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16 Dec, 2005

Acts of God Show the Wrath of God

Originally Published: 16 Oct 2005

Mahatma Gandhi said: “Every affliction has its own rich lesson to teach, if we would learn it.”

Since December 26, the day of the devastating tsunami tragedy, the world has seen a number of so-called “natural disasters” that have afflicted hundreds of thousands of people of all castes, colours and creeds, and across all age groups.

Apart from the tsunami itself, the most tragic of these “acts of God” have been Hurricane Katrina and now, the Himalayan earthquake. Taking the cue from Gandhi’s words, what “rich lessons” are there to be learnt in each?

A common thread running through each of those “natural disasters” is that they have directly or indirectly been linked to very tangible man-made disasters on the ground.

The tsunami struck Aceh and Sri Lanka, home to two long-running battles for control of real estate. Ditto, the Himalayan earthquake which struck Kashmir, another hotspot.

The U.S. state of Louisiana, hit by Hurricane Katrina, is not itself a war-zone but its people paid the price of decisions to send thousands of its trained National Guardsmen to another distant war-zone to fight a false war.

In all these instances, there has been suffering on a mass scale. The man-made conflicts in Aceh, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Iraq have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths amongst combatants and non-combatants, almost all of them totally avoidable.

Their suffering has now been compounded by the “natural disasters” which, if the definition is to be taken literally, became victims of “acts of God.” Their deaths have been truly horrible – dying of gunshot wounds, being drowned by a crushing wall of water or having life slowly drain out while trapped for days under tons of debris is not the best of ways to go.

What “rich lessons” are there to be learnt here? If there can be “no justification” for man to kill innocent people, what lessons can possibly lie behind “acts of God” that do the same?

Probably that the victims should not have died in vain, that their deaths should be considered as a sacrifice akin to that of Christ so that Man may realise the folly of past mistakes and misdeeds, and step up the pursuit of both inner and external peace.

To some extent, this lesson has been learnt in Aceh where the Muslim leaders on both sides appear to have done just that.

Last August, the leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and Indonesia saw the tsunami as one of the “signs of God” cited in the Qur’an and, with the help of European mediators, signed a peace deal to ensure that the suffering caused by the tsunami is not compounded by additional suffering of continued violence.

In Kashmir, the guerrilla groups on the Pakistani side of Kashmir blamed for killing of hundreds of innocent people on the Indian side, have declared a “temporary ceasefire”. The area is one of the most heavily militarised in the world and the quake also led to the deaths of dozens of Indian soldiers.

When things settle down, a peace by default will descend. There will be little appetite for more conflict if only because there will be few people left to fight it.

If these combatants are true Muslims, they will learn the lessons of Qur’anic Chapter 99 (The Earthquake) and facilitate the nascent bilateral peace process, especially as India is now led by a Sikh, a religion that was also once embroiled in violence over a separate Khalistan state.

More than ever before, they need to heed the deeper lessons of these earthquakes. The fact that this latest one occurred in the holy month of Ramadan and caused so much devastation is arguably no coincidence.

In Sri Lanka, where the sectarian conflict involves Hindus and Buddhists. a ceasefire is supposed to be in place, but there has been squabbling over distribution of post-tsunami aid and little indication that the two sides are coming together, the involvement of European mediators notwithstanding.

Indeed, the August assassination of the country’s foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by a sniper threatens to revive the sectarian conflict.

Finally, there is the United States where there appears to be no indication that the Judeo-Christian leaders have lost their appetite for war, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita notwithstanding.

On the contrary, reports are emerging of plans to engineer “regime change” in Syria and attack Iran, both of which will open another chapter in the war on Islam and lead to more global conflict, death and violence.

Acts of God are clearly becoming the Wrath of God as they hammer away at mankind in the form of floods, drought, disease and earthquakes. If the weather is one of God’s primary weapons, He is certainly wielding it well.

The world blithely refers them to the vagaries of Mother Nature. But what precisely is “Mother Nature”? Has anyone seen this lady in question? Or is it just a shallow attempt to describe the Most Powerful Force in the Universe, against whom mere mankind has absolutely no defence?

There are two final lessons to be learnt.

The role of militaries is set to evolve yet again. Over the last two decades, militaries progressed from being life-takers to life-savers as they assumed peace-keeping responsibilities in various parts of the world like East Timor and Bosnia.

Now, they are being increasingly deployed to cope with the consequences of the “Wrath of God” which would require a whole new set of skills, capabilities and equipment.

Secondly, and perhaps most important, to what extent should the militaries become tools of unscrupulous politicians who, inspite of being “democratically elected” are misusing the military to further their own personal interests and agendas?

To what extent should militaries become willing tools of global oligarchs and chaebols and the politicians they control? When popular revolts begin worldwide against these unaccountable oligarchs, whose side will the militaries take?

Indeed, if “following orders” was not considered good enough when Hitler’s legions sought to exterminate the Jews, will militaries discard their own scruples and better judgement when called upon to execute orders that they may know to be equally unjust and unethical, as they did in Iraq?

In other words, are they going to side with the forces of good, or evil? At a time when they are being increasingly called upon to save life, what are the terms and conditions under which they will execute orders to take life?

If they haven’t discussed that in military academies, maybe the time for a debate is nigh.