Terror reared its ugly head again with the strike of the pressure cooker bomber in the US and in India with the Uri attack on the Indian army. At each strike, terrorists leave us helpless and benumbed to the reality of terror. On the one hand, I find tears streaming down my face and sometimes I question whether they are tears of grief or frustration? No place in the world is safe anymore; whether an obscure town, a busy metropolis; a train, a plane or a street corner. You can be at work, running a marathon, at your place of worship, clubbing or simply relaxing at home.
Consider the strike at 135, west 23rd street. I happened to be in the area the evening before. It could have been me among those 29 injured victims. It was like déjà vu hurtling me back to February 13, 2010 and the blast in my neighbourhood at the German Bakery. For Pune that day, terror arrived at our doorstep and suddenly became more real. It was clear terrorists knew no boundaries and anything, anyone, any place was a likely target.
Today, the tentacles of terror are no longer restricted to major cities like London, Mumbai, Nairobi but are claiming smaller towns like Nice, Pune and San Bernardino. There was much speculation after the explosion in Chelsea. Theories began floating on various possibilities. New Yorkers were assured it probably had nothing to do with international terrorism. Despite the effort to spread calm, Uber surged beyond control, cabs were difficult to find, the subway in the area was affected. Residents of the area were shaken but just as quickly, resilient New York moved on. The next day it did not feel like this was a city affected by terror. People were going on with their life, shopping, meeting friends, walking, jogging, taking the new knock in their stride. We have seen this time and again. In Mumbai after 26/11 and the various train and bus bombings, the Delhi Parliament attacks, Turkey, London, Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Brussels. Terror has become as routine as eating, drinking and sleeping. Is it any wonder we have become numb?
Americans were dragged into the fight against terror post 9/11 and have gone at it hammer and tongs. It is considered to be a safer country given the heightened level of security but in recent times, radicalised followers and believers of ISIS propaganda have increased terror attacks on US Soil. These latest attacks in the US could indicate an active terror cell operating in the New York/ New Jersey area. My backyard yet again. Given India’s proximity to radicalised nations, terror cells have been operating in the country for a while and the Indian government has its hand full trying to neutralize them. And all of us, whether in India, the US or elsewhere in the world, live with these new realities.
Uri was slightly different since intelligence had pointed out the likelihood of an attack. But on the flipside, there must be so many leads; some right, some false. Failure to intercept terror attacks is unfortunate but terrorists today are just as technologically equipped and becoming extremely sophisticated. Apart from countermanding attacks and intercepting intelligence reports, technology has become an effective weapon for recruitment. Social media allows radicalised people to vent their frustrations and it is a matter of time before these fringe elements are contacted and converted. Governments, terror fighting organisations are working round the clock to counter terror attacks and possibly avert more than we would ever know. Both terrorists and the terrorized are extremely alert simply because of advanced technology. Sometimes the swiftness with which terrorists are nabbed makes me wonder if they want to be caught or if the law enforcers are just that much slower in following up leads. Unfortunately, the reality is they cannot be successful every time. What I find regrettable about terror attacks is the association with one community and as a person with many Muslim friends, some especially close ones at that, I feel helpless in the face of this irrational fear. And still is it that irrational?
On a logical level, everyone knows terror is perpetuated by a small percentage of radicalised people but that does not stop people from wondering if they are surrounded by said radicalised man or woman. People are scared of associating with Muslims and everyone is looked on with suspicion. I scream silently because it is not how I want to live my life, with mistrust and prejudice.
In the US, currently we are in the midst of election season. There are two candidates with opposing views on how to deal with terror. One wants to proceed with caution and the other wants to carpet-bomb all terror regions. Who is right? Both candidates have their fair share of supporters and critics. The fact is terrorism is here to stay. It is possible terrorists themselves have forgotten their cause. It is just their way of life now.
According to our scriptures, this era is called Kalyug. It is going to be a time of strife and escalating violence catapulting us to an eventual imploding of our universe and complete annihilation. Maybe it is preordained and this is inevitable; beyond our control.
But does that mean we give up? We owe our children and grandchildren a better world. And if we do want to believe in the Kalyug theory, we still have a long, long way to go before the world shudders to an end.
In the words of John Lennon, if only we could “Give peace a chance.”