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On 16 March 2011, an unmanned drone killed around forty people in Datta Khel, a town in Pakistan’s rural region of North Waziristan. While initial reports claimed that the strike had been directed against a gathering of militants, it has since come to light that the meeting was in fact a tribal jirga, a traditional community gathering convened, in this case, to settle a dispute regarding ownership of a local chromite mine. Even assuming that members of the Taliban were present, as some accounts do seem to confirm, the bulk of those killed in the attack were tribal elders, many of whom had previously provided a bulwark against radicalization among their communities. Unlike most earlier drone attacks, the Datta Khel strike immediately attracted the strong criticism of Pakistan’s foreign ministry, who called it ‘a flagrant violation of all humanitarian rules and norms’. An unnamed US official dismissed the criticism, telling the Wall Street Journal, ‘These guys were terrorists, not the local men’s glee club.’
This chapter analyzes some of the ethereal figures that populated the colonial imaginary in India during the nineteenth century, including thugs, pirates, and fanatics. While each of these figures had its own unique features, a significant degree of slippage and overlap can be found between them and – more importantly for the purposes of this study – in the legal and security measures adopted by the colonial authorities to contain them. Operations of ‘pacification’ undertaken with the goal of rooting out secretive groups of thugs, criminal tribes, pirates, or fanatics were typically directly linked to the project of establishing British sovereignty in and around the Indian subcontinent, by land and by sea. In this process, colonial administrators, judges, soldiers, police, and scholars produced, repurposed, and recycled a set of tropes portraying certain groups of Indian men as barbaric, violent, cowardly, secretive, or superstitious threats to colonial order.
In 1914, the Government of India passed the Ingress into India Ordinance in an attempt to limit the transgressive potential of Ghadar propaganda and transnational revolutionary networks based out of North America and parts of East and South East Asia. The following year, the passage of the Defence of India Act sought to target revolutionaries whom the government deemed to be either in league with Germany, or whose acts of anti-colonial violence aided and assisted the German war effort. Following the conclusion of the war in 1918, colonial officials issued the controversial Rowlatt Act, despite the disapproval of an increasingly vocal Indian public. By tracing the debates and discussions surrounding the passage of these three pieces of 'emergency' legislation, this chapter demonstrates how executive discourses sought to construct and deploy distinct notions of 'the enemy' as a means of legitimizing extraordinary laws meant to target the political challenge of anti-colonial nationalism.
While the exceptional legal measures adopted by the colonial state to suppress ‘terrorist’ attacks in the 1920s and 1930s attracted the sustained criticism of India’s mainstream nationalist politicians, these measures did not disappear when the country gained independence at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947. To the contrary, the spectre of ‘terrorism’ would haunt the independent nation-states of India and Pakistan – and later Bangladesh – for the next seventy years and beyond. While the postcolonial states of South Asia finally returned sovereignty to the people of the subcontinent, many of the legal and bureaucratic structures that had provided a framework for colonial rule remained in place. These included various extraordinary laws that targeted terrorism, sedition, and armed insurgency. Born out of the brutal violence of partition, in which hundreds of thousands died and millions were displaced in communal clashes between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, both India and Pakistan emerged at a time of bloody crisis.
The interwar period in India was a time of great political upheaval, with the development of unprecedented mass support for the politics of anti-colonial nationalism. This period also marked the climax of the revolutionary movement in Bengal, as radicals disenchanted by the failure of the non-cooperation campaign soon returned to the tactics of assassination and political violence that they adopted before and during the war. In 1925, the return of revolutionary organizations prompted the Government of India to introduce the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act, despite vigorous opposition from within the newly expanded Indian legislatures. With political violence reaching unprecedented levels in the early 1930s, colonial officials became increasingly reliant on repressive emergency laws that for the first time began to target ‘terrorism’ as a distinct category of crime.
This chapter analyzes the discussions surrounding the proposed Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism at the League of Nations in 1937. While the importance of this convention is often downplayed within the existing scholarship, the debates of the 1930s provide key insight into the origins of terrorism as a legal and political idea rooted in the international context of the interwar period. A closer look at India's role in this convention provides new and important ways of understanding the larger context in which colonial officials framed their ideas about terrorism as a new and particularly dangerous form of global criminality, a ‘world crime’ that threatened not only the governing structures of an existing political regime, but rather the very notion of civilization itself.
While earlier categories of extraordinary legal concern could be dismissed as ‘savage’ or ‘barbaric’ criminals operating at the fringes of society, a new vocabulary was required for colonial officials seeking to explain how educated members of India’s upper castes could be induced to carry out the kind of ‘outrages’ previously reserved for the Muslim ‘fanatic’ of the frontier. This chapter explores the phenomenon of ‘propaganda by bomb’ in colonial Bengal, viewing the phenomenon as analogous yet distinct from the ‘propaganda by deed’ carried out by European anarchists and Fenian revolutionaries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The use of the bomb in political assassinations by Bengali revolutionaries marked a new phase in colonial understandings of political violence and sparked a wave of emergency legislation that sought to police the interrelated propaganda tools of bombs and newspapers.
Using India as a case study, Joseph McQuade demonstrates how the modern concept of terrorism was shaped by colonial emergency laws dating back into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with the 'thugs', 'pirates', and 'fanatics' of the nineteenth century, McQuade traces the emerging and novel legal category of 'the terrorist' in early twentieth-century colonial law, ending with an examination of the first international law to target global terrorism in the 1930s. Drawing on a wide range of archival research and a detailed empirical study of evolving emergency laws in British India, he argues that the idea of terrorism emerged as a deliberate strategy by officials seeking to depoliticize the actions of anti-colonial revolutionaries, and that many of the ideas embedded in this colonial legislation continue to shape contemporary understandings of terrorism today.