Saturday, 8 October 2016

Do new-age Terrorist organizations behave as nation-states?

This becomes a very pertinent question in today’s world where boundaries and traditional concepts of nation and states are taking a beating in the face of newer, ever-evolving challenges – the common example being ‘terrorism’, that is threatening the very core of peaceful human existence globally.

Nitin Pai in his video “Rise of the Netions” [below] mentions positive aspects of the political interactions that were hitherto unimaginable are now becoming more relevant given today’s scenario; he highlighted the example of Facebook and other imagined communities, that are not sovereign, but has a considerable presence and clout to sway public opinion and cause impact at different parts of the world.

In the same vein, would like to draw attention to the menace of terrorism – that is often touted to have no religion – true; but are now behaving more as organizations, capable of taking on nation-states head on. Let us take 3 such examples – ISIS, LTTE and FARC, that covers the broad spectrum of extremism.

According to Anderson, in order to give rise to a nation, the underlying basis, i.e., nationalism should be an imagined community, that should be also limited and sovereign. Does ISIS, LTTE and FARC fit the bill? Let’s evaluate.

ISIS is fundamentally based on religious extremism that plans to build an Islamic Caliphate on most stringent sharia laws, now defunct LTTE was borne out of discontent against Sinhalese majority oppression and FARC of Columbia is based on Communist ideology that believes that the government is the oppressor. Now, we can definitely agree that these organizations are/was imagined – as not all members will not know each other and has their own version of ideals in their mind in tune with the organization they affiliate with. They are obviously limited as only those who believe in the ideals of these organizations align themselves. They fall in the traditional definition of community as only those people affiliate themselves who’s the ideals match with those of the organizations and they have a sense of bonding and comradeship that makes them willingly die and many cases kill primarily for their ideals.

Also, in reference to Anderson’s 'Print Capitalism', it needs to be added here that information dissemination through print, television and digital media, plays/played a very critical role to build the support base and mobilise sympathy from followers/believers of the ideals and has/had acted as a key catalyst in their spread and reach.

But when it comes to Sovereignty, one can argue that none of these are/was sovereign in nature. True. But, in all the 3 cases, sizable area of land is/was under their direct supervision and control – where the elected government had no say and the law of the land are/was decided by these organizations rather than the elected government. But who decides sovereignty? According to me, it depends on perception and which side of the line one is standing. In the eyes of the world, these may not be sovereign organizations and does not represent the will of the majority people; but again none of these organizations would have flourished without the basic common denominator – Human Resource; which means there is a sizable chunk of population that still considers themselves as part of a larger goal of these organizations – wherein sovereignty may exist in their mind as imagined! And why not?

So, in a way, it can be argued that all these 3 organizations are imagined communities – but do they theoretically fulfill the requirement of a nation and a state to be ascribed as nation-state?

In order to be considered as a state, it needs to be under a specific political community, having a political institution, that acts as a vehicle or agent to carry out day to day functioning. In all the 3 examples mentioned, they are political communities and had large tracts of land under their command, a sizable armed forces, a functioning judiciary which can be a kangaroo court following their own diktats, financial arm to generate and finance their ideologies which can be donations, kidnapping, selling drugs, etc., media & public relations wing that maintain and promote their viewpoints to the world, acting as their mouthpiece, setting up a brand image and so on and so forth. In short, they have/had set up parallel governments.

From this perspective, it can be argued that these terrorist organizations are definitely imagined communities and behave as nation-states. It is a different discussion altogether whether there is any folly in engaging with these organizations considering them just as an offshoot representation of an ideology or needs to be tackled in the manner nation-states are usually dealt with.

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