September 17, 2001


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Rajeev Srinivasan

Pearl Harbour Redux: another day that will live in infamy

It is feared that tens of thousands of people may have perished in New York and Washington from the savage, spectacular, suicidal act of terrorism on September 11. The jolt to the American psyche is comparable to how the nation was shaken in 1941 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, where a total of 2,400 lives were lost to the bombing and sinking of ships.

I am aghast at the appalling loss of life and property, which I mourn -- in particular, I am certain that there are old classmates and other acquaintances in the investment banks that occupied the World Trade Centre. In this moment of grief, the world grieves with America. But there is a need to look further, at the root cause of the problem.

Americans demonstrated in 1941 that they have the will and the means to retaliate; they showed they could rise to the occasion. In the same way, I have no doubt that the country will once again show its mettle by rebounding from this setback, and striking back hard against the perpetrators, whoever they might be. This will take the form of massive and punitive force: the terrorists may realise too late that they have bitten off more than they can chew.

The identity of the perpetrators is not known at the moment, but the finger of suspicion does point to radical Islamic terrorists. In Pakistan and in Palestinian areas, Muslims celebrated in the streets at this comeuppance to the 'Great Satan': this certainly implies that Muslims themselves thought their co-religionists were behind the attacks.

Let me emphasise, however, the difference here between the majority of Muslims around the world, who are law-abiding people, and the fringe element of radical Muslims. The latter are the fearsome ideologues of a triumphalist Islam that looks to spread itself to the entire world.

If in fact the mastermind behind the attack is the radical Islamist Osama bin Laden, that would be a cruel irony. For bin Laden is a product of American strategy to create fundamentalist Islamic warriors as a weapon against the erstwhile Soviet Union. As ye sow, so shall ye reap: as Indira Gandhi found out to her chagrin regarding Sikh extremists a while ago.

There are several pieces of circumstantial evidence that point to bin Laden: first, intercepted cell phone messages from his supporters; second, he has the huge financial and organisational might necessary to mount simultaneous operations (he did this before, allegedly, with the bombings of US embassies in Africa).

Third, one of bin Laden's associates was due to be sentenced for the earlier bomb attack on the World Trade Centre, on the selfsame 11th of September. Fourth, he and his associates have been talking of spectacular acts of 'revenge' against the US for some time. Fifth, he has stated that he fully stood behind those who attacked the USS Cole in Aden last year. Sixth, he has been sending his people to flying schools in the US, especially in Florida. Seventh, one of bin Laden's key lieutenants was listed as a passenger on one of the hijacked planes.

It appears, admittedly without proof, that there is a plausible case for bin Laden's involvement; in any case, it is likely that it was radical Islamic terrorists rather than anyone else: they are the only ones with sufficient ideological motivation, sufficient funding, and sufficient infiltration power through networks in the US to pull off such an act. This is not the kind of thing a few Timothy McVeigh-type malcontents could have managed; it is an act of professional terrorism.

This is an astonishing act of logistics, ideological brainwashing (how many commercial airline pilots do you know who would be willing to commit suicide by flying a plane into a skyscraper? And do that skillfully enough to hit the designated target, a single building, while traveling at 500 mph?) and the ability to recruit all the right people. It is a remarkably professional job, the kind that state-sponsored spy agencies are best suited to do: MI5 or the CIA. Or Pakistan's ISI.

It is likely that the kingpins are Pakistanis. (I find it implausible that Iraq would have carried out such an act.) As Ahmed Shah Masoud, the victim of an assassination, said in an interview recently, there is a triumvirate of interests acting as the fount of Islamic terrorism: bin Laden, Pakistan's military intelligence (the ISI), and the Taleban. They are virtually indistinguishable, as the Taleban consists mostly of Pakistani armymen. Masoud suggested that virtually nobody and nothing could come into landlocked Afghanistan unless Pakistanis allowed them in: all of the other Afghan borders are with hostile states.

Pakistan, on the other hand, considers Afghanistan merely the first step in its grand dream of creating an Islamic empire that will consist of all the Central Asian Muslim states, the entire Indian subcontinent, Xinjiang, and whatever else it can lay its hands on.

It is apparent from the writings of Pakistanis that they believe in a radical Islamic prescription of jihad/war which translates to the continuous use of terrorism as a weapon of war, with the intent of Islamising the entire world. For instance, consider what is virtually the manual of operations for the Pakistani armed forces, the book, The Quranic Concept of War, by Brigadier S K Malik, with a laudatory foreword by the former president of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq. See a review of this by N S Rajaram. Says Malik, 'Terror struck into the hearts of the enemy is not only a means, it is the end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent's heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved... Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him.' This is the manifesto followed by the Pakistanis, and clearly by bin Laden.

This is one of the differences between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and this Black September attack on New York. The Japanese chose military targets; this is because, despite American caricatures, they were honest warriors. They did not deliberately create civilian casualties. But the terrorists in the present case were looking for maximum civilian deaths -- entirely in keeping with Malik's views on using terror as a weapon. These are not warriors, they are cold-blooded killers.

We see this also in the fact that Muslim terrorists in Kashmir prefer to behead people: most recently two Hindu priests who were dragged out of their temples and thus dispatched. Of course the 'secular', 'progressive' media in India were deafeningly silent about this, and about the recent murders of a number of Hindus in Tripura by Christian terrorists. But they had acres of newsprint to waste on one missionary who was burnt to death.

The Americans are finally realising what it feels like to be the targets of determined and implacable terrorists, especially those fuelled by religious ideology. Indians have coped with this for years, and the Americans have generally been unsympathetic to our plight; sadly, it has taken this catastrophe for the Americans to realise they have to do more than pay lip service to counter-terrorism activities.

