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MGG: Crusade v Jihad
By M.G.G. Pillai

14/11/2001 2:45 pm Wed

15-30 November 2001

Crusade v Jihad

M.G.G. Pillai

President George W Bush's worldwide crusade against terror is as skewered as Mr Osama bin Laden's call for an Islamic jihad. When Mr Bush narrowed his crusade to one man, Mr Osama, and bombed Afghanistan to force the Taliban government to give him up, he turned it, with unwise remarks and general threats, into an attack on Muslims. Mr Osama called on Muslims the world over to revolt against Washington and its satraps. Afghanistan is but the killing fields that would not end when the bombing does. Mr Osama's death or capture would not contain the forces unleashed when the four airplanes crashed into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the fields in Pennsylvania on September 11.

President Bush got his international crusade against terror for what he or others do not talk about: If one determined individual could hold the world's most powerful nation to ransom, could that not be replicated in countries around the world? It spewed fear and fright in governments throughout the world, and, with Islam and Muslims the target, despite half-hearted attempts to deny it, it also got the non-Muslims to put the Muslim in his place. Every government, Muslim or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist, found itself vulnerable.

The immediate reaction is to isolate Muslims in Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike. Leaders pushed to the wall, as the Malaysian prime minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, reacted in panache to isolate the Islamic political constituency backing the opposition Parti Islam Malaysia (PAS) and those backing it into an unacceptable corner. The jailed former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is isolated from his supporters in the United States, after the US government swung support to Dr Mahathir.

Before September 11, the US had in place a policy to introduce Malaysian opposition leaders to US audiences and policy makers. The PAS president, Dato' Fadhil Noor, and the Trengganu mentri besar, Dato' Haji Hadi Awang, had already visited the United States under this programme. No more. Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim is sidelined after the Parti Keadilan Negara's deputy president, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, spoke and wrote critically of the United States after September 11. Dato' Seri Anwar's essay in Time magazine recently was as much to distance himself from Dr Chandra as much as to say he is an Islamic moderate. But he is sidelined by Washington as surely as Dr Mahathir before September 11.

Today, Dr Mahathir has the White House's attention. He is due to visit the United States in the new year, and is consulted over Muslim reactions and attitudes. He is its man in Malaysia, one four well-connected Malaysians with close links to Washington could not ensure. The US policy now, defined by its National Security Council and its Defence Department, makes the Muslim, not Islam, the target, and Muslims on its side milked for what it is worth.

When Dr Mahathir said Malaysia is, always was, an Islamic country, he firmly consigned Malaysia to those Islamic states whose Muslim citizens faced further hurdles before issued visas to the United States. Dr Mahathir cries foul, but he had no choice: he could not change the rule, he is there to be at the beck and call, no more, no less. He turned defeat into victory internally yet again, and the opposition, without a strategic and tactical overview of their role, is left at the mercy of both Dr Mahathir and the United States. But is now Washington's satrapy.

In non-Muslim countries, the people, where they can, surged to support those in power. In Australia, the Liberal-Country Party coalition of Mr John Howard returned to its third straight victory in an election he was not given much change to be returned. His tough stance on Muslim refugees on his shores was what the electors needed to keep the Islamic hordes at bay. Eemotion, not reason, dictates governments in crisis. The opposition Labor (ed: correct) Party did not know what hit it, and its leader, Mr Ken Beazley, immediately resigned after the result. The Islamic demon strengthened the PAP in Singapore in the General Election on November 3, winning all but two of 83 parliamentary constituencies.

In other words, the ground rules changed irrevocably, never to return to the old ways. For every theory, there is a counter theory. Mr Bush's globalisation cannot be plain sailing, as Western industrialised countries insists it must: they would be met at every corner by the likes of Mr Osama and those like him. The young of this world understands this better than most: their principled opposition at every meeting of the WTO, whereever it is held, attests to that. This war in Afghanistan is no different: it had to come after September 11. It could have been any country where the Crusade v Jihad line had to be drawn. One columnist in the Financial Times of London described the bombing of Afghanistan as Globalisation's Chernyobil. He is right. No one cares for Chernyobil now, but what happened there were felt far away. So Afghanistan.

This Crusade v Jihad is a proxy war, one which would take years to unravel. President Bush, in whose name the Crusade is fought, and Mr Osama, the proxy of Islam, its enemy, fight with both hands tied behind their backs. Both have too many power centres to balance to present a unified front. In the United States, the warmongers -- amongst them, President Bush's National Security Adviser, Mrs Condoleeza Rice, the Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Mr Paul Wolfowitz -- got the President's ear to bomb Afghanistan. As Vietnam showed, that could change when the advisers change. It is therefore incumbent on Washington to conclude the war quickly if it is to succeed. If it does not, the Vietnam debacle must stare it in the face.

Similarly for Mr Osama. He does not represent the Islamic mainstream. In fact, no one does, though it is commonly accepted that Saudi Arabia represents that. It is not one the other Muslim states, especially Islam, would accept. What is the norm in Islam is much an Orientalist interpretation, as we see now in the gratuitous comments on what Islam stands for. But, like Mr Bush, Mr Osama appeals to the Muslim diaspore, and finds support as the underdog as their governments rushed to Mr Bush's coalition. With a righteous grievance of past wrongs, it does not matter if justified or not, it provides a link to historical wrongs which Mr Osama blames on the West. It does not matter if this is justified. It is perceived to be so. Both appeal to the global diaspore of their worldview to prove the other wrong.

What should frighten the Crusaders is that this would fester in ways not thought of. No one thought Lord Balfour would have caused the havoc in the Middle East 80 years after his death, but it is the one single document, the Balfour Declaration, which the West has forgotten but not the Middle East, where that is an insuperable stumbling block against a juridicial settlement over Palestine and Israel, and peace. To this must be added this bombing of Afghanistan.

Like in Vietnam, the underlying cause of it all is Power. The North Vietnamese and Vietcong as much as the United States did. Washington could not stomach its casualties, the balance in the White House changed, and Hanoi won the war. The technological superiority the US had in Vietnam then made not whit of difference. It could well not in Afghanistan if the war drags on. There cannot be an unilateral declaration of victory after Afghanistan is pounded to ribbons without the underlying problems are resolved. Especially if in the bombing campaign, mosques are put to rubble, Mr Osama is alive, and nothing is settled. Could a war over a current fear overcome a millennium of historical hurt? That is what this Crusade v Jihad is all about.

M.G.G. Pillai