It is open season now for terrorism ‘gurus’ of all ilks. A year ago, when the suburbs of France were ablaze, a local ‘researcher’ fabled that those racailles (mostly Arabs) were only one step away from terrorism. After the July bombings in Bombay this year, another fabulist is now portending that homegrown terrorists are poised to attack the country at any moment! (l’express 19.09.06). In a fit of panic, he rambled from vagueness to contradictions then to ambiguity in a delirious, albeit vain, attempt to make his case.

Here goes the writer’s argument. We are told that Mr. Cunningham confided to the writer that he managed to get through all the high security control posts at the port, unchecked, during a night visit. Hence the writer posits that there is a ‘near-total lack of national security measures’ even at the airport where, he challenged that he is able to slip through all the ‘security set up’, reach the tarmac, spray-paint his name on an aircraft and escape safely, without anyone raising an eyebrow! Explaining the relative ease of security breach at such locations, the novelist managed to identify ‘brainwashed officers sold out to terrorist causes’ who –in the past- had allowed people to ‘leave and enter the country without any entry on their passport’. The final conclusion is a question: when will our leaders awaken to the fact that….any minute Mauritius might become a victim of the powers of terrorism?

To expose the fallacy and the insidious racial undertones of such hypotheses, I shall rather state some basic facts, explain some of the writer’s confusions, reveal the innuendos therein and point out some serious implications for the economy.

The facts: (a) there has never been any terrorist attack in Mauritius nor is there any known terrorist group operating. This is maintained by the renown Terrorism Research Centre (U.S.A); (b) despite the bombing of Grand Bay Store, local and foreign intelligence services have concluded that it was not a terrorist attack; (c) the countries that suffer most from terrorist attacks are Iraq and Afghanistan; (d) Terrorism also occurred in Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kashmir, Bosnia and Kenya; (e) Terrorist acts in India have also been carried out by Tamil Tigers and the Sikhs besides the ‘Islamic’ terrorists.

The confusion: the scaremongering among local writers stems from the confusion between familiar crimes and misdemeanours and terrorism. It is their inability to fathom the subtle difference between terrorism and crimes, although both involve threat, violence and destruction that led many to mix up one with the other and consequently construe fanciful theories to explain local events. In terrorism, it is the nature of the mens rea (guilty intent) element that demarcates it from familiar crimes; the intent here is to ‘intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act’ (UN panel, 2004). Hence it is the desired political goal compounded with violence that jointly constitutes terrorism. That is why terrorists target symbols (the Pentagon, embassies, the World Trade Centre) to send an ideological message and achieve greatest impact. Now consider the examples cited by the writer which he used as evidence for terrorism: a negligent security guard at the port; a burglary at an hotel; deficit in intelligence gathering at the airport; and finally an isolated case where a Muslim woman passed through the immigration when no one was on post and managed to board the aircraft.

The innuendos: The last example mentioned above is symptomatic of the widespread visceral bias that pervades debates on extremely serious issues. More details are therefore required. A well-known Muslim widow, S.J., on her way to study religious education in Pakistan happened to cross through the immigration without clearance. This oversight was noticed only when she returned back to Mauritius. The incident instantly became a scoop for the press since the lady in question was at that time religiously married to a certain A.P., from Mont-Blanc who was believed to be the sponsor of the Hizbulla party. Given the hysteria of the time, a pernicious attempt by some reporters dubbed a group of social misfits ‘death squad’ and craftily linked it to the Hizbulla and ultimately to Mont-Blanc, which in their imagination was the bastion of the Hizbulla, its death squad and a hideout for their weapons. Despite several police searches of the area and the houses of its inhabitants and despite inquiries by the U.S. intelligence services on terrorist connections in Mauritius, nothing whatsoever was ever found. Yet the perception of a Hizbulla cum ‘Islamic’ terrorist threat still prevails.

The psycholinguistics: The magic of the word ‘terrorism’ is such that the moment it is uttered it instantly cripples the listener’s mind, strucks awe and confers upon the accusator an absolute right to castigate and dehumanise the accused. Affixed to any group, it dispenses one from the onus of proof, allows one to flout all conventions and international law and ironically attracts widespread sympathy. But more worryingly, ask anyone: what is the profile of a terrorist? Here is a sample of the answer you get: Muslim, preferably bearded, having studied in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and hates non-Muslims. In France and the U.S. this profiling would suit any Arab, in the U.K any Asian, in Turkey any practicing Muslim and in Mauritius any Muslim with a beard. The one common element to all is they are all Muslims. Over time, media frenzy with fundamentalism and terrorism has led to a general trend among non-Muslims to view all Muslims within the prism of ‘terrorism’ as if all Muslims were one monolithic entity.

Hence Islam and terrorism –thanks to local media- became indissociable in the Mauritian collective psyche. Yet, are we not aware of a local gang who persistently used force, penetrated public institutions, threatened staff with the aim of compelling the government to nominate people from a particular community? Yet such example fails to catch the writer’s attention; not surprisingly because they do not fit the profile of local terrorists since they are all non-Muslims. Such pervading racial bias that underpins the rhetoric of non-Muslim citizens ineluctably entrenches social cleavage, weakens interfaith interaction and dangerously polarises moderate Muslims.

The implications: Taking into account our sickening economic situation (public debts, the triple shocks etc…), the lifelines on which the government is heavily relying are tourism and foreign direct investment among others. Now you tell me, who is that stupid tourist who will risk his life to come to an island where ‘any minute’ a terrorist attack might occur and where the leaders are not even awakened to this ‘fact’ as alleged? Like wise, who is that stupid foreign investor who will inject millions in a country where terrorist attacks are imminent? Not to mention of the impact of such hallucinations on the stock exchange and the outflow of capital to safer places. In a matter of hours the whole economy could be crippled if this story is taken at face value.

A couple of weeks ago, a former minister declared that ‘lascars pe control tout dans pays’. Last year, another turncoat minister was so outraged that he exclaimed: ‘ki, ene lascar ki pou dirige delegation diaspora indienne?’. With such maladjusted social misfits around, who needs terrorists?

Belall Maudarbux