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BLACK TUESDAY: THE VIEW FROM ISLAMABAD


Hoodbhoy

Samuel Huntington’s evil

desire for a clash between civilizations may well come true after Tuesday’s

terror attacks. The crack that divided Muslims everywhere from the rest of the

world is no longer a crack. It is a gulf, that if not bridged, will surely

destroy both.

For much of the world, it

was the indescribable savagery of seeing jet-loads of innocent human beings

piloted into buildings filled with other innocent human beings. It was the sheer

horror of watching people jump from the 80th floor of the collapsing World Trade

Centre rather than be consumed by the inferno inside. Yes, it is true that many

Muslims also saw it exactly this way, and felt the searing agony no less

sharply. The heads of states of Muslim countries, Saddam Hussein excepted,

condemned the attacks. Leaders of Muslim communities in the US, Canada, Britain,

Europe, and Australia have made impassioned denunciations and pleaded for the

need to distinguish between ordinary Muslims and extremists.

But the pretence that

reality goes no further must be abandoned because this merely obfuscates facts

and slows down the search for solutions. One would like to dismiss televised

images showing Palestinian expressions of joy as unrepresentative, reflective

only of the crass political immaturity of a handful. But this may be wishful

thinking. Similarly, Pakistan Television, operating under strict control of the

government, is attempting to portray a nation united in condemnation of the

attack. Here too, the truth lies elsewhere, as I learn from students at my

university here in Islamabad, from conversations with people in the streets, and

from the Urdu press. A friend tells me that crowds gathered around public TV

sets at Islamabad airport had cheered as the WTC came crashing down. It makes

one feel sick from inside.

A bizarre new world awaits

us, where old rules of social and political behavior have broken down and new

ones are yet to defined. Catapulted into a situation of darkness and horror by

the extraordinary force of events, as rational human beings we must urgently

formulate a response that is moral, and not based upon considerations of power

and practicality. This requires beginning with a clearly defined moral

supposition – the fundamental equality of all human beings. It also requires

that we must proceed according to a definite sequence of steps, the order of

which is not interchangeable.

Before all else, Black

Tuesday’s mass murder must be condemned in the harshest possible terms without

qualification or condition, without seeking causes or reasons that may even

remotely be used to justify it, and without regard for the national identity of

the victims or the perpetrators. The demented, suicidical, fury of the attackers

led to heinous acts of indiscriminate and wholesale murder that have changed the

world for the worse. A moral position must begin with unequivocal condemnation,

the absence of which could eliminate even the language by which people can

communicate.

Analysis comes second, but

it is just as essential. No "terrorist" gene is known to exist or is likely to

be found. Therefore, surely the attackers, and their supporters, who were all

presumably born normal, were afflicted by something that caused their

metamorphosis from normal human beings capable of gentleness and affection into

desperate, maddened, fiends with nothing but murder in their hearts and minds. 

What was that?

Tragically, CNN and the US

media have so far made little attempt to understand this affliction. The cost

for this omission, if it is to stay this way, cannot be anything but terrible.

What we have seen is probably the first of similar tragedies that may come to

define the 21st century as the century of terror. There is much claptrap about

"fighting terrorism" and billions are likely to be poured into surveillance,

fortifications, and emergency plans, not to mention the ridiculous idea of

missile defence systems. But, as a handful of suicide bombers armed with no more

than knives and box-cutters have shown with such devastating effectiveness, all

this means precisely nothing. Modern nations are far too vulnerable to be

protected – a suitcase nuclear device could flatten not just a building or two,

but all of Manhattan. Therefore, the simple logic of survival says that the

chances of survival are best if one goes to the roots of terror.

