The age of terror

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 25, 2019 11:54 hrs
Sri Lanka terror attack

I belong to a generation whose members cannot remember when they first heard the word “terror” or the phrase “suicide bombing”.

Perhaps the two were synonymous to us, since our first encounter with these was the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

I grew up in Madras, and remember conversations among adults about shootouts involving the Tigers and the armed forces. They sounded like scenes out of The Jungle Book or Babar. It was on 21 May 1991 that we understood the Tigers were humans, equipped with far more sophisticated weapons than claws and teeth.

We learnt of the Black Tigers and cyanide capsules.

Those who were a few years older than we were associated terror with the Khalistan movement.

Those who were a few years younger than we were associated terror first with the hijack of IC-814.

But to most people, terror was targeted – it was aimed at small groups of people, with specific goals in mind. Terrorists had demands.

When did the Age of Terror dawn, the age of terror for the sake of terror?

Is the Age of Terror signified by the use of dates to denote attacks? So we don’t say “The attack on the twin towers” or “The London tube bombings” or the “Bombay terror attacks”, and instead go with “9/11” and “7/7” and “26/11”?

Is the Age of Terror marked by children in schools being given topics such as “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” during elocution contests?

Is the Age of Terror marked by candlelight vigils and bouquets of flowers and memorials to the dead?

When did churches and mosques and synagogues start getting attacked?

When did the righteous religious begin to target people at their most vulnerable, when they had dropped their guard and were communing with their gods and with each other?

The Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka have become all about the children – we see their faces everywhere. We watch their parents cry, we see their little graves and coffins, we read about the “first generation that had not experienced violence in Sri Lanka”.

Yes, the tenth anniversary of the end of the 30-year-war in Sri Lanka is approaching.

But can we possibly say the children of this generation have not seen violence before they fell victim to it?

They have grown up with violence.

Every few days, the newspapers carry headlines about terror attacks in different parts of the world, each targeting people in places where they believe they are safest – while worshipping their gods, dining with family, playing at summer camps, running marathons, attending concerts.

One can mourn the loss of life during natural disasters – tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, cyclones, events that are indubitably beyond our control because man cannot bend nature to his will. We have tried, for centuries, to tame the planet, and the planet has rebelled – animal species vanish, lands are submerged, the mountains destroy roads with avalanches.

But how does one mourn lives that are lost because one group of people decided their god is superior to others, and that they should prove it through mass murder?

And how does one mourn lives that are lost because governments are fighting over land and policy?

How does one mourn lives that are lost because men and women were happy to blow themselves up as long as they could take tens of people they had never before met with them?

How does one mourn lives that are lost because people are caught between militants and governments fighting over ideology, and will be killed by either unless they do as they are told?

There is no generation in the world that has not seen war, and no generation that has not seen terror.

Terror is contained in abbreviations – from LTTE to ISIS – and in dates and in the names of places – Beslan, Boston, Paris, Christchurch, Negombo.

Terror is contained in the people’s fear of answering a knock on the door in conflict zones.

Terror is contained in the idea that peacetime does not guarantee a safe visit to the church or a safe return from a breakfast buffet. Terror is contained in the idea that the children we see off to school may never come back home, that the parent who heads to work on the wrong tube line may never be whole again, that the sibling who has been training for months may never bring back her finisher’s medal from the marathon.

Terror is contained in the idea that no one is ever safe, that a stranger could see you as the enemy.

Terror is contained in the fact that, for all the security checks and all the body scanners and all the metal detectors in the world, people continue to be killed in the least likely places.

Perhaps our war against terror should begin with the acceptance that we live in an age of terror, perpetrated not just by an imagined enemy, but by people who belong to our faiths and terrorise imagined enemies.

Our war against terror should begin with a war against hate and bigotry and prejudice.

Our war against terror should begin with the idea that there is no “us” and “them”, that every religion has its crazed followers, that hate exists everywhere in the world, that we are no different from anyone else who allows hatred of any group into his heart.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

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Abhinandan Varthaman: Hero, yes, but victim first

Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols

The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Ten things the chowkidars failed to protect

Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: