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Periscope
Misconceptions about Muslim mind
By Saeed Suhrawardy

An article by C. Raja Mohan (The Hindu, 8 October 2001), appeared under the caption. "The battle for the Muslim Mind". The article opens with the observation: "A determined America and a defiant Taliban. These are the first images from the new war against international terrorism. As bombs and cruise missiles rain on the Taliban, the theatre of conflict may be much larger than the territory of Afghanistan.

The war against terrorism is likely to be won or lost in the ongoing battle for the Muslim Mind. Osama bin Laden wants to inflame the accumulated Arab and Muslim resentment against America. The U.S President, Mr. George Bush, is trying to calm their nerves that the war was not against Islam.

Osama cannot match Mr. Bush’s firepower. As he wages an asymmetric war against America, his main weapon is the proposition that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between Islam and the West. He wants to exploit the big idea to expand the war against America.

By pressing the Muslim and Arab grievances on two issues – American presence in the Arabian peninsula, which is home to Mecca and Medina, and the Palestinian struggle against Israel—Osama hopes to weaken the international coalition in South Asia and West Asia. His call for jehad has resonated where the regime of General Pervez Musharraf has awkwardly endorsed US military action, and popular protests have erupted. In the Arab world, the attacks have been greeted with sullen ambiguity. No government has welcomed them, but not many have condemned them either.

The world’s largest Islamic country, Indonesia, has cautioned against civilian casualties while radical Islamic groups in that country are threatening attacks against Westerners."

I have extensively quoted from the article, because it fairly and objectively presents the situation as it exists today. Here a distinction has to be made between US atrocities in Iraq and US attack on Afghanistan. Anglo-US aggression against Iraq continues and the prolonged sanctions against the country have already taken a heavy toll of human life, much higher than the loss suffered by US in the terrorist attack of September 11. However the US hostilities against Iraq could not inflame the feelings of Muslims worldwide. The obvious reason was that Iraq committed two miscalculations. It fought the war against Iran, a Muslim country for eight years. US looked away as it suited their interests. Emboldened by the fruitless misadventure Iraq invaded Kuwait. The false hope was that USA would not intervene. The build-up of Iraqi military power in the fight against Iran had alarmed the closest ally of USA --Israel. The US military action against Iraq did not stop with the liberation of Kuwait. It still continues. Iraq has been able to win sympathy of Muslims abroad now, which it could not do earlier. Osama’s rhetoric may be faulty, if US is to be believed, his methods may be terrorist, but he has been able to carry the impression that he is fighting for a just political cause. Muslims have not accepted Osama as a religious leader. In the absence of an anti-imperialist symbol in the post-Soviet world he has filled that vacuum. That is one reason that the brutal attacks on Afghanistan have caused resentment in the minds of Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. There appears to be a dichotomy between the approach of Muslim rulers and Muslim masses.

Muslim world at present is characterized by the absence of a role model. There is no charismatic leader. There is no ideal or model state. It is illogical to blame Muslim mind for the present tragic situation of Afghans and Afghanistan. Soviet Union and USA both must share the blame. Russian ambitions relating to Afghanistan date back to the period when Soviet Union was not formed. Soviet Union was under the impression that with the support of Central Asian Soviets the annexation of Afghanistan would be quite easy.

They did not reckon with the ethnic features of the tribal society in Afghanistan. The geo-centric position of Afghanistan as the gateway to the Sub-continent was a great attraction for them. The move to modernize Afghanistan undertaken by Amanullah Khan misfired, because it was premature. It should have followed a major thrust in education and social services. The mission of Soviet Union suffered similar fate. USA nursed the jehadi forces against Soviet Union. Now it intends to eliminate them. Muslims fail to understand that as to why their friend has turned a foe now. The rhetoric of Osama provides the answer.

Muslim mind should not be blamed for a situation that has been created by the rivalry of two super powers, one among them still seeking its past glory.

The advice of C. Raja Mohan to USA and Islamic world should be scrutinized carefully. His advice to USA is "In the not too distant future, the US must find a way to engage the Muslim world more productively."

"For the Islamic world too, there is a hard choice to make. It can use the present crisis to move decisively towards political moderation and economic modernization. Or it could let extremists set the agenda for an unending and ruinous confrontation with the West."

Unfortunately, the USA has been obstructing political moderation and economic modernization by supporting extremist or anti-democratic elements in Islamic world. It was Osama bin Laden yesterday and Gen. Pervez Musharraf is their ally today.
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