Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It is verbal Jihad now

Devil taken control of logos

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on CBS “60 Minutes” news magazine that a US diplomat had threatened to turn “the Land of the Pure” into the “stone age” if his government did not fully and unconditionally cooperate with the USA in hunting down the Taliban and Al-Qaida after the September 11 attacks.

In a joint Press conference recently with President George W Bush on the lawns of the White House when reporters asked the Pakistani strongman to elaborate on his brazen remark, General Musharraf tried to wriggle out of public embarrassment by saying that he was under contract with his publisher to keep his mouth shut until the book was released. While reporters guffawed at Gen Musharraf’s crude attempt at self-promotion of his book, Mr Bush could not control himself and retorted derisively that what the Pakistani is saying is, “buy the book”.

Normally, politicians indulge in the luxury of ghost-written kiss-and-tell books for money ~ and revenge against their detractors ~ after they retire or are kicked out of office. Gen Musharraf, as they say, wants to make hay while the sun shines. But Gen Musharraf was not the only one who put Mr Bush in a spot with his tongue wagging out of control. Mr Bush’s worst nemesis has been Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who took the podium at the UN General Assembly and let it out, “Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world.“Truly. As the owner of the world…... As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.”

Like Iran, Venezuela sits on a huge oil reservoir and wants to use his country’s natural resources in forging a global alliance against the USA. Oil hungry-China is willing to oblige and help Venezuela in diverting its oil resources across the Pacific, as are some other countries hunting desperately for natural resources.

Iran’s media savvy President, Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined a select group of people in this world who have been denying that the Holocaust ever occurred.Last December, Mr Ahmadinejad said that the West “has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews, even more significant than God, religion, and the prophets.” Whenever reporters try to pin him down about his views on the historical reality of the genocide, he ducks the question and changes the topic. His constant refrain, which probably embodies the Arab-Muslim attitude toward Israel, has been: “If you have burned the Jews, why don’t you give a piece of Europe, the USA, Canada or Alaska to Israel… .Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?” He forgets that Israel like ancient Persia is where it should be. Islam and Christianity rose out of Judaism.

When the head of a nation such as Iran with nuclear ambitions, and a supporter of extra-territorial militant groups such as Hezbollah, says that Israel should be “wiped off the map”, the global community cannot ignore the statement as a loony tune.

Abusive and self-righteous rhetoric has been ravaging global diplomacy for quite sometime. Addressing the University of Regensburg in Bavaria, Germany, as a “call for a dialogue of the Christian faith with the modern world, and for a dialogue between all cultures and religions”, Pope Benedict XVI uttered some inflammatory words quoting “Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in exchange with a Persian scholar,” which the Pontiff has been desperately trying to unsay since then: “Show me just what Mohammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Vatican could not have failed to imagine the reaction such an insulting statement coming from the Pope would have caused.

The pope tried to apologise, “I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.”Papal spin masters and apologists on both sides of the Atlantic have not succeeded in assuaging outraged Muslims who have burned and pillaged churches to prove once again that extremists have taken full control over Muslim sensibilities.But what was the Pope thinking when he chose a text that did not represent the Catholic Church's present thinking?

When on 19 April, 2005 Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger assumed the papal throne, he ceased to be an individual. He became the singular voice of the Catholic Church. He could not have been unaware of what he was saying. I believe that the Pope was trying to admonish the global Catholic community about the gulf that divides it from Islam, which has continued to be from medieval Persia to modern Iran “evil and inhuman”. In the Internet age, his words could not have been limited to the faithful only.

One might speculate as to what prompted Pope Benedict to dig out an obscure statement of a medieval ruler but his views are not very far from those of President Bush, who said before the National Endowment for Democracy last year, “Islamic terrorist attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane. Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism.”

The West does not look at Islam as a gentler and kinder religion. Nor does it know how to deal with it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bush keeps going, going

Checks and balances for Bush

From The Statesman
ND Batra

In spite of the fact that now a majority of Americans believe that the Iraqi invasion was a mistake, George W Bush continues to believe that toppling Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do to prevent Iraq from becoming a hub for terrorists. It’s a struggle for civilisation, Mr Bush said, not a war between civilisations.

