Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
The real enemy


There is, at the moment, a great surge of emotion sweeping through the ranks of global citizens everywhere. The terrorist attacks on America have left few people untouched. The range of feeling and opinion is truly remarkable-a testament to pluralism and democratic values on the one hand, to the deeply damaging feelings of exclusion and hatred on the other.

Some reactions are predictable. A Bengali friend from Boston e mails with a tale of being harassed on the streets of her neighbourhood, being told that "her people" were terrorists, killers, not welcome anymore in the United States. Her denial of any connection with the hijack suspects, their countries, their faith, their fanaticism, fall on ears made deaf by years of venomous right-wing talk radio. Another colleague sends anguished essays asking "why do they hate us"? I mail back that I'm not sure who "they" are, that hate, envy, alienation, fervour and poverty are poisons that none of us are immune to. I also add, as every one feels they must at this time, that I'm not finding excuses for a vile and viscous act of mass murder.

In Delhi for the horrendous events of 11 September, I heard Indian commentators and colleagues say that their position on Pakistan, Kashmir and Islamic radicalism now stands vindicated, that America should have been listening to India's entreaties. I also watch and report on India's attempt to attract the attention of its new friends in Washington, and the subsequent dismay when CNN, BBC and others report that Pakistan is the key in any anti-terror coalition. A call across South Asia's most hostile border confirms that General Musharaff is indeed in deep, deep trouble, caught between the rock of his country's long-standing use of militant Islam as a force multiplier in the Kahsmir conflict, and the hard place of American wrath.

Daily, my views vary on what went on that horrid day of infamy. Reports of cynical Israeli military activity in the Gaza strip and Ramallah fuel discussion about the Middle East as a cauldron of hate, America's partisan policies in the region coming home to roost, as it were. Then a New York Fire Department chaplain is buried, an American friend sends clippings from the Washington Post and New York Times calling for tolerance, understanding, unity and a searching of souls for the causes of violence. The America that was attacked is not just the pillar of Israel and the sometimes blundering giant who can seem callous, even evil on occasion. It is the most cosmopolitan, tolerant, human society on the face of the planet. The terrorists killed people from at least 35 countries, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and others, women, men, children, the broadminded and bigoted, rich, poor and middle class. This was, as Bush, Blair and others are asserting, an attack on democracy and human values.

Now we are at war, and there's no choice about the side you're on. The enemy is not Islamic, or Protestant or Semitic or capitalist. The foe in the other bunker is hate, intolerance, violence. Good people have to back the Americans on this one, at least up to a point. And they have to fight hard for the preservation of those values that the terrorists are testing so severely. What the grim men at the controls of the hijacked aircraft want is an America where mosques burn, where the innocent run from frenzied mobs with torches and hateful slogans ring out. They want New Yorkers ripping each other apart, they want what the hate mongers of talk radio want-an end to America's undeniable virtues.

So what I'm backing in the coming days and months is that spirit that made the United States a beacon for the world's huddled masses. The cruise missiles, the commandos, the bellicose rhetoric, it will all pass. An avenged America must then renew the innate decency and energy that the terrorists wanted to take from them. The fate of global citizenry lies in the balance.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)