Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2002
June 2, 2002
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - If you can't beat them, join them. Russia has wisely decided to accept junior membership in NATO and link itself to Europe at this week's Rome summit rather than challenge the overwhelming might of the United States and its allies.
As President Lyndon Johnson pithily noted, it's better to have someone inside your house spitting out, than outside spitting in. The Bush Administration has followed this sensible dictum and is to be congratulated for steering Russia into Europe's arms. The alternative would be a sullen, isolated, dangerous Russia.
So far, so good. But a cloud hung over the heavily guarded Rome meeting. The new US-Russian entente may be more a temporary liaison of convenience driven by sharing a mutual enemy - Islamic militancy (known as `terrorism' to its enemies) -rather than common goals or ideals. As the Arabs say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
In 1999, George Bush denounced Russia for its savagery in Muslim Chechnya thus: `When the Russian government attacks civilians, killing women and children…it can no longer expect aid. The Russian government will discover it cannot build a stable and unified nation on the ruins of human rights.' Now, in May, 2002, Bush lauds Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, as a friend, ally in the war against terrorism, man of peace and respecter of human rights. The same Putin whose forces invaded independent Chechnya, razed its cities, killed over 70,000 civilians, and continue to destroy it. This week, Amnesty International again accused Russia of ongoing torture and human rights violations in Chechnya.
Just as Chechen fighting 300 years of brutal Russian occupation are now branded `Islamic terrorists' by the Bush Administration, so, too, Muslim Kashmiris struggling against Indian rule. As India and Pakistan teeter on the verge of war, the White House, whose ham-handed diplomacy helped ignite the current Kashmir crisis, has swallowed India's claim that militants fighting its occupation of Kashmir are `Islamic terrorists.' Any armed resistance by Muslims to oppression or denial of their basic rights is now deemed `terrorism' by Washington, which has conveniently forgotten America's creation of Cuban rebels, Nicaraguan Contra guerillas, and Afghan mujahidin. India accuses Pakistan of terrorism while forgetting its support for Bangladeshi insurgents, Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, and dispatch of saboteurs to Pakistan.
As a result of 9/11, Chechen and Kashmir independence fighters have now joined Palestinians in a trimuverate of evil. According to the new Bush interpretation, any Muslims who resist the status quo, no matter how unjust, may be terrorists - especially if they use their own bodies or bombs as weapons.
Political militants who blow up buildings and airliners, or slaughter civilians, are terrorists. Unfortunately, revolutionary warfare always involves a certain degree of terrorism. Let's recall Jews who waged a campaign of terrorism against the British in Palestine; India's bloody suppression of Sikh separatists; the Irish uprising against British rule, and so on.
There is no clear line between `clean ' legitimate resistance and terrorism. Terrorism remains the weapon of the poor, unarmed, and oppressed. If Muslim militants had tanks and helicopter gunships like the Russians, Indians and Israelis, they would use them instead of suicide attacks. But they do not. How is an oppressed people without arms to resist?
Pakistan has armed and supported many of the Kashmiri mujahidin operating against India. But India is a major violator of human rights in the Kashmir Valley, as Amnesty International also reported this week. In 1948, the UN mandated that India and Pakistan hold plebiscites in their portions of divided Kashmir to determine the wishes of the population, 80% of whom were Muslims. India has persistently refused to hold the vote and instead annexed its portion of Kashmir, insisting the disputed state is purely an internal matter. India's claims that the current uprising in Kashmir is entirely due to Pakistani machinations are as false as Pakistan's claims it gives nothing but `moral support' to Kashmiri militants.
In fact, the current Kashmir uprising spontaneously ignited in 1989 and caught Pakistan as much by surprise as India. But India, like Israel and Russia, has jumped on George Bush's anti-terrorism bandwagon in order to crush enemies who are fighting as much for land and freedom than they are for Islam. Trying to demonize and dismiss the legitimate grievances of Palestinians, Muslim Kashmiris and Chechen by branding them terrorism is immoral and will ensure that ever more terroristic acts become the norm.
To the Muslim World, America has now joined Russia as its main oppressor. As the Israeli thinker Uri Avnery observed, the US is now acting like the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1830's by ruthlessly enforcing an unjust, repressive, and politically reactionary status quo.
Three decades ago, America was regarded as a friend and savior by the Muslim World. In the 1990's, the United States saved the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosova from genocide, a noble act insufficiently recognized by the world's Muslims. Today, after 9/11, America is now seen as the leading enemy and oppressor of Muslims, a fact underlined by the new US-Russian entente. Such is the continuing tragic fallout from 9/11.