warped way, it was in the cause of freedom. Because of such insane acts of cruelty, an ancient and splendid religion is becoming the object of irrational fear worldwide. How many global massacres will it take for us to realize that inciting hatred can never be the means to gaining freedom - for any religion, nation, or race? From Gandhi to Martin Luther King to Mandela, our most loved freedom fighters have always shown that true freedom does not mean snatching it at any cost, but embracing it in a way that enhances the freedom of others. We cannot be free if we are trapped in anger - whether directed at terrorists, neighbouring governments, or our own - and willing to give up our rights and responsibility as a citizen. How can refusing to vote ever be an effective form of protest? It is indefensible to give up on democracy just because it's put to the test.

I hear the same angry call to boycott voting here in South Africa. The elections are coming up next year, and just like back home, there is an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction with the ruling party for not keeping its promises, for not taking care of its people. During the 2004 US elections, I was stunned and devastated that Bush was re-elected despite all the facts that had been undeniably exposed. Millions of Americans were too dispassionate or disenchanted to vote. Of course, it was an entirely different story this year as we know. Like great many others, I voted early (in my case through an absentee ballot), I flew endlessly across oceans while the elections were on, I inadvertently irritated every poised British Airways attendant to bits by asking about the polls every 5 minutes, and I finally arrived in New York the morning after America voted for change and chose to be free.

For most of my life, I've lived in two countries. I consider myself a dual 'city-zen' of Mumbai and New York. I'd felt the same desolation and anger watching the landscape of New York crumble forever on 9/11 taking with it a heartrending toll of lives, as I did on November 26 - and a similar hopelessness and anguish when I saw how it became an excuse to launch the most terrifying "war on terror," to identify every Muslim as a possible 'Jihadi.' Sadly, our generation worldwide grew up amidst the horrors of war. The most pitiless and ironic aspect of it is that we often see political leaders, local and global, preying on the insecurities of the uninformed, just as terrorist organizations do -spreading hatred between communities, encouraging and exploiting divisions between human beings to wage war for profit and power. Whether it's Iraqis or Biharis that are targeted, at its core the modus operandi is not too different. And if we refuse to vote, we let this cold-blooded chaos sought after by terrorists and many politicians, triumph over democracy.

The greatest need for democracy is when it is in crisis. Yes, we need positive change, but non-action or impotent rage can never be its agents, can they? Writing from South Africa, I keep thinking about the interlinked principles on which this democracy is founded - freedom and equality cannot prevail without diversity, respect, reconciliation, responsibility. In today's context I'd add one more - tolerance. It's our individual responsibility to not condone any intolerance in the name of religion, nation, race, cast or color. It is our individual responsibility to actively stand up for democracy and change over chaos and hatred."

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