We cannot but ask in this troubled week whether the dangerous villain who must be eliminated, as the Americans constantly din into us, before he can exterminate mankind also masterminded the massacre in Gandhinagar’s Swaminarayan temple and the shooting in the Institute of Peace and Justice in Karachi. If not, self-appointed guardians of the world’s peace should surely be looking for the miscreants responsible for such murderous orgies instead of distracting international attention by raising and chasing an irrelevant Iraqi hare or indulging in acts of brigandage like Thursday’s aerial strikes on Basrah and Al Kufah.
Neither Iraq nor Israel is the main culprit so far as world peace is concerned. But they are linked in another dire drama. Everyone, including Chandra Shekhar who was then prime minister, scoffed 11 years ago when Saddam Hussein cited the plight of the Palestinians to justify marching into Kuwait. This time round, the connection can hardly be more glaring as Ariel Sharon dares to tighten the noose around Yasser Arafat only because George W. Bush is doing the same to Saddam.
There is a twofold lesson here. First, the monster of terrorism against which the United States of America is sup- posedly waging a desperate battle (a fight that deserves to be delinked from Bush’s seemingly personal blood feud against Saddam) does not lurk in any of those sprawling presidential compounds where Saddam led the United Nations inspectors such a merry dance. Even the ever-obliging Tony Blair’s voluminous report (which the Russians have dismissed as “propaganda”) did not care to repeat incoherent but laughable American meanderings about al Qaida “becoming an extension of Saddam”.
The monster is more likely to be nourished by some of America’s closest partners in the great good fight. But it also feeds and fattens on injustice and inequality, especially when race and religion determine oppression.
Thence follows the second lesson. For all the vicious depredations of the butcher who has been exalted as prime minister of Israel and whose evils have drawn stinging rebukes from leaders of global Jewry (including Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi, and the veteran Manchester MP, Gerald Kaufman), the answer to west Asian peace does not lie in Jerusalem or Baghdad. It is to be found in Washington whose pusillanimous prevarication in the face of the UN security council’s latest feeble attempt to persuade Israel to be less barbaric shocked and shamed the civilized world.
Peace is threatened only because the gamekeeper on whom the world’s hopes are focussed has turned poacher. Even if he is restrained from visiting his full vengeance on Iraq, there is no checking the lethal impact of his reckless example on Sharon who should long ago have been arraigned for war crimes. As Kaufman notes, four times as many Israelis have been killed since Sharon took over what has become “a pariah state”.
Israel’s demands on the hapless Arafat seem to grow by the hour. It is insisting on the names of the 250 Palestinians who have stuck to their leader in his beleaguered redoubt so that they can be killed or banished. The 20 additional heads that Israel earlier demanded have swollen to 50. But Israel has already imprisoned thousands of Palestinians without charge or trial, making a complete mockery of the justice process for which it says it wants another 50. Among them are senior Arafat aides whom even the Israelis do not accuse of terrorist activities but who provide the Palestinian president with security, intelligence and the authority of a chain of command.
Murder would make a martyr of Arafat. Sharon’s cunning calculation is that he can be reduced to a cipher by killing those around him, ravaging his country, despoiling his people and blasting away the physical props of comfort and even safety. Life without water and electricity, with loudspeakers blaring in his ears and arc lamps blazing into his eyes all night are intended to deprive the Palestinian leader of the last shreds of dignity. It is exactly what Bush hankers to do to Saddam.
Paradoxically, in adversity Arafat has regained much of the popularity that he had lost in power. Far from being cowed, Gaza and the West Bank are again in ferment. They might desire democratic transparency, but they do not want reforms forced down their throats with a bayonet held by two ruthless bullies who hold the world to ransom.
Paul Wolfowitz means Iraq when he warns that “the authority of the United Nations is at stake” but he might as well speak of Israel. It was Israel that invaded Gaza in 1956, sent tanks across the Suez Canal in 1973, bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 in another act of brigandage and occupied southern Lebanon in 1982. With the largest and most powerful army in west Asia, with F16s, Apache gunships and probably nuclear weapons, Israel has no intention of ever honouring the Oslo accords.
Its propaganda reiterates that there never was a Palestine state and that there are no such people as Palestinians. There are only Arabs who should be accommodated in the 14 Arab states instead of being allowed to despoil the sanctity of their biblical Judea and Samaria. The million or so Israeli Arabs should follow them.
All this may yet come to pass. Trust those who have themselves suffered the bitterness of the diaspora to know how to inflict its pain on others with exquisite sadism. Bush alone can control Sharon but he is caught in his own reckless war game, trying to force the world into obedience with a mixture of the carrot and the stick. Thus did his father mobilize the UN against Bangladesh in 1971.
There are several reasons for hoping that the son’s bellicosity might still be thwarted. As British analysts point out, Blair’s evidence is as ill-founded as Bush’s rhetoric. Speculating that Iraqi missiles can reach Cyprus where there are British bases, the dossier concludes that Saddam is about to attack Britain! The Germans have repudiated Bush’s fantasies, the French are sceptical and Vladimir Putin wants the UN to operate through existing resolutions. Many European governments hope for pickings from Iraq’s oil deposits, the world’s second largest.
Moreover, Saddam’s Arab neighbours dismiss American charges against him. Prince Nayif bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, believes that a US attack on Iraq will create problems “faster than any Iraqi operation against its neighbours”. There may not be a Saudi handout this time to pay for the war.
So, who does Bush pretend to be fighting for' He makes much of Saddam’s chemical weapons. American human rights agencies admit that Iraq used chemical weapons some 40 times in the late Eighties to liquidate about a hundred thousand Kurds but also say that the senior Bush abetted the crime and supplied Saddam with money and arms. Iraq was then America’s weapon against Iran. Not that this is the first time that an American president has been economical with the truth in order to justify militarism abroad. Lyndon B. Johnson did the same with the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. He exaggerated, misrepresented and even invented events because he wanted an excuse to expand the Vietnam war.
The election due in six weeks is not Bush’s only compulsion. He has other problems at home. Noting the increase in the number of Americans below the poverty line, reduced wages and the fall in household incomes, the US census bureau admits that decline is widespread. “With the exception of the north-east, where incomes were unchanged, all regions experienced a decline, as did each of the racial groups.” A nice little war would both restore and divert. Meanwhile, the terrorists who stalk temple and school go scot free because the world’s policeman has nothing to gain from bringing them to book. Asia’s simple concerns are not America’s.