September 24, 2001


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Claude Arpi

From Mao to bin Laden

In October 1954, at the height of the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai honeymoon, Nehru paid a 12-day visit to China during which time he met Mao Zedong, chairman of the People's Republic of China twice. At the first meeting, the discussions revolved around the attitude and behavior of the United States with both leaders strongly criticising the different aspects of American foreign policy. During their second encounter, the discussion veered towards 'war and peace', and it is at this point that Mao made his famous remark about the atomic bomb being only a 'paper tiger'. He added if that even someone would attack China and kill tens of millions of Chinese, he could 'replace' them.

Dr Li, Mao's private physician, relates in his memoirs how he could not immediately grasp the meaning of Mao's words when Mao repeated to him the content of his discussion with Nehru: '…it was so hard to accept, how willing Mao was to sacrifice his own citizens in order to achieve his goals… he was willing that China lose millions of people in order to emerge victorious against so-called imperialists.' Mao further told his physician: 'The atom bomb is nothing to be afraid of, China has many people. The death of ten or twenty million people is nothing to be afraid of.'

Today, a new Mao has emerged on the world scene: Osama bin Laden.

After the attack on New York and Washington, he sent a message to Hamid Mir, editor of the Pakistani newspaper Ausaf: 'Hundreds of Muslim youths have promised me to die for jehad and dozens of scientists have promised to use their knowledge against the countries which are against Islam.'

Hundreds may seem a very small number compared to the millions of Mao, but 47 years later, technology has made tremendous progress and the latest hijacking of four planes in the United States demonstrates that with only a few determined and trained mad persons, extensive damage and loss of life can be inflicted on the most powerful country in the world.

Mao had dreamed of replacing an old 'imperialist' society by a new utopian socialist one. He told Nehru, 'If half of humanity is destroyed the other half will still remain but imperialism will be destroyed entirely and there will be only socialism in all the world, and within half a century or a whole century the population will again increase by even more than half.'

The meticulously planned attack on the twin towers in New York and on the Pentagon shows the same determination to make one and only one ideology prevail.

Indeed, bin Laden's new jehad is as fanatical as Mao's Cultural Revolution or Great Leap Forward which saw 40 million people slain on the altar of pure Marxism. The Saudi millionaire demonstrates the same readiness to sacrifice his own people (though perhaps it is not a sacrifice for them, as it is likely that they are promised some kind of eternal paradise for their ghastly actions) and take, without blinking an eye, the lives of thousands of innocent people for the superior cause of jehad.

The destruction of the Buddhas in Bamyan in central Afghanistan, like the destruction of the 'old' culture during the Cultural Revolution in China, are some examples which illustrates that a clean sweep on whatever does not correspond to the 'correct' ideology is the only response known by these fundamentalist leaders.

What is interesting for us apart from the ruthlessness and the utter contempt for human lives in both cases is to look at the reaction of the Indian government 47 years ago and today.

Nehru came back from Beijing bewitched: he marveled at the realisations of a new China and firmly believed it was a model to emulate for India. He wrote to his British friend Edwina Mountbatten how he had been touched by 'their [the Chinese] courtesy, their artistic sense (so sadly lacking in India), their hospitality, their references to old Chinese literature and culture.' He added, 'Mao is a pleasant faced person in good health but looking slightly aged.'

Either because something in him refused to understand the real meaning of Mao's words or perhaps because he did not want to 'embarrass' the Chinese leaders, the Indian prime minister decided to not speak to anybody about Mao's view on human lives and the 'paper tiger.'

As a result of the Beijing 'spell', India chose to distance itself more and more from the United States in the years to come. However, after the 'betrayal by a friend' in October 1962, it was to President Kennedy that Nehru's government turned for immediate rescue.

Unfortunately for India, Nehru's strong leaning toward China forced the Americans to find a more 'reliable' partner in the region. Thus was born their strategic partnership with Pakistan. It is indeed a great pity that it has taken more than 40 years for the Government of India to begin reverting to what seems a more natural collaboration between India and the United States. In the meantime, India had to go through great suffering, particularly in Kashmir. It is a fact that no other nation except Israel has suffered as much as India due to organised terrorism.

