September 11, 2002


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Rajeev Srinivasan

September 11th, a year later

I wish to look at September 11th from two perspectives: an absolute moral perspective, comparing it to other acts of terror; and the purely selfish angle of what it has done for India in its own struggles against terrorism. An ethical perspective on the one hand; on the other, as Americans say, "what have you done for us lately?"

When 9/11 happened, the whole world mourned with America. I wrote then, paraphrasing the late US President John F Kennedy, that we had all become Americans for a moment, for we all felt the grief of the tragedy; the loss of innocence, the betrayal. The senseless loss of 2,400 lives, the great damage to the American symbols of power, economic and military: all that was devastating.

Almost a year later, on August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, I started writing this piece. I have never been to Hiroshima, but I have, more than once, to Nagasaki. I have been to the peace park there at dusk. The solemnity and sense of sorrow there is overwhelming. There are sculptures from many countries there, conveying their grief.

But nothing from America, no contrition for raining death from the skies. The Americans have never even hinted at an apology for the one and only use of nuclear weapons being in anger. If anyone questions the need for the use of these horrific weapons, the answer is brusque: "We did it to avoid casualties in a potential invasion of Japan that would have been necessary otherwise."

Maybe this is true. But to kill 100,000 civilians instantly, and another 100,000 later through radiation sickness is unconscionable. As was the firebombing of Dresden by the Anglo Americans. Would it be unfair to state that these were acts of terrorism as much as the attack on the World Trade Centre was? The intention of all terrorism is to induce terror in the hearts of civilians. To break their will, to force their leaders to surrender.

Is there a scale for comparing terrorism? Is all wickedness the same? Is there such a thing as justified terrorism? A lot of Arabs and other Muslims think 9/11 was justified, and they don't consider it terrorism. Their voices do not get much of a hearing in the English language media, but I am sure that in the Arabic media, this perspective is a given. The US, a lot of Muslims surely say, is the enemy, and according to Muslim ideas of holy war, it is acceptable to launch any kind of attack on the enemy. Is that reasonable? If not, why does America accept it when Islamist terrorists attack India?

What is India's experience? Every day is September 11th for us, as Indians are murdered in the streets by Islamists who are kin to the perpetrators of 9/11. We have been bleeding for at least a dozen years, bled by terrorists trained by Pakistan, funded by Saudi Arabia, and armed by China. All three are major allies of America. Has America lifted a little finger to help India? No, instead, all they worry about is their own casualties. When America hurts, it understands its own pain, but it cannot empathise with others' pain.

I wrote a year ago, presciently, that it was likely the US would continue to use the Kashmir issue to keep India pinned down. Far from including India's fight against terrorism in the ambit of its declared war against global terror, the US has indeed supported Pakistan. India's problems with terrorists continue, despite Musharraf's patently insincere assurances to Americans that he would stop cross-border terrorism.

Hindu pilgrims are massacred by Islamist terrorists every year. This is a most dastardly act, because pilgrims, people of faith, of any faith, are treated with kindness and respect everywhere in the world. Yet, America does not turn an elegantly coiffed hair: Hindu lives, and Hindu pilgrim lives, do not matter. US Secretary of State Colin Powell said as much on his latest visit to the region. Just after a massacre of Amarnath pilgrims, he signaled a sharp tilt towards fellow general and friend, Musharraf of Pakistan. Large arms shipments are to follow, to be used clearly against Hindus.

Covert, unaudited, 'black' funds will surely be involved so that nothing is visible in public. It's back to business as usual, good times again for the Pakistani army. It is ironic, indeed: Pakistanis help blow up the World Trade Centre and kill 2,400 people, and get $2.4 billion in weaponry. Not a bad bargain at all.

India, almost the only country to openly support the US' call for missile defense systems, gets the shaft. For, the US is blocking the Israeli sale of the Arrow missile defense system to India. State Department mandarins, and Pakistan-friendly "experts" like Michael Krepon, argue that India's possession of this defensive system will increase tensions (see the Far Eastern Economic Review, Sept 5). China openly supplying missiles and semi knocked down atomic bombs to Pakistan obviously does not create tensions!

All this sounds familiar: the Cold Warriors of Foggy Bottom, schooled in gray eminence and war criminal Henry Kissinger's 'tilt' towards Pakistan, are fiercely anti-India. This is also evident in the attitude of The New York Times, more or less Foggy Bottom's official mouthpiece in subcontinental affairs.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing for UPI, points out that Pakistan is the new Afghanistan, and only the geopolitically challenged would refuse to see that the nerve center of Islamist terrorism is Pakistan. In fact, the nerve center has been Pakistan for at least a decade, as is obvious from circumstantial evidence tying most Islamic terror acts to the country. To ignore this fact, and to once again supply sophisticated weapons to Pakistan, as it did in the 1980s, is suicidal on the part of America. It also sends out a very strong message: to the US foreign policy establishment, India continues to be expendable.