Foreign policy, of course, cannot be run on public opinion polls, which go up and down so often that it would be politically crazy to be solely guided by them. National leaders sometimes take measures that are unpopular but necessary according to their perception of the problem the country faces and their political vision. What hurts their cause, however, is the language in which they frame their thoughts, as Pope Benedict’s recent remark equating Islam with violence and evil have shown. That the result of Iraqi invasion turned out to be much different, much bloodier than expected has not lessened the Bush administration’s resolve to bring about changes in West Asia.

Gone is the tongue-lashing optimism of defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld who said after the Iraq elections: “Just having elections in Iraq is an enormous success and a victory. Following the elections in Afghanistan and the election recently in the Palestinian Authority, the Iraqi vote will mark still another success for democracy and a defeat for pro-dictatorship and extremist elements in the region.” The future did not happen they wanted it to happen. Spreading democracy still remains the policy, but only if US forces could move beyond fighting terrorism. Mr Bush now admits that his ill-famed utterances like “Bring em on,” challenging insurgents to attack US forces in Iraq was a mistake, though he still does not realise how much damage the expression “Axis of Evil” has done to US diplomacy.Evil is, of course, everywhere and the world has become a dangerous place.

No nation is safe from evil-doers, jihadis and non-jihadis, but by characterising that evil is limited to a small axis of three countries, Mr Bush absolved others by default. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis said some time ago, “The terrorists of September 11 exposed vulnerabilities in the defences of all states,” which compelled Mr Bush to preside over “the most sweeping redesign of US grand strategy since the presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt. The basis for Mr Bush’s grand strategy, like Roosevelt’s, comes from the shock of surprise attack and will not change. None of FDR’s successors, Democrat or Republican, could escape the lesson he drew from the events of December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor): that distance alone no longer protected Americans from assaults at the hands of hostile states.

Neither Mr Bush nor his successors, whatever their party, can ignore what the events of September 11, 2001, made clear: the deterrence against states affords insufficient protection from attacks by gangs, which can now inflict the kind of damage only states fighting wars used to be able to achieve.” The USA was not the first country to bear the brunt of terrorists. Countries like India have long been suffering terrorists’ attacks sponsored by their neighbours. But earlier the USA looked at the situation differently. Now it sees terrorism as a global threat to civilisation and it must be eliminated.

The horrific events of September 11, 2001 led to the establishment of US presence in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and destroy Al- Qaida terrorists.But US presence has been having some unintended consequence in the region, in the sense that India and Pakistan have been opening up to each other at several levels and the ceasefire is holding up on the Line of Actual Control.The settlement of disputes, including Kashmir, and long-term peace is still a possibility in spite of recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Terrorism breeds in failing states. The Bush administration needs to reframe and rephrase its policy of pre-emption in terms of international cooperation to eliminate terrorism.

Pakistani military rulers know that breeding and financing terrorists can bite back. England and other European countries too have begun to realise that Islamic terrorism is growing in their midst and must be purged whatever the cost. Prof Gaddis said: “It is a failure of both language and vision that the United States has yet to make its case for pre-emption” in terms of the self-interest and survival of each nation; and a collective security system, which could best be under the US leadership.The US leadership must have a strong moral foundation to persuade others to join in its efforts to eliminate the global scourge of jihadist terrorism.Many senior political leaders both Democrats and Republicans believe that moral leadership begins with how the USA treats the captured terrorists.

The Abu Ghraib prison abuse has been a shameful embarrassment at home and abroad. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that the President must not ignore the Common Article 3 of Geneva Conventions which prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity” or “humiliating and degrading treatment”of terrorists, who must have their day in the court with all the rights of fair trial under the criminal justice system of a civilised society.President Bush said the war against terrorism is a struggle for civilisation. True; but in the process the USA should not lose its own soul and descend into the heart of darkness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Born to multitasking

How much information can you stand?

