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Published in the 16-30 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The Re-election of Bush: dark days ahead for Muslims?
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

George W. Bush's re-election, by a 51 per cent plurality of American voters, is a clear and categorical signal that heartland America cares two hoots for the Muslim world.

Bush's declaration of a new "crusade" in the aftermath of 9/11 may well have been the gut reaction of a committed Evangelical Christian. However, the crystal clear mandate now given to him by America's 'Bible Belt' is evidence of a collective will of the American people to strengthen their crusading hero's hands in his mission. This, certainly, is no fluke and no co-incidence. It is a stinging affirmation by America's fundamentalist Christians that they are fully behind Bush's 'war' against terrorism that, as we all know, is only a euphemism for war against the Muslim world.

Bush's stunning election victory over his challenger, John Kerry, couldn't have been possible without the near-total support of America's 19 million Evangelical Christians. Kerry was favoured to beat Bush until the last day of the election campaign. But what very few political pundits had taken into account was the mafia-like efficiency of the leaders of the Evangelical movement in America to organize its blind supporters and adherents on an issue as crucial to them as Bush's re-election. The man from Texas is not only himself an Evangelist but also represents the 55 million-strong right wing Christians straddling Middle America.

Bush's Machiavellian special adviser and re-election czar, Karl Rove, had pegged Bush's entire campaign on getting the Evangelists to vote for his boss. In the election of 2000, nearly 4 million of these evangelists had not cast their votes. Rove, knowing their strength, focused on them singularly. They were won over easily by anointing and presenting Bush as a moral candidate fighting to save the moral 'values' of right wing Christians.

Election statistics confirm that 73 per cent of these Evangelists voted for Bush, against only 19 per cent for Kerry.

For the evangelists, there were only 3 issues that riveted their attention on: God, Guns and Gays. The evangelists-and in fact all right wing Christians-love and worship the first two and loathe the third. 

Kerry fell short of their ideals and expectations because of his controversial position on the second and third items on the list of fundamentalists. He opposed guns and favoured control on them whilst he came out in support of the gay rights-something anathema to the rightists. 

Bush, by comparison, is not only a card-carrying member of the notorious American Rifle Association but his stand against gay marriages and other rights appealed to the fundamentalist heart. 

A post election survey conducted by the Associated Press puts the issue of moral 'values' appeal to the right wing voters in a clear perspective. According to it, for 22 per cent of the evangelist voters, moral values were more important than any other issue. Economy and budget deficit (a whopping $ 450 billion under Bush) got only a 20 per cent rating; the war on terror, only 17 per cent; and the Iraqi misadventure just 15 per cent.

The least significance attached by Bush's heartland American supporters to the lethal war in Iraq against innocent and hapless Iraqis is a categorical indication that they couldn't care less what Bush did up until now in Iraq, and what he might do in the future. 

For a man who prides himself as being a 'war president' there couldn't possibly be a more encouraging endorsement of his first-term agenda of an open-ended war on terrorism. Bush, in fact, would be entitled to read more than that in the fresh mandate given to him by his constituents.

It is, no doubt, a robust approval of the Bush policy of pre-emptive war, unilateral adventures at will, and unabashed militarism. It is, in short, an endorsement of the neo con agenda that Bush unfurled in his first term in most dubious circumstances. His critics had a point when they caviled that he had not been given a blank cheque to pursue an aggressive agenda drafted for him by a handful of opinionated neo cons. That critique may no longer hold. Bush has now been given a virtual carte blanche to do as he has been doing in the world beyond the American shores.

This new trajectory on which the American electorate has launched a war-mongering Bush should be a moment of deep thinking for the Muslim Ummah. 

Bush's re-election is not an isolated case in the wider global perspective steadily unfolding before our eyes. Half way across the world from U.S., and in another hemisphere, Australia's hawkish prime minister, John Howard, has likewise won a fresh mandate from his people for his reckless policies of adventures abroad. Howard is a member of a global troika of Anglo-Saxons sworn to unleash their terror and military might against Muslims wherever possible; Bush and Blair are the other two constituents of this troika. Even Blair would easily win another mandate from his people, given the present state of open hostility among the Anglo-Saxons against Muslim interests.

Mahathir Mohammad, who is undoubtedly the most articulate and intelligent of the current generation of Muslim leaders in the world, hit the bull's eye in calling upon the sizeable Muslim Americans nearer the election day of November 2 that they should work hard to unseat Bush. Mahathir understood the implications of a second term for a war- monger who has a messianic vision of himself and thinks God has embarked him on a mission to cleanse the world of all that is evil to his eye.

Conventional wisdom tells us that a man least known for any spark of intelligence would take his new mandate at its face value and try to make the most of it. This should translate into Bush going full speed ahead to put more teeth into his agenda, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the latter, he has just had his lackey, Hamid Karzai, elected as president. The right wing establishment media in U.S. is already beating loud drums of a 'miracle' in Afghanistan where, in its perception, democracy has made a fantastic beginning with an 'open' and 'free' election. There is no talk of how carefully, and elaborately, the stage had been set for Karzai to get 'elected' as a 'popular' president and leader of Afghanistan. 

