|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
US leaders to blame for abuse in Iraq: author
Arthur J Pais in New York | May 24, 2004 13:38 IST
Professor Mahmood Mamdani isn't surprised at all that a handful of American soldiers and prison guards went berserk at the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq, torturing and humiliating the prisoners of war.
"It was an illegal war to start with," said Mamdani, a professor at Columbia University in New York and author of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (Pantheon).
He was addressing about a hundred people who came to listen to him at a meeting organised by the South Asian Journalists Association in New York last week.
If the American leaders thought nothing about the naked aggression against Iraq, he said, it should not be surprising that its soldiers went around their business without a sense of right and wrong, he said.
A vociferous critic of American foreign policy, Mamdani's book repeatedly warns Americans that 9/11 and its aftermath was the result of the unfinished business of the Cold War.
Unable to intervene directly in countries like Mozambique and Nicaragua which it perceived as Soviet puppets, America "harnessed terror to win the Cold War," he said.
Another obvious example was when America recruited and armed thousands of mercenaries and anti-Communist Muslim extremists to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The ascendancy of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden started during the last years of the Soviet control of Afghanistan, he said.
While his book echoes the thoughts of many leftwing writers including Tariq Ali, Mamdani says his book is different because it connects American actions in a number of countries including Nicaragua and discusses how it bred terror, leading to some of the terrorists turning their weapons against America.
He questions the assertions of thinkers like Bernard Lewis, who believe that secular and pro-Western Muslims are the good ones while those who oppose American policies are bad ones.
"The book is about America," he said. "It is written for those who accept their politics from CNN." It seeks to take the readers "where CNN does not point its cameras."
Describing 9/11 as a historical turning point, he said his book was about the price America had to pay for winning the Cold War. "It is also about what America has become in the process of winning the Cold War."
Mamdani, whose forefathers migrated to Africa from India over a hundred years ago, considers himself an African nationalist. He has been expelled twice from Uganda for being an Asian, he points out, stressing the irony.
He has taught at a number of prestigious American universities including Princeton has homes in New York and Kampala with his wife, (Monsoon Wedding) director Mira Nair. His book is written largely from an African perspective, he says.
Accusing the Reagan administration for filling the Cold War with "theological rhetoric," he said the former US president brought "the theological knowledge of evil into politics." When Reagan declared the Soviet Union to be an evil empire, he explained, it meant that the evil had to be destroyed.
In backing mercenaries in Nicaragua and Africa and international jihadis in Afghanistan, he said, American "privatised the war."
Many of these warriors received money and arms from America even though they were known to be anti-American because at one point Washington found them extremely useful against the Russians. Some of these warriors waited for just a few years before turing their ire on America, he said.
The era of proxy wars has come to an end with the invasion of Iraq," he notes. "And there, as in Vietnam, America will need to recognise that it is not fighting terrorism but nationalism. And the battle against nationalism cannot be won by occupation."