ND Batra

From The Statesman

Ceaseless information pollutes our minds. There was a time when production, distribution and processing of information, news and movies existed in a state of balance. We consumed and assimilated what was produced. And then there was time for silence, for conversation, and for playfulness.

But that was before computers, microwave and satellite transmission created a deluge that seems to sweep away everything else from our lives. Some of us, especially of the older generation, raised on the logic of linear thinking and writing, can’t handle what we see as an information tsunami. Others, especially of the digital generation, growing up on computer games, cell phones, instant messaging, kids born to multitasking, revel on this new culture of incessant messaging. The digital generation has not been complaining that there is too much information swirling around, albeit most of it is useless.

David Schenk called it “data smog.” Due to a ceaseless development of computer technology, information and data production has become so abundant that it clutters our minds as “a pollutant.” We produce too much information for our own good, and so fast that we our minds can’t assimilate it, he said. Of course what is a pollutant could become raw material for something new in the future, only if know what to do with it. In other words we don’t have the requisite software to turn pollutants into useful products.

According to Schenk, the phenomenon of accelerated production of data collection and information production is of recent origin, only a half century. “For nearly 100,000 years leading up to this century, information technology has been an unambiguous virtue as a means of sustaining and developing culture…Then, around the time of the first atom bomb, something strange happened. We began to produce information much faster than we could process it.” There’s no denying the fact that dropping of atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki created information explosion that could not have been handled by traditional means of information processing especially in a manner that would have created knowledge and understanding of what man could do to his fellow beings.

There were technology nay-sayers, Luddites, of the 19th century, who out of fear of loss of jobs and their traditional life styles, destroyed machinery rather than adopting and accepting it. Schenk is no Luddite but he laments, “We have quite suddenly mutated into a radical different culture, a civilization that trades in and survives on stylized communication…. The blank spaces and silent moments in life are fast disappearing. Mostly because we have asked for it, media are everywhere. Television, telephones, radios, message beepers, and an assortment of other modern communication and navigational aids are now as ubiquitous as roads and tennis shoes—anywhere humans can go, all forms of media now follow: onto trains, planes, automobiles, into hotel bathrooms, along jogging paths and mountain trails, on bikes and boats...”

The ecology of information has become overwhelming. A few seasons ago, the television sitcom “Hope and Faith” introduced a two-part episode about wife exchange, which in spite of its suggestive open marriage immorality wasn’t as naughty as it sounds. In fact “Wife Swap” is a popular reality show, where two housewives in culturally different states exchange households with children but without swapping beds, just to see how the other half of womankind lives. In a parody of the reality show, in the “Hope and Faith” episode of wife exchange, Hope left her home in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to live with a family in Manhattan, where she found that the high-tech New York family members had all the digital gadgets but they seldom talked with each other as a family.

The culprit was the work-alcoholic father, Aaron, who in a delightful mockery of “always on, always available,” was always talking to someone on his hand-free cell phone. When he looked at his Hope, his wife in exchange, at the dining table, she thought he was talking with her, but of course, no, he was talking past her, with someone else on the other side, a customer. The Manhattan man symbolised the multitasking New Yorker, always in communication, always networking, always connected, except when it came to touching someone emotionally and keeping relations on a steady keel.

The Manhattan wife-swapping cell-addicted man episode ended with Aaron deciding to give up his always-on wireless communication gear, sell his multimillion-dollar apartment and return to his family’s bosom and turn to simpler things. Ah! But that could only happen in television. Nevertheless, we have to consider the possibility that confronted with an ever rising tide of information, the human mind might evolve and adapt and learn to improve the signal-to-noise ratio; that’s, new technology might help us to see patterns in what is called noise and clutter.

