Tuesday, August 08, 2006

war and peace

Or

The Futile War of the Binaries

Does a thirty-year-old woman need a homeland where she might make a life?
Can I reach the summit of this rugged mountain? The slope is either an abyss
or a place of siege.
Midway it divides. It's a journey. Martyrs kill one another.


The Hindu has an excellent article by Jackie Ashley, published first in The Guardian. Her central argument is that the war in West Asia is creating new pigeon-holes for liberals, and that violence begets violence. She calls for open discourse that she believes would show better results in West Asia. While I agree on most of the points she raises;
It does come down to values. Just as I loathe the idea of separate Muslim schools in Britain, or forced marriages, or female genital mutilation, so I cannot swallow the notion of a rising Islamic world that despises western and liberal values. To be a liberal does not mean shrugging your shoulders at those who loathe you and hoping that somehow everyone will get on. A world divided between Christian bible-belt fundamentalists, powered by US military and oil interests, and Islamist Qur'an-belt fundamentalists, ruled by misogynistic mullahs, is a bad world, period.

I have my reservations about the binaries she appears to construct between the fundamentalist Islamic world and the liberal western world. Perhaps it is the ill-advised use of Muslim schools followed by forced marriages and female genital mutilation, that gives the impression that she is indeed constructing that binary. Moreover, her comments on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad;
Then there are those who think we should support poor little underdog Iran against bullying America over nuclear weapons, while taking President Ahmadinejad's effusions about wiping Israel off the map as just amusing banter from downtown Tehran.

Do not appear to be as nuanced as her other statements. She makes no mention whatsoever of the USA's role in aggravating Ahmadinejad, and its intentions of waging war in Iran. That the USA
was displeased with Ahmadinejad's election in 2005 and was committed to regime change was quite apparent. This, in spite of the fact that this election in Iran was very respectable, with a 60% turnout, and would qualify to be called a democratic election by any definition.

Siddharth Varadarajan argued in this brilliant article that Ahmadinejad's strategy was one of self-preservation against the USA's threat of regime change.
Elected to the presidency last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad quickly — and correctly — concluded that there was no way the Bush administration would give up its goal of 'regime change' in Iran.

Varadarajan also concluded, quite convincingly, that Ahmedinejad's salvos against Israel, and the resumption of nuclear enrichment, although well within Iran's legal rights under NPT (if at all legality is relevant in the current crisis) were clearly targetted at gaining greater space for manouevering.


By bringing the crisis to a boil at a time when Washington has neither the military nor diplomatic capability to launch an attack — let alone persuade the world to impose sanctions — President Ahmadinejad has, paradoxically, increased his country's room for manoeuvre. His letter to Mr. Bush is part of the same strategy, except that it comes as a soothing unguent to the high octane grandstanding of the past few months.

Of course, Bush, with characteristic insight, subtlety and decorum got Condoleezza Rice to reply, declining Ahmadinejad's offer.

Ashley makes no mention of these facts, and merely portrays Ahmadinejad is a raving lunatic committed to the fall of Israel. Of course he is all that. But he is also a democratically elected world leader, who does NOT possess nuclear weapons, neither has the capability to produce them for a long time to come, and is only talking about nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes. And last heard, nuclear bombs had not been classified under peaceful purposes.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad wasn't the one who considered the nuclear option against the USA.


And it wasn't Ahmadinejad who dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki this very day sixty-one years ago, killing more than 2,14,000 civilians.

I quote Seymour Hersh who wrote that very scary article in The New Yorker,
“Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “And Pace stood up to them. Then the world came back: ‘O.K., the nuclear option is politically unacceptable.’ ”

Two related articles:
An article by William Kristol, evocatively titled
It's our War, in the neocon mouthpiece The Weekly Standard calls for military action against Iran, and direct involvement supporting Israel.

Also read this spine-chilling testimonial to the effectiveness of military training: an interview of Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, where he said he wouldn't hesitate to do it again.


But the real crux of Ashley's argument is in this point she brings up.
So before going any further, let us remind ourselves just what fundamentalist Islam wants and what kind of society it aspires to. As a woman, I can't regard the compulsory veiling of sisters in the Middle East by men who threaten them with violence as just another cultural choice. Iran, the state that most eagerly supports Hizbullah and had come closest to achieving Shiaism in one country, is a place where women are hanged or stoned to death for adultery, where homosexuals are hunted by the religious police, and where an anti-Semitism that would have been regarded as a little extreme in late-30s Munich is daily fare.Excellent, and unexceptionable point.

The situation is similar to Jacques Chirac's ban on religious symbols in France. Protestors at the time were caught in a no-win situation. On the one hand , they were opposing a ban that outlawed an intrinsic part of a community's cultural identity. But on the other hand, they were also perpetuating the oppression of women in those sections of society.

Another historical instance was the underground revolt against Ataturk's secular reforms. Many women chose to wear the burkha/ hijab in an act of protest, particularly when Ataturk's government started showing signs of authoritarianism.

(Orhan Pamuk writes beautifully of this tension between the subversive/ traditional/ Islamist forces and authoritarian/ secular/ Western forces in his Snow.)

My argument is not that Islam can be subversive/ progressive etc. I am assuming that it can, as much as any other ideological, ethical or religious persuasion. My argument is that these binaries that have been, and are being, contructed are inadequate to express our everyday tragedies.

In both cases, the dilemma lay between the social and the personal, the community and the individual.


The partisan involvement of America in West Asia, had had an impact on the spread on the popular culture of the region. A story in the NY Times talks about how
western culture, and all talk of peace are under attack in much of West Asia. Although this story, which also appeared in today's Asian Age seems to suggest otherwise. And Condoleezza Rice's desire to build a "new Middle East", is just plain scary.

The increased disaffection with America involvement (or the lack of it), has directly contributed to the fighting forces. Recruitment to the Islamist armed resistance has never been easier, and this is likely to have a long-term effect on peace initiatives in the region.
Before 2003, the hardest step for any Islamist movement was recruitment, noted Mohamed Salah, an expert on Islamic extremist movements who writes for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat from Cairo. Moving someone from being merely devout to being an extremist took a long time. No longer, he said.

The casualty in the current war in West Asia has been pragmatism, and peace as a result. Fundamentalism on either side is clearly eating into the middle ground.


The New York Times reports that the argument in Israel is only between
war and more war. and the only criticism waged by even organisations like Peace Now is how to wage war better.
There is no real peace camp in Israel right now, says Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary general of Peace Now, which has pressed hard for a deal with the Palestinians and on June 22, before this Lebanon war, called for a halt to air raids over the Gaza Strip. “We’re a left-wing Zionist movement, and we believe that Israel has the legitimate right to defend itself,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. “We’re not pacifists. Unlike in Gaza or the West Bank, Israel isn’t occupying Lebanese territory or trying to control the lives of Lebanese. The only occupier there is Hezbollah, and Israel is trying to defend itself.”

Mr. Oppenheimer of Peace Now said the only dispute in his group was over timing and tactics.

Coming as it does from an organisation dedicated to peace in West Asia, that's a sobering thought unlike any other.

Peace activist Uri Avnery, founder of Gush Shalom wrote about the impossibility of peace under the present political climate in Israel in this article. (It was also published in an edited version in The Hindu, but I can't seem to find it.)

This crisis may take us closer to the Bush regime's ideal New Middle East, and further away from lasting peace.


Categories: world, west.asia, USA, politics, war

1 comment:

Kausha said...

I'm just amazed that you manage to link to so many pieces. Kudos my fhrand. that's some pretty comprehensive work.