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MGG: The Fundamentalist Fanatics Gird For A Crusade In Afghanistan
By M.G.G. Pillai

10/10/2001 1:23 pm Wed


15-31 October 2001


The Fundamentalist Fanatics Gird For A Crusade In Afghanistan

M.G.G. Pillai

"It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that recreated the fanaticism of Islam" - commented Sir Steven Runciman, in his three-volume classic of the Crusades.


AND SO THE predicted, expected, hoped-for air war over Afghanistan has begun. President Bush had raised the ante since the 11 September attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, demanding that Afghanistan give up the suspected mastermind, Mr Osama bin Laden, in a televised show of force which no self-respecting group could obey. President George Bush, Sr, wanted Iraq to cave in to US demands humiliatingly; he did not, and Iraq was engulfed in the Gulf War in which the United States could not bomb it into submission. Nato, with US support, wanted Serbia to cave in; when she refused, she was bombed. And now Afghanistan.

When the President of the United States wants a war, he gets it. The build up to it, and the high faluting justification for it reveals the supercillious arrogance of Pope Urban II's call for the First Crusade in 1089 that Christianity can put Islam in its place. It is, as President George Bush, Jr and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, constantly reminds us, a war against terror, not against Islam. Islam, on the other hand, sees it as not against terror but on Islam. But that is ignored in this round-the-clock simplistic television coverage in which Washington and London raise the ante for a war for the 6,000 who died in the New York City and Washington attacks.

The cynicism with which Washington forges this coalition beggars belief. Since Saudi Arabia is, nominally, on its side in this Crusade, its role in the Wahabbi-inspired terrorism it exports should have been examined. The Taleban's brand of fundamental Islam is Wahabbi-based. Besides, Saudi Arabia funded the madrasahs in Pakistan that provided the cannon fodder for the mujahideen and now the Taleban. But this campaign against Mr Osama and his Al-Qaeda network is as much to protect Saudi Arabia and Egypt as a retaliation for the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks.

The one important difference between the protagonists is how the two sides -- the Anglo-American consortium against Islamic "terrorists" and the "terrorists" themselves, Mr Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network -- view their role: the former is opportunistic and the latter principled. He would not allow the United Nations, as his father, to orchestrate the crisis, but instead went ahead, with Britain in tow, and a listless coalition to justify his move. The original 100 countries who backed, or forced to back, Washington has dwindled to 40, and even that conditionally. In other words, this war against Afghanistan is an Anglo-Saxon attack on Islam, however often this is denied.

Mr Osama and his network, on the other hand, is clear in their minds, however wrong or galling that might be to the West, that the United States is the enemy and nothing shifts them from their belief. Arab hurt and anger at Western double-dealing in the Middle East, not just towards Israel but towards Arab nations, has worsened with the Palestinian issue. The West reacts only to terror. The British gave in to the creation of Israel because Israeli terrorists, one of whom, Mr Menachem Begin, rose to be prime minister, responded to the occupation with the terror the Arabs now dispense.

The British could not take the losses it sustained, and gave Israel its independence; so, in Malaysia, when the Emergency eventually wore the British down to give independence. In one sense, President Bush and Mr Blair is right: it is not religion but Arab hurt that forced this confrontation into battle. But the Muslims immediately saw it as a Crusade against them; hence the calls for a jihad from Muslim groups far away from the scene of the battle. Even the international coalition Washington has forced is suspect: war is why it is forged, not vice versa.

Few outside the West believe it is anything but a Christian attack on Islam. This is made worse when Islam is simplified and dished out on television to separate it from the terrorism that the West now targets. If Mr Osama and Al-Qaeda network is not an Islamic, but a terrorist, organisation, why this involved attempt to distance Islam with the movement? The British government does not regard the Irish Republication Army as a Catholic terrorist body, but a terrorist group that happens to be Catholic. But because the Muslims fight on principle -- this is not denied -- any action against any Muslim comes with a statement no one believes, that it is not against Islam. An American magazine said last week: "For over a generation, Arab terrorists -- both Islamic and secular -- have pledged to fight America to the death. They do it on principle, So should we."

Terrorists do not go for set piece battles, nor offer themselves to be bombed as President Saddam Hussein in 1991. So, the aerial bombardment we see over Afghanistan, not a party to the conflict except that it harbours the man whom Washington wants for the New York and Washington attacks. It creates as much mayhem and confusion in Afghanistan now as it did in the United States on 11 September 2001. Dropping food at night after the bombing raids does not assuage the loss of dear ones of those who live in Afghanistan, although somehow that is seen as less important than the loss of American lives.

But what shines through in this campaign is the cynicism inherent in the battle. The airstrikes will bomb Afghanistan from the Middle Ages to the early centuries of the first millennium. Would it cause the Taleban to give up Mr Osama? Hardly. Would it make the Talebens more forthcoming to the United States? Certainly not, when the avowed aim of this air war to exchange one set of tyrants for another as the government of Afghanistan. Somehow "our" tyrants are great lovers of freedom and justice, but not "your" tyrants. When the United States went to war with Iraq over Kuwait, the past was forgotten: the Kuwaiti government was not only anti-government, it would not even allow US warships to dock; in one incident, a wounded American sailor was not allowed to be brought to its hospital in Kuwait. And if Kuwait was egged along on the road to freedom and justice as Washington wants, think again!

But all that is forgotten in this rush to teach "our" former tyrant a lesson he would not forget. Not that it worked. The lesson is not learnt. Mr Osama was once "our" freedom fighter in the US-backed mujahideen in the battle to force the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Like President Saddam, he is an outcaste to be rooted out. The United States believes this is best done with aerial bombardments, destroying and destabilising the targets as terrorists do when they attack. So long as the United States is afraid of casualties, they would continue to be regarded as no better than the targets. Without staying power, Washington must, for internal political reasons, finish the war as soon as possible. For one, the coalition cannot be sustained; for another, internal unity will fray as it drags on.

In the end, it would be much ado about nothing. The United States arsenal would lay waste what little remains of modernity in Afghanistan. It might kill Mr Osama bin Laden or it might not. Either way, the problem worsens. New figures would come up to replace the dead, and the battle begins afresh. The West, in its comfortable belief in its own righteousness, challenges the world in the same fundamentalist terms the Wahabbi Muslims cloak themselves in. One does not even have to look beyond the rhetoric to know that the air war that has started is to cause as much damage and disruption as is possible. It does not resolve anything. All it would is to widen the communal hurt, not just in Afghanistan but also in the Islamic world.

That no Muslim nation would allow its bases to be used to launch attacks on Afghanistan, even if it did not want to have any truck with the Talebans, has more to do with what could happen to them once the United States shifts its focus from Afghanistan. What we see today is a battle to the death between two groups of fundamentalists, one the Christian West with its satraps the other the Islamic Middle East and its Islamic brethren elsewhere. The airwar does not shift this focus that Pope Urban II set. Little indeed has changed in a millennium.

M.G.G. Pillai