History of human evolution has been a struggle to transform nothingness to zero to information, from empty cave walls to primitive carvings and murals, from rags and papyrus to manuscript writing, from zero-and-one sheep counting to decimal system to bits and bytes. I am optimistic that tools that enable us to create information would also help us to find patterns and meanings in that information, whether it is about terrorism or about the global marketplace.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Bush not giving up 'til the cows come home

Challenging times for the Unite States

ND Batra

The cowboy president is seldom caught in a reflective mood in the public, but when Kelly O’Donnell of NBC asked him in a recent meeting with reporters whether he felt frustrated, President George Bush replied with his usual equipoise that sometimes he did feel frustrated though “rarely surprised.” Rarely has an American president carried such a crushing burden on his shoulders as this man. And he is not going to give up ‘til the cows come home.
Not only has the war in Iraq mutated from the supposedly glorious war of liberation of the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein to an unending Shia-Sunni sectarian violence bordering on civil war, the rise of Iran-Hezballa-Syria crescent has been a no less shocking development. Add to it the defiance of Iran on the nuclear issue and you get a glimpse of a new Middle East rising, a region that instead of fueling global economy with its vast oil reserves might instead fuel further non-state and state-sponsored global terrorism.
Iran might have been overjoyed to see how thousands of its rockets that it clandestinely supplied to Hezballa were hitting Israel, but it could not have imagined nor did it seem to care the death and destruction the proxy war had brought to the innocent people of Lebanon. Nor did Israel and its supporter the United States. Lebanon has become a bloody chessboard of power play.
“But war is not a time of joy,” said Bush. True, though I believe that war does create hope and excitement in the theater of imagination of strategists who sit around the table and calculate advances and retreats and collateral damages and international repercussions. Unfortunately, modern wars are not winnable. The victors, if any, cannot walk away from the destruction of war as you can see in Lebanon. Iran, Hezbollah, the United States are now funneling resources to rebuild the devastated Lebanon in order to win over the minds and hearts that they destroyed to achieve their strategic goals in the region— a perverted example of creative destruction. The dead would be buried and eventually forgotten but the maimed and mangled and the living dead would be always there, in our living rooms, recycled in the global 24/7 of Al Jazeera and the CNN.
Bush nonetheless did not issue a call for giving up the struggle against terrorism, which would outlast the remainder of his days in the White House, but he acknowledged the obvious that these “are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country.”
Next week the United States would be observing the fifth anniversary of the horrific attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon. Although the war in Afghanistan and Iraq might have to some extent drained the psychic energy of the American people, and most of them now believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake, it is rather surprising that the wars have not slowed the US economic growth. In fact the US American economy since 9/11 terrorist attacks has been steadily growing. Jack Welch, the ex-chairman of GE, who along with his wife Susie Welch writes a weekly column for BusinessWeek, stated a month ago, “Since mid-2003 the American economy has grown about 20 %. That’s more than $2.2 trillion—equal to the size of the total economy of China. Seven million jobs have been added.” The Welches were trying to ward off criticism against outsourcing; but that is equally true in the case of jihadi terrorism. New York is once again a shining city on a hill. The towers would rise again. The trains (in Mumbai) are running again, aren’t they?
Nonetheless, there is increasing pessimism in the United States whether Iraq would ever settle down as a peaceful nation. The United States cannot cut loose and run and let the devil take the hindmost. That would turn Middle East into a Shia-Sunni bloodbath, which some see as already in the making especially with the reckless ascendancy of an almost-nuclear Iran as an aggressive Middle East power. Not only has Israel reason to fear Iran whose president, Mahmoud Ahamedinejad, has publicly declared that the Jewish state should be wiped out; but Arab countries also have absolutely no reason to be celebrating the rise of a nuclear Iran establishing its hegemony in the Middle East. Nor would it be in the interest of the Indian subcontinent to see any nation controlling the energy resources of the region.
But giving up is not the character of the Bush presidency. Bush sees the war against terrorism as struggle against the ultimate evil, which must be defeated, because otherwise, as he told the American Legion convention last week, terrorists would be free “to turn back the advance of freedom, and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world.” If the United States does not fight terrorists in the streets of Baghdad, Bush said at the convention, “we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.” In order to win “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,” the United States must utilize “every element of national power.”
While Bush vows to keep fighting global jihadist terrorism, he is also fighting at home to keep Congress under the Republican control as the American people go to polls in November. Democrats are in disarray. They don’t know what to do about Iraq. Nor does anyone else.