The changing face of terrorism: The Nation

Police secure the area around the Parliament of Great Britain in London, March 22, 2017.
Police secure the area around the Parliament of Great Britain in London, March 22, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

In its editorial on March 23, the paper says that the attack in London underscores the diversity of the threat and a growing ideological divide.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Even at this early stage, three lessons can be drawn from the apparent terrorist attack outside the British parliament buildings in London on Wednesday.

First, terrorist attacks can come in many different forms and needn't follow any set patterns or meet particular expectations. From the sheer horror of airliners being used as flying bombs and the brutality of assault weapons, we have moved on to an era in which kitchen knives and careening vehicles become the blunt instruments of terror. Attacks can come at the hands of a group or an individual. And the intended message might not always be clear.

In the Westminster assault, a man drove a car into a stream of tourists and other passers-by and emerged from the vehicle wielding a knife, with which he stabbed to death a police officer. He was gunned down before he could inflict further harm. Clearly assailants bent on spreading terror no longer need sophisticated weapons, but rather can and will use anything at hand.

This is an important point in light of the United States government's precautionary ban this week on laptop computers being carried aboard aircraft departing specific Muslim-majority countries. Washington evidently assumes that terrorists still seek to blow up planes in the sky, but we have seen far more incidents on the ground that involve far less planning. Unfortunately it is all too easy to commit terrorist attacks and kill innocents on the soil of countries that take the threat very seriously and yet are unable to prevent such incidents.

The second lesson learned this week is that, paradoxically, the more people who repeat the familiar mantra extolling Western freedom, democracy and tolerance, the more prejudice and discrimination spreads in those same Western societies. The problem arises because protecting such cherished values requires more and more safeguards that effectively undermine them, resulting in a downward spiral of diminishing returns.

This very discourse has driven an ideological wedge through ostensibly free societies. The attackers in Western cities from Brussels, Paris and Berlin to Boston emerged from varied backgrounds and shared no uniform "profile". The next attacker could be anyone, acting in any location, driven by any of a number of reasons.

This leads to the third lesson. We must carefully consider the increasing number of terrorist attacks that are unrelated to the Islamic State or any other extremist organisation. It is far more common now to see attackers causing mayhem and carnage in public places as a result of emotional instability, personal grudges, unconstrained hatred and other such triggers.

It is imperative that the divisions appearing in the West not be allowed to take root in Southeast Asia, particularly due to its vast number of Muslims. While our values are not so different from those of the West, we generally display more respect and tolerance for opposing views and alternative religious beliefs. The motto of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is, after all, "Diversity in unity", a call for people of different beliefs and creeds to live in harmony.

In no way does this mean we can rest on our laurels or be complacent about the possibility of contagion from afar.

Terrorism is certainly not unknown in this region. The propaganda of extremist groups influences people of militant mindsets and hateful agendas and the unfortunates pushed to society's sidelines.

Local politics and policies have motivated terrorist attacks here. And yet there's been one major difference between local reaction to such acts and the international response to these and similar attacks overseas - the authorities here never say the evil-doers are out to destroy values, but instead are simply "bad" or "sick" people.

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