Monday, September 22, 2008

World's Window

The terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 has changed the course of world history

Seven years after 19 young Muslim men belonging to a then little known terrorist outfit hijacked four commercial airliners to launch one of the ghastliest terror strikes in history, the mark that the event has left on world psyche can still be felt. The world knew little about al-Qaeda (Arabic for the base), which masterminded the attacks, but the Muslim world at that time was brimming with angst, especially because what the Muslims in the streets of Cairo and Quetta saw the United States' unjust support of Israel and the latter's occupation of the holy land.

The history of terrorists using Islam, which literary means peace, to further their political agenda is not old. It dates back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a time when the US, alarmed by the communist invasion of the Central Asian country, supported the Afghan guerrillas with arms and military logistics. Not only in Afghanistan, which has always had a strategic importance as a gateway to Central Asia, the US used Islam in Indonesia, Iran and parts of Africa to fend off the red flag. It supported brutal dictatorial regimes in the developing countries, gave them military hardware, which the juntas used against its own populace. From Gen Augusto Pinochet of Chile to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, the US, the champion of the free world, found friends in the men who 'gassed their own people', who butchered thousands-- all this with the weapons made in the US.

This trend, however disturbing, came to a welcome halt after the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the so-called cold war. Even before that, long before Lenin's statues were dismembered by angry mobs in Moscow and Budapest, a silent but quick change was reshaping the world politics. Only chaos ensued when the Red Army was withdrawn from Afghanistan--different factions of the Mujaheedins fought with each other; corruption was rife, mismanagement was the order of the day. At a time like this, a group of Afghan students belonging to different madrasas formed the Taliban, and within a short span of four years overran the capital Kabul. The country's beleaguered communist President Mohammad Najibullah, who was hiding at a UN compound in Kabul was beaten and castrated before he was hanged from a traffic light in the downtown capital.

The arms that the Talibs used to kill were made in the factories of the free world. By 1996 the table were turned, the Taliban and its friend al-Qaeda had arrived the scene. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the US-led Gulf War I, which drove Saddam's men out of the oil-rich kingdom, polarised opinion and the US presence in the Middle East fomented discontent in the Muslim world. It only reconfirmed an idea already engrained in the psyche of the Arabs, that the US, the plunderer of the natural resources of the region, favoured the fat old kings of the Middle East. The latter remain unpopular in their countries, and the US support has made it even worse. It is not difficult to imagine what can happen when disgruntlement is coupled with vengeance and brute force. Osama bin Laden, a former Mujaheedin ideologue, soon hit the headlines, becoming the US's enfant terrible: on August 8, 1998 hundreds of people were killed in simultaneous car bomb explosions at the United States embassies in the East African capital cities of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. In response, the US launched 'Operation Infinite Reach' to strike a series of cruise missile at different targets in Sudan and Afghanistan.

It is in this back drop that the attack on the US on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001 has taken place. Since then, the world has witnessed two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and numerous big terrorist attacks in London and Madrid. The wars and attacks have predictably polarised opinion, with some Muslims considering the war on terror an attack on the Islamic world, calling it a ploy to destroy Islam. Terrorists, on the other hand, are indiscriminate in their targets--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine hundreds die every month in terror attacks of different colours and hues, in almost all cases the victims are unarmed women and children.

Seven years on, the war that has been waged on the US, and is now being compared with the Japanese air raid on US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, is showing no sign of abating. On the contrary, the war on terror has alienated the majority of Muslims from the western world. The gulf between the east and the west has widened even dangerously. The logics behind the Gulf War II and the occupation of Iraq have increasingly been questioned in the west itself, as the photos of maimed Iraqis, especially children are shown in the television.

And yet Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11, as the media has abbreviated the event, remains at large. The string of operations that has been launched to capture him has embarrassingly failed. Winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim masses, which is the bigger battle in the war on terror, has remained neglected. The price of this neglect is going to be higher, there is no denying it.

The 2993 men and women (including 19 hijackers) did not know that their death would change the lives of millions. Their deaths have left the world dangerously divided, perilously close to the end of the old world order.