It is ironic that perhaps more Americans died in this single incident of terrorism than all the civilians murdered in India by radical Muslim terrorists in ten years: in Kashmir, in the Bombay financial centre blasts, in the Coimbatore blasts, and so forth. Given America's great reluctance to suffer casualties, this is an appalling statistic. Heads will surely roll in the US government.

There are some interesting reasons for past American complacency and perhaps even tacit support for self-proclaimed 'freedom-fighters' in various parts of the world. For instance, individual Americans have sustained the Irish struggle against the British. US governments have been the biggest champions of the rights of Muslim rebels in the former Yugoslavia and in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. They have nurtured groups of Cubans opposed to Castro: remember the Bay of Pigs fiasco?

Curiously enough, such support has been highly selective: no to Tibetan aspirations, but yes to East Timorese. No to the legitimate struggles of Guatemalan peasants, but yes to the anti-Sandinista guerillas in Nicaragua. Where it suits US interests, the separatists are 'freedom-fighters'. Otherwise they are 'terrorists'. The only thing that has been consistent is the pursuit of US interests; which, I concede, is the right thing to do.

It is hard to suggest that the US is entirely guiltless in waging terror on others, either. The carpet-bombing of Cambodia and Laos, the assassinations of many, including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and Salvador Allende of Chile, the tremendous support to military dictators in Latin America (see the stunning film State of Siege by Costa-Gavras), the continuing genocide and mass slaughter of children in Iraq -- these are all shameful acts by the American state.

I was amused to see Henry Kissinger hold forth in The Washington Post about how awful the WTC bombing was, old war criminal that he is: talk of hypocrisy -- how many million Cambodian civilians did you butcher, Your Excellency? Reader Krishnan sent me a remarkable story from the Village Voice about Kissinger.

Nevertheless, we all feel the pain of the Americans, because their self-image of innocents abroad, their confidence in technology and their own skills, their boundless energy -- this is what the rest of us want for ourselves: all of us want to be Americans. In this summer of their discontent, all our prayers go to them; after Black Tuesday, we are all Americans.

And yet, I feel justified in critiquing their past indifference to terrorism. Americans have always felt comfortably ensconced in their distant and safe mainland, which has never been attacked by anybody because of logistical reasons. To an extent they never believed a major strike against them was even possible. The magnitude of Black Tuesday's atrocity is such that Americans will never again feel safe. This is the end of innocence many US commentators have been talking about: it is childhood's end, in a way.

But the other side of this coin is that Americans have perhaps deliberately allowed the creation of 'front-line' states that took the brunt of the damage. For instance, there is a school of thought that the Americans were perfectly happy to let the Kashmir problem simmer along because it kept a lot of radical Muslims occupied in the low-intensity conflict there; never mind the damage to India, so long as there was no damage to the American mainland.

Israel plays a similar role, as the lightning rod of Arab frustrations in West Asia. It is convenient for America to have Israel as the whipping boy, taking most of the collateral damage, while once again the American heartland is spared.

Similarly, some Europeans were appalled at the fact that America virtually created two Islamic states in the heart of Europe: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Since the time of the Crusades, this is perhaps the first time there are three Muslim-majority states in Europe (if you consider determinedly secular Turkey to be one as well). And a statelet, too: Chechnya. Once again, or so the Americans believed, 'containing' Islamic aggression well away from their homes.

So much for that mythology. There is another myth, too, that by 'engaging' terrorists it is possible to reform them. The US has been lecturing India to do that with Musharraf. However, every concession, even a call for negotiation, is viewed by terrorists as an admission of defeat by their foe. There is nothing that they will respond to, other than massive, overwhelming, and punitive force.

The US has to face unpalatable facts now: they too are a front-line state in the war against terrorism, and in particular radical Islamic terrorism. It is the very people that they once patronised, namely the Taleban, bin Laden and the Pakistani ISI, that are after them now. He who rides the tiger, etc.

What does all this mean for India? On the one hand, it should be clear to the Americans that whatever India has been saying about the remorseless Pakistani military and its terrorists is quite true. On the other hand, whether this will lead to any benefits on the ground remains to be seen: the Americans may still use the Kashmir issue to keep India pre-occupied. This would be foolish in the long run, for this is precisely what China wants. And the Sino-Islamic axis is likely to be biggest threat to the West in years to come.


Now that bashing astrology is so fashionable in certain Indian 'intellectual' circles, I thought I'd add the following little anecdote. I was thinking of Nostradamus's predictions about World War III when I got email from a friend that gave me the impetus to check it out on the Web. Here is what I found. Yes, of course, there is a lot of fanciful interpretation of what Nostradamus said, but isn't it entertaining? About an apocalyptic leader:

Out of the country of Greater Arabia
Shall be born a strong master of Mohammed...
He will enter Europe wearing a blue turban.
He will be the terror of mankind.
Never more horror.

Sound like Osama bin Laden (does he wear blue turbans)?

And when will all this happen?

In the year 1999 and seven months
From the sky will come the great King of Terror.
He will bring back to life the King of the Mongols;
Before and after war reigns.

We could always suggest that 1999 was a fanciful rendering of 2001: that is, 2000+1 depicted as 2000-1. And do remember that September did use to be the seventh month before January and February were added. The King of the Mongols might be the Chinese, with their support of the Sino-Islamic axis against the West, Russia and India.

The war will last seven and twenty years.

What is the first target of the war?

The sky will burn at forty-five degrees.
Fire approaches the great new city.

We have seen the fire in the sky, in the twin skyscrapers aflame. New York is at 41 degrees North latitude, not 45.

By fire he will destroy their city,
A cold and cruel heart,
Blood will pour,
Mercy to none.

Apocalypse now?

Rajeev Srinivasan

The Attack on America: The Complete Coverage

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