Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2009 > December 2009 > Cogent Analysis of Terrorism and Governance

Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 52, December 12, 2009

Cogent Analysis of Terrorism and Governance

Saturday 12 December 2009, by Vijay Kumar



Between Terrorism and Global Governance by Roberto Toscano; Har-Anand Publication; 2009; pp. 109; Price Rs 250.

This lean but compact book hardly running into 100 pages on global governance and terrorism represents relevant and profitable fusion of academic approach with the operative insight gleaned from the experience of working as a professional diplomat in different capacities in different fora of the world. The author has identified the causes and offered concrete solutions to the pressing problems of terrorism with international ramifications and global governance. The latter problem has been accentuated in response to the former by the unilateral action of the United States by starting the Afganistan and subsequently Iraq war without any end in sight. The resultant collapse of multilateralism far from mitigating the problem of terrorism has only aggravated it.

The strength of Toscano’s work lies in painstaking delineation of the political and philosophical foundations before embarking on a discussion on the main theme. The author squarely grapples with the issues of ethics, liberty, universalism, human rights, culture and anchoring them in the philosophical traditions by referring to the works of Machiavelli, Isaiah Berlin, Paul Ricour, Richard Rorty and joins issue with Samuel Huntington over his controversial ‘clash of civilisations’ formulation.

Ambassador Toscano rightly differs with Isaiah Berlin who defined liberty in a purely negative sense; he emphasises the positive dimension of the same by placing reliance on works of Prof Amratya Sen. The author further points to the ethics of conviction and distingui-shes the same with the ethics of responsibility. He thereafter rightly underscores the significance of the institution in the absence of which no reforms, howsoever well-meaning, could be translated into reality. Later, and just before touching the main theme, the author makes a crucial distinction between values and duty and links it to the integration of Europe. There is a duty to obey the law but not to share the values and thereby the communities can have working and equitable legal order without bypassing the cultural moorings.

Having thus prefaced his work by formulating a clear concept and defining the same, the author touches the issue of terrorism and global governance. He evinces empathy with the genuine Muslim causes and the failure of the West to respond to them and in the process trashes the idea of clash of civilisations advocated by Samuel Huntington.

The author rightly concludes that the tragic event of 9/11 should not overwhelm and compel us to abandon dialogue at the intellectual, cultural, political and diplomatic levels. “The cultural differences between the West and Islam must be respected and even preserved as an asset of humanity,“ writes Toscano. The author again argues plausibly that a fault-line exists in every culture by buttressing it with the example of liquidation of thousands in the concentration camps by Hitler, an otherwise devout Christian.


Having emphasised for empathy on the part of the Western interlocutor to understand and even appreciate the grievances of the Muslim world, author moves to the issue of global governance. Ambassador Toscano argues cogently that the agenda of global governance must be pursued and promoted in the framework of the United Nations because it alone has legal sanctity. The author concludes his book by advocating passionately for effective functioning of the International Criminal Tribunal. He urges the United States, India and other countries to sign on the charter and submit to the jurisdiction of the tribunal. The argument in favour of the International Criminal Tribunal is anchored in the reasoning that the problem of international humanitarian laws arising out of war is taken care of under numerous UN conventions, and particularly under the Geneva Convention, but violations of human rights, which constitute the subject matter within the state escape inter-national scrutiny and efficacious functioning of the Tribunal would hopefully interrogate this anomaly. Thus, robust functioning of the Inter-national Criminal Tribunal is an important part of the framework of the author’s perception of global governance.

The flip side of the book is that discussion on global governance is sketchy. Justice with the issue warranted an elaborate treatment particu-larly by delineating on the crucial distinction between expediency and justice and the paramount requirement of bridging the same through the instrumentality of the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Tribunal and, more importantly, by democratising both the composition and functioning of the UN Security Council. The other drawback, in my perception, is the author‘s endorsement of the view that the “language of human rights can be different in different cultures” after acknowledging that “cultural relativism is often the last refuge of the dictator”. Though, I concur with Toscano that universalism does not mean uniformity, yet there are certain aspects of human rights which are universalistic and should not be allowed to be trampled upon by the regressive forces of cultural relativism. The same is true for the concept of justice which has a universalistic dimension. Torture and rape are the same in every culture. Pangs of hunger and starvation experienced by the Indian poor cannot be differentiated from the same experience of the famished population of sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the prescription of different languages of human rights in different cultural milieus hardly jells with the author’s advocacy for bridging the gap between enforcement of human rights and international humanitarian laws through the instrumentality of International Criminal Tribunal.

These shortcomings, however, pale into insignificance before the merit of the book under review. Ambassador Toscano has succeeded in placing the spotlight on an extremely topical issue through the cogent and coherent analysis marked by conceptual clarity, brevity and lucid style.

The reviewer is a Supreme Court advocate.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.