The fireball and the ice pick
New Delhi. As we watch mesmerized, Operation Enduring Freedom
unfolds on television monitors across the world. A coalition of the
world's superpowers is closing in on Afghanistan, one of the poorest,
most ravaged, war-torn countries in the world, whose ruling Taliban
government is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the man being held responsible
for the September 11 attacks. The only thing in Afghanistan that could
possibly count as collateral value is its citizenry (among them, half a
million maimed orphans).
Afghanistan's economy is in a shambles. The United Nations estimates
that there are 7.5 million Afghan citizens who will need emergency aid.
As supplies run out -- food and aid agencies have been evacuated -- the
BBC reports that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent times
has begun to unfold. Witness the Infinite Justice of the new century.
Civilians starving to death while they're waiting to be killed.
In America there has been rough talk of bombing Afghanistan back to the
stone age. Someone please break the news that Afghanistan is already
there. And if it's any consolation, America played no small part in
helping it on its way.
It's absurd for the U.S. government to even toy with the notion that it
can stamp out terrorism with more violence and oppression. Terrorism is
the symptom, not the disease. Terrorism has no country. It's
transnational, as global an enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At the
first sign of trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move their
factories from country to country in search of a better deal. Just like
Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But if it is to be
contained, the first step is for America to at least acknowledge that it
shares the planet with other nations, with other human beings, who, even
if they are not on TV, have loves and griefs and stories and songs and
sorrows and, for heaven's sake, rights.
The unconscionable September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card
from a world gone horribly wrong. The message may have been written by
bin Laden (who knows?) and delivered by his couriers, but it could well
have been signed by the ghosts of the victims of America's old wars.
The millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,000 killed
when Israel -- backed by the United States -- invaded Lebanon in 1982,
the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in Operation Desert Storm, the
thousands of Palestinians who have died fighting Israel's occupation of
the West Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia, Somalia,
Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, at
the hands of all the terrorists, dictators, and genocidists who the U.S.
government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with arms. And
this is far from the being a comprehensive list.
Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn't exist, America
would have had to invent him. But in a way, America did invent him. He
was among the jihadists who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the
CIA commenced its operations there. Bin Laden had the distinction of
being created by the CIA and wanted by the FBI.
From what is known about the location of bin Laden and the living
conditions where he operates, it's entirely possible that he did not
personally plan and carry out the attacks -- that he is the
inspirational figure, the CEO of the holding company. The Taliban's
response to U.S. demands for the extradition of bin Laden was
uncharacteristically reasonable. Produce the evidence, then we'll hand
him over. President Bush's response was that the demand was
(It's a shame that, while talks were on for the extradition of CEOs,
India didn't put in a side request for the extradiction of Warren
Anderson of the United States. He was the chairman of Union Carbide,
responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, which killed 16,000 people.
We have collated the necessary evidence. It's all in the files. Could
we have him, please?)
But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What
is Osama bin Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the U.S.
president's dark doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to
be beautiful and civilized. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of
a world laid to waste by U.S. foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy,
its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of full spectrum
dominance, its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous
military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial
regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the
economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding
multinationals take over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the
water we drink, the thoughts we think.
Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into
one another and gradually becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs,
money, and drugs have been going around in the loop for a while. (The
Stinger missiles that now greet U.S. helicopters were supplied by the
CIA. The heroin used by U.S. drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The
Bush administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43 million subsidy for
its "war on drugs.")
Now Bush and bin Laden have even begun to borrow each other's rhetoric.
Both invoke God and use the loose millenarian currency of Good and Evil
as their terms of reference. Both are dangerously armed -- one with the
nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other with the
incandescent, destructive power of the utterly hopeless. The fireball
and the ice pick. The bludgeon and the ax. The important thing to keep
in mind is that neither is an acceptable alternative to the
President Bush's ultimatum to the people of the world -- either you are
with us or you are with the terrorists -- is a piece of presumptuous
arrogance. It's not a choice that people want to, need to or should
have to make.
Arundhati Roy lives in New Delhi and is the author of "The God of
Small Things." Her newest book is "Power Politics" (South End
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