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Post-9/11: Clash of civilisations

Post-9/11: Clash of civilisations

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: September 10, 2002

Any honest assessment on the anniversary of the World Trade Centre tragedy must surely conclude that there is no global coalition against terrorism. There never really was. The coalition was a polite term coined by US President George Bush Jr to garner the support (or mitigate the opposition) of the international community for his punitive strikes against the Osama bin Laden- Mullah Omar regime in Afghanistan, to give his people the satisfaction that the atrocity was being avenged and simultaneously topple a regime inimical to America's strategic interests. Both objectives being quickly achieved, the coalition (sic) simply evaporated, unnoticed.

That is why the Western world is dangerously at odds with itself today. Because, while some European countries are seriously debating issues raised by Islamic fundamentalism within their respective borders, America is determined upon unilateral engagement with the sponsors of this ideology. Ostensibly, the rift is over the proposed crackdown on Mr Saddam Hussein. But this is only symptomatic of a deeper Western disquiet at the grim nature of the struggle that will ultimately have to be waged against Islamic fundamentalism, and Washington's refusal to face the reality.

India has long been the bloodiest theatre of Islamic militancy in the world, barring only Israel. Now that the false hopes of American containment of Pakistan-sponsored terror have been well and truly dashed, New Delhi would do well to let go of Washington's coat-tails and forge intellectual bridges with Europe about the threats posed by fundamentalism. It should also intensify the dialogue with Israel, which has a strong voice in Washington. Unlike Europe, India has no social or political history of anti-Semitism, a factor that needs to be skillfully exploited in Tel Aviv and Capitol Hill.

Europe's contempt for US action against Mr Hussein has some merit. To begin with, there is no credible evidence regarding his weapons of mass destruction. But more pertinently, the Bush Administration has not been able to explain why the Iraqi President would use these weapons, and against whom. He has no plans to attack Israel or the US, and could be easily contained in the event of such a misadventure. In fact, the real danger to America comes from friendly nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine, rather than the demonised regimes of Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Some Western commentators claim that Mr Bush's real goal is to secure Saudi oil supplies. Former British Minister Mo Mowlam has argued that Iraq is only a pretext for America to enter the region because of the growing vulnerability of the Saudi regime (The Guardian, September 5, 2002). Mr Bush, she argues, fears that the world's largest oil reserves may fall into the hands of an anti-US, militant group. While America cannot prevent a popular uprising, it can seize the Saudi oil fields if it has a military force firmly in place at the time of the anticipated unrest. Then, under the umbrella of the war on terrorism, it can claim to be global saviour of secure oil supplies.

The thesis is faulty on several counts. First, a revolution that can dislodge the House of Saud, a la the Shah of Iran, can equally throw out the hated Americans. Second, the US imports much less Saudi oil than previously. Third, this does not explain President Bush's extreme obsequiousness towards the Saudis, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

The Saudi envoy, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, spirited nearly two dozen close relations of Osama and the Saudi royals studying in America, to Riyadh, within 24 hours of the disaster. This precluded their possible interrogation by security agencies and obviously involved administrative cooperation, as American commentators sharply pointed out. To this day, it rankles Americans that 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11 were Saudi nationals.

If that were not bad enough, Mr Bush just celebrated his version of the Agra Summit in the run-up to the first anniversary of September 11. As the free press choked with rage, Prince Bandar and six of his (how many?) children (no wives, my dear) was lavished with what The New York Times called the full ranch treatment at the President's 1,600-acre Texas ranch. But what really set Mississippi aflame was Mr Bush's telephone call to Crown Prince Abdullah the same day, telling him to ignore the rising crescendo of anti-Saudi sentiments in the superpower. The call was intended to mitigate a Rand Corporation presentation to an important Pentagon advisory board that the Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologues to cheerleader.

Americans, as opposed to the Bush Adminis-tration, increasingly view Saudi Arabia as the greatest threat to world peace today. The regime does not allow children of Saudi fathers and American mothers the right to leave the country. Even more damning are the well-documented facts. Three-fourths of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis; two-thirds of the Islamic militants in Guantanamo Bay are Saudis. Osama is of Saudi stock and, according to The Times of London, received $ 300 million as protection money from Saudi royals. Saudi funds created Al Qaeda. The House of Saud patronises the fanatical Wahhabi Islam, the inspirational creed of militant Islam.

European societies too are finally coming to grips with the limitations of ideas like multi-culturalism. After decades of allegiance to the concept, Denmark (200,000 Muslim immigrants) has begun to feel the stress of coexistence with an extremely divergent ideology. Among a number of serious cultural issues, the most prominent include anti-Jewish riots and open death threats to the minuscule Jewish population (6,000 only), which now lives under police protection.

Equally serious are threats to kill Muslims who leave the faith. But most provocative is the open declaration by Muslim leaders that once Denmark's Muslim population grows large enough (possible in just three-four decades), it will press for the introduction of Sharia (Islamic law) in the country.

The possibility of Sharia as law also stares other European societies, such as Holland, in the face. Denmark, in fact, became so concerned that in November 2001, for the first time in 72 years, it elected a centre-right coalition on a mandate to handle immigration issues differently from the socialists. Over the past nine months, the new Government made immigration procedures a little tighter, and is said to be examining a ban on Hizb-ut-Tahrir for issuing death threats against the Jews. But this has not inhibited the Islamic clerics from issuing an edict calling Muslims to drive native Danes out of the Norrebro quarter of Copenhagen (to make it a Muslim ghetto).

Understandably, most Danes feel their Government has barely touched the tip of the iceberg, and are peeved at the American, British and UN protests against their so-called Islamophobia. Unfavourable international press has driven the new Government into extreme apathy, from which it will prove difficult to rouse, until and unless other European nations wake up to the gravity of the threat.

One year after the WTC attack spearheaded the greatest-ever challenge to the values of the West, there has been no headway even in defining the nature of the threat. This ostrich-like attitude will have profound implications all over the globe, wherever there is a commitment to the high values of civilisation.

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