What do you call a man who was caught live on CCTV cameras waging urban war in a neighbouring country and shooting dead innocent people and policemen, was subsequently arrested, subjected to a lengthy due process of trial, and found guilty of waging war on India – and, finally, hanged?
Well, if you’re the New York Times, that would make Ajmal Kasab ”the Mumbai attacker” or the “lone surviving… gunman”. Not once in its report (here) on the hanging of Kasab does it refer to him by the only appellation that fits him: ”terrorist”. The only time it invokes that word is when it refers to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the jihadi proxy war machine that brainwashed Kasab and nine others and sent them to Mumbai to kill, as “a Pakistan-based terrorist group.”
More quaintly, the entire narrative in the Times story revolves around a tap-dancing exploration of whether the act of hanging Kasab – after four years of a transparent due process of trial that measures up to the highest standards of jurisprudence – would “derail improving ties” between India and Pakistan!
Likewise, the Washington Post initially headlined its report on Kasab’s execution by referring to him as a “gunman”, although its report did refer to him as “terrorist”. But perhaps in response to some pointed pushback on social media platforms, it subsequently changed the headline to call him a “terrorist’ (here).
The notion that Western media outlets, who are quick to label even quasi-political movements as terrorist if they work against Western interests, would be so coy about deploying that word to describe someone like Kasab, who was driven by an indoctrinated ideology to cross borders and kill innocent people and law enforcement officers, did not entirely go unnoticed.
India’s Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, had this to say:
— Ambassador Rao(@NMenonRao) November 21, 2012
The reason, of course, is that for much of the Western media, it isn’t “terrorism” unless it happens to “us”.
The words we deploy reflect our latent biases, and on occasions media megaphones lose their perspective, particularly when they operate on alien turf. Sometimes, it’s just a case of echoing the official political line of their home countries. The same Mujahideen in Afghanistan, who were valorised in the international media as “freedom fighters”, so long as they were being armed by the CIA and taking on the occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s, became “terrorists” the moment they began to bite the hand that fed them.
It’s the same line that Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf echoed when he sat down with some of India’s top media editors on the sidelines of his failed Agra summit with the then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in July 2001. The bloodshed in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, could not be characterised as “terrorism”, but as the wages of ”battle for freedom.”
It’s a propagandist point he would peddle for many more years – that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter“; as a ‘reward’ for which he continues to enjoy Indian hospitality to this day.
Words have consequences, and for the media to walk on eggshells by calling Kasab a ‘gunman’ or an ‘attacker’, rather than a ‘terrorist’, only disorients the moral compass in grotesque fashion.
And the notion that hanging a convicted trans-border terrorist after a transparent trial, when the country of his origin has abandoned him, could derail bilateral relations between India and Pakistan would be tragic if it were not so laughable.
Let’s just say that it isn’t Kasab’s hanging that will rupture bilateral relations. It is the fact that the Pakistani ISI and jihadi elements sent Kasab (and others) in the first place that effectively derailed the process of entente that the governments of the two countries had embarked on in 2008.