Only a fool can believe

that the services of a suicidical terrorist can be purchased, or that they can

be bred at will anywhere. Instead, their breeding grounds are in refugee camps

and in other rubbish dumps of humanity, abandoned by civilization and left to

rot. A global superpower, indifferent to their plight, and manifestly on the

side of their tormentors, has bred boundless hatred for its policies. In supreme

arrogance, indifferent to world opinion, the US openly sanctions daily

dispossession and torture of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. The

deafening silence over the massacres in Qana, Sabra, and Shatila refugee camps,

and the video-gamed slaughter by the Pentagon of 70,000 people in Iraq, has

brought out the worst that humans are capable of. In the words of Robert Fisk,

"those who claim to represent a crushed, humiliated population struck back with

the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomed people".

It is stupid and cruel to

derive satisfaction from such revenge, or from the indisputable fact that Osama

and his kind are the blowback of the CIAs misadventures in Afghanistan. 

Instead, the real question is: where do we, the inhabitants of this planet, go

from here? What is the lesson to be learnt from the still smouldering ruins of

the World Trade Centre?

If the lesson is that

America needs to assert its military might, then the future will be as grim as

can be. Indeed, Secretary Colin Powell, has promised "more than a single

reprisal raid". But against whom? And to what end? No one doubts that it is

ridiculously easy for the US to unleash carnage. But the bodies of a few

thousand dead Afghans will not bring peace, or reduce by one bit the chances of

a still worse terrorist attack.

This not an argument for

inaction: Osama and his gang, as well as other such gangs, if they can be found,

must be brought to justice. But indiscriminate slaughter can do nothing except

add fuel to existing hatreds. Today, the US is the victim but the carpet-bombing

of Afghanistan will cause it to squander the huge swell of sympathy in its

favour the world over. Instead, it will create nothing but revulsion and promote

never-ending tit-for-tat killings.

Ultimately, the security

of the United States lies in its re-engaging with the people of the world,

especially with those that it has grieviously harmed. As a great country,

possessing an admirable constitution that protects the life and liberty of its

citizens, it must extend its definition of humanity to cover all peoples of the

world. It must respect international treaties such as those on greenhouse gases

and biological weapons, stop trying to force a new Cold War by pushing through

NMD, pay its UN dues, and cease the aggrandizement of wealth in the name of

globalization.

But it is not only the US

that needs to learn new modes of behaviour. There are important lessons for

Muslims too, particularly those living in the US, Canada, and Europe. Last year

I heard the arch-conservative head of Pakistan’s Jamat-i-Islami, Qazi Husain

Ahmad, begin his lecture before an American audience in Washington with high

praise for a "pluralist society where I can wear the clothes I like, pray at a

mosque, and preach my religion".  Certainly, such freedoms do not exist for

religious minorities in Pakistan, or in most Muslim countries. One hopes that

the misplaced anger against innocent Muslims dissipates soon and such freedoms

are not curtailed significantly. Nevertheless, there is a serious question as to

whether this pluralism can persist forever, and if it does not, whose

responsibility it will be.

The problem is that

immigrant Muslim communities have, by and large, chosen isolation over

integration. In the long run this is a fundamentally unhealthy situation because

it creates suspicion and friction, and makes living together ever so much

harder. It also raises serious ethical questions about drawing upon the

resources of what is perceived to be another society, for which one has hostile

feelings. This is not an argument for doing away with one’s Muslim identity.

But, without closer interaction with the mainstream, pluralism will be

threatened.  Above all, survival of the community depends upon strongly

emphasizing the difference between extremists and ordinary Muslims, and on

purging from within jihadist elements committed to violence. Any member of the

Muslim community who thinks that ordinary people in the US are fair game because

of bad US government policies has no business being there.

To echo George W. Bush,

"let there be no mistake". But here the mistake will be to let the heart rule

the head in the aftermath of utter horror, to bomb a helpless Afghan people into

an even earlier period of the Stone Age, or to take similar actions that

originate from the spine. Instead, in deference to a billion years of patient

evolution, we need to hand over charge to the cerebellum. Else, survival of this

particular species is far from guaranteed.

The author is professor

of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

 

 

 

  

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