The Red Line

Pacifists worldwide sigh with relief at the Russian Foreign Minister’s proposal to put the Syrian government’s arsenal of chemical weapons under international scrutiny, a solution initially but mildly suggested by John Kerry and which the Russian minister forcefully and swiftly turned into a successful diplomatic coup. Had this not happened, a cynical celebration of 11th September, consisting in drone and clinical attacks on a second “rogue state” in the words of George W. Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’, might have scuttled down sharply the compassion sympathizers have shown to the US over the past twelve years.

The euphoria that swept over Europe in the aftermath of Obama’s election as the first African-American President won him a Nobel Prize for Peace, which surprised him in the first place. His election was a significant political event in a powerful and prosperous democratic multi-cultural society, which Europeans appear to applaud as long as it happens in other places except in their own countries.

So peacenik Nobel Prize put a halt to any belligerent punitive expedition temporarily, he warned, and toned down the war cries of his French counterpart in the process.

If ever an enlightened public opinion in the West carries more weight over decision-taking in international affairs, there is hope that western nations will channel their martial vigour in other civilized activities than revive their age-old favourite pastime of fighting wars, albeit in other people’s lands as evidenced during the past years. If anything, the 20th century stands out as a century of outstanding progress in every field of knowledge spearheaded by the West as well as the darkest period in the history of humanity, atrocious war crimes, world wars and genocides.

The US and its allies could not expect to score points in public opinion with a paradoxical mind-boggling agenda of targeting military equipment but not bringing down the Assad régime. The humanitarian motivation put forward behind the now foiled military strike against Syria is being taken with a pinch of salt. Since 1990, Iraq has lost millions of its inhabitants due to the embargo, and the 2003 invasion has opened the gates to Al Qaeda factions who are still blasting places and killing people every week over there.

A staunch secularist dictator, Saddam Hussein loathed religious bigots and any other opponents for that matter. After wrongly accusing the Iraqi ruler of harbouring Al Qaeda, George W. Bush accomplished, ironically enough, the extraordinary feat of introducing Al Qaeda elements into Iraq. Libyan Colonel Gaddafi was a secular dictator in his country though he financed radicalism abroad. After the brutal elimination of the Colonel, a few months later, social networks claim that terrorists handled the dead body of the slain US ambassador with the utmost disrespect, if only to demonstrate that the US was getting nothing in exchange for having supported those who were opposed to Gaddafi.

In the case of Iraq, it may be recalled Colin Powell, hero of the 1990 invasion of Iraq, was seen brandishing a sample of a chemical substance at the UN, supposedly used by the Iraqi army. This episode is a sharp reminder of how facts are distorted at the highest level to suit other interests and objectives. Tony Blair, on his part, came forward in the same saga, with ‘proof’ of chemical gases taken. This was drawn from a second-grade doctoral thesis in a bid to fool the public into believing it.

Chemical gases were used against Iranians and Kurds by Saddam Hussein with the support and blessing of the US and France. That was not in so remote a past before the Colin powell episode at the UN. Last week, France Inter radio reported that a Syrian general sent a video to the New York Times showing rebels in Syria using Sarin gas on captured soldiers who were on their knees, while howling accusations of corruption at them and finally finishing them off with a bullet in their necks.

Two other instances of the use of chemical gases were those of Mussolini in Ethiopia and the US in Vietnam. Incidentally, Nelson Mandela for whom everyone is shedding tears these days in the West, was imprisoned on Robben Island for years while France kept supplying the apartheid régime with weapons.

In the Middle East, secular authoritarian rule has been toppled to pave the way for religious bigots to go on the rampage. Choose between two evils, no thanks, people are telling their governments in the West: none of our business. What with economic crisis, unemployment, high cost of living and environmental hazards, people worldwide have serious concerns and do not want to see billions of dollars siphoned off into warfare.

