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Periscope
Looking beyond the tragedy
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Every Muslim who prays five times a day is familiar with the words and meaning of Surah Fateha. Namaz is not possible unless Surah Fateha is recited. The prayer is the essence of Islam. It represents the commitment of Muslims to universal peace and compassion for mankind. In every rak'at of all types of Namaz, Farz, Sunnat or Nafil, the commitment has to be reaffirmed. Naturally if Muslims condemn the terrorist attack on New York and Washington, they are acting according to their Faith.

It is the first major tragic event of the century. The perpetrators of the crime have already met a tragic end in the prime of their youth. But many others having nothing to do with the conspiracy may become victims of the backlash, which already seems in the offing. However, that does not lessen the gravity of the tragic event. Its condemnation has been universal. But mere condemnation is not enough. It has to be ensured that such tragic episodes do not recur in future.

The efforts of the United States to build an international coalition to pursue its new war against terror, have to contend with the different agendas that the allies bring with them. Some of these clash with American goals in other areas. There will be contradictions among the different interests of the potential allies. The tension is already visible in the subcontinent, where Pakistan offers to support American actions against the Taliban regime, but wants to limit the forward movement in Indo-US relations.

All the key players, who can influence the situation in the region or help the US effectively pursue its new war effectively have their own interests at stake. Whether it is Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Israel or moderate Arab nations, every one among them would want to promote their own interests in supporting the American war. The extent of their gain will depend on their bargaining power which would be based on their internal strength, geopolitical position and the resources they can bring to the table.

Pakistan, which has become crucial to the pursuit of this war, could gain enormously. But internal weaknesses has left it with little capacity to bargain effectively with the U.S.

The terrorist attack on USA has to be judged from several angles. The most important being legitimacy of the action being undertaken by USA and its camp followers. It shall not be prudent to limit us to political and moral lessons of the grim disaster.

The photographs released by US authorities do not suggest that they were orthodox Islamic fundamentalists of "Taliban" variety. To impart the tragedy, a vision of ‘Islamic terror’ along with them, old photographs of Osama bin Laden were flashed on TV screen repeatedly. That media ploy has had a disastrous impact.

Arabs, Muslims, mosques, Islamic centres and colleges were attacked with petrol bombs in as far as Australia. Sikhs also, who had no role in the terrorist activity against USA became victims of mass fury due to mistaken identity. The architects of the attack should have known the gravity of what they had planned to do and its long-term implications.

However, it is surprising the senior and seasoned leader, our Prime Minister has jumped to hasty and immature conclusions. The face of terrorism may be ugly, but the appeal of the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee asking every Indian to be a part of this global war on terrorism lacks depth and sincerity. He continues the rhetoric by asserting ‘we must and we will stamp out this evil from the land and the world.’ He was eager to jump on the US bandwagon for a quick solution of Kashmir issue.

But the full-page advertisement published in leading national newspapers on September 18, 2001 in connection with so-called Solidarity Day against Terrorism by the government agency, Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity (DAVP) shows what terrorism means to Mr. Vajpayee. It reveals the anti-Muslim bias of Vajpayee regime. It has cleverly linked the attack on WTC Towers with acts, which according to Sangh Parivar represent ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ or ‘Islamic terror’. It did not contain pictures of anti-Sikh terror of 1984 or the outrage against Babari Mosque in 1992. Obviously the intention of NDA publicity was to incite feelings against Indian Muslims.

It is relevant to invite his attention to this extract of a recent article by Mani Shankar Aiyar, suggesting that ‘Vajpayee terminates a century of Gandhi and Nehru.’

"Will George W. tell Ariel Sharon of Israel that sending helicopter gunships into Gaza to target and bomb the Al-Fatah headquarters of President Yasser Arafat is terrorism of the same order that destroyed World Trade Centre. Or swear they will never again bomb someone else’s palace as they did when Muammar Gadhafi’s three-year old daughter was killed by US Air Force sleeping in her cot? Or a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum pummeled because the CIA thought (oops, wrong again) that it was Osama’s munitions manufacturing facility?" (Indian Express, September, 18, 2001)

There is no guarantee that similar mistakes shall not recur during "Operation Infinite Justice" announced by US President Geroge W. Bush.
In his misplaced enthusiasm, Mr. Vajpayye has completely ignored and bypassed the issues that are the breeding ground of terrorism. Terrorism arises when normal forms of protest go without a just response. Terrorist activities are acts done in desperation or frustration.

The terrorist attack on USA is undoubtedly a heinous crime. It caused the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and other buildings in New York. It caused damage to the complex housing the defence establishment of USA, better known as Pentagon. If the President of United States of America described the terrorist response to US policies in the past as ‘an act of war’ that is understandable. He was expressing the sentiments of a nation, which finds it hard to concede that the act of terrorism has revealed a grave failure of their intelligence services and inadequacy of their security environemnt. They had been living in the smug belief that their arsenal of nuclear weapons and stockpile of arms was sufficient to secure them against outside attack.

