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MSNBC: Insult and injury in Afghanistan
By Arundhati Roy
23/10/2001 4:36 am Tue
[Rencana ini amat baik, cumanya ada satu (atau dua?) perenggan yang
mengandungi tuduhan yang tidak begitu enak yang dipalitkan kepada Taliban
SPECIAL TO MSNBC.COM
America's ill-conceived war on terror
By Arundhati Roy
NEW DELHI, Oct. 20 - As darkness deepened over Afghanistan on
Oct. 7, the U.S. government, backed by the International Coalition
Against Terror (the new, amenable surrogate for the United Nations),
launched air strikes against Afghanistan. TV channels lingered on
computer-animated images of cruise missiles, stealth bombers,
tomahawks, `bunker-busting' missiles and Mark 82 high-drag bombs.
THE UN, REDUCED now to an ineffective acronym, wasn't even
asked to mandate the air strikes. (As Madeleine Albright once said,
"The U.S. acts multilaterally when it can, and unilaterally when it
must.") The "evidence" against the terrorists was shared among
friends in the "Coalition." After conferring, they announced that it
didn't matter whether or not the "evidence" would stand up in a court
of law. Thus, in an instant, were centuries of jurisprudence carelessly
Nothing can excuse or justify an act of terrorism, whether it is
committed by religious fundamentalists, private militia, people's
resistance movements - or whether it's dressed up as a war of
retribution by a recognized government. The bombing of Afghanistan
is not revenge for New York and Washington. It is yet another act of
terror against the people of the world. Each innocent person that is
killed must be added to, not set off against, the grisly toll of civilians
who died in New York and Washington.
People rarely win wars, governments rarely lose them. People get
killed. Villagers of the ruined enclave of Qala-e-Zaman, southeast of
Kabul, inspect the damage of a boming raid. Six civilians -- five of
them members of one family -- were reported killed in the Oct. 18
Governments molt and regroup, hydra-headed. They first use flags to
shrink-wrap peoples' minds and suffocate real thought, and then as
ceremonial shrouds to cloak the mangled corpses of the willing dead.
On both sides, in Afghanistan as well as America, civilians are now
hostage to the actions of their own governments. Unknowingly,
ordinary people in both countries share a common bond - they have
to live with the phenomenon of blind, unpredictable terror. Each batch
of bombs that is dropped on Afghanistan is matched by a
corresponding escalation of mass hysteria in America about anthrax,
more hijackings and other terrorist acts.
There is no easy way out of the spiraling morass of terror and brutality
that confronts the world today. It is time now for the human race to
hold still, to delve into its wells of collective wisdom, both ancient and
modern. What happened on Sept. 11th changed the world forever.
Freedom, progress, wealth, technology, war - these words have
taken on new meaning. Governments have to acknowledge this
transformation, and approach their new tasks with a modicum of
honesty and humility. Unfortunately, up to now, there has been no
sign of any introspection from the leaders of the International
Coalition. Or the Taliban.
When he announced the air strikes, President George Bush said,
"We're a peaceful nation." America's favorite Ambassador, Tony
Blair, (who also holds the portfolio of Prime Minister of the UK),
echoed him: "We're a peaceful people." So now we know. Pigs are
horses. Girls are boys. War is Peace.
THEORY AND PRACTICE
Speaking at the FBI headquarters a few days later, President Bush
said, "This is our calling. This is the calling of the United States of
America. The most free nation in the world. A nation built on
fundamental values that reject hate, reject violence, rejects murderers
and rejects evil. We will not tire."
Here is a list of the countries that America has been at war with - and
bombed - since World War II: China (1945-46, 1950-53), Korea
(1950-53), Guatemala (1954, 1967-69), Indonesia (1958), Cuba
(1959-60), the Belgian Congo (1964), Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73),
Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70), Grenada (1983), Libya
(1986), El Salvador (1980s), Nicaragua (1980s), Panama (1989), Iraq
(1991-99), Bosnia (1995), Sudan (1998), Yugoslavia (1999). And
Certainly it does not tire - this, the Most Free nation in the world.
