Debating “Terrorism”: A Post-9/11 Discussion

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

In his column, Nuclear Notebook, Achin Vanaik writes about the varied positions India has taken about nuclear disarmament with respect to West Asia and other parts of the world.

In 2002, Vanaik wrote how, in the aftermath of 11 September, the United States (US) government raised an alarm over the dangers of nuclear terrorism. According to Vanaik, despite state terrorism being the single largest element in the global terrorism problem, most “alarmists” do not consider them as nuclear terrorists. For them, nuclear terrorists mean combat groups, a belief that would be reinforced post-9/11. For the combat group, Vaniak wrote, the terrorist act is a “dramatised statement of political intent” whose main purpose is the symbolic effect it would have and not the degree of material damage it would cause. 

In his response to Vanaik’s article, J V Deshpande, giving examples of terrorist acts from India and around the world, wrote that it was “reprehensible” to dub an act of terrorism as “a dramatised statement of political intent.” Deshpande also probes into Vanaik’s take on state terrorism—particularly the activities of the US, and not combat groups, being the greater menace to humanity. Deshpande wrote that governments have earned their legitimacy from their citizens, from being a member of the United Nations, and from the global community, which cannot be said about terrorist groups.

Vanaik replies to Deshpande’s rejoinder and also clarifies some of the complexities around political terrorism. Raising questions on the ethics of terrorism, Vanaik writes that “one person’s terrorist can be another person’s freedom fighter” and that whether an act is condoned or applauded depends on how a community is affected by it and the events that led up to it. Regarding the US, Vanaik reiterates how, despite acts such as bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  the US is still guilty only of “excesses” and human rights “abuses” but never of terrorism.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Terrorism: Eliminating the Sources, EPW Editorial, 2001
  2. Central Asia: Impact of US-Led War on Terrorism, Rama Sampath Kumar, 2002
  3. Terrorism Before and After 9/11, Mark Selden, 2002
  4. Chechnya: Ground Realities After 9/11, P L Dash, 2003
  5. Who Is a Terrorist? Dhruba Raj Adhikari, 2018


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Terrorism and the State”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []

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