|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | ASHWIN MAHESH|
|October 18, 2001||
War, for no particular reason
In the weeks since the September 11 bombings of the World Trade Centre and The Pentagon, the White House apparatus, with the nearly complete backing of Congress, has repeatedly asserted that America's military response is a war to preserve liberty and freedom. As the president famously declared, the 'evil' terrorists are not about to undermine the American way of life, and the greatness of the land of liberty shall endure even this assault. Nations around the world rushed to stand beside the Americans.
Yet, in only weeks, the difficult questions and mild opposition to the US-led assault on Afghanistan are beginning to emerge. Islamic countries around the world are reluctant to be seen as overly enthusiastic supporters of this war, for they dare not risk internal conflict in their own nations. With the United States ominously threatening to include targets in other nations, and street protests from Pakistan to Indonesia, the unequivocal support previously expressed is slowly being replaced by a wary watchfulness.
Within America itself, the passage of time has permitted a parallel call for restraint and honest self-examination. Although the majority of opinion-makers expressed solidarity with the American people, and indeed the people of free societies everywhere, a few progressive publications have pointed out that the United States must engage in some introspection as well, ie, the nation must pause to ask why it is that large numbers of people in other nations hold such vehement hatred for America.
Merely asserting that the enemy is envious of American liberty and prosperity is foolhardy, the progressives warn. More importantly, this claim does not stand scrutiny. It is evident to any who seek the truth that the United States has been routinely guilty of suppressing freedom elsewhere, they point out. True, examples from Chile, Central America, Indonesia, and even come-lately allies like the Saudis, are difficult to countenance with the chest-beating. Perhaps the terror attacks were an assault on freedom, but to equate America itself with such liberty is simply rhetoric from the political class.
The progressives are joined in their criticism by civil libertarians who question the wisdom of rushed legislation that intrudes upon the constitutional rights of the American people in the name of combating terrorism. The Nation, for instance, assailed the Senate which considered, with hardly any debate, and gave assent to new legislation that would "allow police to secretly search suspects' homes, allow federal officials to monitor telephone and Internet usage, using wiretaps and other methods, and permit the FBI to access Americans' personal records" -- all under the banner of the Uniting and Strengthening America Act!!
Alongside the liberal criticism, however, a posse of conservative opinion-makers has sprung forth with a tremendous show of affected morality. Regularly, one finds moralistic chest-thumping that passes for opinion defending the war. These insist that no matter America's previous dispositions, the tragedies in New York and Washington, DC, must be viewed as deplorable incidents in their own right. As to what those dispositions have been, there is little attention paid.
Every opinion is intended to make a precise point, without reference to the questions it raises. Dan Sullivan, on MSNBC, for example, laments the anti-militaristic views of academia -- mildly forgetful of the embarrassing revelation that those who "know something" appear to hold a tangentially opposite view to the majority!
Such writing to the galleries underlines the problem, rather than examine it critically. The administration's warmongering is plainly self-serving and deliberately ignorant of America's own shortcomings. There is little effort to bring the fabled notions of liberty to dictatorial allies like the Wahabbi warlords in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the unkindest cut is now being administered to the families of all those who died on September 11, as the United States forges an alliance with Islamabad -- so evidently the Taleban's patron-state -- in the name of countering the terrorist threat.
Conservative support for militarism too is expected -- whether from the Salman Rushdies distancing themselves from the "other side" or from syndicated columnists in corporate newspapers peddling hypocrisy as deep thought. Indeed, the chattering in the media seems mere niche marketing. Aside from bouts of shouting on CNN talk-shows and more refined fencing on public broadcasting stations, there is little to suggest that anything has changed. 6000+ lives simply do not appear to matter the same way the status quo does.
Will eliminating Laden quiet the anger against America? Will clarion calls for the defence of liberty promote freedom in the many Islamic dictatorships? Will the generous supply of arms now being provided to the Northern Alliance bring stability to Afghanistan? Hardly. There is little doubt that terrorism must be combated with vigour, but we pretend at our own risk that the opportunism of our response is the appropriate strategy. The delusion, however, is rampant.
To all appearances, what we are now witnessing is the ill-considered response of militaristic decision-makers to deep-rooted historical problems. Along this road, we will find neither the security of having eliminated the terrorists nor the satisfaction of forging a true brotherhood of nations. Instead, weeks, months and years from now, the very battles we now wage in the name of freedom, and in protest against oppression, will bring forth other catastrophes and take other innocent lives.
The real tragedy of September 11 is that even our mourning is only a charade -- a useful pretense by which to pursue the very policies that brought us such destruction. We dare not remember the victims well, for down the path our leaders have chosen in response, there may well be others who pay this terrible price.
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