The jubilant smiling face of the Indonesian man sentenced to death for his part in the Bali bombing incident has sent shiver through the spines of the Civilized Community, who find it difficult to understand such behaviour.
They explain it by labeling such behavior as “fanaticism”, “religious fanaticism”, or “Islamic fanaticism”. But on the 23rd of March 1931 another man faced death with a defiant smile. He was neither Muslim, nor religious, but he and his associates saw themselves as “terrorists” and were proud to be known as such.
The man who died smiling on the 23rd of March 1931 was Shaheed Bhagat Singh, the legendary hero of the Indian struggle for independence from the British rule. Innumerable songs were composed about him, and the youth throughout India made him their ideal. And a recent Bollywood film “The Legend of Shaheed Bhagat Singh” about the life of that man was a great hit.
There are a number of web sites dedicated to Shaheed Bhagat Singh1. One of the web sites features a collection of documents which shed some light on why Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his associates advocated terror and died smiling.
Here is a passage from a document entitled “THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE BOMB”:
“THE REVOLUTIONARIES already see the advent of the revolution in the restlessness of the revolution in the restlessness of youth, in its desire to break free from the mental bondage and religious2 superstition that hold them. As the youth will get more and more saturated with the psychology of revolution, it will come to have a clearer realization of national bondage and a growing, intense, unquenchable thirst for freedom. It will grow, this feeling of bondage, this infuriated youth will begin to kill the oppressors. Thus has terrorism been born in the country. It is a phase, a necessary, an inevitable phase of the revolution. Terrorism is not the complete revolution and the revolution is not complete without terrorism. This thesis can be supported by an analysis of any and every revolution in history. Terrorism instills fear in the hearts of the oppressors, it brings hopes of revenge and redemption to the oppressed masses, it gives courage and self‐confidence to the wavering, it shatters the spell of the superiority of the ruling class and raises the status of the subject race in the eyes of the world, because it is the most convincing proof of a nation's hunger for freedom. Here in India, as in other countries in the past, terrorism will develop into the revolution and the revolution into independence, social political and economic.
THERE IS no crime that Britain has not committed in India. Deliberate misrule has reduced us to paupers, has ‘bled us white’. As a race and a people we stand dishonoured and outraged. Do people still expect us to forget and to forgive? We shall have our revenge — a people's righteous revenge on the tyrant. Let cowards fall back and cringe for compromise and peace. We ask not for mercy and we give no quarter. Ours is a war to the end — to Victory or Death.”
The people who wrote that document were not “religious fanatics”, and their view of why they were committed to violence and to their own death is clearly stated.
Behind this desire to kill and be killed lies not religious zeal, but feelings of injustice and hatred towards those whom they see as “oppressors”. The phrases:
“… this infuriated youth will begin to kill the oppressors …”
“… As a race and a people we stand dishonoured and outraged. Do people still expect us to forget and to forgive? We shall have our revenge — a people's righteous revenge on the tyrant. …”
“… Ours is a war to the end — to Victory or Death.”
sum it all up.
But, is this not a different kind of “terrorism”? This was the struggle for the Independence of India. Today India is an independent country! How can one compare such legitimate struggle with the carnage of innocent people in Bali?! Bali is not a British colony fighting for independence!
But in 1931, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his associated were seen by the British colonial administration, and the British public, in the same way as any other terrorists are seen today — dangerous criminals threatening the Civilized World, the British Interests, the Peace in India, etc.
No, the bombers of Bali were not fighting for Indonesian independence, nor are their goals as clearly defined as those of the anti‐colonial independence struggles. But the feelings are similar. They fight what they see as “oppressors and tyrants” and they seek, what they see as their “righteous revenge” for the injustices in Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world. And it is this belief in a righteous cause that makes them die with a smile.
India became independent from the British rule in 1947, sixteen years after the hanging of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. In parallel with the violent tactics of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and many other martyrs, Gandhi was pursuing the struggle against the British rule by peaceful means, and many others by political means. And it was the combination of all these means that in the end persuaded the British to leave India. Terrorism alone would not have achieved this goal. Nor had the hanging of Shaheed Bhagat Singh prevented further acts of terrorism or the Indian Independence. But once the British left India, the acts of terror against them stopped, because the causes of terrorism had disappeared.
Had President Bush been a far‐sighted statesman, rather than a short‐sighted politician, he would have used the events of the 9/11 to deal with the causes of terrorism, and the global terrorism, of which the Bali incident is an example, would have disappeared, just as it happened with anti‐British terrorism in India. But President Bush took a “tough ” political stance, just as the British colonial administration took a tough political stance in 1931. And the result is just more wars and terror, because his “War on Terror” has not removed the causes of terrorism, but has created more causes for hatred and revenge.
It took the British sixteen years after the hanging of Shaheed Bhagat Singh to realize that the cause of anti‐British terrorism is not the “fanaticism” of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, but their own “presence” in India.
How long will it take the American administration to realize that the cause of anti‐American terrorism is not the “fanaticism” of the Bombers of Bali, but the unjust, lawless, and wanton policies of the American administration itself, and of other governments around the world?
1) The word “Shaheed” means a martyr, and in the name “Shaheed Bhagat Singh” is a title of respect — “The Martyr Bhagat Singh”.
2) Bhagat Singh was a Sikh by birth, he was an atheist, and a socialist by his beliefs. At that time the ideology of a “socialist revolution” was the one that attracted many of those who fought for independence from colonial rule.
People not familiar with Indian languages often wonder, “Why all Sikhs have the surname ‘Singh’”?
The answer reveals the extent of ignorance of colonial administrations of the language and culture of those they seek to colonize. “Singh” is not an Indian ‘surname’. It is a title of respect used to address Sikh men. So “Bhagat Singh” is the equivalent of “Mr. Bhagat”. While “Mr. Singh” is like “Mr. Mr.”. But because in Indian languages titles of respect go after the name, the British colonial administrators mistook them for surnames.