Their sense of complacency has been shattered. Their inflated ‘national ego’ is sadly and badly bruised. We share their grief in the present tragic moment. We should do everything possible for their relief and succour. The great people of USA deserve that. In spite of several inhuman acts of their government, they have stood up for human rights and just causes. Their role was significant for the end of brutal involvement of USA in Vietnam. They have generously contributed to a large e number of humanitarian activities.

However, a distinction has to be made between sympathy with the people of USA and censure of political conduct of their government.

The present outcry of USA and its camp followers has missed an important point. "War" is not the right strategy for combating terrorism. USA has a dismal record as a champion of lost causes. The political establishment of USA has not learnt much from its past mistakes. The USA establishment has a sinister record of perpetrating terrorist activities of the most inhuman variety. Their brutalities in Vietnam find a sinister parallel in their conduct in Iraq. But what have they achieved so far? They failed against Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. They could not achieve their political objectives against North Korea.

USA failed to dislodge Imam Khomeini in Iran. He died a peaceful natural death. With a sinister record of death of thousands of children to their credit or debit side, to their chagrin, Saddam Hussein continues to be in power in Iraq. Mu'ammar Qaddafi continues to rule Libya. Their desperate demand to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive they might excite many among his young followers to risk their lives for martyrdom.
While sharing the grief of the people of USA, directly affected by the terrorist attack, Indian Muslims have to take into account the role of their own government. It appears that the BJP component of the NDA Government seems over-enthusiastic for the favours of USA, by taking advantage of their discomfiture at present. It appears that they have given up all concern about national sovereignty and solidarity.
After being criticized by the opposition for its eagerness to "embroil India in a US war" against Afghanistan, the Vajpayee government was urged by two of its key constituents to go slow on its promises of help to USA. The Samata Party and the DMK warned the government against endangering India’s interests by going along US strategy that could ignite a wider conflict.
If the government is keen to offer comprehensive support to the war against terrorism, it can only do so on the basis of a consensus. But that is nowhere in sight. The record of USA against Islamic countries has been dismal so far. Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Libya know the bitter taste from their own experience. Mr Vajpayee must know that it is always politically difficult to offer bases to the US to launch attacks against the Islamic world. If the US response is framed as a UN action and clearly directed at "terrorism" that would have given reasons for justifying its support to US action. But UN is at present a ‘captive’ of US policy-makers. It has become an effete and ineffective body lacking the authority and resources to enforce its decisions.

Here it is relevant to cite the second extract from Mani Shankar Aiyar’s article, "Yes, it is terrible that 5,000 innocents lost their lives to terrorism at the World Trade Centre. But is it not true that 500,000 have died in Iraq because Americans orchestrated a blockade of essential medicines over a decade? George W. will retort that it is Saddam, not Bush, who has brought this terrible retribution on the Iraqis. In which case we have to ask the president’s father, Bush Sr, why the Allies did not move to Baghdad to eliminate Saddam. The answer, we all know, was the need to save American lives. In which case the ground war against Osama bin Laden be pressed with the loss of American lives—or is it only passing Pakistani shepherds who have to pay with their lives for American missiles that do not quite find their targets?"

The Operation Infinite Justice is flawed from the very beginning. USA has no exact knowledge of the persons who plotted the terrorist attack. They do not have exact knowledge of the place where the conspiracy was hatched. US Intelligence has not been infallible. They were clueless about the assassination of President J.F. Kennedy. If the needle of suspicion pointed towards Osama bin Laden and they were aware of its network, they should have kept a watch on their activities. If that was done, the tragedy might have been averted. What is the guarantee that their accusing finger at Osama bin Laden is right now?
U.S.A. seems to be bent upon undertaking a military adventure without realizing its economic consequences. It might turn out to be war against world economy. The risk is that USA may end up losing its status as world economic and industrial leader. It might also be the end of USA as superpower.

It is difficult to calculate the damage to global economy at the time of terrorist strikes. The ominous signs are already visible. Insurance, air transportation and hospitality sectors have already suffered crippling blows. With increasing unemployment looming large on the horizon, the US economy might be pushed into a full-blown recession because of a fall in consumer spending. Japan, with the second largest economy is having too many structural problems.

The European Union is just about to complete its monetary integration with the introduction of euro bank notes. But, in all these three years, the euro has not lived up to the expectation of being a countervailing force to the dollar.

Most of the Asian economies, including India, depend upon U.S. market for their exports. For example, the fortunes of India’s biggest hope software industry are tied to the U.S. Even before Black Tuesday, the impact of the American slowdown was being globally felt. The possibility is ever there that when the impending conflict ends, US may yield place to China as super economic power.

I would like to conclude the piece with the comments of Muzammil Jaleel (Indian Express, 19 September), which represent the feelings of average Indian Muslim on the subject:

"A military strike against Afghanistan—or even the death of Osama bin Laden would be actually counter-productive. Islamic militancy does not need any bin Ladens. It is the psyche, which has roots not in Islamic fundamentalism, but somewhere else, although it only grows amidst religious fanaticism. It is the result of a politics of oppression and suppression. Though we are being constantly told that it is war between "terror" and "democracy", it is really much more than that. It certainly has its roots in double standards of the democracies of the world.
q

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