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September 11, 2002

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy

After 9/11, the pressure is on Muslims

Black Tuesday has led to tectonic changes across the globe, as the part that calls itself civilised goes after what it perceives to be the fount of terrorism. As the winner who has taken it all, the sole superpower has arrogated to itself the authority to decide which kind of terrorism is bad and which is not.

Thus, Indians have had the mortification of seeing a rogue nation which has displayed little or no regard for international relations being coddled as an important ally in the war against terror, its protestations notwithstanding. India may have gained tangentially in the aftermath of 9/11, but certainly this plus is offset by the huge minus: that it is Pakistan, which has openly sponsored terrorism on Indian soil, that is being counted upon to deliver in America's global campaign against terror.

There is a lesson in this for the United States, no doubt a great nation whose greatness often engenders petty envy and jealousy in the minds of those not so well endowed. Psychologists, notably Sigmund Freud, drummed up the phrase 'penis envy' to describe such affliction among men on a smaller scale, but can it be used to describe what many nations and peoples feel towards America? The sole superpower has often displayed maladroit judgement when choosing its friends and enemies, and I think it has chosen the wrong side yet again in its haste to put off the final conflict of nations.

Soon after 9/11 I had actually commended the United States for choosing Pakistan as its ally, for this was the only way to keep the campaign against global terror from turning into a Christian West versus Muslim East conflict. That rule still holds. A year, however, lends not only distance but also perspective and clarity.

A genuflecting Pakistan may not have needed any corralling to turn its back on those who it helped create. And as people who have tasted the power of the dollar, let us not be too hasty in judging a pauper nation for its avarice. But the presence of a mere Pakistan -- whose brand of Islam is less radical than that practiced by, say, the orthodox Saudi Arabia only in degrees -- or the mute complicity of vassal states like Saudi Arabia in the campaign against terror does not make it any less a clash between two Semitic faiths (actually three, if one counts the Jewish influence on America).

The fact about the US's war is that its pet objects of hate have mostly been Muslim -- whether it was Ayatollah Khomeini and Muammar Gaddafi earlier or Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden now. Radical Islam has targeted America as the evil, and the nation has responded feebly, refusing to openly come out and say that its enemy is indeed militant Islam.

There is a pacifist version of the faith which may well be the more dominant in numbers, but as always the loudest have taken the rest hostage. And America's war is against this brand of Islam that threatens to redraw boundaries, overthrow regimes and put the world, if possible, under a veil.

But why single out militant Islam, the world is under threat from all forms of resurgent faiths, whether it is Narendra Modi's brand of Hinduism that we saw run riot in Gujarat, or fundamentalist Christianity. As populations migrate faith often is the sheet anchor to the culture left behind, which is why the expatriate version is often much more orthodox. This, mixed with the transplanted biases and prejudices, is more potent than any Molotov cocktail.

The US's mealy-mouthed nature of its war, where by words it says it is not fighting Islam but by actions has taken on Muslim targets, is costing it dear, and this will be compounded as and when it moves against Saddam Hussein. It will then be only a question of time before subterranean anger against America in the Muslim world spills over.

How will all this impact on India, is a critical question. India may be a Hindu majority State, but it is also home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, more than our neighbours to the east and west. As such, any conflict involving the Muslim world is bound to affect this bloc and through them, the nation and its polity.

In that sense, 9/11 has weakened the position of Indian Muslims vis--vis the State apparatus, for the terrorist attacks on America came at a time when the Hindu Right has gained ascendancy. For long a victim of Islamic terrorism, with the prevailing atmosphere across the civilised world -- of weariness at this phenomenon -- open season seems to have been declared against the Muslim minority by the establishment.

The degrading abuse of human values during the Gujarat riots, in which Muslims were picked on after the Sabarmati Express outrage, would not have gone so uncommented upon by the West were it not for its campaign against Islamic terror. The prime minister of India would not have dared made the statement he did at the Bharatiya Janata Party meeting that 'wherever Muslims lived, they create disharmony,' but for the dominant revulsion against Islamic terrorism.

That is the true legacy of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. By couching their envy with grandiose Islamic terms, they have cut the ground from under the feet of the very community, faith, they claim to campaign for.

9/11, one year later, has put the Muslim world in a terrible crisis, with the radical elements running away with the faith. How the ummah and the qaum respond to this threat to its soul, will determine the contours of the world we live in.

ALSO READ:
The Gujarat Riots
America's war on terror

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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