To be fair, the agenda for the advent of democracy in the Middle East, as concocted by the Bush administration, and the domino effect it was supposed to entail have not been totally negative though on the surface we might not subscribe to the idea that democracy should be forced down the throats of people who are not ready for it. It did contribute to some extent to an awakening of the people to the possibility of other models of governance than the authoritarian rule that had been imposed on them for extensive periods of time. It also compelled rulers to hold elections and consider a wider public participation in governance. It happened in Jordania, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran.

On the other hand, if we go by the goonda logic, the powerful use “rogues” of lesser importance to send a message to major enemies. Striking Syria would be a warning signal to Iran. Admittedly, if China were to use chemical weapons against civilians, no western country would dare declare a war against it. So, why go for Syria but not, hypothetically, if the same thing were to happen in China?

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the USSR into the Commonwealth of Independent States have not put an end to the Cold War. Hardly did Putin take a step forward in the prospective military arena in the Middle East when Obama took a step backward. The Eastern former Communist bloc versus US hegemony is still alive, but they do communicate with each other in a civilized way. Notwithstanding globalisation, high-tech communication and also because of the US spying on the whole world, some countries are just saying: we should draw the line somewhere. Non-aligned countries still have a major role to play.

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Just as Communism drew sympathy from intellectuals in the West and elsewhere so much so that some of them refused to believe all the atrocities committed in the name of Communism for decades, media people and some mediatized intellectuals are trying to ‘understand’ the position of religious extremists in the Arab world and elsewhere. Just sounds they have not drawn lessons from the past.

First, they appear in the garb of defenders of social justice against oppressors and corrupt rulers, which allows them to win popular support. Next, they enter politics. What follows has fully been exposed in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and so on. Religious oppression, coercion on women, one-sided policies. In the end, their populations engage in a second round of mass demonstrations against all of this.

Sympathizers of this brand of extremism should allow themselves the privilege of a short stay in Afghanistan to ‘understand’ the doctors of religion. Last week, two of them kidnapped an Indian writer, Sushmita Bannerjee, who was married to an Afghan businessman and carried out social work for a women’s association. She was shot and her body dumped in front of a ‘religious hall’. Moderate or extremists, people in those countries have seen it all.

There are considerations for oil and gas from the Middle East, on the one hand. There is also, on the other, a subtle opposition between cultures and religions behind the on-going state of perpetual conflict in that spot. The West is perhaps engaged in a war of religion at the same time as a struggle for Middle Eastern supremacy is playing out with Saudi Arabia at one end and Iran at the other.

It took Christian Europe more than 1700 years for the explosive cocktail made up of Christian ideology, Teutonic vigour and Latin temperament to cool down. It coloured nevertheless the national character of the people who supported it. Such a long time to calm down! It is difficult, in the present circumstances, to state how Islam will evolve and live with other faiths in today’s world. It is also not predictable as to how many modern versions of Saint Bartholomew would occur before its extreme members settle down in peaceful relations with neighbours.

There is a wide propensity to gauge history from a western point of view as if all countries should follow the same pace of evolution western countries set themselves on after the Second World War: stop wars, sustain relentless technological and scientific progress, set up modern institutions, gulp down democracy overnight, adopt wildcat capitalism, worship consumerism and so on. Just not realistic! 70 years ago, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and France were living under fascist and repressive régimes. Who has the legitimacy to impose a deadline, let alone a red line, to other countries in matters pertaining to peace and politics is rather questionable.

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Tailpiece: Let us congratulate Britain’s first child genius, 11 year-old Shrinidhi Prakash, world scrabble champion in the under 11 age group, who also wrote an analytical piece on the US economy, fiscal consolidation, monetary policy, IMF’s review of UK economy and European Union referendum. To top it all, she is writing her fifth and sixth novels. Wah! The career ambition of the prodigy is to be an etymologist, a macroeconomic advisor and strategist.


* Published in print edition on 14 September 2013

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