Even otherwise this compilation by Jaideep Saikia and Ekaterina Stepanova shows a sure touch by people who have devoted a fair part of their professional life to making sense of a bewildering phenomenon; at once mindless in its objectives and feral in form. The attempt to bring a collage of experiences from five continents is also laudably ambitious. But where the book falters is in the choice of its contributors. Some such as Alonso and Iribarren are pedantic, barely going beyond the text book approach of reiterating the known in a linear fashion. Others like Hariharan on LTTE are dated even before the book is out.
There are exceptions too, notable for their scholarship. Khatchik Der Ghoussian has written a fascinating chapter that explains the menace of terror in Latin America. What is equally heartening is his incisive commentary on global aspects of terrorism.
He says the definitional dilemma of the academics on terrorism explains why a discipline called terrorismology has not been established. A fair observation as the scale of havoc caused by terrorism globally should be enough to make it a subject of active study, both for a comprehensive understanding of it and to devise counters to it. It may not be late yet, as there is definite consensus that terrorism in its transnational form is here to stay. The message for India is starker still; that our neighbourhood is infested with movements whose actions impact India.
The book analyses the common persons view on the mercenary acts of terror of the type that Carlos indulged in that may have had an element of dare and bravado to them. Even narco-terrorism of Latin America may have had a touch of the Robin Hood aura. But the world became dangerous when states started sponsoring terror.
To a large extent the story of terror in its present day form begins with the East-West confrontation. That chapter of history explains todays geographical footprint of terror. Pakistan, which was an instrument of that power-play, spotted an opportunity here. Soon, it took over as the principal fount of state-sponsored terror, and for Islamic terror. The agenda broadened too; it was no longer agitational or psychological. Nor was it purely political in form.
Terror had assumed aspirational forms: The control, even conquest of territories, regime change and economic subversion in other countries. This, more than anything else, made terror truly trans-national. Quaintly, the terror machine devised by Pakistan was part middle-ages and part modern. It used media and internet astutely, even as it brandished swords to guillotine TV connections. This form of terror has succeeded beyond all expectations.
Quite simply, terrorists based in Pakistan have brought to the world a new age that can best be termed as that of Mega-Terror. Ironically, they have adopted the principles of globalisation to internationalise terror. This book had aimed to solve that riddle; some contributors have done a creditable job of it. There is time still for a follow up book; because terror, unfortunately, is here to stay.
The reviewer is a former diplomat