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8 Sep, 2002

The U.S. is becoming more like the enemy every day

Originally Published: 08 Sep 2002

Exactly a year ago, the events of 9/11 triggered a backlash against the religion of Islam. If Islam was supposed to be a religion of peace, there does not seem to be much evidence of it, went the refrain in the global media. The word ‘Islam’ was, and still is, routinely and repeatedly juxtaposed with words like fundamentalist, fanatic, terrorist.

Exactly a year later, it is the world’s largest democracy that is facing an identical refrain. If this is truly a democracy, there does not seem to be much evidence of it. People are being held without any charges, with secret trials and secret evidence. Even wars can be declared at will, by-passing the traditional channels of democracy and diplomacy. The US is being associated with dictatorship, iron-fistedness and double standards.

If Muslims faced a barrage of for-us or against-us questions in relation to the war on terror, the US government is facing a similar walk-the-talk barrage in relation to its own much-vaunted principles of transparency, accountability and democracy.

This is Infinite Justice at its best. It was not supposed to happen this way. America was not supposed be in the dock. Islam was.

But life is an anti-climax, and the soul-searching parallels do not end there. Indeed, as they unfold, the reactions are equally telling of a phenomenal role-reversal. While Islam and Muslims are trying to SHAKE OFF a small bunch of bigots and become more tolerant, open, free, liberal and democratic, America is FALLING VICTIM to a small bunch of bigots and in real danger of becoming less tolerant, open, free, liberal and democratic.

Just as the religion of Islam, put on the defensive, responded with much soul-searching about the damage done to its name and status, clear-thinking Americans abroad are reacting with much soul-searching about the damage their barely-elected administration is doing to the name and image of their country.

Facing a serious public relations problem, both sides want the world to recognise their better side. And they are having to work at it. On Sept 5-6, the US State Department showered the ultimate recognition upon the rising tide of anti-Americanism by organising an entire seminar devoted to it.

And yet, the solution is simple: Both sides have to practise what they preach. Islam and Muslims paid the price for not doing so, and America is about to follow suit. So will every caste, creed or community that doesn’t.

If one preaches free trade, one has to practise it. If one preaches justice, transparency, accountability, democracy and freedom, one has to practise it. In the age of the Internet and zero tolerance for hypocrisy and double standards, everyone, repeat everyone, is accountable for their misdeeds.

If State Department analysts are seeking more clues to anti-Americanism, cut to Bhopal, India, and the stories emanating last week about the 18-year effort to bring to trial the former chief executive of Union Carbide over the chemical leak that killed 20,000 people.

I repeat: 20,000 people!! That’s nearly 7 times more than those killed on Sept 11. Tragically, the poor, downtrodden victims of that holocaust can’t afford the money that will buy the fancy lawyers and media exposure, both of which are essential to justice being done.

The leak occurred in the dead of night, with no TV cameras in sight. No-one is interested in marking the anniversary of those deaths by replaying umpteen times the images of the death and misery that was apparent when dawn broke. No-one makes movies about the disaster.

To this day, the man remains free, even as his lawyer is quoted as saying that he plays golf every day and has homes in New York and Florida.

Reported the respected UK newspaper The Independent, “Why should the world cheer at the prospect of a retired American businessman well into his seventies being obliged to travel to India to face a trial that could put him behind bars for 20 years? Because there are few more glaring cases of the developed world abusing the developing world and getting away with murder than Union Carbide’s rape of Bhopal.”

And yet, the US government today wants to go after an Iraqi dictator in order to prevent future damage he MAY cause with his chemicals. What about going after the executive whose chemicals have already killed 20,000 people?

This is the kind of soul-searing (note to eds: soul-searing is correct, not soul-searching) injustice that opponents of globalisation fear, and fight, with whatever meagre means at their disposal.

Exactly a year ago, the world was divided into two camps, for-us or against-us. Mr. Bush may regret this division as his greatest blunder because the next few years will see a unique alliance between the courts, the media, non-governmental organisations and whistle-blowers with a conscience.

This will apply across the board, in politics as much as in big business. Even as whistle-blowers are coming out to tell the truth about fraudulent practises in their companies, other whistle-blowers are queuing up to tell all about political and other intrigues.

Last month, on a trip to Australia, I bought a book called “Rogue State.” No prizes for guessing which state. It was by William Blum, a former US  foreign service officer who blew the whistle on a range of misdeeds by his ex-employers.

In the last paragraph of his introduction, Mr. Blum wrote: “If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologise to all the widows and orphans, the tortured and impoverished, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. Then I would announce, in all sincerity, to every corner of the world, that America’s global interventions have come to an end, and inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the USA but henceforth — oddly enough — a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims. There would be more than enough money. One year’s military budget of $330 billion is equal to more than $18,000 an hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.

“That’s what I would do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I would be assassinated.”