Nobody looks more ridiculous in the whole Iraq situation than the Europeans. A bit of their hypocrisy was on show in New Delhi earlier this week as the German president came calling. He, and the formidable array of intellectuals accompanying him, were at pains to make the same outdated point: that global terrorism must be fought, but with compassion. And how is that compassion supposed to work? By bringing Islamic religious teachings into school curricula. By being kind to those (of the Islamic world) feeling left out. By taking steps to soften the blow of globalisation for those (again from the Islamic world) who can’t keep pace. And by opposing a war on Iraq unless the UN says so. Europe, we were told, is now acquiring a strong Islamic minority and must cater for its concerns and fears. It was even underlined that the Muslim population in France is now 15 per cent, about as much as in India.
But nobody paused to ask why France’s Muslims are so angry with the US and its western allies but India’s are not. Or how is it that French Muslims suspected of Al-Qaeda connections now sit it out in Camp X-Ray on Guantanamo Bay while there isn’t one Indian there? Or, how come there isn’t one Indian Muslim on the FBI’s list of Al-Qaeda suspects. And finally, how come, despite the history of Indian security forces’ excesses, despite widespread alienation among a predominantly Muslim population in the Kashmir Valley and in spite of desperate Pakistani efforts to build this into a pan-Islamic jehad, hardly any mainland Indian Muslim has made common cause with it.
Could it be that this entire formulation is flawed? That the Indian Muslims are actually as sullen as those of the Middle East and Europe, but they find — mostly — a different way of seeking revenge? They hated Farooq Abdullah in Kashmir as New Delhi’s despotic stooge and defied terrorist bullets to vote him out. They believe the Congress double-crossed them on Babri, so they are still punishing it by banishing it from Uttar Pradesh and, thereby, from national power. They could not do this to Narendra Modi. But they came out to vote nevertheless. I cannot get rid of you, but I can at least vote against you, curse you on a television channel, shout a slogan against you. Not good enough, but some revenge nevertheless. I am then less likely to feel the need to hijack a plane and ram it into a symbol of my national power. And why should I do any such thing in New York anyway? I have no revenge to take there.
Now reverse that equation. You are a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, Egypt — even Pakistan — or any other such pro-western dictatorship. You hate your ruler, you detest the denial of democracy. You hate it even more when you find how the same dictators suck up to their western (US and European) masters and carry on with their support. What can you do about it except sulk, retreat to the mosque and the madrassa and plan revenge. Then, who do you take revenge on?
In your own country not only is there no freedom, even the thought of defiance, of questioning authority, could cost you your life. You cannot hold a demonstration, put up a poster, wave a placard, write an angry editorial, even a letter to the editor. You cannot organise a political party, not even a weekend discussion group. What happens then? The Friday congregation becomes the only political forum, revenge an attractive idea, and since even making the slightest move in your own police state is so dangerous you plan it in New York, Washington and who knows, tomorrow, in London or Berlin. You are convinced that your dictator stays in power because of western (American and European, I repeat) support. You cannot harm your own dictators, so make their masters pay.
Extend this logic to Pakistan and Iraq. The Iraqis must hate their dictator as much as anybody else does. It is possible that his fall may release some of the same cathartic forces as Ceausescu’s in Romania. But can the Iraqi complain about it? Can an Iraqi expatriate in the US even write a letter to the editor in The New York Times if he still has a part of his family staying back home? The only difference is that today the average Iraqi does not see Saddam as a western pawn. You have to search for logical answers when 18 of the 19 men involved in 9/11 hijackings come from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt, dictatorships aligned with the West. And when most of their ideological and logistical support came from Pakistan, yet another dictatorship whose strongman has been hailed as a stalwart ally by the US and endorsed by France, Germany, the rest of the EU, Britain, Scandinavia, the rest of the European bleeding hearts and Japan.
It is still early days in Pakistan. But if this denial of democracy goes on much longer, if the general continues to rule with the joke of 90-odd per cent endorsement in a referendum, if the Pakistanis keep realising they cannot campaign against him, curse him in public, challenge him politically, even expect their most prominent political leaders to return from exile only because he is such a darling of the West, don’t be surprised if some of them also hijack a plane and ram it into some symbol of the same cynical western power. The Europeans join Washington in praising Musharraf’s road-map to democracy. To any thinking Pakistani this tree of democracy is a bonsai. With shallow roots, tiny branches, displayed by the West in a show window to fool him.
Funny, how this is beyond European comprehension. Even the Palestinians can take some revenge closer home. A Palestinian child can throw a rock at an Israeli tank. A fanatic can blow himself inside an Israeli bus. A Palestinian can hold a demonstration, write an angry editorial, burn Sharon’s effigy. Could that be why there wasn’t one Palestinian among the 9/11 hijackers?
Such a thing is impossible in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It is not so easy in Pakistan. The anger in this Muslim world, therefore, is not because they feel left out in the sweep of globalisation. The anger has resulted in an entirely new phenomenon, the globalisation of revenge. You are angry with your ruler, you cannot complain at home, so you take revenge on his western patron where, ironically, democracy gives you freedom of movement denied at home.
If the Europeans wish to address the root causes of Islamic anger, they have to get their fundamentals right. There is no point looking for esoteric explanations where the answers are pretty straightforward. The real problem with the Islamic world is the denial of democracy, with the complicity of the West. It is, in fact, a matter of time before Pakistan also firmly joins that crescent of anger with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Meanwhile, even the Iranians will continue to democratise slowly on their own and somebody will be telling the Muslims they are only being denied democracy by regimes that happen to be the stooges of the West. The anger that is generated will not be sated by any European bleeding heart largesse with tax-deductible Euros to teach Islam or Arabic in schools, whatever their stand on the US invasion of Iraq.
This article was first published on 8 March, 2003.
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