‘Globalisation and terrorism are closely linked’

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: When news broke of the arrest of two Bangalore boys for the failed attack on Glasgow Airport, a friend asked me, “Hey, what is happenning to your IT city? I can’t believe a peaceful state like Karnataka can send terrorists to the UK.”

I didn’t have to think too hard to reply: “Bangalore is the outsourcing hub of the world, and terrorism is just the latest dish on its menu. IT stands for Information Technology; now it also stands for International Terror”.

My response surprised her.

Brand Bangalore is a new link in the global terror network. Or is it just an exception? The West is shocked its “vendor city” has developed the audacity to challenge it with bombs and highly qualified bombers. Even chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy admits the recent incidents have brought a bad name.

But anybody who has a fair idea of Karnataka’s socio-economic life, and its troubled communal history, can cut through the hype and hysteria and understand what is happening.

Some old assumptions about Bangalore and the southern states need to be instantly thrown away.

Till the early 1990s, Karnataka was seen by northerners as a place where their children could go and study medicine and engineering. Bangalore, 2,500 km from Delhi, was not all that important for the central government and the so-called “national” media for which the world didn’t exist beyond Lutyen‘s Delhi.

The economic liberalisation of the 1990s altered those perceptions overnight.

Karnataka and its booming capital Bangalore appeared on the world map with a bang. Bombay, Delhi and other cities started to look like dull places before the glamour and influence of Bangalore. Foreign heads of states started to arrive directly in Bangalore leaving the big cities sulking.

Indian and international media started to present a rosy picture of the city. The IT and BT companies and the BPO sector did their best to make Bangalore look like the greatest destination in the world for moneybags.

Thomas L. Friedman came all the way from New York to chart Bangalore’s miraculous journey from Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and garrison city to a global outsourcing hub in his bestseller The World is Flat. He can now add terror outsourcing when he writes his next edition.

It is true that Karnataka is rich when compared to other states in India. But it is no utopia, as portrayed by the media and corporate interests.

Karnataka has witnessed countless communal clashes after Independence. The State has provided a fertile breeding ground for both the Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist forces. All kind of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist forces have strong presence in the state.

They live in resentful proximity.

A former chief minister privately admitted to me that at least 1,500 had died in communal clashes after 1985. It led to communal polarisation and the rise of the BJP and the fundamentalist Muslim elements in a big way.

Muslims in Karnataka are much better off than their counterparts in the north. Tall public figures hail from this community. Muslim writers, poets, educationists, bureaucrats, politicians,sportspersons, teachers, businessmen have been contributing to the state and its public life.

Karnataka has a very rich Sufi culture. Its Muslim influence dates back 800 years. Many Muslim dynasties have ruled Karnataka. According to the Justice Rajinder Sachar panel report, Muslims constitute 11 per cent of the population of the state, and their share in the government jobs is more than 8.5 per cent.

Nearly 70% of the Muslims have access to formal education. This is a good record when you see figures from other states.

Nearly half a million Muslims from the state work in the Middle East and sending millions of dollars back home. While all this suggests Muslims have no ground to feel alienated, we shouldn’t be surprised that well-off Muslim youth are joining bomb squads to create an Islamic world and take on the ‘Satan’ West.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, disconnected from the hard realities of life, talks only about economic growth. Neither he nor his intelligence set-up (many of them are retired and senile bureaucrats) has noticed any Islamic radicalisation among the educated and well-off Muslims south of the Vindhyas.

Many IB ‘agents’ assigned to gather information on terror activities spend their time at Press Clubs or ouside somebody’s house, talking to ill-informed people.

Globalisation and terrorism have close links. Perhaps one product that used to move freely from one place to another even before liberalisation was terror. Extremist organisations set up their globalised networks much before our governments opened their doors to global markets.

The BBC’s terrorism correspondent Phil Rees‘ book ‘Dining with the Terrorists’ analyses the problem brilliantly.

More recently, a study of 172 Al Qaeda terrorists done four years ago by Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer in Pakistan, found that 90 per cent came from a relatively stable, secure background. Most were from middle-class or upper-class families, and were college educated professionals.

Sageman’s findings, published in 2004 in Understanding Terrorist Networks, led him to conclude that “most of these men were upwardly and geographically mobile”.

He wrote: “Because they were the best and brightest, they were sent abroad to study. They came from moderately religious, caring,middle-class families. They spoke three, four, five, six languages.”

Unlike the lone serial killer, these men functioned well in groups.

Indeed, isolated in a foreign country, they depended on a close circle of friends who reinforced their beliefs. Ask Sageman to name two likely professions for a second-wave terrorist and he selects “engineers and physicians”.

“What makes people like engineers or physicians try to work for the good of society is the same impulse that makes people sacrifice their lives for the sake of a community, (in this instance) the ummah (the global community of Muslims),” he said.

Sageman’s findings answer most of our questions related to how and why these three Bangalore youth joined the web of terror. A major technology hub like Bangalore is the best place to rope in such people for terrorist activities. It is a fact that they can’t get such people from the poor Northern states.

But 14 crore Muslims in India and close to 7 million Muslims in Karnataka shouldn’t be asked to pay the price for the mistakes of a few misguided Muslim youth.

Terrorists have no attachment to a place or country. They have a purely globalised mind! It would be foolish to brand a country or a city as a terror hub just because two or three men took it into their heads to blow up an airport.

Globalisation is a Western euphemism for greed. It has given birth to a sophisticated form of global terror. Brand Bangalore is a vital participant in globalisation. With the fruit comes the seed, and it can be awfully bitter. Bangalore in particular and India in general can’t escape from it.

Here Rudyard Kipling‘s words become most relevant: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster at the same time. And treat these two imposters just the same.”

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Read the original version of this piece here: More Bangalore for your buck

Also read: How terror, too, was outsourced to Bangalore