Sunday, December 13, 2009

Orientalism in the 'Çlash' theory


Maryam Sakeenah

Orientalism which is a perception or mindset for viewing cultures and peoples territorially, culturally or physically different has been deeply embedded in Western discourse vis a vis what it defines as the ‘Orient.’ While the roots of it can be traced from perhaps the very first interaction between the West and the Orient, it survives and thrives to this day. The highly influential post Cold War paradigm for international politics_ the theory of the Clash of Civilizations put forth by Samuel P. Huntington in his 1993 ‘Foreign Affairs’ article_ imbibes this Orientalist tradition of the West in its understanding and perception of the ‘non West’ as well as in the policy recommendations he offers to Western policy makers in dealing with the ‘threat’ from the ‘East.’ However, most of the Orientalist presumptions and attitudes in the ‘Clash’ theory do not have any real basis in objective reality and can be easily refuted. This undermines the value and objectivity of Huntington’s influential thesis.


A fundamental question at the heart of intercultural communication is how strangers who look and behave differently from oneself can be understood. Why is it that people have preconceived notions about those different from them_ questions that are not objective but coloured by subjectivity and often tainted with prejudice and bias? Each culture defines those outside of it as enemies who threaten it from without as ‘Others’ to be despised and fought. Although this is a general human failing, it is most pronounced and obvious in the case of the perception by the West of what is called the Orient or the world East of the Occident. Orientalism, then, is the lens through which the West has viewed the East or the Orient traditionally and historically, and continues to do so. It is the West’s framework to understand an unfamiliar people and their culture, often making them look different and threatening through a repertoire of Orientalist images and stereotypes.
In the proceeding pages, the roots of Orientalism, its evolution, its profound influence in Western discourse, rhetoric and policy and its presence in Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory will be examined.

Edward Said’s Magnum Opus on Orientalism by the same name can rightfully be called a masterwork in revealing the dimensions and vicissitudes of Orientalism. In his book, he defines Orientalism as consisting of “a body of ideas, beliefs, clichés or learning about the East at large in Western society.” It is in his words
“a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European or Western experience. The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe. It is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience. Yet none of this Orient is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture. Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles.”
Orientalism accorded certain fundamental, invariable characteristic traits to the Orient. Gradually the Orient, in the Western mindset, began to be identified with these accorded characteristics. The large body of Orientalist literature that came to the fore in the nineteenth century with the decadent Ottoman empire battling for survival against a rapidly mechanizing and voraciously expansionist Europe identified the prime characteristics of the Orient to be ‘sensuality, despotism, aberrant mentality, inaccuracy, backwardness’ as well as its ‘separateness, eccentricity, silent indifference, feminine penetrability, supine malleability;’ This was considered to be objective, valid and empirically inviolable.

All these traits considered intrinsically ‘Oriental’ make it obvious that the nature and status of the Oriental world, its values, culture and people, was little more than that of a passive subject to be studied, analyzed, perceived and interpreted. Said writes, “Every writer on the Orient... saw the Orient as a locale requiring Western attention, reconstruction, even redemption. The Orient existed as a place isolated from the mainstream of European progress in the sciences, arts and commerce.”

This Western lens to view the East tainted the Western perception of the people of the Orient, who were consequently ‘othered’ and alienated, and perceived as exotic curiosities to be studied by the superior post-Enlightenment Western mind:

“Alongwith all other peoples variously designated as backward, degenerate, uncivilized and retarded, the Orientals were viewed... having in common an identity best described as lamentably alien. Orientals were rarely seen or looked at; they were seen through, analyzed not as citizens or even people, but as problems to be solved or confined or taken over...Since the Oriental was a member of the subject race, he had to be subjected: it was that simple.”
A repertoire of images of the East as a mysterious place full of ‘marvels and monsters’ abounded in the literature of the nineteenth century which had little to do with direct, firsthand experience. Even Orientalist ‘experts’ fell victim to this tendency to present the Orient as a fantastical curiosity outside of History that was unvarying and stagnant.
One of the most strikingly invariable features of Orientalism through the ages is the Orientalist consensus on the predominant religion of the Orient: Islam. The ‘çonsensus’ is of inferiority, degeneracy and imposture. It runs as a constant underlying theme throughout Orientalist tradition with exceptions being few and far between. The roots of this trend fundamental to Orientalist scholarship go far back in time to the genesis of Islam itself.
From the very outset, Islam, under the leadership of the Prophet (PBUH) established a dynamic outreach across communities, religious groups and cultures. Islam fomented deep connections through interaction and contact with both Jews and Christians. The Prophet (PBUH)’s correspondence and interaction with the Roman monarch as well as profound association and connection with the Abyssinian king Negus is well documented, as is the religious freedom officially accorded by him to the Christians of Najran in the outlying regions of the Arabian peninsula. The first documented response from the Christian world to the Call of Islam, however, came as early as 50 A.H (672 C.E), from St. John of Damascus who wrote a refutation of Islam in the Greek language titled ‘Discussion between a Christian and a Saracen.’ In this St. John maintained that ‘the Ishmaelites had been led to idolatry by a false prophet taking his ideas from an Aryan monk.’ Following St. John, numerous other eminent Christian saints and scholars wrote critiques of Islam which form the core and the ethos of Orientalism. Among these saints are St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote the ‘Summary of the Doctrines of the Gentiles’ in which he attacked Islam and its followers as irrational, false and barbaric. Both the saints and their classical, foundational texts set the tenor for the future course of Orientalism. Today the West has an established ‘canon’ about Islam that has been standardized. This Orientalist ‘canon’ to interpret Islam has been called the West’s “Crusade Complex” by Sheikh Ali Tamimi. If one may generalize, there are, very broadly speaking, six primary fundamental suppositions about Islam contained in Orientalism. Briefly put, these are:
• Islam as a falsehood and a deliberate perversion of the truth.
• Islam as a religion of violence and the sword spread through persecution and destruction.
• Islam as self-indulgent, celebrating physical pleasures.
• The Prophet (PBUH) of Islam as unbefitting of spiritual leadership. A vast amount of literature attacking the person of the Prophet (PBUH) exists in the West’s Orientalist tradition.
• Islam as inflexible, regressive, monolithic.
• Islam as an expansionist political programme threatening the West.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Orientalist scholarship was grounded in the purely theological basis of Christian dogma. However, gradually with the rise of materialism following the Industrial Revolution and the zenith of the West’s temporal power manifesting itself in the Colonialist mission, Orientalism took on a more secular colour. Edward Said holds that Orientalism is created by an historical, institutional context and its present day form is embedded in the history of imperial conquest. In this sense, Orientalism becomes a ploy for military and ideological conquest of the Orient by the Occident. The question that hulks at the heart of Orientalism is ‘How do we understand the natives we conquer so we can subdue them easier?’ The process to ‘explain people who are different’ has gone on for a long time, and Orientalism formalizes it dangerously in that it represents itself as objective knowledge.
The first modern imperial expedition is important in the evolution of Orientalism. This was the conquest of Egypt undertaken by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. It is interesting and important to note that Napoleon took alongwith his soldiers a number of artists, scientists, researchers, philologists and historians to ‘record’ Egypt in every conceivable way and to produce a ‘scientific survey’ of Egypt to be consumed by a European audience. These scholars produced volumes of Orientalist work which loudly bespeak the power and prestige of Europe on the doorstep of modernity, and use knowledge of the subject to subdue him and let it be known that ‘France can do to the Egyptians what the Egyptians cannot do to France.’
Following this, there developed a profound relationship between Orientalism and power politics. The doctrine of Orientalism (‘latent Orientalism’) lent strength to the West’s experience of its dominance of Eastern territories (‘manifest Orientalism’). Orientalists had a special and a very important role to play as advisors to governments and became ‘special agents of Western power as it attempted policy vis a vis the Orient.’
Orientalism underwent an important secular transition following the Second World War. Maryam Jameelah writes, “Prior to the nineteenth century, the bulk of Western literature attacked Islam. Since the end of the World War, the Orientalists’ Christian pretence has been almost entirely discarded in favour of pure, unadulterated materialism. Islam is no longer condemned because of its rejection of the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ or the dogma of the Original Sin.” This inaugurated modern Orientalism. A significant feature of Orientalism since World War II is the tremendously increased attention to the Arab-Muslim figure as well as to Islam. This went on as a steady stream until 9/11, but the spectacular fall of the Twin Towers made it step down from the domain of the intellectual elite and enter into public discourse and street talk. It is this subject today that is the media’s favourite theme.
Despite the evolution Orientalism has undergone, however, the polemics of Orientalism have varied little: “Books and articles are regularly published on Islam and the Arabs that represent absolutely no change over the virulent anti Islamic polemics of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” Malaysian Professor Osman Bakar points out that the West has perpetuated its misconceptions and myths about Islam. :
“Ever since they watched it (i.e Islam) appear on the world stage, Christians never cease to insult and slander it in order to find justifications for waging war on it. It has been subjected to grotesque distortions, the traces of which lie still in the European mind. Even today there are many Westerners for whom Islam can be reduced to three ideas: fanaticism, fatalism and polygamy.”
The modern transition of Orientalism involved the transference of the disseminating authority from the former European colonial powers to the United States. While Britain and France had had direct experience of the Orient in their colonies, this could not be said about America. American Orientalism therefore, is based not on experience but largely on abstraction. It is also heavily politicized owing to the United States’ deep-seated interests in the Middle East as well as its massive support and firm alliance with Israel which serves and safeguards US interests in the region. This has had profound influences on Orientalism in America. American Orientalism has assumed a more virulent ‘Us and Them’ character that views Muslims as Enemies. U.S definitions in the context of the so-called War on Terror have been standardized as a global paradigm which consists of the ancient, core stereotypes of Islam prevalent in Orientalist discourse. This new framework to view the world has gradually acquired strength so that ‘even the unusual becomes routinised as new events are forced into existing frames of reference. Hence Muslims are ‘othered’ in a mediated world where simplistic notions of good and evil peoples finds currency.’
The impact that this has had on the news media and the representation of Muslims is immense:
“Islam and the activities of certain Muslims are very newsworthy subjects. Indeed, very few of the more significant news stories of the past few years have not included Muslims in some form or the other while very few of the stories ‘about Muslims’ over this same period have been about anything other than the War on Terror.’ It is in its climate of threat, fear and misunderstanding that the reporting of Islam and the Muslims is currently situated.”
This can particularly be noticed in the coverage and understanding of the Middle East-Palestine issue which is lamentably lopsided:
“No attention is paid to the fact that the occupation of West Bank and Gaza has been going on for forty years, and is the longest ever military occupation in modern history. The public is made to believe as if the only problem is Hamas terrorism that threatens Israel’s security. No attention is paid to the hundreds of thousands who suffer due to military occupation. It is no more possible for an American to know the truth about the Middle East... A lot else is going on in the Middle East that is not seen or understood by the West. The result of the media’s focus on one aspect alone presents Muslims as only one thing: Terrorists. When we see anyone fitting that description, we think of fanatics, extremists, fundamentalists and terrorists. This takes away the humanity and diversity of millions of human beings who live normal, decent lives.”
Predominant images in the news media regarding Muslims other than those of terrorism, are, according to Elizabeth Poole, those of ‘illegitimacy, criminality, violence, extremism, fanaticism, aggression and disloyalty. Religion is often given as an explanatory factor for behaviour and overall an official hegemonic viewpoint dominates.’
It is important here to analyze the representation of Islam in modern Orientalism as ‘Islamic civilization’ happens to be Huntington’s predominant concern in his milestone ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.’ Maryam Jameelah sums up the prime assumptions about Islam that define modern Orientalism. Orientalists believe about Islam:

“That the Holy Quran is the work of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), that the hadith literature is forged; that Islam is a mere poitico-economic outburst by impoverished Bedouins rather than a religious movement, that Islam stifled the artistic creativity of the people it conquered; that Islam is nothing but the current practices of its present people; that it is superstitious, fatalistic, unscientific, unmodern and opposed to developed; that it stands in need of the same reformation Christianity underwent: that the best in Islam is Sufism with its individualism, anti-Shariah emphasis on the fallenness of man and his need for a master saviour, and the repudiation of the warlike and exclusivist Sunnism; and above all, that Islam stands on an inferior moral ground with its materialistic conceptions of paradise and low status of women, that its prohibition of interest is anti-industrialization, its puritanical and anti-alcohol ethic is against urbanization and modern liberalism, its dogmatism is anti progressive, and it drives its miserable and vanquished people into psychosis by teaching them that God is on their side and that He is the author of history_ all these falsehoods are current in practically every Western presentation of the religion, culture, history and civilization of Islam.”