What freedoms does it uphold? Within its borders, the freedoms of
speech, religion, thought; of artistic expression, food habits, sexual
preferences (well, to some extent) and many other exemplary,
wonderful things. Outside its borders, the freedom to dominate,
humiliate and subjugate - usually in the service of America's real
religion, the "free market." So when the U.S. government christens a
war Operation Infinite Justice, or Operation Enduring Freedom, we in
the Third World feel more than a tremor of fear. Because we know that
Infinite Justice for some means Infinite Injustice for others. And
Enduring Freedom for some means Enduring Subjugation for others.
The International Coalition Against Terror is a cabal of the richest
countries in the world. Between them, they manufacture and sell
almost all of the world's weapons, they possess the largest stockpile
of weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear.
They have fought the most wars, account for most of the genocide,
subjection, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations in modern
history, and have sponsored, armed and financed untold numbers of
dictators and despots. Between them, they have worshiped, almost
deified, the cult of violence and war. For all its appalling sins, the
Taliban just isn't in the same league.
LEGACY OF WAR
When the U.S. government christens a war Operation Infinite Justice,
or Operation Enduring Freedom, we in the Third World feel more than
a tremor of fear. Because we know that Infinite Justice for some
means Infinite Injustice for others.
The Taliban was compounded in the crumbling crucible of rubble,
heroin and landmines in the backwash of the Cold War. Its oldest
leaders are in their early forties. Many of them are disfigured and
handicapped, missing an eye, an arm or a leg. They grew up in a
society scarred and devastated by war. Between the Soviet Union
and America, over 20 years, about $45 billion worth of arms and
ammunition was poured into Afghanistan. The latest weaponry was
the only shard of modernity to intrude upon a thoroughly medieval
society. Young boys - many of them orphans - who grew up in those
times, had guns for toys, never knew the security and comfort of
family life, never experienced the company of women. Now, as adults
and rulers, the Taliban beat, stone, rape and brutalize women, they
don't seem to know what else to do with them. Years of war has
stripped them of gentleness, inured them to kindness and human
compassion. They dance to the percussive rhythms of bombs raining
down around them. Now they've turned their monstrosity on their own
POUNDED TO DUST
One and a half million Afghan people lost their lives in the 20 years
of conflict that preceded this new war. Afghanistan was reduced to
rubble, and now, the rubble is being pounded into finer dust. By the
second day of the air strikes, U.S. pilots were returning to their bases
without dropping their assigned payload of bombs. As one pilot put it,
Afghanistan is "not a target-rich environment". At a press briefing at
the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Defense Secretary, was asked
if America had run out of targets.
"First we're going to re-hit targets," he said, "and second, we're not
running out of targets, Afghanistan is..." This was greeted with gales
of laughter in the Briefing Room.
By the third day of the strikes, the U.S. Defense Department boasted
that it had "achieved air supremacy over Afghanistan" (Did they
mean that they had destroyed both, or maybe all 16, of Afghanistan's
Reports have begun to trickle in about civilian casualties, about cities
emptying out as Afghan civilians flock to the borders which have
been closed. Main arterial roads have been blown up or sealed off.
Those who have experience of working in Afghanistan say that by
early November, food convoys will not be able to reach the millions
of Afghans (7.5 million according to the UN) who run the very real risk
of starving to death during the course of this winter. They say that in
the days that are left before winter sets in, there can either be a war,
or an attempt to reach food to the hungry. Not both.
A CYNICAL ALMS RACE
As a gesture of humanitarian support, the US government air-dropped
37,000 packets of emergency rations into Afghanistan. It says it plans
to drop a total of 500,000 packets. That will still only add up to a
single meal for half a million people out of the several million in dire
need of food. Aid workers have condemned it as a cynical,
dangerous, public-relations exercise. They say that air-dropping
food packets is worse than futile. First, because the food will never
get to those who really need it. More dangerously, those who run out
to retrieve the packets risk being blown up by land mines. A tragic
Nevertheless, the food packets had a photo-op all to themselves.
