BY GARETH MORGAN
Having just returned from almost a month living under the shadow of the Pakistan and Afghanistan regimes in West Asia, it is easy to bring a somewhat different perspective of events around the World Trade Centre and the general relationship between Islamists and the West.
The most chilling impression one returns with is that there are hundreds maybe even thousands of young men who would willingly take the place of those who committed the terrorism acts and of willingly paid what we would regard as the ultimate price -their lives. Obviously those perpetrators are beyond being "punished". But the West wants and will get blood so we will get second best – revenge on those who may have been involved indirectly, or higher up – and maybe the blood of many who have nothing to do with it.
The antagonism within the Muslim world to what America and its allies stands for is widespread. It may only have been a few that would give vent to that animosity via participating in terrorist acts, but their numbers give lie to just how widespread the hatred is. One of the mosques we were near at the time of the event was celebrating the "successes as they were scored".
It is difficult to get to grips with the anti-American sentiment but its roots appear be the confluence of deep religious commitment (we would say fervour) combined with interminable impoverishment that millions in Western Asia and the Middle East experience. This mixture quickly sponsors the conclusion that one's misery can be the result only of the forces of evil.
An irony is that while it is popular to conclude that their misery is being prolonged and deepened by the activities of the West, a poll in Muslim-dominated Kashmir revealed an overwhelming desire for the lifestyle of Americans and an enthusiasm of most individuals to go there tomorrow in order to enjoy it. This paradox between the public perception of what America is doing to them and the lure of its lifestyle is most difficult to reconcile for a Western visitor – but I'll try.
The West is seen as never as helping the plight of people in the region apart from the Israelis – seen as invaders of the country of fellow Muslims and totally un-accommodating of the right of others to self-determination. The only other 'friends' in the region the Americans have are the sheikhs of the elite oil states of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – because of course of their strategic importance. Apart from these exceptions though American foreign policy is seen as being of no benefit to the vast mass of people in this region. Here is the open sore of discontent – and worse.
Indeed the West is seen by most in this region as being primarily interested in keeping these people poor. Nothing makes their blood boil more than America's unquestioning backing of Israel, whether right or wrong. This hostility to the forces seen as those of Western imperialism and self-interest are not a new phenomenon in the region. Their activism may have reached a new level with the tragedy of last week, but the hate of the West is widespread, deep-rooted and likely only to be inflamed should it, as is probable take indiscriminate retaliatory action for last week.
There are many historic precedents where one can see Western activity in the region doing little more than fuel the anti-West sentiment of the indigenous people. Perhaps the most famous is the campaign of Mahatma Ghandi who was staunch against British imperialism and the damage it had wrought to the India economy and psyche of the Indian people. Amongst his demands was that the British remove every machine that they had brought to India as they were ripping the livelihood of millions of Indians. And if you visit India today you'll find millions of people doing the most menial tasks that machines would be far more 'productive' at performing.
Reconciling this isn't difficult. Ghandi's objection to the British was that they took India's agricultural production to Britain for processing and in so doing condemned millions of Indians to abject poverty. The way of life in rural India had been for centuries a short sowing and harvesting period and then much of the year those farmers spending spinning and weaving the cotton grown. Once that went to Bradford those people were dispossessed of the only way they had to earn a living.
Last week the top-selling book in India was by author of City of Joy. His new book, "It was 5 minutes past Midnight in Bhopal", is a timely reminder of another of the West's marvellous contributions to the region. When the Union Carbide factory built in the heart of residential Bhopal blew up in 1984 it cost over 30,000 lives and injured 500,000 people. Given the blatant disregard of the company for any modicum of safety standard that would not have been tolerated by any Western country, this was mass murder. It should put the World Trade Centre tragedy in context – but of course they were only Indians, and it was an "accident".
The point of course remains. Last week's event was horrible. To address it by opening further the gulf between the West and the dispossessed through indiscriminate retribution is dumb. To attack people who have not had a direct hand in the atrocity but whose crime is they far from love America for what they see as its exploitation of them would be wrong. No doubt it would satisfy the calls for blood from America's Jacksonites (Americans dedicated to the memory of blood-thirsty President Andrew Jackson whose motto was to keep killing until there was no way an enemy could rise), but it would come at the cost of ever-deeper anti-Americanism elsewhere. And that would manifest itself in further vulnerability of the West – eventually.
In that event the risk is obvious – the next target will be in a less well-protected Western country. The challenge facing the Bush Administration is impossible – to be just, to be seen to be just, to deliver some Americans the revenge they lust for, but not to exacerbate a foreign policy that has at best, chequered past. As Vietnam demonstrated, might isn't necessarily right.
Good luck Mr President.