Modern Orientalism establishes a vital link between Orientalist discourse and political policy making. Hence the influence of Orientalism in Western policy-making elite cannot be ignored. The Clash of Civilizations is a classic example here, because, owing to Huntington’s influence in the Pentagon, his hypothesis with all its baggage of Orientalism is fundamental to American foreign policy, as will become subsequently clear. The onus in Huntington’s work falls overwhelmingly on Islam. For his viewpoint on Islam, Huntington, in a classical Orientalist gesture, borrows from Bernard Lewis who embodies in his work the essence of modern Orientalism. Quoting Said again,

“the conflict between Islam and the West, gets the lion's share of Huntington’s attention. In this belligerent kind of thought, he relies heavily on a 1990 article by the veteran Orientalist Bernard Lewis, whose ideological colors are manifest in its title, "The Roots of Muslim Rage." In both articles, the personification of enormous entities called "the West" and "Islam" is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly, with always the more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary. Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time to spare for... the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization.”

The very title of Huntington’s book is borrowed from Lewis’s “Roots of Muslim Rage” in which he tellingly remarked,

“It should by now clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations_ the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but equally irrational reaction against that rival.”

Three years after Bernard Lewis’s Atlantic Monthly article, Samuel P. Huntington came up with a similar argument stating:

“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

While writing on the ‘faultlines between civilizations’, Huntington quotes the preceding extract from Bernard Lewis in order to substantiate the claim that a clash between Islam and the West is historical, permanent, irreconcilable and perhaps the greatest danger facing ‘our’ civilization rooted in ‘Judaeo-Christian values’.

Bernard Lewis’s perception of Islam through characteristically Orientalist lenses is self-evident when he marginalizes Muslims into a people who, “when the deeper passions are stirred, their dignity and courtesy toward others can give way to an explosive mixture of rage and hatred which impels even the government…to espouse kidnapping and assassination, and try to find, in the life of their Prophet, approval and indeed precedent for such actions”.

Clearly, Huntington picks from Lewis his idea that civilizations are monolithic and built on the duality of ‘ús and them’. Lewis sees the clash as the inherent human “way of distinguishing between themselves and others: insider and outsider, in-group and out-group, kinsman or neighbor and foreigner.” Lewis embodies in his work the essential traits of Orientalist tradition. As Huntington’s prime influence, Lewis’s Orientalism lies at the heart of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric. Edward Said writes,

“Lewis’s polemic is that of Islam not merely as anti Semitic but also an irrational herd or mass phenomenon ruling Muslims by passions, instincts and unreflecting hatreds. The whole point of his exposition is to frighten his audience and not let them yield an inch to Islam. Lewis tries to give the impression that Islam never modernized, nor did the Muslims. According to Lewis, Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are, and are to be watched, on account of the pure essence of theirs, which happens to include a long-standing hatred of Christians and Jews.”

Bernard Lewis believes that there are inherent qualities of Islam that cannot be reconciled with the West. Lewis’s influence cannot be dismissed as insignificant or slight. Said goes on,

“Lewis is an interesting case to examine further because his standing in the political world of the Anglo American Middle East establishment is that of the learned Orientalist, and everything he writes is steeped in the ‘authority’ of his field. Yet for at least a decade and a half his work in the main has been aggressively ideological, despite his various attempts at subtlety and irony. His work purports to be liberal objective scholarship but is in reality very close to being propaganda against the subject material. This, however, should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of Orientalism; it is only the latest_ and in the West the most uncriticized_ of the scandals of ‘scholarship.’”

Borrowing heavily from both Lewis and the whole repertoire of Orientalist literature on Islam, Huntington devotes a whole section to Islam having ‘bloody borders’ in his book. Through citing facts and figures of wars both historical and contemporary, he proves violence to be intrinsic to Islam in order to substantiate his earlier_ and much criticized_ claim that Islam had ‘bloody borders’:

“The relations between Muslims and peoples of other civilizations have generally been antagonistic; most of these relations have been violent at some point in the past, and many have been violent in the 1990s. Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbours. The question naturally arises as to whether this pattern of late-twentieth century conflict between Muslim and non Muslim groups is equally true of relations between groups from other civilizations. In fact, it is not. Muslims make up about one-fifth of the world’s population but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization. The evidence is overwhelming... In the early 1990s Muslims were engaged in more inter-group violence than non Muslims, and two-thirds to three-quarters of intercivilizational wars were between Muslims and non Muslims. Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards.”

It is also clearly in line with Bernard Lewis that religion is inherently conflictual and irreconcilable. Huntington emphatically states this hence: “Millennia of human history have shown that religion is not a ‘small difference’, but possibly the most profound difference that can exist between people. The frequency, intensity and violence of fault line wars are greatly enhanced by beliefs in different gods.” Huntington also borrows from Lewis and other Orientalists, his conviction that Muslim societies are backward, regressive and underdeveloped due to the fixity and primitive nature of the religious values of the Muslims. While Lewis seems to imply that Muslims all over the world are ‘in a rage over the West’s development’, Huntington believes the Western legacy of the French Revolution, Renaissance and Enlightenment gives it values that are in some way superior to peoples living under Ottoman or Czarist monarchies at that point in time. “The antiquated way of life of traditional Islamic society is held responsible for the weakness of the Muslim countries today with their poverty, ignorance, disease, apathy and backwardness. Therefore, the Orientalists conclude, the only road to progress is an uncritical adoption of Western secular materialism.” This engenders the belief in the superiority of Western civilization, a belief Huntington strongly adheres to, as exemplified by Dieter Senghaas:

“Thorough interpretations of civilizations are not given by Huntington, with one major exception. According to Huntington the essence of Western civilization is based on Greek rationalism, Roman law, Catholicism and Protestantism, the variety of European languages, the division of church and state power, rule of law, social pluralism, representative public bodies and individualism. With slight exaggeration he even argues that these characteristics are Western but not modern in the Western world. The essential characteristics of the West are much older.”

Both Huntington and Lewis, with all their views, were personalities extremely ‘listened to’ at the Council of Foreign Relations. “Lewis has been especially sought after in Washington since September 11th. Karl Rove invited him to speak at the White House. Richard Perle and Dick Cheney are among his admirers … And his bestselling book ‘What Went Wrong?,’ about the decline of Muslim civilization, is regarded in some circles as a kind of handbook in the war against Islamist terrorism.” In 2004, Time included Lewis in its list of 100 most influential scientists and thinkers, and Edward Said suggested that, “What made Lewis’s work so appalling in its effects was the fact that without any other views to counter his, American policy-makers...fell for them.” This is what draws the connection between Orientalist discourse spearheaded by the two writers and U.S foreign policy. Orientalist think tanks generate opinions and opinion leaders that are profoundly influential and have a say in U.S policy-making circles. There exist dozens of periodicals, most of them financed by state authorities, devoted entirely to the study of Islam, the Muslims and the Middle East that are essentially Orientalist in outlook and steer the course of U.S policy. Some of these are ‘The Muslim World’( Hartford, Connecticut), Middle East Studies (New York), The Middle East Journal (Washington D.C), Journal of the Oriental Society (New Haven, Connecticut) and American Near Eastern Studies (Chicago). The impact of this politicization and mainstreaming of Orientalism on Western society has been immense. It has encouraged pre-emptive policies of Western nations towards Muslim countries, ‘racial profiling, restrictions on immigration, illegal detention of Muslims without trial, validating current imperialist adventures of the US-UK and further excluding and disenfranchising Muslim communities.’

Ironically, however, despite the pervasive and deep influence of Orientalism in Western policy making and scholarship, the fact remains that Orientalist perceptions are not backed by any sound, real evidence and hence do not qualify as authentic scholarship at all. It is observable to a keen eye that

“one of the striking aspects of the new American attention to the Orient is its regular avoidance of literature. You can read through reams of expert writing on the modern Near East and never encounter a single reference to Literature. What seems to matter far more to the regional experts are ‘facts’... the net effect of this remarkable omission in modern American awareness of the Arab or Islamic Orient is to keep the region and its people conceptually emasculated, reduced to ‘attitude’, ‘trends’, ‘statistics’: in short, dehumanized.”