For instance, the State Department (I think it is them, as the Defence Department is likely to be more sensible and less 'clever') allowed thousands of Pakistanis, including high-ranking army officers who, in disguise, served as the backbone of the Taliban, to escape by air from Kunduz. At the time, I wrote that the Americans, in allowing these kingpins of terrorism to escape and regroup, had been bamboozled by Musharraf. It appears I was right.

What about the other sponsors of terrorism? It is blindingly obvious that Saudi Arabia is a major factor in the creation of Islamist fundamentalism. But America's establishment has always considered the Saudis "untouchable", even though a recent Defence Department briefing identified it for the first time as an enemy, not a great ally (the latter is the official fiction.). Driven by its craving for imported oil, America is unlikely to do anything that offends the Saudi ruling family. Saudi-funded terrorism and Wah'abi indoctrination will continue unchecked. Until one day there is a bloody coup, I suppose.

China, with its strategy of a Sino-Islamic axis, has benefited from the "war on terrorism". The early Bush Administration approach had been to identify China (correctly, in my opinion) as a strategic enemy and to contain it. However, now that the Americans are focused on Islamists, China feels free to continue its massive proliferation activities, helped by a wink and a nod from its friends in Colin Powell's State Department. It is not all good news for the Chinese, though: an increased American presence in Central Asia, plus a potential cordon sanitaire around China should worry them.

On the other hand, the US is busy manufacturing an enemy in Iraq and saber rattling furiously about invading them. The alleged evidence connecting Iraq to September 11th is flimsy at best: the only known link is that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the operation, met once with an Iraqi secret agent in Europe months before the WTC attack! If this is 'evidence', then what about the fact that the majority of attackers were Saudi citizens, and the many pointers to Pakistani financial and logistical involvement?

Iraq is merely a convenient whipping boy. The country, and Saddam Hussein, have been so thoroughly demonised by a pliant western media, and painted so completely as the Great Satan, that even if the Americans dropped a hydrogen bomb on Baghdad nobody would object. The modus operandi seems simple: whenever the US feels macho, and wants to kill a few Muslims, bomb Iraq. There is no major political cost, just a bunch of dead Iraqis, and who cares about them, anyway?

This 'manufacturing of consent' (as per Noam Chomsky) is a trump card of the US military-industrial-media establishment: their populace is so ignorant that a media blitz can overnight change 'friend' to 'enemy'. Big Brother is alive and well in America. I remember how Iraq's ruler (and Panama's before it) went from "America's best friend" to "the greatest evil-doer that ever existed" in oh, roughly two months, according to the American media, led by the ever-friendly New York Times.

All this, and the distance of a year, lend objectivity. Whatever Americans might feel, September 11th was not the end of civilization as we know it. However painful it might have been, it is merely a wakeup call: "Welcome to the rest of the world! This is how the other half lives, vulnerable to terror and fearful of our lives." America bestrides the world like a colossus, but it is not invulnerable. This is a consequence of the much-touted globalization, ironically enough.

The very hubris of being sole superpower is likely to be followed by nemesis. American historian Paul Kennedy wrote about the decline and fall of the great powers. It does seem that there is an organic cycle to power: sooner or later, America too will lose it. Just as Rome did, the Mongols, the Ottomans, and the British.

The British Empire in its heyday was truly evil, and Indians fully realised that on a fateful day, April 13, 1919, the day of the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre. A peaceful crowd in a walled enclosure with just one exit. A British general orders troops to fire. 1650 bullets, 1,579 casualties: extremely high efficiency. The general gets felicitated later by the British public and parliament. The British never apologise for it, either.

I have no idea if Americans bothered to protest Jallianwallah Bagh at the time. There has certainly been no American participation in condemning it recently. And Americans have actively colluded in, or at least turned a blind eye to, the ongoing carnage in India unleashed by its allies, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China. Perhaps they believe that by keeping these Islamic terrorists pre occupied in India, they can avoid damage to themselves. This is wishful thinking, as demonstrated by 9/11.

From a moral perspective, an America that has never expressed remorse for using nuclear weapons; an America that supports the very forces that are attempting to destroy India; an America that finally faced the insecurities people in the rest of the world have taken for granted for years -- should Indians feel that the September 11th attack on such an America is a greater tragedy than Hiroshima/Nagasaki 1945, Jallianwallah Bagh 1919, Kaluchak/Pahalgam 2002?

From India's selfish perspective, an America that refuses to consider India's legitimate security concerns; an America that continues to support Musharraf's blatant lies regarding cross-border terror; an America that continues to give Pakistan billions of dollars worth of overt and covert military aid despite continuing and regular attacks on Indians; an America that condones Pakistan's intent to wreck the Jammu and Kashmir elections -- should Indians feel that after September 11th such an America has done anything to increase their security?

You think it through, gentle reader.

Rajeev Srinivasan

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