When the first CCTV shot of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was shown to the world, viewers and readers stared in disbelief not probably so much at the terrorist who with his counterparts rocked the city of Mumbai and the world, but at the fact that the twenty one year old was branded so, at his age.
Once the initial shock set in, reporters wasted no time in dramatically pointing out what they thought looked like a sadistic smile in a garbled image. The lone captured terrorist in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai city, it was not long before Kasab’s supposed past in Pakistan was raked out by investigative journalists and his stereotype whereabouts laid bare before the world.
If one was to believe the authenticity of the details unearthed, then Ajmal’s story once again is that of a typical adolescent gone awry in the company of the wrong kind of people, in this case, the notorious Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).And assuming that his statements thereafter were not under pressure, Ajmal’s pleas sounded a far cry from someone who had any kind of fanatical beliefs.
Some media sources state Kasab’s interrogation reports as a hapless story of a village lad having a lack of ambition and an illusionary vision of making it big in life as the reason to join an outfit notorious for ‘catching them young’. Other reports speak of a young man who spoke flawless English, knew his mission well and who came from a prosperous middle class family background, all in the inimitable LeT style of ‘catching them affluent and educated.’
While the suppositions are yet to be clarified, devoid of Kasab’s advanced combat and specialised navigation training and baseless scriptural ’ rote reading’ practices, what remains is his age. Irrespective of his background or nationality, Kasab deserves no sympathy of any sorts for his action but it is imperative for us to realise that even while his interrogation is going on, the next batch of youngsters are being trained for an even more disastrous series of attacks. And not for their beliefs but for their age, which is probably the biggest global take-home message in this attack.
How can a young man just out of adolescence, be guided and trained to senselessly and remorselessly kill hundreds of innocent people capable of no harm? And how is it that these youngsters are convinced that their brutal actions are for a greater good?
A popular assumption is that of the young mind who is influenced by his situational and social circumstances, say, for example, he witnesses the death of his loved ones, pointing him ultimately to the highway for his own treacherous actions years later. It is easy to seduce such a mind into the role of an ‘avenger’ and thereby be ensnared into the falsified and ‘pseudo heroic’ responsibility frame of obtaining justice.
But what about others like Kasab who come from no such trauma stricken background and whose association with crime was once upon a time supposedly only in the form of small time misdemeanours or petty street robberies?
Derision could have been one technique as was used among young Palestinian suicide bombers during the Palestinian-Israel conflicts. Not volunteering for a suicide bomb attack made the children an object of ridicule among their friends in the background of a falsified urgency for the need of martyrs for a cause. Of curse, martyrdom, in itself has become a cult.
Anne Speckhard, adjunct associate Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University Medical Centre and Professor of Psychology, Vesalius College, Free University of Brussels, writes:
From a very young age children are socialised into a group consciousness that honours "martyrs", including human bombers who have given their lives for the fight against what is perceived by Palestinians to be the unjust occupation of their lands. Young children are told stories of 'martyrs'. Many young people wear necklaces venerating particular 'martyrs', posters decorate the walls of towns and rock and music videos extolling the virtues of bombers. Despite the very deep and real grief of the family and friends left behind, the funerals of 'martyrs' are generally accompanied with much fanfare by community and terror organisations.
The famous’ Baby suicide bomber’ photograph of a young toddler in Hamas outfits that found its way in many an inbox shocked the world and many assumed it to be false. Yet people in Palestine claim this to be a norm and ever since many pictures have made it to the media, of young boys and girls toting around with guns and magazines.
Kasab apparently is a school drop out. The young children in Palestine would in all probability have not had a chance to be in one. So it would not be fair to point fingers at the lack of impact an educational system can make on these minds. Though the effect of education today is limited to only influencing a person’s thinking in the background of logic and reasoning, one is tempted to wonder on whether these children would ever have been targets to such acts had they been educated?
Another strong point for the psychological basis behind human aggressiveness and violent behaviour is that ‘When we feel bad we are more likely to act bad,’ (Berkowitz, 1993). The start of this behaviour need not necessarily be anger. Aversive situations regardless of whether they are frustration, depression or anger make violent actions more likely.
This would also probably bring out yet another situational factor where the child terrorists are taught it ‘fair’ to hurt the ones near and dear to the oppressors that the terrorists are fighting against. This thought is indirectly routed in the minds of these child terrorists as the provocation to justify and make the killing of innocents, a rewarding experience. Of course, if each of us were to look back at our own adolescent experiments and experiences, the realisation would dawn on us on the kind of imprints people left on our minds and the quality of the decisions that we took at that age. Evidently, one can grow terrorists without even trying.
Last year, The Telegraph ran a report on a Pakistan army claim to have overrun a camp in a territory where the notorious Pakistani Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, operated. Militants had transformed a government-run school near the village of Spinkai in South Waziristan into what one officer described as a “nursery for preparing suicide bombers”.
In another location, military investigators found film footage on a DVD that they believed depicted children at the school being taught suicide training. The footage, which was shown to journalists, contained images of a masked teacher instructing rows of schoolchildren who wore white headbands inscribed with Quranic verses. The teacher pointed at the blackboard while an armed guard stood alongside and discussed what to carry in a suicide attack.
Major General Athar Abbas, the army’s chief spokesman, said that the school and a hospital had been taken over by militants “to prepare children for suicide attacks and for making IEDS [improvised explosive devices]”.
Despite human organisations like Amnesty International strongly condemning indoctrination of children for military, commando or suicidal operations, a serious effort in this regard would have lessened or done away with one of the cruelest forms of warfare.
In the interim, somewhere in this world, a packed room of children intently listen to a fanatical religious leader spew out inanities in the name of fighting a ‘holy war’ and’ martyrdom’, while their more decisive friends train outside in combat warfare, hell bent on laying their lives for the same absurd cause.