Years later after 9/11 intensified the Orientalist sway, Said wrote:
“The difference between today's pseudoscholarship and expert jargon about terrorism and the literature about Third World national liberation guerrillas two decades ago is interesting. Most of the earlier material was subject to the slower and therefore more careful procedures of print; to produce a piece of scholarship you had to go through the motions of exploring history, citing books, using footnotes--actually attempting to prove a point by developing an argument. Today's discourse on terrorism is an altogether streamlined thing. Its scholarship is yesterday's newspaper or today's CNN bulletin. Its gurus are journalists with obscure, even ambiguous, backgrounds. Most writing about terrorism is brief, pithy, totally devoid of the scholarly armature of evidence, proof, argument. Its paradigm is the television interview, the spot news announcement, the instant gratification one associates with the Reagan White House's "reality time," the evening news.”
The single greatest failing of Western scholarship, of which Huntington is a part, is the legacy of Orientalism central to it. Orientalism has utterly failed to lend objectivity to research, which is essential to make any piece of work credible. It is almost tragic that
“the principal dogmas of Orientalism exist in their purest form today in the studies of the Arabs and Islam, i.e, of the absolute, systemic difference between the West which is rational, developed, humane and superior to the Orient which is aberrant, underdeveloped, inferior. Second, that abstractions about the Orient are always preferable to direct evidence from Oriental realities. Third, that the Orient is incapable of defining itself and hence a highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing the Orient from a Western standpoint is inevitable and even scientifically ‘objective.’ Fourth, that the Orient is at bottom something to be feared or controlled by pacification, research and development or outright occupation, whenever possible.”
Said laments the fact that in the West, Islam is rarely studied, rarely researched and rarely known, which is painfully obvious in Huntington’s work. His assertions that Islam is violent, conflictual and irreconcilable are rejected everywhere by mainstream Muslim scholars and religious authorities.
The influence of Orientalism in the work of both Lewis and Huntington takes away objectivity and credibility from their work:
“Like Bernard Lewis, Huntington does not write objective and neutral prose, but is a polemicist whose rhetoric not only depends on a prior argument about a war of all against all but in effect perpetuates it. Far from being an arbiter between civilizations which Huntington wishes to be, Huntington is a partisan_ an advocate of one civilization above all others. He defines Islamic civilization reductively, as if all that matters about it is its anti Westernism, as if the other Muslims have nothing else to do but think of the West with hatred; all they think about is how to destroy the West and bomb it.”
Orientalism in Huntington and elsewhere, keeping in mind its tremendous repercussions on society and politics, has deeper, underlying motivations that need to be studied for a fuller picture. Maryam Jameelah, from a spiritual-philosophical standpoint, explains that the reason why Islam and Muslims have always been targeted in Orientalist discourse is because Islam ‘vehemently rejects moral relativity and staunchly continues to uphold the transcendent ideal. Contemporary materialism, on the other hand, assumes that moral and aesthetic values are limited to time, place and circumstance and continually subject to change in the course of human evolutionary progress.’
Edward Said, on the other hand, believes that “Orientalism is a construction fabricated to whip up feelings of hostility and antipathy against that part of the world that happens to be of strategic importance due to its oil, its threatening adjacence to Christianity and history of competition with the West. This is totally different from what to a Muslim living in its domain, Islam really is.” A number of other critics and commentators also subscribe to the same view that Orientalism has helped resurrect age old stereotypes of Islam for geo-political motives of the West in the Muslim world. The theory of the Clash of Civilizations has helped create a foe in the Western mind to replace the Communist arch-enemy after the Cold War. This is a foe that is rather familiar and easy to sell to the Western public because of the history of Orientalist stereotypes of Islam that abound in Western tradition. The West continues to employ an arsenal of images of ‘masses of people waving their fists, of utmost evil, frightening people conspiring to kill Americans’, and Huntington’s influential thesis officialises it, injects it into political policy. The purpose it serves is the same as stated by a newscaster commenting on the World Trade Centre bombings: ‘the threat of Muslims is an ongoing danger...’ Orientalism and its manifestation in the Clash of Civilizations theory uses Islam as a ‘convenient foreign demon to turn attention away from the West’s own iniquities’ and to justify the foreign policy direction that can best fulfil the national interests of powerful actors at the helm.
Eqbal Ahmed writes of the “mutilations of Islam by absolutists and fanatical tyrants who present the religion reduced to a penal code, stripped of its humanism, aesthetics, intellectual quests, and spiritual devotion.” And this "entails an absolute assertion of one, generally de-contextualized, aspect of religion and a total disregard of another. The phenomenon distorts religion, debases tradition, and twists the political process wherever it unfolds." Ahmed proceeds to present the rich, complex, pluralist meaning of the word jihad and shows that in the word's current confinement to indiscriminate war against presumed enemies, it is impossible "to recognize the Islamic--religion, society, culture, history or politics--as lived and experienced by Muslims through the ages." This is what the West as a whole and the theory of Huntington in particular has failed to do.
The West fails to acknowledge the debt it owes to Islam, the centrality of Islamic values in the heritage of Europe and the essential commonalities between the two. Said writes, “The West drew on the humanism, science, philosophy, sociology and historiography of Islam, which had already interposed itself between Charlemagne's world and classical antiquity. Islam is inside from the start...” So are values which the West claims to be uniquely its own, part of Muslim societies. Quoting from Chandra Muzaffar, “Today, some of the leading ideas and institutions which have gained currency in the Muslim world whether in politics or economics are imports from the West. Similarly, Islam impacted law and architecture, literature and culture...” It is an established fact that Western Renaissance from which the West traces its ‘énlightened’ ethos, was brought about in large part as a result of renewed contact between Islam and the West after the Crusades. Contact with Islam compelled Europeans to reconsider their values, ushering in free thinking and ending the suffocating absolutism of the Church. Values celebrated as ‘Western’ are in fact deeply intertwined into the ethos of human civilization_ a common heritage of mankind.
“That different civilizations are not inherently prone to conflict is borne out by another salient feature which Huntington fails to highlight. Civilizations embody many similar values and ideals. At the philosophical level at least, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism among other world religions share certain common perspectives on the relationship between the human being and his environment, the integrity of the community, the importance of the family, the significance of moral leadership and indeed the meaning and purpose of life.”
Huntington’s assertion that Islam has ‘bloody borders’ seems to imply that Islamic civilization is intrinsically and perpetually in violent conflict with all other civilizations. He expands upon his contentious statement in his book in the following words:
“The relations between Muslims and peoples of other civilizations_ Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Hindu, Chinese, Buddhist, Jewish_ have been generally antagonistic; in fact, most of these relationships have been violent in the past as well as in the modern times. Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbours. The question naturally arises as to whether this pattern of late twentieth century conflict between Muslim and non Muslim groups is equally true of relations between groups from other civilizations. In fact, it is not. Muslims make up about one-fifths of the world’s population, but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization. The evidence is overwhelming... Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards.”
This thesis is objectionable on many counts. For one, it is simplistic and inaccurate, as a type of desperate defence of his insistence on Islam being ‘bloody.’ It is generalized and suggests that the reason Muslim societies find themselves in conflicts is not because of any other factors but that Islam itself is the problem. Besides, it seems to create an image of a sword-wielding barbaric, monolithic Muslim civilization bent upon the destruction of all and sundry, while the West and its allies cower with bated breath. This is far from reality and needs to be effectively refuted.
As for Islam being intrinsically bloody, it is enlightening to read what the basic sources and fundamental texts of Islam have to say on the matter:
In 628 C.E. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.
An English translation of that document is presented here:
This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because
Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them.
Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.
Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.
The Muslims are to fight for them.
If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world) . (Rendered into English in ‘Muslim History 570-1950’, Dr. A. Zahur and A.Z Haq.)
In the second Khalifah’s time (Umar R.A), when Christian areas fell to the Muslims, Umar (R.A) wrote a public declaration:
The Covenant of Omar
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
This is an assurance of peace and protection given by the servant of Allah Omar, Commander of the Believers to the people of Ilia' [Jerusalem]. He gave them an assurance of protection for their lives, property, church and crosses as well as the sick and healthy and all its religious community.
Their churches shall not be occupied, demolished nor taken away wholly or in part. None of their crosses nor property shall be seized. They shall not be coerced in their religion nor shall any of them be injured. None of the Jews shall reside with them in Ilia'.
The people of Ilia shall pay Jizia tax as inhabitants of cities do. They shall evict all robbers and thieves.
He whoever gets out shall be guaranteed safety for his life and property until he reach his safe haven. He whoever stays shall be also safe, in which case he shall pay as much tax as the people of Ilia' do. Should any of the people of Ilia wish to move together with his property along with the Romans and to clear out of their churches and crosses, they shall be safe for their lives, churches and crosses, until they have reached their safe haven. He whoever chooses to stay he may do so and he shall pay as much tax as the people of Ilia' do. He whoever wishes to move along with the Roman, may do so, and whoever wishes to return back home to his kinsfolk, may do so. Nothing shall be taken from them, their crops have been harvested. To the contents of this convent here are given the Covenant of Allah, the guarantees of His Messenger, the Caliphs and the Believers, provided they pay their due Jizia tax.
Witnesses hereto are:
Khalid Ibn al-Waleed Amr Ibn al-Aas Abdul-Rahman Ibn'Auf Mu'awiya Ibn abi-Sifian. Made and executed in the year 15 AH. (Source: Tabri, ‘Tarikh Al umam wal Malouk’ )
A.K Brohi writes,
“As the Muslims fanned out of Arabia into Byzantium, Persia and India, large numbers of Jews Christians and Zoroastrians, Hindus and Buddhists came under their dominion. The same recognition granted to the Jews and Christians by the Prophet (SAW) personally was granted to every non Muslim religious community on the one condition of their keeping the peace. The case of Jerusalem was the typos of this Muslim tolerance and goodwill on the religious level as well as on the social and cultural” .
Thomas Arnold writes:
“Of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Muhammadan government towards them”.
Brohi continues:
“Compared with the histories of other religions, the history of Islam is categorically white as far as toleration of other religions is concerned. Fortunately, we have on record many witnesses from those days of Muslim conquest to whom we should be grateful for clearing this matter once and for all. Michael the Elder, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, wrote in the second half of the twelfth century: ‘This is why the God of vengeance… beholding the wickedness of the Romans who, throughout their dominions, cruelly plundered our churches and our monasteries and condemned us without pity_ brought from the region of the south the sons of Ishmael, to deliver us through them from the hands of the Romans.’
“Barhebreus is the author of an equally powerful witness in the favour of Islam. Ricoldus de Mone Crucis, a Dominian monk from Florence who visited the Muslim East about 1300 AD, gave an equally eloquent witness of tolerance with the Christians. And yet, if the Muslims were so tolerant, the Christian persistently asks, why did their co-religionists flock to Islam by the millions? Of these co-religionists the Arabs were the smallest minority. The rest were Hellenes, Persians, Egyptians, Cyrenaicans, Berbers, Cypriots and Caucasians. Canon Taylor explained it beautifully at a Church Congress held at Wolverhampton. He said: ‘It is easy to understand why this reformed Judaism swept so swiftly over Asia and Africa. The African and Syrian doctors had substituted abstruse metaphysical dogmas for the religion of Christ: they tried to combat the licentiousness of the age by setting forth the celestial merit of celibacy and the angelic excellence of virginity_ seclusion from the world was the road of holiness, dirt was the characteristic of monkish sanctity_ the people were practically polytheists, worshipping a crowd of martyrs, saints and angels; the upper classes were effeminate and corrupt, the middle classes oppressed by taxation, the slaves without hope for the present or the future. Islam swept away this mass of corruption and superstition. It was a revolt against empty theological polemics; it was a masculine protest against the exaltation of celibacy as a crown of piety. It brought out the fundamental dogmas of religion_ the unity and greatness of God, that He is merciful and righteous, that He claims obedience to His will, resignation and faith. It proclaimed the responsibility of man, a future life, a day of judgement, and stern retribution to fall upon the wicked; and enforced the duties of prayer, almsgiving, fasting and benevolence. It thrust aside the artificial virtues, the religious frauds and follies, the perverted moral sentiments, and the verbal subtleties of theological disputants. It replaced monkishness by manliness. It gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind, and recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature.’”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Daring to Understand


