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Yes, it is this a war of civilizations - II
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

Toronto: It is still just a few weeks into the tragedy of New York and Washington, but America's declared `New War` on global terrorism has all the trappings and makings of a war of civilizations.

The war cry from Washington is that ` our western values` are under attack by terrorists not prepared to share or tolerate them. The target has been zeroed in not only on those who may have perpetrated the terrorist crimes on American soil but all those ` sheltering and harbouring ` the terrorists. That is where the rub lies. By widening the net to rope in all those suspected of providing any kind of shelter to alleged terrorists, George W. Bush has given himself all the room in the world to steer his war against whoever makes the dubious list of villains in the American eyes. That is the reason that a number of independent observers have described September 20, the day Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, and not september 11, as the day Bush declared war on all those seen hostile to American ` values`.

Bush's speech to an audience already primed to prepare for a long war-thanks, in no insignificant measure, to a media blitz that surpasses any other before it-had all the elements of robust warmongering. He left nothing to imagination, and there were no grey areas in his matter-of-fact categorization of the world beyond American shores as being either friends or foes. " Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists ," was his measure to classify a country for or against America. This leaves no choice to any country which may still be juggling the pros and cons of siding or not siding with Bush's new world order. True to his Texan upbringing and his right-wing Republican moorings, Bush has simply put a gun to the head of every sovereign state in the world with a one line ultimatum: either stand by us, or drop dead.

The target, for the moment-at least for declared objective-is Osama bin Laden wrapped up with his Taliban mentors in Afghanistan. Bush was categorical in his war declaration that the Taliban must " hand over every terrorist and every person in their support structure." In the next breath, he read the Taliban the riot act : " They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate." And the ante was raised further when Bush threw the gauntlet in a flourish of jingoistic rhetoric. Our demands, he said, " are not open to negotiation or discussion."

So, to make sure that the Taliban do get his message in no uncertain terms, Bush has sent out his naval armada sailing across the high seas to congregate in the waters close to the land-locked Afghanistan, in a show of strength reminiscent of the Gulf War of a decade earlier. But the military juggernaut being primed and calibrated seems too massive to pulverise an emasculated Afghanistan alone. A fire power far exceeding one that was brought to bear on Iraq in the Gulf War must have a much wider sweep than the rugged hills of afghanistan. This dragnet which has just started to roll does not seem poised to stop only at the gates of Kabul or Kandahar. Bush is threatening to " smoke out " all the rogues and terrorists from their caves and other hideouts;his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld-a cold warrior old guard-is speaking menacingly to " drain the swamps " in a global search of terrorists. The U.S. fleets , equipped with lethal fire power, are not wandering aimlessly on the high seas. They are throwing a ring of steel around all major Islamic states in the world. The ring could quickly be ignited to become cordons of fire at a time of Washington's choosing, as articulated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, himself a veteran of the Gulf War.

An array of formidable political and defence alliances also being hurriedly assembled gives a clue to the ultimate agenda now on Washington's anvil. NATO, of course, was the first to respond to Bush's frantic call. Putin's Russia, likewise, lost no time to unsheath its centuries-old hatred of Muslims around the world. Putin has offered Washington not only intelligence- sharing but logistics as well. The supine Latin American states, with the exception of Cuba, sheltered under the canopy of the Organisation of American States ( OAS)-with its headquarters within a few hundred meters of the White House in Washington-did not lag behind and obligingly unfurled the banner of Southern Hemisphere's unity. Even Japan, otherwise content with its American-dictated pacifist constitution that forbids any overseas role for its defence forces, seems eager to break loose from those shackles to lend a helping hand in Washington's ` crusade`.

Even France, otherwise habitually inclined to pick a bone with Washington on most foreign policy initiatives, is going head over heels in exuberance to help Washington's war effort. History, an unmistakable guide, tells us that in the two centuries of the Crusades, much of the burden of the Cross against the Crescent was borne by France and England. With Tony Blair's Britain already in cahoots with America, the history of the Crusades is as well as repeating itself in the new millennium.

Italy, under billionaire Prime Minister Berlesconi, didn't want to lag behind ,either. Berlesconi fired a salvo by proclaiming that western civilization was " superior" to Islamic civilization. He refused to recant or apologise for his brazen intervention. This does remind the history buffs that the call for the Crusades, 12 centuries ago, had gone out from Papal Rome which was then the nerve centre of the Christian west. That pivot has now shifted to Washington.

Bush's choice of words, not to mention his body language, is most revealing of his designs against those whom he holds responsible for harbouring the terrorists. He chose, in full cognizance of the meaning of the word, to describe his impending expeditions against the harbourers of the terrorists,i.e. Muslims and Islamic states in this case, as a ' crusade." Although his apologists were quick to cover up the brunt of his utterance and explain that he did not mean to insult or provoke Muslims across the world, his message had already been delivered, loud and clear, to his intended audience, both at home and abroad. Nothing could possibly be more provocative to a Muslim ear than to hear from the president of the lone super power of the world that he intended to rekindle all the unsavoury memories of the Crusades.

