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Is this a war of civilizations ? - I
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

Toronto: The full impact of the devastating blow, this September 11 morning, in New York and Washington that saw the two icons of America's economic and military might crumbling into dust may still take some time to sink in. For millions of Americans, it was a traumatic experience to see, live on their TV screen, New York's landmark World Trade Centre crashing down like a sand castle, and the mighty Pentagon building in Washington being savaged and consumed by leaping fires.

But much more shattering than the horrific trashing of these icons is the unprecedented experience of ` fortress America ` coming under attack , and looking totally defenceless. Up until that moment, Americans of all persuasions and stations in life smugly believed that their fortress was impregnable. They were used to watching others' lands being laid waste but this time around it turned out to be their own house going up in flames. This new and sobering experience will not only be hard to live with but would also, certainly, dictate its own psyche.

However, in the early aftermath of the gravest crisis to have hit the U.S., what should have been a humbling experience is being relentlessly used as an alibi to kick off a psychosis of war. George W. Bush himself pulled the trigger on this war hysteria by declaring in his first remarks after the September 11 deluge that America was in a state of war. He then went a step further and declared it the first war of the 21st century. Taking cue from the political leadership , in both the executive and the legislature, the news media has since been drumming up a spectre of America being under attack by the vandals, who ought to be taught a befitting lesson for having dared to challenge the unrivalled superior power of the U.S. There is no mention of the injustices that may have spawned these vandals.

Not that war hysteria is something new in this land of gun culture. America's cowboy tradition has long been to pull the trigger first, and ask questions later. It is, in this sense, the antithesis of Christian teachings to offer the other cheek, too if someone hits you on one. But what makes this war psychosis stand apart from others in the past is its heavy jingoistic overtone. From Bush down to lowly spokespersons of the administration or congress, it is a rhetorical flourish rarely heard before in the U.S. Some of it could be excused as legitimate posturing to pacify the frayed nerves of the American people. What is , however, being overlooked in this war of words is that it is rapidly creating its own dynamics which may soon start dictating policy to the leadership. Swaying the public opinion is easy in an emotionally charged atmosphere where national honour and pride may be at stake. But containing a damn-burst of sentimental outpouring may become its own motivation for bloody reprisals against the shadowy perpetrators of this ` crime of the century` against America. Republican Senator John McCain, a Vietnam veteran who was a front runner in the Republican Party's run up to the party ticket in the Presidential race of last year until he was eclipsed by Bush, encapsulated it in a most arrogant and hectoring assertion of American power when he said , alluding to the alleged perpetrators of the crime : " God might forgive you, we won't."

In a blinding rage of fury that the episode has unleashed, there has been a rush to judgment to point the finger at the guilty ones. Again, on cue from the establishment and news media, the people as well as the leadership lost little time in holding the Islamic ` militants` responsible for the crime, without any credible evidence to back up their accusation. In cahoots with this, ` radical Islam` has been promptly dubbed as the new enemy of the western civilization and its values of freedom, democracy and an open society. It is in this backdrop that the latest wave of jingoism takes on the shades of a clash of cultures and civilizations, foreshadowed not too long ago, by the likes of Samuel Huntington, a Jewish professor of history at Harvard. Huntington was loudly denounced when he propounded his thesis, a decade ago, that wars in the coming century would be waged between the Islamic civilization and that of Judo-Christianity residing in the west. Now the very same people who had lambasted him are out to prove him right by tarring the Islamic world en bloc-if such a world does really exist somewhere-with responsibility for harbouring and nurturing militants and religious extremists capable of unleashing ghastly acts of terror.

Even after making a generous allowance for the trauma of the American people, one is forced to question what could have prompted the elan and alacrity with which Osama bin Laden , the Saudi dissident on whose head the U.S. government has put a price tag of 5 million dollars, was declared as primary culprit for the crime within hours of the tragedy ? This was done without any shred of evidence being available in the early hours of the cataclysmic event when the debris was still piling up at the feet of the crumbled twin towers. Few bothered to remind themselves that there was a ditto situation back in 1996 when a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma, by a right wing Christian fundamentalist, but the finger of blame was instantly pointed at ` Islamic militants` and a large number of Muslims were quickly rounded up, beaten and humiliated.

What ominously gives this crisis a clash- of- civilizations- mantle is the coming on board of other players unrelated to it. NATO, for one, has decided to make the American loss very much its own. Its loyalist, British, Secretary General, Lord Robertson, quickly rallied to Washington's call and declared that under the terms of the Atlantic Charter, an ` attack` on one member state was an attack against the collective alliance.

A yet more surprising, and sinister, concord is that of Russia which, under its KGB-trained President Putin, has long been eager to be accepted as a full partner in the western bloc. Putin has gratuitously offered to share his massive intelligence data with the Americans, and also cooperate in many other ways, which implies military cooperation as well. Putin still has an unfinished agenda in Chechnya where he unleashed a blood bath two years ago, on a trumped up excuse of fighting terrorism, killing tens of thousands of innocent Chechens. He has routinely accused Osama bin Laden and other `Islamic militants` of assisting and abetting the Chechens in their battle of survival against the Russian hordes. Yet another inducement for Putin to jump onto the western bandwagon is the humiliation he and other Russians have been smarting from since their ignominious expulsion from Afghanistan by the heroic Afghan resistance fighters more than a decade ago. Putin may sense an opportunity in the air , in the guise of his new-fangled `partnership` with Washington and NATO, to settle his debt with the Afghans. A western umbrella over his head, in pursuit of perpetrators of the crime against America, would give Putin a cover of legitimacy to unleash his fury against the Afghans, and the Chechens if necessary. Russia's historic animosity against the world of Islam would be a handy tool to deploy and exploit in pursuit of a common western cause.