Maryam Sakeenah

A Suicide bomber: A grotesque, bloodthirsty monster. And this haggard, greying old man with his vacant eyes and broken slipper, like the broken spirit within as the cameras stare into his face and the headlines are splashed across interfaces: Suicide Bomber. Caught in the Act. A thrilling, juicy piece of news. It will fly. And it will sell. Fast. Fast like the sleek and swanky black limousines that whoosh past you through the Main Boulevard making the dust fly off in all directions; the dust that finally settles on the dusty roadside beggar, adding another layer to shroud him into dusty oblivion; it settles slowly, holding out against the fast limousines, the fast traffic, the fast music and the fast food. Slowly, like death. Fast and slow, making the rhythm of the city_ the thoughtlessly fast, and the resiliently slow_ fighting life’s battle in the streets of my city.
The Monster returns. He’s unconventional, though. Not with the horns and the fangs and all. But with dark circles, the sunken, dimmed eyes, the creased-up face with his advancing years, the silver in his hair. Sun-beaten, sun-worn, threadbare_ my definition of the Monster. The definers have hammered the definition on me with authoritative finality. I succumb_ like everybody else. I ought to believe he is dangerous. I am supposed to condemn him, get frightened of him, loathe him, spit in his face, and righteously pronounce him horrendously sinful, perverted, hideous, damned, hell-bound, with all the wealth of jingoistic and religious rhetoric at my disposal. I cannot but obey. I join the chorus. Like everybody else.
And I kill me softly. I stifle the human essence, the still small voice that resists. The voice that questions. The militant voice_ always politically incorrect. It questions ‘why?’ It does not allow me the comfort of following the crowd and biding my time. It discomforts me with the instinct to seek out the answers for myself. It makes me wonder why I have to buy the definition and believe that the pathetic grey man was a vile monster. It makes me wonder why, after all, he was a monster, perhaps_ or so it seems?
I do not judge. I do not allow myself the terrible privilege. I just wonder, and want my right to ask questions. I want my right to feel, to understand. I want my right to be and stay human. And I simply wonder what went wrong...
In 2001, when the United States pounded Afghanistan with their firepower just across the border on a flimsy pretext, my people here in Pakistan were hurt too, because the national boundary running through the northern tribes does not cut across eon-old tribal affiliation. With the Pashtuns on the other side of the Durand Line under occupation, the Pashtuns on this side considered it a tribal obligation and religious duty to assist. That is the ethic running in the blood of the Pathans_ the ethic they grow up with, just as their fathers, grandfathers and greatgrandfathers had grown up with it. You cannot hope to extort it from the hearts of men. The freedom they prize is a treasure they would not give up for the world. This fierce defence of their freedom is something you simply cannot hope to extricate. Not with all your arsenal, your marines armed to the teeth.
The United States and its ‘non NATO ally’ failed to understand this simple truth. Afghanistan bled, and Pakistani tribesmen, those once-upon-a-time heroic sons of the soil suffered with it. Yet we did not fall to brutalizing each other. The myths, on the other hand_ Terrorism, Extremism, Fanaticism, Fundamentalism, Enlightened Moderation_ continued to proliferate, and the Great Fiction encroached upon sanities. Yet we did not fall to brutalizing each other.
Till, a couple of years down the line, the Former General imperiously ordered an operation in Waziristan. It came to pass. In the thick of the darkness, in the hush of the night. The country taken by surprise. In clandestine moves, the trigger-happy military men advanced and we waited with bated breath. The usual collateral damage. Men, women, children, masjids, madrassas, schools, earthen huts. With a fell sweep, on orders of a Dictator. We still did not fall to brutalizing each other.
Things took their logical course and the resistance began. A Pashtun resistance. Earlier, aggravated by their country’s alliance with the US and the establishment of American military bases in the north to assist the NATO-sponsored slaughter and occupation in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns had expressed resentment. Their government had refused to budge. Now, they were cannon fodder, officially. And for Somebody Else’s interests.
Faced with a guerrilla resistance in a rugged terrain by ruddy mountain dwellers imbued with the tribesman’s fighting spirit, the khakis were in a quagmire soon enough. To save face, and the little that was left, they sought reconciliation with the irate tribesmen. It materialized, with pledges on both sides_ the tribesmen agreeing to put down arms and let go the foreign militants (stationed in Pakistan ‘officially,’ and by Washington’s invitation, since the Soviet-Afghan war); and the Army agreeing to end the operation. We dared to hope.
Till the drone zeroed in on what we call Sovereignty. And on human lives_ madrassas, schools, wedding parties, followed by official apologies for ‘misguided missiles’ or ‘intelligence failure.’ Collateral Damage. Full Stop.
In 2006, before the TTP (Tehreek Taliban Pakistan) was ever heard of, right after a successful settlement between the government and the tribal leaders which promised a durable peace in the restive north, American UAV ‘drones’ battered a village searching ‘militants’, leading to several civilian deaths. And so the talks derailed, the guns were picked up again. With blessings from Washington. The TTP raised its head shortly afterwards_ a group much more militant and even violent in character than the original Afghan Taliban of yore who do not very proudly profess association with these Pakistani neo-Taliban. The TTP was a child begotten of the vicious cycle of violence and injustice.
The Pakistan govenment’s complicity in the intermittent and incessant drone attacks is poorly disguised by pathetic foreign office spokespeople. First there were the official apologies. Then, the flabbergasted attempts to explain the bloody ‘deal’. And soon enough there were none. Just the raining missiles and the human mincemeat. And handshakes and high-profile visits.
But the victims do not forget their dead. They are not taken in with prettily phrased official apologies which cannot bring their dead back. The hurt festers. It turns poison. It maddens. It dehumanizes. It turns men into suicide bombs. It makes life pointless, worthless. It makes the world a cruel, hateful place. It ignites the sense of honour and incites a burning revenge. And it makes my maddened countrymen, brutalized by unashamed tyrants, fall to brutalizing one another.
And it is as simple as that.
Blending into the chorus, soaking up the definitions, the headlines, the jingoism and the propaganda, the simple fact gets lost somewhere in the morass of our sensibilities. We righteously condemn, we judge, we toss our heads from side to side with disapproval and nod it up and down in assent. Just where and when we are wanted to. And we harden up to this simple fact, failing to understand. Failing to question. Dehumanizing ourselves.
Journalist Hamid Mir recounted his firsthand experience of visiting the injured in a primitive hospital in Waziristan after a US airstrike. A young boy, having lost his limbs, informed that his mother too had died in a similar attack, and that, in her dying moments, she had instructed him to avenge in Islamabad_ where the decisions to maim and kill are made_ what was done to her in Bajaur. Years later, his elder brother was caught in Islamabad attempting to blow himself up in a high-security area.
It is as simple as that. It is, plainly, human nature distorted brutally out of shape. It is, plainly, the work of our own hands. And it shall come to pass.
A ‘Winter Soldier’ working for the US Army in Iraq decided to quit the job, among several others like him. Addressing a meeting of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, he said: ‘Let me reverse the equation for a while. Let me ask you, that if a foreign force was to land in America on the excuse of democracy or freedom or whatever it may be, would not every patriotic American come out of his house with a shotgun? Would we not resist? What would you do?’ His voice trailed off in the midst of uproarious applause.
It is as simple as that. It is about being able to reverse the equation, and asking oneself ‘what would anyone do?’ It is about overturning the definitions and refusing to buy the propaganda. It is about refusing the official amnesia imposed on us all.
And it is not about Islam. It is not about an ‘Extremist Ideology’ out there to take you over by storm. It is not about monsters and demons. It is not about bloodthirsty suicide bombers with an inbuilt genetic drive to bomb the hell out of you. It is about human beings like you and me. It is about human beings horribly gone wrong. It is about the sinned-against who become sinning in this dreadful mire of poverty, disease, lawlessness, corruption. It is about naked, barbaric injustice and oppression. It is about human beings being made ‘as flies to the wanton boys.’
And it is as simple as that. As simple as Newton’s third law of motion. An equal and opposite reaction. To every action of ours.
So I refuse to sit in judgement. I refuse to self-righteously condemn. I refuse to sing along. And I demand my humanity, my right to think for myself, my right to question, my right to reclaim the Truth. ‘And if anyone of you would punish and lay the axe on the evil tree, let him see to its roots. What judgement would you pronounce on him who slays in the flesh and yet is slain in the spirit? And how persecute you him who is a deceiver and oppressor and yet in himself is aggrieved and outraged?’ (Kahlil Gibran).
I stand the risk of being misunderstood and misjudged. I do not condone the ongoing violent attacks in civilian areas all over Pakistan which victimize innocents. I cannot possibly justify them, nor can any human being in his right mind. But I think I can understand why. I can dare just that much.
And this understanding is important. Because it is through understanding that you reach the heart of the matter, and it is reaching the heart of the matter that you find the solution and begin the healing process. And the heart of the matter is the simple truth about human nature. The heart of the matter is to understand. The heart of the matter is looking to the roots. It is as simple as that.
To begin the healing, we need to set the record straight that this war never was ours, and that the critical transition from ‘theirs’ to ‘ours’ is the triumph of the mighty empire that seeks to export its wars to lands it can buy over with a few billion dollars. We need to face the wrongs we have done. We need to realize that there is no profit in the billions made out of the blood of innocents. We need to realize that violence begets violence. We need to realize that we willed this all, and that ending this vicious cycle of violence is our responsibility, because ‘a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent assent of the whole tree. So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong but with the secret will of you all.’ (Kahlil Gibran).
We need to realize that armies and weaponry can never win this war_ just like it never could in Vietnam, or in Iraq, or even in Afghanistan. And we need to realize that it is never too late or too impossible to sit down and talk things out with your own people, no matter how alienated they are. The troops must be withdrawn, the operation must end and we must get talking. These aren’t monsters, these were my countrymen, and it is never too late to get talking_ only my enemy would tell me otherwise.
There isn’t another way. The other option is to let this madness go on, making madmen of us all. The other option is the madness turning visible in all the horrors of spiraling violence_ bombs going off in the midst of my thriving cities, the gored flesh and the pools of blood, the gripping fear, the haunted, deserted roads. Just like the death and destruction reigning the dirt-streets of some unnamed village in Waziristan. It comes full circle.
Every bomb going off adds to the horrible, crippling Terror that sinks into my bones. The fear and hysteria is of far more import than the death and destruction. When I am frightened to hell, I am easily manipulated, and when I am easily manipulated, I am owned, controlled, made to do what Somebody requires of me. I lose my sovereignty, my identity, my everything. I become the etherized patient spread over the operating table. Somebody Else’s operating table.
And every bomb going off strengthens the case of the Somebody Else who tries to tell us their war is ours, and that we must do their dirty work and shut up with the billions of dollars of aid doled out. Every bomb going off will be quoted in Somebody’s speeches, telling us with triumphalism and authority how terribly important it is for us to stay the course, to keep on this self-destructive path. It will keep us terrorized so Somebody can promise us security with his Blackwaters and Dynacores. It will keep us impoverished so Somebody can win us with promises of aid. It will keep us enslaved so Somebody can convince us only they can truly liberate. And it will keep us repeating the ancient refrain: ‘Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and War is Peace.’
It is as simple as that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sovereignty and the Kerry Lugar Act