That said, Karzai's, and by implication American, writ still doesn't run much beyond Kabul's municipal limits, even within Kabul, a rejuvenated Taliban have been asserting their capacity to unnerve the Karzai government, on and off.
But it is the Osama factor that still sticks like a bone in Bush's craw in Afghanistan. That he is still alive and robustly kicking came out in a stinging message to Bush only days before the elections in U.S. when Osama managed to have his latest recorded tape aired world-wide. The message in that tape was a sufficient rebuke to the neo con claim that they were winning the war against terrorism. Osama, the biggest quarry and prized catch for Bush is still at large and obviously taunting his pursuers to his heart's content.

It is, thus, almost a foregone thing that Bush, flushed with victory would try put a greater heat on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the elusive hunt for Osama bin Laden. Another regional Muslim proxy of Bush, Pakistan's General Musharraf has been tilting at all the windmills to oblige his mentor. He would be expected to do more, ever more, as has been a pet refrain and demand of the Bush neo cons, vis-à-vis Pakistan.

But Afghanistan is, still, very much, a side show compared to Iraq, the main theatre of militarism, Bush style. 

Iraq is currently showing all the symptoms of becoming another Vietnam. Much as Bush may continue to harp that he is 'on course' there, and 'democracy is on the march in Iraq', his clichéd response to the mounting critique of his folly in Iraq, U.S. is rapidly getting sucked into a Vietnam-like quagmire there. 
Falluja, that beleaguered city of valiant Iraqi freedom fighters, is destined to taste the early bitter medicine of Bush's free ticket for adventure in Iraq, given him by his Evangelist fans. Iyad Allawi, a more redoubtable puppet-on-a-string of Bush than Hamid Karzai, has already signed on the death warrants of innocent civilians of Falluja. The encircled city, surrounded by a ring of U.S. armour and artillery, has been pounded with impunity for several weeks to soften up its defences. A full- scale invasion of Falluja has been on the cards, since long before Bush won a second term at the recent polls.

The fall of Falluja, and the annihilation of its defenders, is a high priority for Bush for two main reasons: its horrible example may break the back of the popular resistance against the occupation of Iraq; two, it is absolutely essential to control Falluja and all other flash points of resistance in order to conduct sham elections, a la Afghanistan.

But Bush and his hawks simply do not understand the heroic spirit of the Iraqis that propels them to challenge the mightiest military power of our times with their meager resources. This is despite the fact that, as the latest survey of the Iraqi victims of the Bush war conducted by the Johns Hopkins University of Maryland, at least 100,000 Iraqis have so far been killed in the war and occupation imposed on them by Bush. The Iraqis are highly unlikely to be daunted by Bush's renewed effort to snuff the fire out of their resistance, notwithstanding the rising toll of life.

It is, perhaps, difficult to properly surmise at this stage by Iraq's Muslim neighbours that by their dogged resistance to the Bush imperialism and jingoism, the Iraqis are taking out an insurance that another pre-emptive war will not be unleashed by Bush against, for example, Iran or Syria-both high on his priority list for future action. And yet, no one can be absolutely certain that Bush will not be egged to repeat Iraq elsewhere in the region, given his propensity to delve into reckless adventures, even ones at horrendous costs such as Iraq.

The challenge for the Muslim Ummah is, indeed, monumental. That is if the Ummah is capable of taking a full and realistic measure of the danger lurking all too visibly in the corridors of power in Washington against Muslim targets, anywhere in the world but especially in a region like the Gulf, endowed with abundant oil. Bush's re-election is, more than any other imponderable, an unmistakable endorsement of his lethal doctrine of pre-emptive wars.

Muslim countries in the sights of Bush can best tackle the Bush challenge by taking control of their own societies. Apart from his awesome fire- power that can be deployed against weak and virtually defenceless target states in the Muslim world, another ace up the Bush sleeves is Washington's total control of puppet Muslim rulers, especially in oil rich countries. 

By the same token, the greatest weakness of Muslim societies, especially in the Arab camp, is the total helplessness of civil society. There is hardly an Arab country, from Morocco down to Iraq, where the people have the right to express themselves freely. The absence of civil liberties is, indeed, the Achilles' heel of these moribund societies. As such, the topmost priority for the Muslim intellectual elite in any country should be the empowerment of its people, because that is what can truly energise them to stand up to foreign aggression, or one inspired by foreign pay masters. 

The Iraqis, by not giving in to the Bush bluff and bluster-and by continually paying a high price in blood for their freedom-are not only setting a shining example for other Muslims to follow but also buying valuable time for their Muslim brethren to set their own houses to order. Therein might be a silver lining for Muslims on a horizon otherwise considerably darkened by Bush's re-election. 

Time is indeed of the essence, as much in this case as in any other. Four more years of Bush may well look daunting and intimidating to Muslims all over the world. But these very 4 years could well become the trigger to launch a Muslim renaissance in good governance and democracy. Of course this effort would owe nothing to Bush and will not be instigated by him. On the contrary, it should provide the first real ramparts against the imperial outreach of Bush and others of his ilk in the Muslim world. «

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