The Terror By Itself

Ijtihad

Mehol K. Sadain

As expected, the signing into law of the new anti-terrorism bill by the President has resulted in the filing of cases before the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of some of its provisions, and praying that the law be invalidated.

The case is now sub judice, but the law threatens to grow into metus ipsum: A terror by itself.

Terrorism, some say, was institutionalized during the French Revolution, but terror is as old as the incipience of man and weaponry. Despite its long history, however, terrorism has not come under a single, operative definition. It has only agreed to be generally described as violence and threat of violence perpetuated in pursuit of political, religious, racial or ideological objectives. States, however, are quick to add that it cannot be committed by a “state actor”, thereby unrealistically denying the existence of State-sponsored terrorism. We all know that is incorrect. And herein lies the balancing between preventing terrorism and being the terror itself.

Without going into the sub judice substance of the pros and cons; the crux of the cases filed against the new Anti-Terrorism Law is the fear instilled by the prevention of terror itself. It is a fear borne out of the authorities’ possible disregard of constitutional rights, the abuse of their enforcement power or simply a mistaken in the apprehension of suspects. It is the anticipation of the anguish and the pain that wrongful arrest, detention and prosecution will cause the victim. If this happens then terror prevention becomes the terror itself. How can we safeguard against this possibility if basic rights and redress are not recognized, or have already been swept under the rug, so to say?

We have to remember that one man’s terrorist may be another man’s hero, or a terroristic act of a particular period may be a patriotic act of a subsequent era. Acts are relative, and contextualized by the victor. In the meantime, some people may suffer when the State tightens the noose on perceived law violators, and these people may not necessarily be at fault.

Who are really the terrorists when we conveniently include and exclude categories in the definitions of “terrorist” and “terrorism”? What are “terroristic acts” when we hesitate to categorize all acts of violence or threat of violence as “terror acts”? By our indecisiveness, by our hesitance and reluctance, would it not be prudent to be more circumspect in our fight against terrorism?

Would it not be more judicious to protect rather than indict suspects indiscriminately? Experience has taught us that not all suspects are adjudged guilty, and not all those adjudged guilty are criminals. Some are victims of arbitrary arrests, overzealous prosecution and erroneous judgments.

The petitions before the Court plead for a judicial determination of acts that are punishable, punishments that are justified, and justifications that are within our mores and civilized ways in this war against terror. We await the wisdom of the Court; and in the meantime, we hope it comes before hopes are dashed and lives are wasted.

MEHOL K. SADAIN

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