Maryam Sakeenah

The headlines reverberate and a debilitating sense of insecurity grips the nation amid a string of terror attacks and suicide hits that have now spilled over into the entire country. A fortnight ago, the military headquarters in Rawalpindi were attacked in a hostage-taking attempt, killing six military personnel including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel. While the swift rescue operation was made much of as an enormous ‘success’, the very incident aimed at the heavily fortified military headquarters raises serious concerns. As more similar stories hit the front pages, these concerns are raised the world over and the state’s ability to deal with the immense crisis facing it is called into question. The natural victim of the spiralling crisis is the already fragile economy, and the symptoms of a grave economic crisis are conspicuous. Mohsin Khalid, the Director of Ittehad Steel shares his observation about the prevailing mood: “Law and order problems and insecurity are the primary reason why you see such a level of despair in overall economic, political and social circumstances. I think people are taking their investment abroad. They do not see the security situation improving... It is also a crisis of governance on a scale we haven’t seen before. Consumer and investor confidence has never been lower.”
In this state of abject financial insolvency while faced with the Leviathan monster of militant insurgency, the government seems to be on its knees and, as per tradition, ‘looks West’ for rescue packages and aid dole-outs. Barbara Plett writes, “The government, in an emergency mode, asks the world for a multi billion dollar rescue package to help it pay for imports and restore confidence, trying to reassure Pakistanis.” In October last year, Pakistan managed to receive an ‘emergency bailout’ package from the International Monetary Fund which was seen as a humiliation by the public, coming after allies refused assistance required to prevent an economic crunch. The government indicated, therafter, that ‘it could seek more funding to stave off growing economic pressures.’ National spending and imports, however, have not been cut down, nor does such an expenditure reduction seem to be in the picture, adding to the diminution in public eyes, of an already unpopular national leadership as the masses grapple with the ordeals of rising inflation, food scarcity, energy crisis and rising unemployment.
The situation is appalling for the country’s Western allies for whom Pakistan’s role in the War against Terrorism is instrumental, with success in Afghanistan for the Allied Forces looking more elusive and nebulous by the day. In fact, there has been a gradual trend among Western leadership to pass the buck to Pakistan. Success for the US in Afghanistan, we are told, is closely bound to a stable, peaceful Pakistan, as Richard Holbrooke_ Obama’s front for ‘Change We Need’ in South Asia_ stated: “There is no way that the international effort in Afghanistan can succeed unless Pakistan can get its Western tribal areas under control.” This explains the heightened international interest in doling out aid packages to Pakistan. ‘Friends of Democratic Pakistan’ pledged an aid package of $ 5 billion in Tokyo in April this year. The Atlantic Council, earlier this year, published a bleak survey of the situation in Pakistan to make a strong case for the United States and its allies to ‘work to strengthen democracy, engage the region, condition security assistance and increase development assistance... as there are fewer challenges greater for the Obama administration than Pakistan. Pakistan’s importance to the United States is hard to overestimate.’
Contemporary journalism has avidly responded to TIME and Newsweek magazines’ ‘Terror Central’ and ‘Most Dangerous Place’ and joined in the chorus. ‘The Economist’ explains this overwhelming importance of Pakistan to American strategic interests, as well as the need for urgent attention by the world that prevailing conditions in Pakistan deserve: “Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous country and second biggest Muslim one, is violent and divided. The Taliban insurgency is spreading in its North West Frontier region fuelled partly by a similar Pashtun uprising against NATO and US troops in Afghanistan. In addition, a regenerated Al Qaeda network, resurgent Taliban and most certainly Osama bin Laden are all inside Pakistan’s borders, and 16 US intelligence agencies agree that Al Qaeda Central, planning from its safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), poses the most serious threat to the Homeland. The presence of extremists, the government’s instability and the past role of rogue elements in spreading nuclear technology make the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal a great concern for the United States.”
The mood is echoed in the February 2009 report of the Atlantic Council which called for the US government to urgently mobilize aid to Pakistan, with a clear implication that perhaps international loans and grants are the only way the tottering state can make it through_ a perception rejected by an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis on account of the ‘carrot-and-stick’ tactics the country has too often been subjected to in the past by its Western allies. The report states: “The country faces dire economic and security threats which threaten both the existence of Pakistan as a democratic and stable state, and the region as a whole. Given the tools and finances, Pakistan can turn back from the brink. But for that to happen, it needs help now. Such a reversal demands far greater and more urgent support and assistance from the international community in general and the United States in particular.” Significantly, the Report calls for ‘an early passage of the Kerry-Lugar legislation that authorizes $ 7.5 billion which Pakistan needs to cover critical budget shortfalls.’ Among other things, “expansion of Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan” , and ‘redirecting security assistance to Pakistan for both the army and paramilitary forces, in order to improve their capacity for counterinsurgency warfare and fighting militancy...’ have been stated as primary goals of American policy towards the vitally important state.
The Kerry-Lugar legislation brings up an engaging debate over the question of Pakistan’s sovereignty. In the political melee that ensued over the Bill, strong allegations regarding violation of national sovereignty the Bill amounted to, as well as fierce defence against the charge of the violation of sovereignty were articulated by both sides. The Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani triumphantly described it as a ‘big success of the democratic government’, and that he was ready to defend it in the parliament. A provincial minister belonging to the ruling People’s Party was quite vociferously defensive as he called it a ‘historic achievement reflecting the trust of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in the present government and upgraded the image of the country as a frontline state against terrorism.’
On the other side is the stream of criticism coming from the opposition parties and eminent political analysts, journalists and writers. Public opinion loudly rejects the Bill, and the government is under fire for having accepted the imperious conditionalities for an American grant worth $7.5 billion for five years. The Punjab governor Salman Taseer, passionately defending the notorious Bill, rejects all criticism against it as coming from ‘people who have not read the text of the Bill, or do not understand it.” Proponents of the Bill hail the economic package it promises, which is just what the country needs in order to emerge out of economic crises. The ‘Daily Times’ strikes parallels with the Hyde Act between India and the US which was similarly received in India, but resulted in highly beneficial nuclear co operation between the two countries.
Economic experts, however, think differently. Former Finance Minister Salman Shah stated, “US assistance under the KLB would not benefit Pakistan’s economy at all... Acceptance of the KLB without addressing the concerns of the people as well as the institutions of Pakistan would have negative repercussions for the economy.” Etrit Rizvi, former Commissioner of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan highlights alternatives: “There are a number of alternates to the US assistance being pledged with insulting conditionalities. Cost cutting, plugging leakages out of implementation machinery and promoting exports and investment could help the economy sustain without US support.”
It is pertinent to examine and ascertain how, if at all, the Bill threatens the sovereignty of Pakistan. The ‘Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009’, as it is officially named, acknowledges Pakistan to be the United States’ prime ‘non NATO ally’, adding that despite efforts in the War Against Terror, ‘much more remains to be accomplished’, as ‘Al Qaeda sanctuaries’ continue to operate in ‘FATA, Quetta and Muridke.’ In its objectives, the Act states the following
*obtaining ‘full co operation for nuclear non proliferation’,
* ‘encouraging people to speak against militancy’
* and ‘addressing the threat posed by any person or group that conducts violence in Pakistan or its neighbouring countries.’
In the education sector, the United States aims to
• assist ‘counter radicalization’ through education and training in ‘life skills for youth at risk.’
• The United States aims to assist Pakistan by promoting ‘modern education’ through the ‘development of nationwide modern curricula for public, private and religious schools.’
• A ‘better understanding of the United States’ shall be promoted among the youth through various scholarship, student exchange and other programs ‘administered by the United States State Department.’
The Act pledges massive and multi faceted security assistance for the ‘ongoing counterinsurgency’ to ‘prevent Pakistani territory from being used as a base for terrorist attacks in Pakistan or elsewhere,’ as well as to ‘help in the action against extremist and terrorist targets.’
Subsequent sections (203-205, 301-202) of the Act add certain conditions that need to be fulfilled in order for the aid to continue. These sections also include monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure the grants consisting of ‘American taxpayers money’ are utilized effectively in the interests of the United States. According to these provisions, the aid would continue on the condition that
• the ‘Government of Pakistan continue to co operate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons and materials, providing information or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks.’
The government ought to demonstrate commitment
• ‘in matters such as ceasing support within Pakistani military and intelligence to terrorist groups, especially any group that has conducted attacks against the United States and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan, or the territory or people of neighbouring countries’, and
• ‘preventing Al Qaeda, Jaish e Muhammad, Lashkar e Taiba from operating, carrying out cross border attacks into neighbouring countries, dismantling terrorist camps in FATA, Quetta and Muridke, taking action when provided with intelligence about high level targets.’
Strategy reports are to be submitted regularly, regarding fulfilment of these conditions, including a
• ‘description of steps taken to ensure assistance under this act is not awarded to individuals and entities affiliated with terrorist organizations.’
The Comprehensive Regional Strategy Reports will have an evaluation of efforts undertaken by the Government of Pakistan to:
‘a) disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda, Taliban and other extremist and terrorist groups in FATA and other regions,
b) eliminate safe havens for such forces,
c) close down terrorist camps of Lashkar e Taiba and Jaish e Muhammad,
d) cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups,
e) prevent attacks into neighbouring countries,
f) increase oversight over curriculum in madrassahs with direct links to Taliban or other extremist and terrorist groups.’
These reports should also consist of
• ‘a detailed description of Pakistan’s efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear-related material and expertise; an assessment of whether assistance provided to Pakistan has directly or indirectly aided the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear program, whether by diversion of United States’ assistance or reallocation of Pakistan’s financial resources that would otherwise be spent for programs and activities unrelated to its nuclear program.’
• ‘an assessment of the extent to which the Government of Pakistan exercises effective civilian control of the military, and a description of the extent to which civilian executive leaders and the parliament exercise oversight and approval of military budgets, chain of command, process of promotion of senior military leaders, civilian involvement in strategic guidance and planning, and military involvement in civil administration.’
In an independent referendum conducted by the Jamat i Islami_ an opposition party with considerable following, 98% of the participants rejected the Kerry-Lugar Act as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Questions and concerns regarding the issue abound in the media. Eminent journalist Shaheen Sehbai dismisses the Act in a scathing satirical conclusion: “The language is different, but in essence the US’s demands are the same_ give us Abdul Qadeer Khan, do not finger India, forget about Kashmir, close Lashkar e Taiba and Jaish e Muhammad, and co operate in the War on Terror on our terms.” Sehbai’s perception is shared by the overwhelming majority of his countrymen who consider the Act to be an infringement upon national sovereignty.
Interestingly, over the highly sensitive issue of the drone attacks by American UAV planes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, President Zardari had declared to the international community with rare boldness, “We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism.” The statement made front-page news all over the rather ‘taken-aback’ international media, with MSNBC stating, ‘In Pakistan, Sovereignty Outweighs Terror Fight.’ With the government’s warm welcome of a highly unpopular American legislation, all speculation regarding the supremacy of national sovereignty has been overturned, heightening the levels of unpopularity of the sitting government.
The controversial Act has caused angry debate in provincial assemblies as well as the national parliament, with the Opposition staging boycotts to protest the acceptance of the Act. The Nation reports on October 14, ‘National Assembly Discussion on Kerry Lugar Bill Sabotaged by Abusive Exchange among Treasury and Opposition Members.’
In a tottering democracy, while public opinion and opposition parties’ stance can be sidelined, things get serious when the military leadership refuses sanction. The Daily Times reports in its editorial of October 8, 2009 that the Pakistan army was ‘greatly angered by the degrading language in the Bill about Pakistan’s military and security agencies’, and that this concern was communicated to the government.
The national outrage over what is seen to be the government’s ‘sheepish’ acceptance of the terms is understandable considering the history of Pak-U.S relations which demonstrate wooing by the U.S in critical times, of successive Pakistan governments, followed by America’s convenient abandonment of its South Asian partner with the change of context. The conditionality of combating terrorism, writes Nasim Zehra, ‘goes into intrusive details of what Pakistan should be doing,’ and this raises eyebrows, understandably. Clauses referring to enhanced co operation with India have been viewed suspiciously regarding India’s hawkish rhetoric and unwillingness to resume dialogue. Zehra continues, “The Bill pampers the India position on terrorism, and hence encourages India to continue with its rejection of bilateral attempts at dialogue.”
In the eye of the storm, the government attempted to salvage its waning popularity by producing a Joint Statement by Foreign Minister Quraishi and Senator John Kerry which, at best, tries to assuage the irate national sentiment. The government has made much of the ‘changes’ it claims to have had the Americans concede to, which ‘dilute’ controversial conditions that were seen to be going against Pakistan’s interest. However, these ‘changes’ have been dismissed as ‘cosmetic’ and practically ‘ineffectual’ by independent critics. The October 14 meeting between the two diplomats concluded with a joint press briefing which announced that an ‘explanatory note’ was to be attached with the Bill, which ‘dilutes the requirement that needs Pakistan to interrogate any Pakistani national involved in nuclear proliferation and to allow U.S officials access to such a person.’ Another clause in the Bill relating to the Secretary of State’s report about the extent to which civilian institutions exercised control over the military was similarly ‘made ineffective’ by the explanatory note. The remaining requirements, the note adds, shall be ‘waived if the determination is made by the Secretary of State in the interest of US national security that this was necessary to continue military assistance to Pakistan.’ While it is noteworthy that none of the controversial clauses was altogether scrapped, but that they were ‘explained away’ through the added note, the Joint Statement termed it a significant ‘achievement.’ The note states in an effort to allay widespread fears, ‘there is no intent to, and nothing in this act in any way suggests that there should be any US role in micromanaging internal Pakistan affairs, including the promotion of Pakistani military officials or the internal operations of the Pakistani military.’ Foreign Minister Quraishi concluded on a triumphant note, ‘This document today is I think a historic document, a step forward in our relationship’, while senator Kerry added decisively, ‘There is nothing in this bill that impinges on Pakistani sovereignty_ period.’
There was none of the fanfare in responses back home. Analyst Nasim Zehra terms Pakistan’s rather muted objection to some of the clauses to be ‘a late awakening’ considering that the contents of the Bill had been in circulation for over a year, with the Pakistan government never having voiced any serious concern through all that time. Referring to the explanatory note added later on, Zehra terms the changes inconsequential as, after all, the US President can ‘waive conditions’, but only ‘in US interests.’”
Whatever optimism there might have been, is belied and dashed to the ground with the tightening of conditionalities by the United States of late. The Nation reports, “US to set new curbs on Pakistan military aid”, elaborating that “the US Congress is all set to approve tougher new restrictions on military aid to Pakistan... The fresh limits include efforts to track where US military hardware sent to Pakistan ends up, as well as a warning that US aid to Pakistan must not upset the balance of power in the region_ a reference to India.”
Shortly after the Joint Statement discussed above, the United States made it clear that conditions, indeed, were very much attached to the aid package. Seeking to allay India’s concerns on the $7.5 billion dollars assistance to Pakistan, the United States said the law has ‘conditions attached.’ US Under Secretary of State William Burns stated, “In the case for development in Pakistan, we are very much focussed in ensuring that the money is used for the purpose it is intended and there are measures built in to ensure that takes place.” Ironically, adds The Nation, these remarks made in New Delhi came the same day when the Pakistani Foreign Minister, addressing the Parliament, maintained there were ‘no conditions attached to the Kerry-Lugar Bill’, and that ‘the Bill fully respected the sovereignty of the country.’”
...Which brings us back to the question of sovereignty. What really is sovereignty? It can be explained as the supreme independent authority over a territory which includes the elements of territorial integrity and inviolability, exclusivity of jurisdiction and supremacy of the State. Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia defines sovereignty as ‘the power to rule and make law based on a political fact.’ The concept in its modern form as ‘non-interference in the internal matters of a sovereign state’ originated with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. However, it has been interpreted in different ways by various political schools of thought. It is important, however, to distinguish between ‘de facto’ and ‘de jure’ sovereignty. While in its ‘de jure’ aspect it implies the legal right to exercise power, ‘de facto’ sovereignty is its actual exercise. Both need to be present in order for a state to be truly sovereign.
While ‘internal’ sovereignty refers to the state’s power and authority to decide and execute affairs within the state, ‘external sovereignty’ means the independence to conduct its international dealings and make decisions independently, irrespective of external pressure from other states_ allied or hostile.
A number of liberal philosophers have emphasized the popular element in sovereignty_ that is, sovereignty resides in the people. Rousseau was an ardent supporter of this, as well as John Locke whose concept of ‘social contract’ implied submission to a sovereign authority in exchange for that authority being compelled to work for a common good. However, both Locke and Rousseau believed sovereignty resides in people collectively (that is, the majority’s will is sovereign), while Republicans and Libertarians differ, believing sovereignty resides in people as individuals (regardless of numerical majority or minority). Islam accords sovereignty to Divine law which has absolute supremacy in legislation, while popular will is instrumental in decision-making in matters left to the representatives of the state and its people. In other words, there are two levels of sovereignty: absolute sovereignty belongs to God, and temporal sovereignty to the subjects of the state, while the rulers_ bound by law and accountability to God and the people_ act as intermediaries. Imperialists, on the other hand, have always considered the most powerful agent to be invested with absolute sovereignty_ that is, states that hold the ability to impose their will by force or threat over the populace or over another state with a weaker political and military will. This has been the basis and the legitimization for colonialism and imperialist conquest_ and, in the modern world, neo-imperialist domination and control.
The evolution of sovereignty in Pakistan has not been a smooth curve. The country’s external sovereignty has too often been put at stake by governments keen to foment alliances with powerful states for acquiring security, international approval and finally, legitimacy for their unpopular rule. Sovereignty, therefore, has always been in crisis whenever dictators at home have tried to cosy up with the United States, leading to unnecessary interference and intervention with promises of ‘aid.’
This ongoing crisis of sovereignty became critically intense when Pakistan, following the September 11 attacks, allowed the United States to conduct military operations in Afghanistan from Pakistani territory and dramatically increased the influence of the United States over national policy making, against the popular will. According to Ajay Behera writing for The Hindu, “Such developments have led to a dilemma regarding a clash between Pakistan’s national security policies and its very sovereignty. This development, however, is entirely self-generated,” as a result of critical foreign policy choices made by the Musharraf regime after 9/11.
Musharraf, flaunting his ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’ credentials, wanted a pretext to break free from the country’s ties with the Taliban regime, and , at home, with Islamic groups hitherto supported and sustained by the military and intelligence. 9/11 provided Musharraf with the pretext to achieve this by force and with support from the country’s Western allies and its secular-liberal elite. However, while this was to be done in order to restore sovereignty ‘for the supreme national interest’, in actuality it undermined the internal sovereignty of the state. Pakistan’s engagement in the US-led War on Terror and its operation in Waziristan leading to civilian damage was widely opposed and decried for being done under ‘diktat’ from the United States.
The War on Terror came home, but was seen as America’s war imported to the country by a sell-out pro-Western regime. Regular drone attacks by American spy planes resulting in huge collateral damage reinforced the image of the US as “an ally with a predatory footprint on sovereignty... The US-operated drone has become a powerful symbol of US violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity.” A backlash from the fiercely independent tribal areas began, engulfing the entire country, with suicide attacks and targetted hits on security and law enforcement agencies. In the midst of it all, a clumsy, failing government seemed utterly helpless to stem the tide, at best ‘looking Westwards’ for assistance in doing the West’s ‘dirty job’. Pakistan was at war with itself, its very sovereignty and national integrity at stake. It must be added, however, as Ajay Behera wrote in 2002, that the situation is inherently paradoxical, as ‘Pakistan has been forced into this situation by the Americans, yet it depends on their support to overcome it... While Pakistan tries to restore its internal sovereignty from the militants, it is gradually losing its external sovereignty to the United States... And, as the state is perceived to be losing its external sovereignty to the US, anti-US and anti-ruling class feelings are bound to grow. Pakistan’s self-generated dilemma will persist.’
The United States needs a rethink on policy vis a vis Pakistan, disassociating it from its strategy in the occupied state of Afghanistan. If the United States truly wants a stable Pakistan, as it has claimed too often, it needs to look for options that respect the sovereignty of the country and take into account public unease against alliance with ‘a partner that makes a target out of another partner.’ Carrot and stick tactics do not work, and the massive public disapproval of US aid through the Kerry-Lugar bill should send that message to Washington. Washington’s policies have invariably centred around sitting regimes, the military and the intelligence, which is one reason that explains public disquiet over alliance with the United States. With all the frills and flounces of a ‘change’ in policy towards Pakistan, none seems to be on the horizons any time soon: “For now, the broad dynamic of seeking a partnership on strategic goals with reference to terrorism remains the same as under Bush. It remains driven by military tactics and the diplomatic management of negative outcomes... the Pentagon still remains the font of policy planning as well as execution.” The war in Pakistan, however, is not winnable by military might_ just as it never was winnable in Vietnam, or Iraq, or in Afghanistan.
There are lessons, on the other hand, for policy makers in Pakistan. To rescue diminishing sovereignty, the ‘democratic’ representatives of the people must realize that true sovereignty, (in its temporal aspect), in any democratic state, resides in the people, and that public sentiment must be taken seriously. The spontaneous outpouring of public anger over the government’s role in the War on Terror expressed during the visit of Interior Minister Rehman Malik to the International Islamic University after a terrorist attack should be a wake-up call. Pakistani leaders need to see how the Kerry-Lugar Bill is in fact a litmus-test for the state’s representatives to salvage its threatened sovereignty. They need to rise to the occasion and reject the unpopular Bill with a single voice to “prove their worth as people who are capable of promoting and protecting the interests and dignity of the citizens of the country. Otherwise, whether democracy or dictatorship, Pakistan’s parliament is merely a rubber-stamp which follows the will of a handful of individuals who exercise their authority overlooking constitutionally defined institutional mechanisms.”
To surmount the challenge to sovereignty, we need to redefine it and see for ourselves where it truly lies. Does it, as Washington’s neo-imperialists would have it, lie with the most powerful in might and main in the global arena, legitimizing military adventurousness and aggrandizement? Or does it, as our own ideological guides would tell us, lie in honouring and living by the ideological premise that defines us, and in empowering the people to whom the nation belongs? It is in reaching our answers through the signposts all along history’s boulevard that hope for winning back true sovereignty lies. We have arrived at the crossroads, where the ‘two roads diverge in the wood’, and the fatal choice confronts us. It is to be Now or Never.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rhetoric in the 'War on Terror'