Their contents were listed in major newspapers. They were
vegetarian, we're told, as per Muslim Dietary Law (!) Each yellow
packet, decorated with the American flag, contained: rice, peanut
butter, bean salad, strawberry jam, crackers, raisins, flat bread, an
apple fruit bar, seasoning, matches, a set of plastic cutlery, a
serviette and illustrated user instructions.
After three years of unremitting drought, an air-dropped airline meal
in Jalalabad! The level of cultural ineptitude, the failure to understand
what months of relentless hunger and grinding poverty really mean,
the U.S. government's attempt to use even this abject misery to boost
its self-image, beggars description.
Reverse the scenario for a moment. Imagine if the Taliban government
was to bomb New York City, saying all the while that its real target
was the U.S. government and its policies. And suppose, during breaks
between the bombing, the Taliban dropped a few thousand packets
containing nan and kababs impaled on an Afghan flag. Would the
good people of New York ever find it in themselves to forgive the
Afghan government? Even if they were hungry, even if they needed
the food, even if they ate it, how would they ever forget the insult, the
condescension? Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City, returned a
gift of $10 million from a Saudi prince because it came with a few
words of friendly advice about American policy in the Middle East. Is
pride a luxury that only the rich are entitled to?
WHERE WILL IT LEAD?
Far from stamping it out, igniting this kind of rage is what creates
terrorism. Hate and retribution don't go back into the box once you've
let them out. For every "terrorist" or his "supporter" that is killed,
hundreds of innocent people are being killed too. And for every
hundred innocent people killed, there is a good chance that several
future terrorists will be created.
This is not to suggest that the terrorists who perpetrated the outrage
on Sept. 11th should not be hunted down and brought to book. They
must be. But is war the best way to track them down? Will burning the
haystack find you the needle? Or will it escalate the anger and make
the world a living hell for all of us?
President George Bush recently boasted, "When I take action, I'm not
going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in
the butt. It's going to be decisive." President Bush should know that
there are no targets in Afghanistan that will give his missiles their
money's worth. Perhaps, if only to balance his books, he should
develop some cheaper missiles to use on cheaper targets and
cheaper lives in the poor countries of the world. (But then, that may
not make good business sense to the Coalition's weapons
Every day that the war goes on, raging emotions are being let loose
into the world.
Put your ear to the ground in this part of the world, and you can hear
the thrumming, the deadly drumbeat of burgeoning anger. Please.
Please, stop the war now. Enough people have died. The smart
missiles are just not smart enough. They're blowing up whole
warehouses of suppressed fury.
To a distraught, confused American people whose pride has just
been wounded, whose loved ones have been tragically killed, whose
anger is fresh and sharp, the inanities about the "Clash of
Civilizations" and the "Good vs. Evil" discourse home in unerringly.
They are cynically doled out by government spokesmen like a daily
dose of vitamins or anti-depressants. Regular medication ensures that
mainland America continues to remain the enigma it has always
been-a curiously insular people, administered by a pathologically
meddlesome, promiscuous government.
And what of the rest of us, the numb recipients of this onslaught of
what we know to be preposterous propaganda? The daily consumers
of the lies and brutality smeared in peanut butter and strawberry jam
being air-dropped into our minds just like those yellow food packets.
Shall we look away and eat because we're hungry, or shall we stare
unblinking at the grim theatre unfolding in Afghanistan until we retch
collectively and say, in one voice, that we have had enough?
As the first year of the new millennium rushes to a close, one
wonders - have we forfeited our right to dream? Will we ever be able
to re-imagine beauty? Will it be possible ever again to watch the
slow, amazed blink of a new-born gecko in the sun, or whisper back
to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear - without thinking of
the World Trade Center and Afghanistan?
Arundhati Roy was trained as an architect. She is the author of "The
God of Small Things," for which she received the Booker Prize, and
"The Cost of Living." Her latest book is "Power Politics," published by
South End Press. Roy lives in New Delhi.