The alibi for cobbling together such an elaborate and formidable chain of interlocking alliances is that the terrorists have not only struck at America but on the whole value system of the west. These are the values of freedom, liberty and democracy anchored in free societies with the rule of law. Fine. These are the laudable attributes of most western countries. But one might ask, where does authoritarian Russia with few civil liberties fit into these parameters ? Which, then, brings up the real explanation for Russia being dove-tailed into the western club of genuine democracies. It is not an alliance of western democratic countries but of western Christian polities against the common enemy of `militant and radical Islam.`

An adjunct to this Trans-Atlantic alliance is, of course, Israel which, after all, is a western implant into the bosom of the Arab world, and was the first to rally to Washington's call. Israel has long been at war with the Arabs, has practised terror as a weapon of state, and has used American-supplied state-of-the-art weaponry with no fear of accountability in its campaign to annihilate the Palestinians. Until now, Israel has only had the American umbrella over its head; the new canopy of U.S-Russian and European coalition would give its campaign of terror against the Arabs an added cover of legitimacy and impunity. No other player on the new chess board stands to gain as much from the crisis as Israel.The coming of Israel, the sole Jewish state in the world, on board the putative coalition makes it a Judo-Christian alliance against the world of Islam, completing the triangle of all the three revealed religions of the world locked in an open tussle , for the first time since the Crusades eight centuries ago.

The shades of the Crusades are quite striking in the unfolding scenario, of which we are only witnessing the tip at this moment. The call, then, for the defenders of the Cross to rally round the flag was made from Rome, the citadel of the Christian Church. The ostensible reason for Christian unity was the danger posed to the Holy Land by the Muslim ` infidels.`Rome was, then, the nerve-centre of the Christian civilization of Europe, and the defender of the faith.

The call , now, is emanating from the pivot of the western world, which is the U.S. The cry for unity is because of the common `threat` posed to the western values by the `uncivilized , militant Islam` which, in western perception, has no tradition of democracy, or the rule of law. To the architects of the new alliance, it is a combat between the beacon of light and purveyors of darkness.

The agenda of the Crusades was open-ended: till the `heathens’ were driven from the Holy Land.

The agenda, now, is also open-ended : till the `war` is won against the terrorist onslaught against the fortress of western values. Colin Powell, sniffing in the air the game he feels most comfortable at-like he did in the Gulf War which made him a hero in the eyes of the American people-is boasting that the ` war` begun by the terrorists at the locale of their choice will be concluded by the west at the terrain of its choosing. His rhetoric must not be taken as only so much of hot air. America is deadly serious and means business.

Why does George W. Bush feel so compelled to conjure up such a complex and heterogenous alliance, to combat terrorism from the exponents of ` radical Islam`, is not hard to explain. He has the example of his father, George Bush, before him. George Bush used the cover of a broad-based coalition in the Gulf War to chase Iraq out of Kuwait in what was, for all intents and purposes, an American operation. An encore of that ingenious design would impart an aura of collectivity and urgency-and legitimacy,too-to what is, basically, an American plan in its fundamentals to chastise and punish ` radical Islam.`

Another common thread with the Gulf episode is that, like then, this venture would also see the use and deployment of facilities-such as military bases, air spaces and vital fuel supplies in `friendly` countries-to ` punsih` the offenders and culpables in the ` rogue` Islamic states. The fallout from it would be more confusion, chaos and loss of direction amongst the Islamic states. Inter-Islamic rivalries and animosities would be accentuated. The Taliban threat to Pakistan of dire consequences if Pakistani air space was opened to the Americans for air strikes against Afghanistan is a pointer in this direction. Dissensions and divisions in the ranks of the Islamic world had come in handy in the Gulf War and would once again serve ideally the western agenda in the episode now being scripted. The so called Islamic states prove the point that they do not learn from
history.
It is disconcerting that while the western world is fine-tuning its plans to unleash a massive, open-ended , military retaliation against targets in the Muslim world , there is little inkling in the Islamic camp of what is going to be at stake once the American military juggernaut , feverishly being primed at bases in the heart of the Muslim world in the Gulf region, starts rolling. The Muslim states of our age and era have honed the art of licking their wounds to near perfection. What they seem incapable of is how to avoid these wounds from being inflicted on them. They have, for instance, done precious little to combat the menace of radicalism and fundamentalism in their own polities. As a result of their failure to eradicate this spreading cancer, they are providing an opening to outsiders inimical to Islamic interests to perform surgery to their own liking. What is in the offing for the Muslim world will not be different from what was dished out to it during and after the Gulf War of a decade ago. The doze being readied for application this time will only be heavier than last time, and inflict more pain and agony.

The theatre of war may still take some days, or may be weeks, to open in the hinterland of the Islamic world. But the whip of a backlash has already started cracking for millions of Muslim immigrants who have made Canada and U.S. their abodes. Ignoring calls for calm and restraint from the governments of these countries, hate-mongers are holding forth the spectre of a witch-hunt against the Muslims sharing the land with them. Muslim schools and prayer houses are being threatened with violence; manhandling and roughing up of Muslims has begun in isolated cases. Women wearing hijab and men sporting beards are special targets. Muslim businesses stand the risk of being vandalised. Much of it is the early spin-off from saturation of media coverage of the tragedy in New York and Washington. Both the print and tele media are according provocative exposure to investigative reports and footage compiled about Osama bin Laden, his ` crimes` and `sins`.All this is part of the psychological warfare that must precede the actual conduct of war. The western world seems fully poised and primed to take its war to the Islamic camp. Is the Islamic or Muslim world ready to do battle in response is a question that all of us must be asking ourselves.
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