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A QUESTION OF MORALITY

My brother, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar — possibly India’s most widely-read columnist in the English language — has in his latest column said that he shares the outrage which many feel over the US-led invasion of Iraq, but doubts, on the basis of past precedent, that the outrage will survive the inevitable military defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Military victory, he says, tends to blunt moral indignation till, over time, moral outrage fades away.

His point brings to mind a meeting I attended in Marrakesh last June where the keynote address was delivered by Charles Lord Powell, Margaret Thatcher’s right-hand man, who had flown in from a high-level briefing in Dearborn, ex-President Gerald Ford’s home, to inform our meeting that the administration of the United States of America had decided at the highest level to take out Saddam Hussein before the summer of 2003. In the course of his remarks, to guffaws from the largely right-wing, Anglo-Saxon audience, he mentioned a survey which had shown that in Muslim northern Nigeria, 80 per cent of the male children born after 9/11 had been named “Osama”. At question time, I mildly enquired whether His Lordship had estimated the number of Arab children born after the proposed invasion of Iraq who would be named “Saddam”' Lord Powell was so annoyed at the question that he barely deigned to talk to me thereafter but did mutter in reply that once Saddam fell, he would cease to be a hero. That is the argument my brother has, in sum, put forward in his influential column.

I am sure many, indeed most of us who feel outraged at what we have been seeing on our television screens these last few days will resign ourselves to Saddam’s inevitable defeat and get on with ordering our lives according to prevailing realities. But will that prove the Powell-Swami point' For is it the argument that Gandhi matters because we won our independence and would have been a minor figure of fun if the Brits had dug in their heels and remained' Does it establish that we think the Pandavas were wonderful and the Kauravas deservedly defeated because it was the Pandavas, not the Kauravas, who won the battle of Kurukshetra' Or that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad would be wanting to build a Ravana temple in Talaimannar had Rama been at the receiving end of an Operation Shock and Awe'

In fact, morality seems largely the preserve of losers. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was about as final an outcome as the impaling of Saddam Hussein will shortly prove to be. But it is the very picture of Jesus nailed to the cross that has been for millennia and for a large part of humankind, the most enduring image of the eventual triumph of good over evil. Why, in the very Iraq where George W. Bush is proving his credentials as an accomplished butcher, was fought in the seventh century AD, at Karbala, the battle which ended the lives of the Prophet’s favourite grandson Imam Hussein, his sons Ali and his daughter Sakina' The victor, Yazd, is not celebrated at Moharram. It is the martyred who are remembered with reverence and pain. Nearer home and nearer our time, do we commemorate the Scindia of Gwalior who surrendered or the Rani of Jhansi who was cut down' “Nahin lada mardana tha/Woh Gwalior wala Raja tha”!

The record is highly uneven. There are losers who are forgotten before they are interred. There are other losers who win much more by losing than they ever would have by winning. It all depends on whether there are others to pick up the fallen staff. What one is outraged about is hardly the well-deserved downfall of the unbelievably cruel Saddam regime. I lived in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein for two years, two months, two days — too long. It was the most vicious of the three dictatorships I served in during my days in the foreign service. No, one’s outrage is the outrage of the people of Stalingrad, who notwithstanding the tyranny of Stalin (a pale imitation of which is Saddam’s) fought back to turn the tide of war. One’s outrage is over the violation of the value-system on which one had hoped the 21st century would be built: the right to nationhood and nationalism; the right to collective security under the United Nations system; the right to sovereignty; the right to equality; the right to non-interference in domestic affairs. What we are seeing is the triumph of a naked military quest for dominance; the assertion of a right to hegemony; of might as the only right which counts; of the enforcement of a world order based on the assertion that sovereignty is limited because some nations are more equal than others; the trampling underfoot of any semblance of democratic decision-making in international relations; the transgression by America Abroad of all that makes America great at home. That outrage is, not, I think, dependent on who wins or loses this round of the military war; the moral war goes on.

Indeed, if there is moral resistance in Iraq, and the Arab world generally, to the intended American make-over of Iraq and the Arab world, then Saddam might prove more enduring in death than he ever was in life. In 1991, the Mother of All battles packed up in 24 hours because the Saddam regime used against the Allied forces the weapons, the technology, the strategies and the tactics bequeathed them by the West, primarily the US, in the eight long years that Iraq had fought Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran on behalf of Saddam’s American puppeteers. When armed force is matched symmetrically against armed force, victory is assured to he who wields superior armaments. David’s slingshot brings down Goliath only in mythology.

But when the weaker resorts to asymmetrical response, the outcome is rendered uncertain. Most times the bully on the block prevails. Sometimes the meek inherit the earth.

Saddam, if he physically survives like Osama bin Laden, and his Ba’ath Party followers, if he dies, as he probably will — to transmigrate to martyrdom — have before them two options: the violent and the non-violent. The asymmetrical non-violent option is Gandhian satyagraha, the most effective way of securing the Arab nation. Alas, there is no hope of the Ba’athists taking to loin-cloths and spinning. The asymmetrical violent option is terrorism. Violence has always been music to the Ba’ath ear. The Americans may succeed in killing Saddam but they will not be able to erase Ba’ath aspirations or assuage world-wide revulsion at their goals and means. So, in sowing the wind, Washington and London cannot escape reaping the whirlwind. I expect regime change in Baghdad to be followed by regime change in these two capitals, but not before a terrible harvest of shock and awe of the kind which pulverized New York on 9/11.

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