It was only logical that Prime Minister Vajpayee condemned the 'heinous' crime immediately after the terrorist attack on New York and assured the United States of India's cooperation in investigations. In a letter to President Bush, Vajpayee stated he was shocked and appalled by terrorist attacks and deeply saddened by this enormous tragedy: 'The people of India and my government share the sense of outrage with the American people. We stand ready … to strengthen our partnership in leading international efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds again.' He concluded, 'This dark hour is a stark and terrible reminder of the power and the reach of the terrorists to destroy innocent lives and challenge the civilised order in this world.'

The prime minister wanted all democracies 'to redouble our efforts to defeat this great threat to our people, our values and our way of life.'

Indeed, as President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell also stated the attack was not an ordinary attack, but an attack against democracy and free societies.

Of course, one can still hear in India, the same recriminations against the United States, like the old refrain: 'Who appointed them the policemen of the world?'

There is certainly some truth in the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency has often collaborated with the Inter-Service Intelligence of Pakistan to instruct the future Taleban jehadis. For years, the CIA provided them with the most sophisticated weapons and trained one generation of mujahideen between 1979 and 1989.

In Afghanistan, some of the camps used today by bin Laden have been set up and funded by the Americans. When the American agency began to lose control over its own creatures, like in the case of Khomeini, the Islamic revolution spilt over to the Kashmir valley, Chechnya and Central Asia. One can also argue about the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, but at the end of the day, though the United States are certainly not always above board in their dealings with other states, they have more human values in common with India than the Taleban and the likes of bin Laden. Democracy, freedom of thought and speech, pluralism are values shared by India and the Western world. This should have made them natural allies long ago.

In the statement sent by bin Laden from his hideout in Afghanistan to Hamid Mir, he said he was not involved in the attacks, but only 'supported' such actions. However, he admitted he wanted to halt the infighting in Afghanistan 'because the real problem lies in Palestine and Kashmir where thousands of Muslims are being oppressed by the states which are against Islam.' This statement speaks for itself.

It is here that India should be bolder and not follow the Nehruvian path. I am always very surprised when I visit France or the West at how unaware ordinary people are of India's problems. On Western television, there is rarely a day when you do not see images of the Middle East with one commentator or another giving his opinion on the situation. However, Kashmir where the situation is often worse, is never talked about. Just after the attack in New York, I received an email from a friend in France who wrote: 'You in India, are far from everything, you cannot understand the terror bin Laden has spread.'

I was shocked. How can the West not realise that bin Laden is India's neighhbour and the security forces in Kashmir have to deal daily with some of his followers? How can nobody be aware of the situation? The blame in many ways rest with the Indian government which wants to deal with the matter the Indian way, in a restrained and sensitive manner. This is fine, but the result is the one we have just mentioned. While Pakistan never hesitates to present its side of the story in each and every possible forum, India wants to keep it a bilateral issue. It is true that Kashmir is a bilateral issue, but terrorism is not.

It is high time India tells the world that bin Laden is spreading terror on its territory daily, that Dawood Ibrahim, the gangster responsible for the bomb blasts in Bombay in 1993, is harboured by Pakistan, that the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane which landed in Kabul on Christmas 1999 are working hard in the madrasas of Pakistan to prepare the next generation of hijackers. Indeed, bin Laden and his Afghan sponsors are close and coming closer.

A recent serious incident shows us the writing on the wall. Last month, the extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jabbar, ordered Muslim women in the Kashmir valley to wear the veil, later non-Muslim women were told to apply a bindi on their foreheads and wear saffron-coloured dupattas for identification. They pretended that it was well-intentioned; they wanted to identify without possible errors 'their Hindu and Sikh sisters' to avoid their being at the receiving end of any action they would take against Muslim women without a veil.

This can only remind one of the yellow star instituted by Hitler against the Jews. No doubt that, like in the case of the Jews, the 'identification' is a first step towards 'deportation'. But do you think that Western television or newspaper even mentioned the incident? Of course not! It is not only the responsibility of the Indian government. What about our national leaders such as Ms Shabana Azmi, Ms Arundhati Roy and others? We have not heard them so far. Why can't they speak for their Kashmiri sisters? India has to tell the world about the terrorism she faces, it is in her interest and in the interest of a more humane society.

Claude Arpi is author of The Fate of Tibet (HarAnand), which has also been translated into French.

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