Maryam Sakeenah


“The difference between today's pseudoscholarship and expert jargon about terrorism and the literature about Third World national liberation guerrillas two decades ago is interesting. Most of the earlier material was subject to the slower and therefore more careful procedures of print; to produce a piece of scholarship you had to go through the motions of exploring history, citing books, using footnotes--actually attempting to prove a point by developing an argument. Today's discourse on terrorism is an altogether streamlined thing. Its scholarship is yesterday's newspaper or today's CNN bulletin. Its gurus are journalists with obscure, even ambiguous, backgrounds. Most writing about terrorism is brief, pithy, totally devoid of the scholarly armature of evidence, proof, argument. Its paradigm is the television interview, the spot news announcement, the instant gratification one associates with the Reagan White House's "reality time," the evening news.”
(Edward Said, ‘The Essential Terrorist’, The Nation, 1986).
“The West is deluged daily by newsmakers and the conveyors and interpreters of their words and actions. Since 11th September, the average reader of newspapers, magazines and the Internet; listener to government officials, media experts and academics; and watcher of television could judge that the West is winning the war that intensified on that day. An imagined but plausible synopsis of this news could be gisted in the following breathless, headline-like manner:
“Victory in Afghanistan, Taliban destroyed. Bin Laden and al Zawahiri cowering in Afghan caves. Al Qaeda remnants soon to be captured. Democratic regime in Kabul. Enthusiasm for Islamism and jihad waning. Israeli Prime Minister is a Man of Peace. War on Terror is not a War on Islam. Terrorists hate the US for its freedom, not policies. Islamists hate America for what it is, not what it does. Victory in Iraq. Iraq nears secular government, democracy, sovereignty.”
(Anonymous, ‘Imperial Hubris’, 2004).
‘Rhetoric’, understood as the art of using language persuasively to the achievement of specific ends, is a politically needful tool, especially in the context of contemporary politics. The strategic use of language can effectively influence thinking and formulate attitudes, and hence is an important element in moulding public opinion on mattes of significance. Kenneth Burke stated: “The most characteristic concern of rhetoric is the manipulation of men’s beliefs for political ends… the basic function of rhetoric is the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”
This paper attempts to examine how rhetoric has been used as a linguistic ploy and weapon in the War on Terrorism by the United States and its allies in order to garner public approbation for the means and methods employed. It analyzes the nature and usage of rhetoric both by the government and the media.

