Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu

Certain events in history come stamped with the imprint of destiny. By its symbolism and psychology, the Black Tuesday Terror that pierced the pride of America seems to be one such. That is not entirely because of the scale on which devastation was wrought by the terrorists, horrendous though it was. It is, even more, because the event leaves America with only one option: to retaliate. Ironically, it is the very prestige of American power that compels that nation in this fashion. But any retaliation adequate to appease the humbled American ego is sure to get the US bogged down to a long, costly engagement of unpredictable and, possibly, unmanageable proportions. In history, a major factor that heralds the disintegration of an empire is its keenness to expand beyond its own boundaries and to impose its will on the rest of the world. The resultant horizontal spread adds considerable stress and strain to the viability of that nation's economy on account of the unsustainable cost that overseas military campaigns necessarily entail. The US was wiser in retreating from Vietnam before it got too late. USSR's decade-long military misadventure in Afghanistan looms large among the factors that expedited the disintegration of that superpower. The same pattern is discernible in the decline and downfall of the major empires of the past. This is a truth that the Bush administration might be tempted to overlook on account of the apparent robustness of the American economy and the advantage that globalisation currently affords to America. But there is something that President Bush cannot afford to overlook. And that is the manifest inability of his people to pay the price that American domination over the rest of the world would necessarily demand. Over the decades the Americans have got used to an affluent and pampered way of life that has robbed them of the hardihood it takes to stand up to the doggedness bred by fundamentalist theological fanaticism frenzied by destitution and desperation. Afghanistan, not Iraq, is likely to be the real test of the American resolve to play the global super cop. Soon enough the people of America will learn that prestige comes at an exorbitant price. Only time will tell if Bush can carry his people with him as easily as he seems to be succeeding now in cobbling the nations of the world into a global coalition. It is imperative, nonetheless, to make the anti-Taliban campaign as brief and decisive as possible, and to minimise its adverse impact on the American and global economy. Black Tuesday, sadly, marks a turning point also for the rest of the world. On that day trans-national terrorism out-reached itself and bared its fangs to an extent that the global community cannot afford to overlook. The fact that a few determined terrorists could play havoc in what was till then the safest haven of the world brings home the chilling reality that the global village is woefully vulnerable to the talons of terrorism. At this point in time, there are two fundamental issues that the global community needs to engage. The first is that of the linkage between terrorism and fundamentalist, anti-democratic regimes. It is in the nature of religious fundamentalism to breed a demonic solidarity among its sympathisers, transcending ethnic and cultural divides. It promotes, besides, a fanatical frenzy among its sympathisers to pursue the fundamentalist agenda at any cost. More often than not, this involves the glorification of violence, making it out to be the best way to honour one's god and to secure for oneself supernatural blessings. The idea that those who die in jehad or holy wars will go to heaven on a priority basis, being one such. Osama bin Laden symbolises this very irrational outlook bred and bolstered by religious fundamentalisms of various hues. It is not enough to eliminate a man called Osama; it is necessary to engage the outlook that breeds and idolises the bin Ladens of this world. When you are battling a symbol, you have to do more than kill one of its protagonists. In a globalizing world the familiar trick of deflecting international attention from a domestic aberration on the plea that a nation's internal affairs should not be interfered with can no longer remain a dogma. Democracy must be deemed a foundational value in the global village. The rise of dictatorships and fundamentalist regimes that preach and purvey terror must be contained; for nurseries of terrorism are no longer, strictly speaking, internal affairs of the countries that harbour them. That is most certainly the case, once terrorism globalises itself. Religious fanaticism is the foremost seed of terrorism. Significantly, its potential for terror is not limited to sporadic acts of vandalism. The unspeakable economic deprivation, social degradation and cultural regression that fundamentalist regimes inflict upon their own people are as abhorrent as the attack on New York and Washington. On this count alone the Taliban regime needs to be brought down. But this is not a principle that can be applied selectively. The rise of religious bigotry and State-sponsored, majoritarian religious fascism are threats to peace and human welfare no matter where and in what form they raise their ugly heads. The second issue is if a credible global front against terrorism can include military dictatorships and theocratic dispensations, simply because they are opportunistic enough to fall in line for the time being. The essence of terrorism is the denial of freedom of choice. It is this trait that terrorism shares in common with dictatorships and theocracies. Seen in this light, the distinction between the Taliban regime and the Musharraf dispensation is merely academic. Gen. Musharraf sounded somewhat comic when he insisted, in his press conference soon after the first wave of American bombardment of Afghanistan, that no political dispensation should be 'imposed' on the people of that country. Of course, he went to clarify that he would not be happy with anything less than a Pak-friendly dispensation in Kabul. How this may be achieved without denying the people, once again, freedom of choice is something that he, unfortunately, did not go on to elaborate. With Afghanistan, the rest of the world too stands at the cross-roads. From here we could take a turn for better by sorting out basic issues in harmony with the ideals and norms on which the global village needs to be founded. Contrariwise, we could also take a turn for worse, sinking into protracted bloodshed and destruction by playing fast and loose with universal values on the very expediency of having to crush terrorism. There is a crying need to have a global consensus on the legitimacy of regimes of aggression, be they military dictatorships as in Pakistan or fundamentalist theocracies as in Afghanistan. If political morality can permit the nations of the world to break the teeth of terrorism unitedly, it is not clear as to why the same solidarity may not be pitted against dictatorships and rogue regimes who are, implicitly or explicitly, the patrons and patriarchs of trans-national terrorism. ______________________