Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Echoes of post-9/11 America

Via blogger almostinfamous, one finds anecdotal evidence that something akin to the mass pro-war hysteria that erupted in the United States in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks seems to be appearing in India following the Mumbai attacks, with some Indian bloggers professing to be "very disappointed" that India seems unlikely to attack Pakistan in retaliation, and expressing anger that India has "been too soft, too long."

It goes without saying that one shouldn't be "very disappointed" that two powerful states armed with nuclear weapons aren't going to war against each other. But alas, irrational militaristic sentiments are the strongest following attacks like the ones experienced on 9/11 or last week in Mumbai.

The recurrent myth that seems to accompany these attacks is of particular note, as in both India and the U.S. many people -- stoked by nationalistic politicians eager to increase their own power -- came to believe following the respective terrorist attacks that the events had been brought on not by ill-considered state interventionist policies, or that they were merely unexplainable fluke acts of evil, but specifically brought on by the country appearing to be "weak" or "soft."

In the states, this manifests itself in claims that the U.S. government had pursued an "isolationist" foreign policy prior to 9/11 -- as supposedly evidenced by the sudden withdrawals from Lebanon in the 1980s and Somalia in the 1990s -- that convinced the likes of Osama bin Laden that the United States could dish it out, but it sure couldn't take it. While it's true that Americans as a whole certainly have much less stomach for dead Americans than dead foreigners, to claim the U.S. was "isolationist" during the 1990s would of course be overlooking such minor things as the sanctions against (and continual bombing of) Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Just because it didn't lead the evening news doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Writing on the pro-war hysteria seizing some in India, almostinfamous writes:
this is almost exactly the sort of thing i used to read on various right-wing sites(lgf, freeperville etc) almost exactly 7 years ago, except replace ‘pakistan’ with afghanistan. it disgusted me then with regard to the usa, and it disgusts me even more today with regard to india precisely because of the utter futility of the wars waged by the most powerful army in the world.:
But, being a mass hysteria, rationality and commonsense rarely enters into the equation -- the mindless pursuit of vengeance, combined with an ardent refusal to, as somehow-popular NY Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it, "justify or 'explain'" the events in question, being the mark of a good citizen. As a senior in high school during the 9/11 attacks, I particularly remember an otherwise intelligent friend who went on to an elite college demanding that the U.S. essentially kill every man, woman and child in the Middle East because "they" hadn't shown any mercy toward "us". Beyond exposing the evils of collectivism run amuck (Who is "us"? And more importantly, who are "they"?) the remark crystallized to me the danger inherent in the vulgar, violent nationalism that tends to spring up after a calamity -- an ugly "patriotism" that the state is all too willing to exploit, and which often ends in political power being further strengthened and centralized while innocent people in poor, far off lands die for the crimes of others.

With many Indians looking for some way to lash out for last week's crimes, the country's political leadership would do well not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration, as even former Nixon speechwriter and onetime belligerent Cold Warrior Pat Buchanan argues in his most recent column:
War would pit two nuclear powers against each other for the first time since the Sino-Soviet border clash of 1969. It would spawn bloodshed between Muslim and Hindu in India. It would see the collapse of Pakistan, its possible dissolution and a military dictator in a nation already divided against itself over whether to continue resisting al-Qaida and the Taliban, or cut ties to the unpopular Americans.
Wounded and enraged by the atrocities of 9-11, America lashed out, first at Afghanistan and the al-Qaida source of the conspiracy, then at Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks. Thus did the Bush administration disunite its nation and forfeit its mandate.
For India to lash out at a Pakistan that was not complicit in the Mumbai crimes against humanity, but harbors elements within that are guilty and are celebrating, would be as great a mistake.
India and Pakistan both have a vital interest in no new war.
But a new war is exactly what the terrorists killed for and died for.
Should it come, they win — and enter history as revolutionary terrorists alongside Princip and the perpetrators of 9-11.

1 comment:

  1. thankfully, the reaction of our government has been rather sensible in terms of not engaging in troop buildups or other provocative acts(no thanks the TV media who were almost praying for full-blown war). this is very relieveing and public sentiment outside of mumbai seems to have mostly quietened down. and there have been no incidents of retaliatory violence towards the muslims that the BJP and her allies stood by and watched at best, if not participated in. this is itself something to cheer for.