Language is a powerful tool. It does not merely give neutral expression to thought, but has a potency to create its own subjective reality and shape the way the recipient of the language perceives reality. Hence its effective usage is a political necessity, an indispensable tool for demagogues, politicians, leaders, warlords as they seek to tinker with public opinion and keep it as a comfortable reservoir of support for their moves_ be they based on ideology or expediency. Rhetoric does the trick.
It did the trick post Nine Eleven effectively_ simply due to the magic of the word ‘Terrorism’ which has strong emotive tones within it and draws instant condemnation and judgement. It is enough to condemn an act as ‘terrorism’ for it to generate a consensus on its inexcusable criminality and be established as illegitimate, barbaric, insane, unpardonable. Nine Eleven was not only extraordinarily theatrical terrorism but also the onset of an unconventional ‘war’ against the same, fought with a sense of moral righteousness and jingoistic fervour. The fatal day marked a paradigm shift in international politics on the one hand and domestic policy in the US on the other. To make the change be lumped by the public, it was important to kick up war hype, keep fear and insecurity on an all-time high and present the situation as a classic case of Good Versus Evil. To achieve this, rhetoric had to do the trick. And it did. Kim Walker writes in “The Rhetoric of Terrorism and Life after 9/11”, “Since 9/11, political and cultural climate has become increasingly febrile as governments and their agencies ramp up their rhetoric on terrorism with devastating social and inter-subjective consequences. Terrorism hence becomes a strategic device deployed by a range of actors and entities to manipulate and undermine the ‘Western Way of Life.’ The rhetoric of terrorism is designed to propagate the politics of fear and anxiety. Our task is not to be cowed down by terrorism’s relentless assault on our intellects and sensibilities.” Edward Said writes much the same thing in ‘The Essential Terrorist’: “as a word and concept, Terrorism has acquired an extraordinary status in public discourse. It has spawned the uses of language, rhetoric and argument that are frightening for their capacity in mobilizing public opinion, gaining legitimacy and provoking murderous action. The elevation of Terrorism to a national security threat has deflected careful scrutiny of the government’s actions and policy.”

For one, the rhetoric used by the US government and media in the wake of the 9/11 attacks made it clear that America was defining for itself a new kind of morality based on the deep divisions of ‘us and them’, somewhat like ‘We the Good and True have been attacked by Them the Bad, Ugly and Evil.” Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent in March 2002, opines that American morality has been distorted after 9/11.
President Bush stated in his 9/11 speech in Washington that “our way of life and our very freedom” has come under attack. “Today, our nation saw evil_ the worst of human nature_ and we responded with the best of America. We stand together to win the War against Terrorism. We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
On September 20, 2001, the President made another address ringing with bravado: “We have been called to defend freedom. On September the eleventh, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country… freedom itself was under attack.” He spoke of the perpetrators as “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the twentieth century” and reiterated that Terrorism was a “threat to our way of life… we are in a fight for our principles… this is a fight of all those who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.” When he announced the U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan, President Bush said, "We're a peaceful nation. This is the calling of the United States of America, the most free nation in the world, a nation built on fundamental values, that rejects hate, rejects violence, rejects murderers, rejects evil. And we will not tire."
The language employed by the White House emphasized the good old United States of America believing in democracy, freedom and peace pitted against an evil ideology determined to destroy all that. It presented America’s strategic designs to fight the ‘war on terror’ as a noble mission embarked upon to save goodness and truth from vile, barbaric enemies. What is interesting to note is the constant recurrence of the refrain ‘evil’ as opposed to ‘good’ in the rhetoric emanating from the White House. The media picked up the rhetoric readily. A classic example is quoted by Arundhati Roy in ‘The Algebra of Infinite Justice, September 2001, when an American newscaster said, “Good and evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did (on 9/11). People who we don’t know massacred people who we do. And they did so with contemptuous glee.” The purpose, of course, in presenting the War on Terror as a moralistic struggle of good versus evil to rescue the Western Way of Life was to seek approval from the public of the not-so-good and not-so-moral means used in the War on Terror. Winning the ‘war’ was a sacred goal, hence any means used would be legitimate. According to Edward Said, this is almost criminal as it ‘allows the U.S to do what it wishes anywhere in the world.’ The Rhetoric of Terrorism is fabricated in order to keep the public in a constant state of fear and insecurity, so as to justify the government’s international adventures. “Any threat to its interests, whether oil in the Middle East or its geostrategic interests elsewhere is labelled as ‘terrorism’… terrorism is magnified and blown up to insensate proportions… this focus obscures the enormous damage done by the U.S militarily, environmentally, economically on a world scale which far dwarfs anything terrorism might do.” (Edward Said, ‘They Call All Resistance Terrorism,’ International Socialist Review, September 2001).
With ‘all that jazz’ about values, democracy and freedom, it is, after all, the rhetorical machinery churning out buzzwords for sale. Noam Chomsky demonstrates how phrases like "free speech," the "free market," and the "free world" have little to do with freedom. “Among the myriad freedoms claimed by the U.S. government are the freedom to murder, annihilate, and dominate other people. The freedom to finance and sponsor despots and dictators across the world. The freedom to train, arm, and shelter terrorists. The freedom to topple democratically elected governments. The freedom to amass and use weapons of mass destruction-chemical, biological, and nuclear. The freedom to go to war against any country whose government it disagrees with. And, most terrible of all, the freedom to commit these crimes against humanity in the name of "justice," in the name of "righteousness," in the name of "freedom." Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that the freedom of the Americans is "not the grant of any government or document, but. . .our endowment from God.” Arundhati Roy comments: “Basically, we're confronted with a country armed with a mandate from heaven. Perhaps this explains why the U.S. government refuses to judge itself by the same moral standards by which it judges others. Its technique is to position itself as the well-intentioned giant whose good deeds are confounded in strange countries by their scheming natives, whose markets it's trying to free, whose societies it's trying to modernize, whose women it's trying to liberate, whose souls it's trying to save. Perhaps this belief in its own divinity also explains why the U.S. government has conferred upon itself the right and freedom to murder and exterminate people "for their own good."
Bush concluded his 20th September 2001 speech hence: “I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of it is not known yet the outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know God is not neutral between them. We are assured of the rightness of our cause and confident in the victories to come. May God watch over the United States of America.” Interestingly, the operation in Afghanistan was named ‘Infinite Justice’, which Muslims objected, was only a Divine attribute. The name was then replaced by another fantastical one, explosively overblown with self-righteousness and cocksure certainty of success: ‘Enduring Freedom.’ Some rhetorical mastery!

Closely allied to this dimension is the use of the rhetoric of a moral crusade on the lines of traditional Christian rhetoric of a type that may have come from Pope Urban the Second in A.D 1099. Mainstream newspapers started developing a mindset for religious war. Abidullah Jan writing in ‘The Genesis of the Final Crusade’ lists some such article headlines: “This is a Religious War: September 11 was Only the Beginning”, “Yes, this is About Islam”, “The Core of Islamic Rage”, “Jihad, 101”, “Islamic Terror”, “Holy Warriors Escalate the Old War on a New Front”, etc. On September 16, 2001, the BBC reported Bush had declared a ‘crusade’ when the president remarked, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a long time.” With the ripples of outrage it created in the Muslim world, the apology duly came. However, five months later, the President repeated the word while addressing US troops in which he termed the war as ‘an incredibly important crusade to defend freedom.’ George W Bush, who describes himself as a ‘born again Christian’, has been quoted by Bob Woodward in his book ‘Plan of Attack’ describing himself as a ‘messenger of God’ ‘doing the Lord’s will.’ Jan states, “Regurgitating the threat to the sanctity of ‘our way of life’ and ‘our values’ is part of the plan to make people feel threatened.” It is important, of course, to use rhetoric to heighten insecurity, so that the rationale to keep the War on Terror going stays pumped up.

Rhetoric has effectively generated fear in the American public mind. The Department of Homeland Security is at pains to prove that ‘the threat to U.S interests from someone, somewhere in the world, has increased.’ The Anonymous writer of ‘Imperial Hubris’ comments, “We hear experts warning audiences watching CNN that the next al Qaeda attack on our country will involve WMD. The warnings are then complemented by more otherworldly advice to buy duct tape and plastic sheets to wrap their homes and make them airtight, WMD proof fortresses. When faced with vague threats, Washington does what it always does: it scares the hell out of people.”

The use of rhetoric has helped the ‘ideologization’ of the War on Terror. This has eclipsed the true ground realities and the actual root causes of the conflict, turning attention away from them. Particularly regrettable is the inability to understand terrorism as a desperate reaction by the socially outcast, economically deprived and politically oppressed. Terrorism, in fact, is a tactic used by disaffected individuals and communities, not an ideology. Instead, terrorism is seen as an opposing, challenging, hostile and ‘barbaric’ ‘evil ideology’ opposed to all that the West stands for and believes in. This is extremely misguided and helps divide the world into opposing ideological camps, lending strength to the dangerous ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis. George W. Bush expressed the grandiosity of this ‘clash of ideologies’ in a statement: “We’ve entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite.” Journalist Margie Burns comments on this: “This statement should sound alarm bells for the nation and the world. What does Bush mean by an “ideological conflict”? All previous grandiose Bush pronouncements on global conflict have focused on terrorism and the “war on terror.” Bush is trying to present terrorism as an “ideology,” in an us-or-them global conflict, with Terrorism replacing Communism. Every thinking person knows that terrorism is not an “ideology.” Terrorist acts are a tactic. We know by now exactly who uses them, too: individuals and small groups use guerrilla tactics when other tactics are not available to them, against a much stronger governmental power or foreign power.” The New York Times reported on July 25, 2005, “The Bush administration is… pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission.”

The ring of patriotic jingoism defines America’s rhetoric. It hedges in moral judgement within its own delineations, defining values as ‘American’ or ‘un American.’ Arundhati Roy writes in her book ‘War Talk’ that the term ‘anti American’ is used in order to discredit and inaccurately define its critics. “Once someone is branded ‘anti American’ (like anti Semitic), the chances are they will be judged before they will be heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of hurt national pride. To call someone anti-American, indeed, to be anti-American, is not just racist, it's a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those that the establishment has set out for you: If you're not a Bushie, you're a Taliban. If you don't love us, you hate us. If you're not Good, you're Evil. If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists.” This is the ‘imperial hubris’ the Anonymous writer mentions in his book by the same name_ the arrogance and self-centredness in interpreting events and people outside the United States. After the July 7 2005 bombings in London, G8 leaders denounced it as an attack on ‘our way of life’, and declared that they would never let the ‘Islamists change our values.’ The connection that the rhetoric of “Islamist terrorism” makes with Muslims and Arabs has led to dangerous racial profiling and has damaged the image of Islam and Muslims in the Western public mind. Discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in the West is on record high levels.

