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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Another Way to Tackle Terrorism

May be Not Original, But an Interesting Idea None the Less

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Tibetan Buddhist swami, offers an alternative idea to tackling terrorism. I am intrigued by it. While it may not work on a cross border or international scale, it could work within a national context. The idea itself is not new. South Africa's Truth Commission was set up along similar lines but it was for a completely different reason and from a different perspective.

Also this prescription can be over done.

Here is the conversion between IE's Shekhar Gupta and the swami:

I remember you spoke in New York a couple of weeks after 9/11 and you were asked what you would tell Osama Bin Laden if you met him. You said you would listen to him first. Now we have a situation in India, where we are having this rash of bombings and people are scared and angry because they believe those who are carrying out the bombings are their brothers from their own country. Can these people be told to listen to those who are attacking them?

Terrorists are also victims. They are victims of the information they have got, they are victims of their own perceptions and that is why it’s very important that we try to understand them.

They are angry...

Their perceptions are not helpful to them that is why they get angry, violent, they want to punish. And that is why they need to be helped and not to be punished. One way to help them is to allow them to speak out.

They are those who believe that they are victims of discrimination and injustice and based on that kind of belief they have tried to do something but, so far, have not succeeded. No one has listened to them, done something for them and that is why they have taken recourse to terrorism. So, what we can do as a government, as a nation is to organise a session of deep, compassionate listening and invite them to come and to tell us what is in their heart, their suffering, their frustration. You can organise it in such a way that the session of listening is televised for the whole nation to follow. And if we have enough attention and compassion, we bring about relief. They feel that they are now understood, and they suffer less.

It will be like a pressure valve getting released?

Yes, and if we repeatedly organise sessions of deep listening then I think after a few months the level of violence and hate will go down and that is what we have experienced in our community.


Photonman said...

Although this prescription looks good on paper, it's difficult to follow it for ideology-driven terrorists, even at the national level.

As an example, what do you achieve by televising a live discussion with organizations whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to mold India using Islamic principles, using violence if necessary?

Clearly their core objective is not only unconstitutional but also unacceptable to the vast majority of us. Giving a patient listening and airtime will only result in propaganda. Even worse, it will only embolden all sorts of nutcases to take up arms to get their twisted message 'heard'.

Ahimsa is not always desirable to tackle Adharma.

Chandra said...


That's precisely what we want. In fact, if the terrorists were truthful, it would put the psec media and political parties supporting them on the defensive. We already know most of these guys are middle class well to do people - so Sachar route may not work. Of course they can blame Modi or what not. That can be countered also with real facts about riots and how many people actually die and what was done to the perpetrator by who.

The point is, right now intermediation of what the terrorists want is being done by psec media and appeasement based parties like Congress I. A series of forums like this will show the lie of these groups.

It could also turn the plenty of normally sane Muslims against them because the terrorists have nothing to offer to them. I see little downside.

Photonman said...

I see where you're coming from, but please remember that these guys are clever enough to cast their message using acceptable discourse.

Take the Islamists for example. It is easy for them to cite instances (real or imaginary) of Muslim oppression and discrimination. They can always disown the acts of terror. Given the propensity of ordinary Muslims - even well educated ones - to fall for such propaganda, giving them such unfettered access to mass media could be counter-productive.

Also, much as I would like to agree with you, psec politicos and journalists would love to get involved in the mess.

In any case, much as I respect your opinion, to me it looks like the cost of this initiative failing - or morphing into something more sinister - is simply too high.