Saturday, September 09, 2006

Liberal view needs to be less fanatic (September 10, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

An unintended consequence of last week’s Al Jazeera telecast of archival footage of a beatific Osama bin Laden blessing some of the 9/11 hijackers is the abrupt death of the strange theory that the attack on Manhattan’s twin towers five years ago was a carefully orchestrated Jewish plot. This grotesque mother of all conspiracy theories, disseminated with fanatical gusto over the worldwide web and from the more intellectually challenged pulpits of the Islamic world, should have been dismissed with the same outrage that greets the suggestion that Hitler’s Holocaust is Zionist fiction. Instead, in between an unending stream of Bush jokes and the assertion that the Americans always “had it coming”, the liberal intelligentsia has for five years propped up a variant of the Osama-is-innocent fairytale—the assertion that the threat of global Islamist terror is both misplaced and exaggerated.

International liberal indignation is, typically, based on grafting domestic politics to national security. For those Americans influenced by the Anything-But-Bush approach, what matters is not that there have been no terrorist attacks on mainland America for five years—no small achievement considering the determination of the jihadis—but that some associates of Osama have had their right of habeas corpus withheld in Guantanamo Bay.

The British chapter of this Manhattan disorder would have us believe that socially maladjusted Britons of Pakistani origin are inclined to stage dramatic acts of collective destruction, like blowing up underground trains and trans-Atlantic planes, because they disagree with the foreign policy of Tony Blair.

And in India, which has no physical involvement in the peace-keeping missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the suggestion is that those who plant bombs in Mumbai and Malegaon are either paratroopers from a neighbouring country with whom we must have unending sadbhavna or creatures from outer space. Terrorists, Indians are constantly being reminded by every earnest TV anchor, “don’t have any religion.” Are there, we are asked, but with diminishing frequency, any Indian members of Al Qaeda?

Abuse is heaped on the police and intelligence agencies for allegedly targeting the proverbial “members of a particular community”. The reality seems more mixed. Those who actually staged a massacre in Coimbatore, well before Bush had even won the Republican nomination, are given exceptional treatment and allowed to convert a prison into a massage parlour. In Malegaon, said to be the hub of RDX trafficking, the scene of last Friday’s bomb blast was made a no-go area for the police for five hours after the incident during which the forensic evidence may have been tampered with.

Five years after 9/11, the world looks an even more dangerous place. The accursed Taliban regime was ousted from Afghanistan—something for which India should be eternally grateful to the US since we never had the wherewithal to do anything but feign helplessness. At the same time, the Taliban influence has spread across national boundaries. It has even become respectable in some sections to flaunt posters of the Doctor No from Tora Bora in the same way as the flower children burnt joss sticks before Che Guevara.

In India, a Cabinet minister had a small-time look-alike maulvi accompany him when he sought Muslim votes. To dispel any confusion, the maulvi was called Osama. In London and elsewhere, burqa-clad women from a “particular community” marched through the streets with placards proclaiming “We are all Hezbollah now”. Some months before, a joker of Bangladeshi origin had dressed up as a suicide bomber and taunted distraught passers-by.

There is, we are repeatedly told, no need to get hysterical. It is all a function of alienation and mountainous chips on the shoulder from decades of grievances—from Vande Mataram and life insurance policies to POTA and Palestine. It is all so reminiscent of that very blasphemous Monty Python farce—the pretender Brian whiling away his final hours on a crucifix-like structure singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, September 10, 2006)

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