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MGG: The Colonialism Of The Mind
By M.G.G. Pillai

28/9/2001 7:09 am Fri

17 September 01

The colonialism of the mind

MGG Pillai

When CNN, CNBC and other American TV networks with its emphasis that the world should live as the Americans do -- surreal reality as would happen when people live as in its advertisements, -- the mind elsewhere is colonised so thoroughly that we come to believe that their hurt is more tragic than hurt elsewhere.

An American death is more horrific than a European death and both far more horrific an African or Asian, especially if poor and dispossessed of his chattel and dignity by misplaced Western policies -- as the Middle East generally is.

The many letters malaysiakini published complaining of what I wrote about the WTC and Pentagon reflects this mindnumbing presumption.

It is not novel, this maligning of opinion that goes against the collective trend, but it reflects the unthinking view that any who questions the prevailing mould ought to be run out of town. This one should expect when one's lives, as now in Malaysia, is dictated by what Astro dishes out. I grew up in a time of books and discussion, do not watch TV regularly, and am most comfortable in the company of my mind.

One letter was so sure that the Crusades was over and that in this modern world, different conditions apply. No doubt this is why President Bush called his pseudo "At War" declaration a Crusade, and go after the enemy as the Crusades did Muslims. Another questioned my reference to Osama Bin Laden as an American target.

Demonising enemies

Every CNN, CNBC and other TV news programmes on Astro targetted Osman Bin Laden. There was no doubt in my mind -- as there was none in 1991 in Washington's demonising of its former ally, President Saddam Hussein -- the US is ready to strike him down, Rambo-like, at his lair in the mountains of Afghanistan.

The United States could not destroy Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Ho Chi Minh; it had better Osama Bin Laden if it wants its reputation in the Middle East to be other than as a staunch ally of Israel.

So thoroughly colonised is one writer's mind that he rewrites history: Malaysia was not a member of SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation), as he imagined, nor did SEATO come to Malaysia's aid during Indonesia's confrontation of Malaysia; it was the Anglo-Malaysian defence agreement that pitted British forces against Indonesia.

That shook the British establishment to its roots, shedding blood for Malaysians, even if a former colony: today, all that exists is a toothless Five-Power Defence Arrangement in which the five "powers" -- Malaysia, Singapore, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand -- would consult each other if one is attacked. A far cry from the Nato promise to rush to America's aid in this hour of her vengeance.

I see the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks for what it is: a brilliantly-laid plan to bring terror into the citadels of American power and the average American household. I do not write this with elation or happiness, only neutrally that in conditions of such hatred, in the United States and in the Middle East, the only option one side has is to rein more terror on its perceived enemies. If anything, this is only reinforced.

People will die needlessly, as victims of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, as the hundreds of thousands in the maggot-ridden refugee camps set up in this fight for supremacy in the Arab World. The United States is horrified people can gloat at its misery, reacting sharply at Palestinians dancing in the streets and dishing out sweets at the disaster, and send back Chinese visitors to the United States for their exuberance in celebrating the terrorist attacks.

That is not on, in Washington's view. What is, presumably, is United States gloating at President Saddam Hussein's predicament, in 1991, when CNN showed footage of film from the attacking planes in which the gloating at the haplessness of the victims was unmistakeable. But with Washington's shoe on the other foot, it reacts in anger. But does pro forma grieving prove that one grieves?

Wounded lion

When a wounded lion is on the loose, most animals of the forest would get out of its way. One gets the horrified feeling that these countries are forced to go Washington's way in this crusade against terrorism, not as policy but in fright and fear. As during the pulverising of President Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Would it end the terrorism President Bush is out to root out? I doubt it. Most likely, it would spawn other terrorist groups to make life difficult for everyone. It makes Pakistan, as a frontline state, most vulnerable. India gloats at this prospect, but can India afford to have both Afghanistan and Pakistan on its Western borders so destabilised? I doubt it.

The other curiousity in this tragic episode is that the President's claim that the United States is "at war" means nothing. It is the Senate that must declare war. It has not. Probably would not.

What President Bush hopes for is a blanket licence to wage war without Congressional oversight, as President Lyndon Johnson with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, passed after he alleged North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked an American warship in the Gulf; only later did it emerge that the warship had fired first. But nearly 60,000 Americans died so that an American president could go to war.

He might get it. But when Nato jumped in to insist that an attack on one is an attack on all, it was again to score points with Washington in the larger issues the European Union has with the United States. It gave all the leaders a chance to bash at terrorism, but with no intent their soldiers would shed blood.

War in Asia

Why should they when the United States only reluctantly admits to casualties in this "prolonged" war, which official Washington now conceds would be longer than the duration of World War I and World War II combined.

The United States is not about to launch a war in Asia yet, certainly not what could last a decade. But it does give her a chance to show her resolve. Does that count for anything, when she is frightened of military casualties?

So, nothing is resolved. What we have from Washington is hot air it must release to keep the natives from going off their heads in this tragedy in their midst. The message from Washington then is no different from that from Baghdad in 1991: a sense of helplessness and impotence at the tragedy at their doorstep. President Bush reacts as President Saddam did.

Every move he makes masks his impotence. He would keep the hot potato in the air until the people get on with their lives, and forget about the tragedy. In this 50-year-old disturbance in the Middle East, in which the United States plays a crucial part, when all is said and done, what happened last week in New York City and Washington DC gives the edge back to the dispossessed and the marginalised in the Islamic diaspora of the world.

That is what the United States should counter to remain the global policeman. She must be ready to shed blood, to put her money where her mouth is. Getting countries around the world to accept its definition of terrorism mean nothing. Killing Osama bin Laden means nothing, though it would mean a lot, lot, more if she fails.

The casualties of this war will be the innocents, in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and those thoroughly colonised in the mind, as these four letter writers. And others who believe the only news worth believing is what comes from the West.

M.G.G. Pillai

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