In his 9/11 address, Bush said: “The US was targeted for the attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.” In his historic speech of 20th September 2001, President Bush explained why the United States is hated: “They hate our freedoms_ our freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other… the terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life… Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of freedom depends on us.” This rhetoric of ‘they hate us for our freedom’ became a trumpeted theme in the mainstream media, insulating the American public from any recognition or realization of the elements of self-interest, opportunism and exploitation in American foreign policy that affect so many lives_ many of them Muslim. Arundhati Roy states: “People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume that The Enemy's motives are what the US government says they are, and there's nothing to support that either.” In fact, motives are quite the opposite. The U.S is not hated for what it is, but for what it has done. The smokescreen of rhetoric, however, keeps a dispassionate analysis of the real grievances of America’s ‘enemies’ at bay. Roy said in a speech commending Noam Chomsky: “If people in the United States want a real answer to the question of ‘why do they hate us?’(as opposed to the ones in the Idiot's Guide to Anti-Americanism, that is: "Because they're jealous of us," "Because they hate freedom," "Because they're losers," "Because we're good and they're evil"), I'd say, read Chomsky on U.S. military interventions in Indochina, Latin America, Iraq, Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. If ordinary people in the United States read Chomsky, perhaps their questions would be framed a little differently. Perhaps it would be: "Why don't they hate us more than they do?" or "Isn't it surprising that September 11 didn't happen earlier?"
The Anonymous writer of ‘Imperial Hubris’ calls the robotic repetition of ‘they hate our freedom’ “errant and potentially fatal nonsense.” He states: “There is no record of a Muslim urging to wage jihad to destroy democracy or credit unions, or universities. What the US does in formulating and implementing policies affecting the Muslim world is infinitely more inflammatory.” The US must recognize this to be able to redress the grievances of the Muslim world that are not without basis. However, such rhetoric deflects attention to the real causes and prolongs America’s Beauty Sleep. Eyes Wide Shut. In the backdrop, the corpses keep piling up.

Empathy is absolutely necessary to be able to understand the terrorism phenomenon and begin a curative strategy. It is a natural humanizing element we all are gifted with, enabling us to understand one another as simply sharers in a common essential humanity. Rhetoric checks empathy by presenting the enemy as subhuman, evil, beastly. It ensures that the ‘human connection’ is not established, dehumanizing the enemy. Rhetoric tends to talk about the other side as the abstract ‘enemy’ or as a subhuman, demonic ‘Axis of Evil.’ Rhetoric has worked hard to deflect sympathy from victims of the West’s brutal wars and misadventures since decades. It has divided the world into ‘The West and the Rest’, and presented the West to be on a divinely assigned mission of liberation against subhuman lower-order creatures who must be taught some civilization. In 1937 Winston Churchill said of the Palestinians: “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, "Palestinians do not exist." Prime Minister Menachem Begin called Palestinians "two-legged beasts." Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called them "'grasshoppers' who could be crushed."
Kyle Fedler says, “When we demonize our enemies we see ourselves as totally righteous and the abstract enemy as totally evil.” (On the Rhetoric of a War on Terror, September 2001). This is what makes the methods and means of the war on terror brutal, without moral restraints, conducted in the self-assuredness of a high moral ground. Again, it is rhetoric that comes to the rescue when human rights are blatantly violated. This is what the euphemism ‘collateral damage’ was invented for_ for the 150, 000 + dead of Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of America’s high-tech killing machines destroying so much of life other than specific targets is solved through the use of imaginative language.

The US adopted the pre-emptive strategy, as made clear in several speeches and statements by the US President, the adoption of the maniacal ‘National Missile Defence’ system or the ‘Patriot Act’ and a host of other legislation legitimizing all ways the regime deemed fit to be used in its righteous crusade against terrorism. In his speech on September 20, 2001, President Bush made it clear that the world had no choice but to ‘be with us or with the terrorists.’ The rhetoric here is in absolute terms, reeking of inflexible imperial hubris. The President, by calling the war ‘a task that does not end’, hinted at the perpetuation of America’s ‘War on Terror’ for achieving its strategic aims. Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld reinforces the argument: "I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that's going to be over in a month or a year or even five years. It is something that we need to do so that we can continue to live in a world with powerful weapons and with people who are willing to use those powerful weapons. And we can do that as a country. And that would be a victory, in my view."
The government took an aggressive posture, yet all the while, the ignorance at the base of the rhetoric and war planning remained there. Perhaps this is why the counter terrorism strategy devised by the gurus at Washington fell flat. Assessing the precise nature of a terrorist threat requires understanding the motivations and grievances of the terrorist, their mode of operation and their capabilities. The American public, and even the government were pitifully ignorant of all of these on many counts. Those at the helm too were unable to answer some fundamental, crucial questions. They knew little about the socio-political dynamics, the cultural imperatives, the history and background of the peoples and the lands they set out to conquer. Philip Heymann comments: “Faced with uncertainties, the Bush administration defined the dangers we faced as ‘war’, demanding and justifying a radical shifting of our domestic and international priorities.” Rhetoric in this case acts as a masque for the underlying ignorance, and perpetuates the state of ignorance by feeding lies to the public, seductively wrapped up.
The rhetoric of President Bush in the wake of 9/11 and after had the thunderous roar of military drums. Clearly, the imperious demands were non-negotiable, and the terms were tough: “Hand over the terrorists or share in their fate.” And, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbour them.” The President attempted a globalization of his grand campaign: “What is at stake is not just America’s freedom. This is a world’s fight. (And, lo and behold…) This is a civilization’s fight.” He also made it amply clear that the war will be long and terrible: “We will direct every resource at our command, every necessary weapon of war, to the disruption and defeat of the global terror network. Now this war will not have a decisive liberation of territory or a swift conclusion. Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”

This, clearly, is the rhetoric of war. It comes in handy and serves a number of purposes. Hence the term “War on Terror.” Warfare is often used as a pretext for the suspension of human rights. Just like the term ‘enemy combatant’ was invented to circumvent the Geneva Conventions that apply to ‘prisoners of war’, the term ‘war on terror’ circumvents the necessity to abide by canons of law. According to linguist George Lakoff, terrorists are a relatively smaller number of individuals as opposed to the sizes of countries involved. War on the other hand is about nation-states and armies. Clearly, the phrase ‘War on Terror’ is built on a disproportion. As a result of this kind of rhetoric, Bush becomes a ‘war president’ with ‘war powers’, which imply that “ordinary protections do not have to be observed. A war president has extraordinary powers.” Lakoff further states, “Terror is a general state internal to a person. The word activates fear, which activates the desire for security no matter by what means, which is what the neocons want. The War on Terror is not about stopping you from being afraid, but about making you afraid. And the War on Terror never ends. There can be no peace treaty with terror. It is a prescription for keeping neocons in power indefinitely. In three words, War On Terror, they have enacted vast political changes.” Calling this ‘war’ also gives legitimacy to retaliatory acts of terror, as in the context of war, they merely become permissible offensive strikes.

The word ‘war’ reeks of militarism. Calling the US response strategy a ‘war on terror’ meant the use of decisive military force against a dissipated, hard to identify and unconventional enemy. According to Philip Heymann, “The danger is that for several reasons, the use of the term ‘war’ leads us in the wrong direction. The very term suggests a primacy for military force; that is what war has been always about. We are captives of the dictum, ‘to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’” Resultantly, the military has put in all its pride and strength into an asymmetrical, ill-advised struggle against a threat which needs to be tackled more insightfully and wisely, not merely by muscle-power.
The phrase "War on Terror" has been referred to as a false metaphor. Jason Burke opines: “There are multiple ways of defining terrorism, and all are subjective. Terrorism is after all, a tactic. The term 'war on terrorism' is thus effectively nonsensical." A "war" against terrorism is plainly wrong since terrorist attacks are considered criminal acts like murder and therefore should be investigated by the police with the perpetrators brought to justice and given a fair trial in a court of law. The British Director of Public Protection, with reference to the July 7 attacks in London, refused to buy the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric. “London is not a battlefield and we are not soldiers. There is no War on Terror in the streets of London. The fight against terrorism here is not a war. It is simply the prevention of crime and the enforcement of our laws.” (Ken Mc Donalds, reported by The Times, January 24, 2007.)
Ann Coulter puts in some black humour with regard to the use of the term ‘war’ in “Drop Bombs, Take Names Later”: “There is no time to be precise about locating the exact individuals involved in a particular terrorist attack. Those involved include anyone, anywhere. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler. We carpet-bombed German cities and killed civilians. That was war. And this is war.”

The line between ‘terrorism’ and ‘counter terrorism’ (or ‘the war on terrorism’) becomes indistinguishable here. Kyle Fedler writes: “Invoking the language of war permits the direct and intentional killing of innocent people. So how is this any different from terrorism? If terrorism is the direct and intentional killing of innocent people with the purpose for achieving a greater goal they are not directly linked with, is this not just terrorism?” The underlying logic of terrorist attacks, as well as "retaliatory" wars against governments that "support terrorism," is the same: both punish citizens for the actions of their governments.
The power of rhetoric which comes with all the authority and glamorous technology of the world’s hyperpower has indeed taken a heavy toll on public opinion. It has in fact, with its skewed up morality, perverted the integrity of the human conscience, head and heart. As a result, prejudices are established as fact, myth as reality. The masses are benumbed to the terrible atrocities in the guise of the ‘War on Terror.’ And questions cannot be asked. As Bush the Senior had said, “What We Say, Goes.”


• Anonymous, “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror”, Brassey’s, Inc, USA, 2004.
• Jan, Abidullah, “The Genesis of the Final Crusade,” Pragmatic Publishing, Canada, 2006.
• Heymann, Philip B, “Terrorism, Freedom and Security”, MIT Press, UK, 2003.
• Walker, Kim, “Alert But Not Alarmed: The Rhetoric of Terrorism and Life After Nine Eleven,” Online Acrobat Reader edition, May 2006.
• Speech by President Bush at the Oval Office, Washington D.C on the evening of September 11, 2001.
• Speech by President Bush in the Joint Session of the Congress on September 20, 2001.
• Herman, Ed, “Why Do They Hate Us”,
• Fisk, Robert, “U.S Morality has been Distorted After 9/11”, The Independent Digital, UK, March 2002.
• Cornwall, Rupert, “War on Terror Slips Out of Bush Vocabulary”, The Independent on Sunday, Washington, July 28, 2005.
• Roy, Arundhati, “Confronting Empire” (excerpts from her book ‘War Talk’), Southend Press, 2003,
• Roy, Arundhati, “The Algebra of Infinite Justice,” The Guardian, September 29, 2001.
• Fedler, Kyle, “On the Rhetoric of A War on Terrorism”, September 17, 2001,
• Said, Edward, “The Essential Terrorist”, April 1986, reproduced by The Nation Online edition.
• Said, Edward, “They Call All Resistance Terrorism”, International Socialist Review, September 2001.
• Berkeley Linguistics Professor George Lakoff’s Interview “George Lakoff Dissects the War on Terror”, August 2004,
• Sakeenah, Maryam, “The Ideologization of Contemporary Conflict,”
•, “War on Terror”.