Terrorism and Us

Well, an Udaipuri could have, with some justification, felt safe and detached all this while. But then, the recent Mumbai terror acts have been unprecedented in their impact on people around. These brutal and senseless acts of November 26 had all of us shocked, grieved and enraged.

Such acts of terrorism engage us emotionally. While Indians as with the rest of the world have been facing such attacks for quite some time now, somehow those felt distant in comparison to these where the events were brought closer and inside our homes via the relentless beaming of stark images all through the weekend. Other, more potent and bigger threats like malaria, global warming or road accidents do not invoke the same sentiment. They are far too dispersed or too complex to dominate our imagination.

Are we less safe now? Are the anti-terrorism measures making us safer? I don’t think much has changed. The security establishment remains as effective (or ineffective) as it was. Our safety sensibilities haven’t matured a bit. Our minds are not great at assessing risk and are unduly influenced by scenarios that we can relate to at an emotional level. No surprises that we are hearing insanely hawkish calls based on deeper prejudices.

Terrorism is far too complex an issue to be amenable to the currently talked about approaches. More of so called security measures are getting in vogue. Nobody seems to have invested in understanding their effectiveness, direct costs and costs in terms of harassment of innocent citizens (of a free country!). There seems to be much more acceptability to measures like pervasive scrutiny and surveillance, more powers to police, national ID, etc., which have enormous implications in terms of privacy and individual freedom. Isn’t that a terrorized state? Maybe the terrorists have succeeded in their goals.