Friday, July 08, 2005

London Attacks and War on Terrorism

Hi Tom,

You are talking Mahatma Gandhi here – the Gandhi which may be known lot less in West and rest of the world. (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/08/opinion/08friedman.html?hp) This Gandhi primarily fought against Hindus. There is an over used term for that – reformist. The primary politics of this Gandhi had been fight against extremist Hindus who were advocating religious war against Muslims in Sub-continent and those conservative Hindus who wanted to perpetuate the castism within Hindu society. He succeeded to some degree only despite the company of galaxy of reformers. Today, India continues to have the problem of extremist Hindus in the form of RSS and Narendra Modi as well as caste politics.

The point is reformation is a high road, mainly to be pursued by society or community within itself. To the extent the world is mixed today and globalized due to modern communications, interactions and economy; you may get some legitimate perch to advocate such reformation with Muslim population of the world. In that respect your call is indeed forthright and courageous. But beyond that, I wonder how much locus standi you would get to evoke such reformist agenda within Muslim population. For sure I am on your side and hope that your exhortations are heard.

However, there are some other pressing issues here. These terrorist acts are clear assaults on Western and Democratic way of life. These acts are by the people who are saying that we do not want to play by your rules. The anarchists who were protesting violently at G8 meeting are not far away from undertaking such terrorist acts. This means, today terror acts are done by not only radical Islamists, but by any one who refuses the democratic process of political change. Maoist in Nepal do that, IRA did that for many years and so on. This means those who adhere to rule of law must deal with terrorists as they are – the worst kind of criminals.

Next, there is the issue of possible collusion between rogue states and such rule breakers. This becomes the real big issue when these rogue states could be instrumental in transferring weapons of mass destruction. At that point this issue morphs beyond reformation within a community to pure power plays and threats of fundamental nature to civil societies. This means you want to deal with these threats with all the might at the disposal of a society. At that point it becomes what President Bush formulates as War on Terrorism.

At some stage population at large in the world is going to care scant whether a community or society is reforming or on way to a democracy. It would simply expect it’s elected leaders to stop, kill and vanquish these terrorists and their sanctuaries – whatever sanctuaries rest of the world think those are. You are right that it will be a too crude campaign. But that is the way it is. Yesterday’s attacks in London are invariably taking us near to that point. May be we have already reached that point.

On this background it will matter less whether President Bush and Neo-conservatives use this edgy state of Western population for political purposes as long as the larger population sees that they are undertaking a campaign of killing terrorist, smart or crude campaign. The only sensible debate one could have with Neo-cons then will be of a strategy – whether regime change is an affordable and sustainable way to deal with terrorism or we should be careful in spending our ammunition and resources so as we outlast them to see their total defeat. There will not be any debate or doubt that it is indeed all-encompassing War on Terrorism. It is a war today, it will be a war tomorrow and that debate will go way. Moreover it will be acceptable to people to undertake any preemptive strikes as deemed necessary. In other words there will be less apprehension for any unilateral military actions. Whenever affordable, public will also back for regime change. Only when the consequent price of regime change – occupation and nation building – is too high; public would expect to take a different tack. For common people, nation building and mentoring of democracy in far away places are at best of marginal consequences. As far as mind share of Western population is considered; it has probably moved further away from worrying about reformation within Islam or Freedom and Democracy for some societies. Public in West reads this as a war. It expects wartime responses from it’s leaders and wartime clarity from it’s intellectuals. Reforms – that is their problem to solve not ours.



Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA
July 7, 2005.

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