War is Peace
By Arundhati Roy, winner of the Booker Prize for her novel, The God of Small Things, 1997.
Setting aside the rhetoric for a moment, consider the fact that the world has not yet found an acceptable definition of `terrorism.' One country's terrorist is too often another's freedom fighter. At the heart of the matter lies the world's deep-seated ambivalence towards violence. Once violence is accepted as a legitimate political instrument, then the morality and political acceptability of terrorists (insurgents or freedom fighters) becomes contentious, bumpy terrain.
The U.S. government itself has funded, armed, and sheltered plenty of rebels and insurgents around the world. The CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency trained and armed the mujahideen who, in the 1980s, were seen as terrorists by the government in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. While President Reagan posed with them for a group portrait and called them the moral equivalents of America's founding fathers. Today, Pakistan - America's ally in this new war - sponsors insurgents who cross the border into Kashmir in India. Pakistan lauds them as 'freedom fighters,' India calls them 'terrorists.' India, for its part, denounces countries who sponsor and abet terrorism, but the Indian army has, in the past, trained separatist Tamil rebels (LTTEE) asking for a homeland in Sri Lanka, who are responsible for countless acts of bloody terrorism. (Just as the CIA abandoned the mujahideen after they had served its purpose, India abruptly turned its back on the Tamil rebels for a host of political reasons. It was an enraged LTTE suicide-bomber who assassinated former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.)
It is important for governments and politicians to understand that manipulating these huge, raging human feelings for their own narrow purposes may yield instant results, but eventually and inexorably, they have disastrous consequences. Igniting and exploiting religious sentiments for reasons of political expediency is the most dangerous legacy that governments or politicians can bequeath to any people - including their own. People who live in societies ravaged by religious or communal bigotry know that every religious text - from the Bible to the Bhagwad Gita - can be mined and misinterpreted to justify anything, from nuclear war to genocide to corporate globalisation.
This is not to suggest that the terrorists who perpetrated the outrage on September 11 should not be hunted down and brought to book. They must be. But is war the best way to track them down? Will burning the haystack find you the needle? Or will it escalate the anger and make the world a living hell for all of us?
At the end of the day, how many people can you spy on, how many bank accounts can you freeze, how many conversations can you eavesdrop on, how many e-mails can you intercept, how many letters can you open, how many phones can you tap? Even before September 11, the CIA had accumulated more information than is humanly possible to process. (Sometimes, too much data can actually hinder intelligence-small wonder the U.S. spy satellites completely missed the preparation that preceded India's nuclear tests in 1998.)
The sheer scale of the surveillance will become a logistical, ethical and civil rights nightmare. It will drive everybody clean crazy. And freedom-that precious, precious thing-will be the first casualty. It's already hurt and hemorrhaging dangerously.
Governments across the world are cynically using the prevailing paranoia to promote their own interests. All kinds of unpredictable political forces are being unleashed. In India, for instance, members of the All India People's Resistance Forum, who were distributing anti-war and anti-U.S. pamphlets in Delhi, have been jailed. Even the printer of the leaflets was arrested. The right-wing government (while it shelters Hindu extremists groups) has banned the Students' Islamic Movement of India and is trying to revive an anti-terrorist act which had been withdrawn after the Human Rights Commission reported that it had been more abused than used. Millions of Indian citizens are Muslim. Can anything be gained by alienating them?
Source: Excerpt from "War is Peace," Outlook, October 18, 2001. Online at http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20011029&fname=arundhati%20(F)&sid=1