Fighting Labels, Taking Control

Basharat Ali

Basharat-AliThe year 2015 has come to an end. This year, according to government sources, 79 youth joined militancy and about 100 ‘local’ and ‘non-local’ militants were killed. This year a new caveat was included in the discourse on the insurgency in Kashmir which was seen as some kind of “new” phenomenon involving a new “breed” of militants in Kashmir.

This terminology, “new militancy”, gained traction once a pattern was recognised that “educated youth” (as if rebellion needed the elderly) were picking up guns in Kashmir to fight against the Indian State. Such characterisation was uncritically followed by journalists and analysts claiming expertise on Kashmir who believe that this “new breed” of militants is motivated by the urge to fight against the growing injustices and human rights violations. “Shrinking space for dissent” is supposed to be another motivating factor. This is done, as pointed out by one Kashmiri writer, “to rupture historic connexions in the movement” for freedom. Ascribing new motives help the Indian state to wipe out our history which acts as a resource and reservoir for us.

To build the human rights narrative and represent the resurgence as a consequence of growing harassments of youth—which we hear quite often these—on the streets of Kashmir, it is suggested that these educated men are subjected to harassment and to avenge it they pick up arms. Perhaps, and more probably so, such an appropriation of what is otherwise a routine, is only indicative of the disengagement with global trends.

Not going too far back in history and starting from 9/11, there are far too many examples to quote which establish “young and educated” people joining the militant organisations around the world as a norm and not as a deviation. Of the 9/11 attackers eight studied engineering, two had earned PhD degrees and two others were enrolled in doctoral programs. Faisal Shahzad, who allegedly attempted to set a bomb at Times Square, studied computer science engineering. Joseph Andrew Stack, who crashed his plane into IRS offices in Austin, was a software engineer. In fact, a study, Engineers of Jihad, published in The European Journal of Sociology of close to 404 men who belong to militancy by sociologist Diego Gambetta and the political scientist Steffen Hertog, revealed that around 44 percent were trained as engineers.


If we go further back in history, the evidence grows more in size. George Habash, the founder and leader of a prominent 1960s-era Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was a medical doctor. Al-Qaeda’s chief strategist and bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a trained surgeon. Syed Sallahuddin, the Hizbul Mujahideen chief, has a Masters degree in Political Science. In his work, The IRA and its Enemies, Peter Hart found that IRA volunteers were “more likely to have jobs, trades, and an education”.

Now almost all of these men have been cast as “terrorists” in public perception. Who is a terrorist and who is not depends on how they are seen and consequently defined. Here, perhaps, a mention of a lecture, Terrorism: Theirs and Ours, by the great Pakistani political scientist, writer, journalist, and anti-war activist Eqbal Ahmad would serve as a fitting reference. There is no proper, agreed-upon definition of terrorism and terrorist and states continue to label people who revolt against the monopoly of violence.

The uncritical acceptance of labels, like the “new breed”, represents the lack of control we have on our narrative. The reason we fall in the trap of repeating these labels, and actually accepting them ourselves is the enormity of “opinions” and “analysis” carried on Kashmir with little or no critical engagement. Also, this happens because we have allowed “outsiders” too much control over our narratives and that is why when people write “outsiders inside view” they project us as docile beings with very little power, imagination and creativity.

The only way we can fight this campaign of appropriation of our struggle is by taking control of our narrative and not let people dictate us their vocabulary and influence our politics.  Hopefully, we will emerge stronger, better and more politically correct in 2016.


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