September 14, 2001
Freedom From Fear and A Civil Society
This is a response to an email I recieved from a friend of mine who expressed his sypathies for the american people but not the american government who he blamed for this attack in part because of its policies in the middle east.
I have a couple of issues about what you say. No you are not a supporter of terrorists or militant organization. About your principle about happiness and prosperity also unerlies the foundations of western though and culture, its called "Freedom from fear". We over here are free from fear and insecurity. This freedom is a result of what is called a civil society or generally called the rule of law. The middle east does not have civil societies. I lived there most of my formative years and I can tell you that though life is generally "normal", you have no freedom of thought or expression of either political, cultural or religious nature. If you chose to express any views contrary to the official point of view, you had to fear for your freedom, sometimes even your life.This "normal" I will argue is a direct resultant of extremist interpertation of Islamic dogma.
People have called this war, a war between civilzed and uncivilized peoples. This is a tragic rendering of what this actually is. Its a war between cultures. If you take away the act of terrorism itself, I would argue that there still is war between cultures. Being born as a muslim I can tell you that the tenants of Islam, the combination of the Quran and the Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Mohammed) cannot lead to a civil society. Just as the Torah or the Gospels cannot lead to a civil society either. No theocratic state can ever be a civil society. Almost every country in the middle east claim to derive its power and authority from the tenants of Islam. All of them have the Shariah (Islamic law, akin to the Torah, or the Epistles in the Gospel) as the basis of law. This is the fundamental conflict between the cultures (and not civilizations as so many ignorant peoples say).
This phenomemnon is not unique to the middle east. There are elements of religious fundamentalists in every society (including america). However to find serious parallels you would have to go back in time to the middle ages in europe. The middle ages, especially the dark ages, europe had essentially the same sort of culture as that of the middle east today. Most of them were primarily theocractic states, with the the political class (the kings) deriving their power from the tenants of the church. The peak of this age is found in the period of the inquisitions and the progroms agains jews across europe. It is interesting to note that during this period of darkness, the middle east was a beacon of light and reason that finally lead to the one of the most glorious periods in human history with the birth of renaissance in italy. This cultural devide can be traced back to this period.
As for terrorism itself and America's role in the world.I believe that america should not be blamed for all the problems in this world. Yes, even I have felt sometimes that america have seen overbearing and arrogant at times. However the genesis of the Taliban should be seen in the wider context of the cold war. During that period, there were hundreds of low intensity wars on all continents between the US and the Soviet Union. Both states supported many rulers who when looked in the cold light of day are nothing more than murderers. During this period, america and the mujahideen were alies. So the question is why did, elements of the mujahideen turn against america once the Soviets were thrown out from afganistan?
I believe its a concequence of the corruption and ineptitude in the middle east ruling clique in the gulf and middle eastern countries. We in the west have never allowed the gulf and the middle east to evolve politically. This is not an easy decision. We are dependant on oil from that region. In order to sustain this supply we have been supporting totalitarian systems all over that region. I have not yet formulated a view on the pragmatism of this policy but I can understand why it might have been necessary. If there is democracy in that region, what would happen if groups like the Taliban take over countries in the middle east? Would they see us as friends? would they trade with us? I dont know.I believe that the west followed the only rational policy they can take under the circumstamces, and will continue along this line untill our dependence on oil is dimished. It is not morally right I believe but I understand the politics behind it.
Israel is more complex. Its a political, religious and cultural conflict. In defence of Israel, I will state the following. The first terrorist hijaking was commited by palestinians on three aircrafts in 1972. This was followed by the murder of israeli atheletes at the munich olymics the same year. As late as 1992, the PLO charter did not recognize the right of Israel to exist. As late as this month, arab NGOs and governments questioned the events of the Holocaust. Of course anti-semetism is not confined to the middle east. Ask an arab or even many muslims if he or she would give shelter to a jew in his/her time of need and they would say "never". My own grand mother's (now dead) most feared explitive was to call you "punni yahudi!" (you jewish pig) and she had never known a jew in her life!. This is the racial and religious dimensions of this problem. I can show you many books including the Gospels and the Quran were there are derogatory editcs agains Jews as a race and as a people.
The question I would ask is the followng. If I am an Israeli and say there is a political settlement between Israel and Palastinians, would they be my friends, would they trade with me? I think many will but I know a few will never accept my right to life and freedom from fear. I am not saying that Israel did not make mistakes in policy, the invasion of Lebanon for instance. However it is wrong to lay the blame for it at the feet of America. To make sense of America, you have to realize that she is a very fluid democracy. Their system of politcs is much more sensitive to the mood of the people than any other place on this earth. For instance, There is the congress which has two chambers, in one a senetor is given a term of seven years, in another, a congressman is given a term of two years. the presidency is term limeted to two terms of four years.We know of many instances where american law makers seem to make laws which seem stupid or foolhardy (for instance, the law forbidding trade with Cuba which is a consequence of the emigrant cuban lobby in florida). More often than not, american policy reflects the mood and the will of the american people, if you want to change the this mood and will, you will have to have a dialog with the american people. The palestinians for instance are trying to have this dialog by provoking Israel into arbitrary retaliations against unarmed civilans (which the israeli have since stopped and are targetting palestinian leaders instead). America does not act unless there is a public will to act, she does not speak unless there is a public will to speak. This is the underlying reason why she has been slow in acting in the balkans, kashmir or africa.
If anything good can come out of this catastrophe, I hope the american people will now start to listen to the voices outside world. The countries and peoples that get the most attention are those who are the loudest in talking to the american people. The grestest hope I have is the following. If america is so democractic and yet her path has essentially lead her to the absolute rule of law, then perhaps if democracy should come to the middle east, they too will eventually find that road themselves. For I believe that if we as human being share something irrespective of race or culture, is that eventually we all will come to the path to a civil society, a society that is free from fear.