But a crusade of sorts has already been unleashed against millions of Muslims in the United States. The American news media has never been known to be ferociously independent of the establishment but has sunk, in this episode, to the lowest ebb of peddling all that the establishment wants it to dish out. A massive brainwash of a gullible audience is going into overdrive to bring them at par with the official agenda. The campaign of Muslim-baiting is in full swing at all levels, alongside a frenzied wave of nationalism sweeping across the continental United States. No wonder Bush is basking in a public approval rating of 90 % plus. But the Muslims are being treated with the thick end of the stick. They are being off-loaded from commercial flights because other passengers feel uncomfortable in their company. Islamic centres are being subjected to close and rampant search and scrutiny. Congress is considering special legislation to authorise wire-tapping and eaves-dropping of private phone lines. All these portend not only a sweeping polarization of religious and ethnic communities but also curtailment of those very ` freedoms` for the defence of which Bush is threatening to unleash the might of America against their detractors.

For the moment, though, Bush and his team is waging a psychological war against the world of Islam. On the one hand it is tilting hard at the windmills to assure the Islamic world that America's ` new war` is not against Islam or Muslims across the board. America's allies and apologists, including Tony Blair of Britain, have also joined the chorus to denounce any notion of this war becoming a crusade. And yet, on the other hand, the Islamic world is being subjected to wholesale blackmail to either tie itself with the American apron string in its new war, or be prepared to face America's wrath. It has been more than a week since Powell bravely announced that a summary on ` evidence` of Bin Laden's culpability in the crimes of terrorism will be released for world view. However, he quietly retracted that claim within 24 hours because most of the intelligence on the subject was found to be ` confidential.`

With America pursuing its cat and mouse agenda with a crusading zeal, the question begging the answer is what is the Muslim world doing or thinking at the cutting edge of the wedge.

The Arab world, as usual, is behaving in much the same way it has in the decade since the end of the Gulf War: burying its head in the sand and hoping that the storm swirling around it would, somehow, be blown away. It has no game plan of its own-again, nothing unusual-and seems content to be moved around like pawns on the global chessboard. The `moderates` amongst the Arab rulers-the euphemism for ` friends of Washington`--are making all the right noises to convince Washington that they are still on its right side. In the words of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the long-serving Saudi Ambassador to Washington, they are " at one" with Washington's mission. Yet even the most loyal amongst them know that if America's ` New War` really comes down to a crusade, it would be hard to contain the popular sentiment of their cowed -down people within the parameters they have been guarding for so long.

A worst case scenario for the Arab countries would be if Iraq, a favourite shooting gallery for Washington since the end of the Gulf War, is targeted again in the name of punishing it for sponsoring terrorism. The hawks in Washington, led by the Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are vigorously waging a campaign for a ` final solution` by going after `rogues` like Iran, Iraq and Sudan. They are still in a minority, but the minority they represent has powerful backers and voices and might yet prevail.

The predicament of a country like Pakistan-a self-proclaimed citadel of Islam-is specially acute. Pakistan finds itself, once again, in the familiar but unenviable role of a frontline state for Washington's ambitions. The military regime of General Musharraf has so far moved with finesse and by virtue of it made Pakistan's cooperation invaluable for any military objectives of Washington in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a vested interest in throwing its lot in the Washington-led global alliance against the ruling Taliban in Kabul. Pakistan has paid a very heavy price , in diplomatic isolation and embarrassment, for going out on a limb on behalf of the Taliban. Now is Islamabad's opportunity to correct that faux pas.

The Taliban had also become a big liability for Islamabad, and this unexpected turn of events presents Islamabad with a God-send chance to jettison that liability. However, Musharraf should know better that there is an immense reservoir of support for the Taliban amongst Pakistan's orthodox clergy, and millions of their unsuspecting followers. The religious obscurantists in Pakistan have acquired so much nuisance value and street savvy in the past two decades that they can always bring out tens of thousands of their unquestioning followers on the streets at a short notice. They can cause serious problems to the Musharraf regime if they suspect it of going overboard in its support to Washington's agenda on Afghanistan. Things on the Pakistani street could become a lot messier for the military junta if it is suspected of lending active logistical or other help to Washington's punitive military plans against the Taliban. General Musharraf should know where to draw a red line in his ambition to eke out as much political mileage from Washington's renewed courting of Pakistan's frontline role as General Ziaul Haq did when a similar opportunity had knocked at his door. But Pakistan is still reaping a bitter harvest from that legacy of Zia. Musharraf should remember that while walking into Zia's footsteps.

For the moment, though, Islamabad is basking in the blaze of a media hype about Pakistan's born-again role of a frontline state. General Musharraf has decided to go whole hog with Washington's yet undefined agenda. In his own words, he is " in the loop" with whatever is being planned to rearrange the political chessboard of neighbouring Afghanistan. In its bid to rattle the Taliban, Washington has, literally, taken the 86 year old exiled King Zahir Shah out of the mothballs and is trying to catapult him to the Afghan centre stage. He is prepared to play ball according to Washington's game plan. The Northern Alliance, representing Afghanistan's disparate minorities of Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, has been prevailed upon to accept the once discredited Zahir Shah as a figure head to rule as a proxy in Washington's new Great Game in that part of the world. Taliban's days, to borrow General Musharraf's words, are numbered. But what he may not like to be reminded of is that there is a bitter legacy of puppet regimes crafted by Washington in the past half a century; most have ended up in the dustbin of history.
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