A dangerous solution

Mumbai was attacked, and Indians at large are angry as hell. On the day after the attack, Kumar Ketkar, editor of the Loksatta talked to CNN and said that he was afraid of religious riots breaking out. Thankfully, nothing of that sort has happened, for now. But no one – not the government, not the people, not the media – is thinking clearly. The media, particularly the Times Group outlets – the Times of India and Times Now – have taken a very strong anti-liberty stand (read the papers Friday thru Sunday). Bharat Karnad’s piece in today’s Mint (I am quoting the last two paragraphs of the long article) echoes the various positions-

There’s one other factor that is critical for success. Uruguay battling the Tupamaros and Argentina the Monteneros in the 1960s both realized what the US Homeland Security scheme, Russia fighting the Chechen insurgents in Grozny, and Israel have established: Success against the urban terrorist guerilla is predicated on “oppressive population control”. The more aggressively potential sympathizers in a society are deterred from offering moral and material support to terrorists and would-be terrorists, the more effectively this threat can be quelled. Thus, for example, nowhere are residents and citizens with Muslim-sounding names under stricter surveillance than in the US, where there has been no incidence of extremist Islamic terror after 9/11.

What is urgently called for is more intrusive overt and covert policing of the minority community in India. This may be a politically onerous but unavoidable policy. The sting of the targeted approach can, however, be diluted by subsuming it in a system of more intense monitoring of the population at large.

Their solution for Islamo-fascist terrorism (or even the opportunistic low intensity conflict supported by our “non-state actor” neighbors)? Plain vanilla fascism.

Another article, this time by Mythili Bhusnurmath in the Economic Times tries to justify increased government scrutiny of financial transactions of citizens by referring to the terror financing and money laundering bogey-

The scale and audacity of the attacks on Mumbai have raised a host of questions. Few have ready answers and have been asked in the past as well.
But there is one aspect of the attack that has not received the attention it deserves, it’s financing. Yet it goes without saying that an attack on this scale would not have been possible without a well-oiled machine to channel money into terrorist hands.

Sadly, this is something we have just not focused on so far. Speaking at the recently concluded India Economic Summit in the Capital, Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, cautioned the central government of the dangers of lowering its guard against suspect inflows of funds from overseas. In its anxiety to ease the dollar crunch, it would be catastrophic if the government allowed ‘dirty’ money to find its way into the banking and financial sectors, he warned.

A table that accompanies the article lists out the approximate costs of some terror attacks – London, Madrid etc, and the figures are in the range of $10,000-$50,000. Not a “huge” sum of money by any standard, certainly not enough to justify spending a few hundred million dollars on watching funds to the tune of trillions of dollars flowing across the global banking system, and invading the privacy of citizens by forcing banks to disclose transactions of their clients. But terrorism is simply a convenient ruse. The best way to control someone is to control their money. That is what taxation, foreign exchange and anti-money laundering laws are all about. If there were no taxation, there would be no “black money”. If there were no “war on drugs” (ever heard of “war on tooth pastes”? why not? because the cartels will only distribute those items that are driven underground by laws against their use), there would be no need to do “money laundering”. Probably a good time to read an old Swaminomics column on the virtues of much-demonized hawala.

I don’t understand why is it that governments that cannot stop or respond well to terror attacks look at their own citizens with suspicion and target them instead of the real men behind it all – its like an impotent man taking out his frustrations on his wife.

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  • Prashanth Bhat  On December 3, 2008 at 8:09 am

    I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and have deeply admired your convictions. And for this reason, out of sheer curiosity, I would like to know what you suggest as a comprehensive solution towards avoiding such terror attacks in the future. I must admit that this is the first time I am leaving behind a comment, and fortunately or unfortunately it happens to be a question. Your kind reply will be well appreciated.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On December 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t know if I can provide a comprehensive solution, because I myself am struggling with libertarianism’s answers on a wide number of issues and the state of much of humanity – “the fatal flaw” in their argument I call it, and hope to write about it once I can collect my thoughts on the issue. But let me try nonetheless.

    There are two types of terrorism I recognize – the one resorted to through the use of arms, the overt kind on display in Mumbai, and on a daily basis in J&K and much of the Naxal belt, and Assam, and the covert kind – bombs, land mines etc. Murderous rioting and arson – Delhi ’84, Mumbai ’93, Gujarat ’02, Orissa ’08 – I categorize under law and order problems because the police can easily control mobs “if” their political masters allowed it. Not the case with acts of terror.

    Terrorism that uses hand weapons (and even the “law and order problems” I referred to above – where the police stood by and watched as people were slaughtered) can easily be combated if the citizenry is armed. I think you might have read my post on it. And the “parable of the sheep” Sauvik points to. The only reason terrorists and criminals are comfortable using hand weapons is because they know their victims won’t be able to shoot back. If the people at Akshardham, or the citizens in Mumbai, or even the guards and staff and guests at the Oberoi were armed, I am sure that at least one of the hundred odd people would have shot at the terrorists and the massacre would have ended then and there.

    wgreen has a post on it that refers to the same problem. He points to a post by John Lott on the costs of gun control, particularly the case of Israel-

    The attack also illustrates what Israelis learned decades ago. — Putting more soldiers or police on the street didn’t stop terrorist’s machine gun attacks. Terrorists would either wait for the armed soldiers or police to leave the area or kill them first. Likewise, in India, the Muslim terrorists’ first targets were those in uniform (whether police or security guards).

    Terrorists only stopped using machine guns to attack Israelis once citizens were allowed to carry concealed handguns. In large public gatherings, a significant number of citizens will be able to shoot at terrorists during an attack — and the terrorists don’t know who has them.

    With mass shootings becoming more difficult, terrorists were forced to switch to a less effective strategy: bombs. Bombings are more difficult for armed citizens to stop because they can’t respond after the bomb blows up.

    Still, even though handguns can only kill would-be bombers before they set off their bombs, during waves of terror attacks, Israel’s national police chief will call on all citizens who are allowed to carry guns to make sure they carry their firearms at all times, and Israelis have many examples where citizens with concealed handguns have saved lives.

    In their warped minds, both terrorists and the murderers are kamikaze-like killers, who value maximizing the carnage. Even if the killers expect to die anyway, letting victims have guns at the scene can help deter these crimes in the first place by reducing their expected return.

    This does bring up the question of how will mass gun ownership impact society – will there be a bloodbath on the streets because of shootouts among citizens because of a multitude of factors (road rage, for example). I can’t dismiss the possibility outright. But consider this; if murder was legalized tomorrow – you will no longer be punished if you kill someone – will you go and kill people at random, just like that? I don’t think so. Humans have a moral compass. It might not work correctly sometimes, but in the majority of cases, people will do what is right. That’s what will happen even when people are allowed to carry arms.

    Regarding the bomb blasts that keep happening in and around India, privatization of most of the security apparatus (and hence de-politicization) might help. While I am against discrimination and forced searches by government, that is not the case when it comes to private security. If I have to enter a mall, or a multiplex, or a private airport, or a hotel, I will submit myself to their security procedures. If I don’t wish to do that, I always have the option of not visiting such places. Gated cities are another option. Private enterprise, when they cannot count on government help (or are not forced into accepting government help, as the case is today), can only survive if they do their job well. A private city where people get robbed or blown up will lose its customers. On the other hand, people in a “public city” like Mumbai have no option but to cry one day, and pick up the pieces the next day, blaming politicians and cops in the process.

    A big government does not have to respond to citizens’ complaints, because the people in government know that the citizens have no other option. That’s why privatization matters.

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