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May 29, 2001

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Amberish K Diwanji

They now come for the Hindus

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out -- because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me -- and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.

(Attributed to Pastor Martin Niem÷ller, German priest)

Indians and the world have reacted with justified outrage at news that the Taleban regime has asked all Hindus to wear yellow clothes so that they are clearly distinct from the rest. Moreover, Hindu homes must display a yellow cloth so that they stand out. The second Taleban diktat says Hindus and Muslims in Afghanistan can no longer stay together.

Comparisons have been drawn with the Nazi regime, which in the 1930s had similarly asked Jews to wear a yellow star so that they were clearly marked. Today the Hindus are being marked; tomorrow they may be targeted. That is not a prophecy; just the way human nature and totalitarian regimes work (what better example than Nazi Germany).

History is also witness to another tragedy: nothing is being done about this crime besides mouthing platitudes and offering sympathies. Leading dailies in the West carried news reports, apparently shaking the American and European capitals, but failed to stir them into action. It is business as usual, and it now remains to be seen what India will do after condemning the move. In the US some lawmakers urged President George W Bush to take firm action, warning that segregation leads to genocide.

Herein lies one of the tragedies of history. It was only after World War II commenced that the Allies made a big brouhaha about the Nazi's slaughter of Jews and the camps at Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau.

World War II did not start because of the inhuman treatment of the Jews and the Gypsies, though in retrospect, any civilized people could and should have gone to war against Nazi Germany on this ground alone. (Tragically, most European nations have awful records of pogroms against Jews and Gypsies; perhaps that is why they ignored the Nazi pogroms).

The Second World War started over concern at the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, thus forcing Britain and France to declare war. With Hitler having already swallowed Austria and Czechoslovakia, Britain and France feared that he would soon become master of Europe.

Thus, while the Britons and French may have in private expressed horror at the discrimination against the Jews in Germany, they were unwilling to go to war for that explicit cause.

Now, history is repeating itself. We in India and the rest of the world, save Pakistan (a Taleban state in the making), are shocked but no one wants to do anything, least of all take on the Taleban and their frenzied hordes. India has limited itself to arming the Northern Alliance that is fighting the Taleban in vain. The US and the West, leaders and believers of the Free World, supporters of the creed of liberty and justice, are doing even less. All they have done is impose economic sanctions, which only hurt the poor and the weak in Afghanistan.

What is worse is that India and the West should have seen this tragedy coming. The day the Taleban began mistreating its own non-Pashtun minorities and issuing mediŠval injunctions in the name of Islam, it made clear that it is an anti-minority party. Its decrees against women, not letting them study or work (thus leaving destitute women no option but to starve to death) and the shelling of the Bamiyan Buddhas revealed a sick mind seriously in need of lobotomy.

If one only goes through the chronology of the Nazi anti-Semitism, one will clearly see how small acts went on to become the Holocaust. Yet the Holocaust and perhaps WWII might not have occurred if the Nazis were stopped right at the beginning; if the world had stood up then.

The Taleban rascals cannot be reasoned with. Sanctions, the weapon so often employed by the West, does not work (have the sanctions against India worked?). If at all they do have effect, sanctions only harm the poor and the weak. No Taleban ruffian has gone hungry because of sanctions; but thousand of poor Afghans are starving because the West knows no other way of showing its prowess.

Yet, more must be done. Today Hindus have been marked out, tomorrow they may well be targeted for crimes real or imagined and there will be no one to save them. Granted that war is a next to impossible option, a last resort under unavoidable circumstances, but surely much more can be done. For starters, India can offer to lift out all the Hindus and Sikhs (and also Christians and Jews, if any).

India can surely actively rally world opinion against the Taleban and its supporters in Pakistan. How come the Taleban still receive arms and petroleum to fight their war? Agreed that taking action against the Taleban is no easy matter, but surely New Delhi has enough intelligent people to come up with workable solutions. It also has little choice but to step up its efforts against the Taleban.

Maybe Afghanistan is too far for the US and Europe even though both continents are aware of the price they paid for not stepping in earlier. Let not India be caught unawares. It has the example of history.

Let me end with another aphorism:

Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue; extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.
(Attributed to Cicero, Roman statesman)

Amberish K Diwanji

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