Nothing could unnerve the Netanyahus, the Chidambarams and the assorted AfPak ideologues more than the terror of a just peace. —AP/File Photo
PROF Marc Gopin and Rajmohan Gandhi among other contemporary pacifists belong to the tradition of Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu et al. Gopin is an American rabbi and a university teacher.
In his extensive work on the Middle East conundrum, he has argued that Yasser Arafat would have been a successful leader had he not put emphasis on the pistol in his holster. In other words, a Gandhian resistance to Israeli racism or colonial-imperialist machinations would have got him greater Jewish and American support, which would really count for a lot for the Palestinian cause, than the bloodshed that has been produced.
It is, of course, debatable as to how much really the pacifists of yore managed to succeed in implementing their agenda of a peaceful transition from an unequal society, fraught with racism and colonial habits, to an approximate world of their dream.
From South Africa to the United States to India, their liberating contribution to society has spawned scrutiny and research. Unremitting racism in the US, persistent social inequality in South Africa and the brutalised state that India is hurtling towards have all put a big question mark on the durability of the pacifist experiment.
However, the alternate armed route to resistance has invited even more bloodcurdling repression both by imperialism and its comprador allies who rule the tributary states. Pacifism has another image handicap to overcome to appeal to victims of state violence. Increasingly unleashed on the exploited citizens in India is the nation state’s mindless quest for lucre often on suicidal terms. Comprador states are not averse to advocating cola factories for people parched with drought and water scarcity.
Gandhian pacifism is seen as a status quo worldview in this regard. In its zeal to bring rapprochement it is often said to underplay, if not entirely ignore, the reasons for the origins of a specific strife. These may include economic deprivation of large swathes of people and the forcible violation of their dignified plea to be spared economic development so often a euphemism to uproot lives and the homes of the already dispossessed.
It may not be a coincidence that a satellite view of South Asia would show up the neo-con models of ‘development’ sharply and unambiguously. From Balochistan in the west to Nagaland in the east, it is the tribespeople – the native inhabitants of the regions who had largely remained unaffected by any discourse of nationhood, its success and failures – that are being hunted. The response too is a violent one.
What if we take out violence from the equation and see if a peaceful petition can deliver the message of their protest to their tormentors?
Take India. Among the most brutal campaigns taking shape in South Asia is the one about to be unleashed on the so-called Maoists in Chhattisgarh, a predominantly tribal region, which is rich in untapped mineral resources. Its people are struggling to stall mineral-hungry multinational companies from uprooting their lives. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram represents lobbies that have a huge stake in tapping the region’s resources.
The Maoists live in a time warp. Their brutal and excessively violent methods of resistance have isolated them from mainstream democratic politics. Suppose we take away their guns. Let us defuse their claymore landmines and woo them with the promise of a fair transparent democratic dialogue between the state and India’s impoverished people.
In other words, let us bring in the Rajmohan Gandhis and Marc Gopins to pre-empt a massacre that could otherwise make the anti-Taliban campaign look like a picnic.
What are the Maoists saying they should not be saying? The Indian Express recently carried excerpts from their pamphlet, which quoted the prime minister and the home minister as declaring them as the biggest threat to India’s security.
Said the pamphlet: ‘This is a very important point to note since the stress is on police action and military solution. The so-called development is to be done only after establishing [the] peace of the graveyard. Chidambaram also said some of the paramilitary forces from Kashmir would be withdrawn and redeployed in our areas.
‘We have to understand that our revolutionary war is a cruel class war. The reactionary forces can go to any extent, committing mass murders, tortures, arrests, abductions, illegal detention, mass rape of women, use of private armed militias and vigilante squads, rendering lakhs homeless and carrying out a psychological war.’
Let us assume for a moment that the Maoists have been disarmed. Would that change the nature of the problem they rather accurately describe?
The Maoist pamphlet lauded ‘militant uprisings’ in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. ‘The reactionaries led by [the] US have unleashed [a] brutal fascist offensive in the economic, political, social and cultural spheres using brute force. West Asia resembles a burning volcano with Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine engulfed in [the] flames of national liberation. The fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan are inflicting heavy losses on imperialists.’
Surely the unexpected solidarity with fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan ‘inflicting a heavy loss on imperialists’ cannot but be a reference to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Their affinity with reactionary religious zealots makes for strange bedfellows and it does not bode well for the region. On the other hand, their Marxian view could be looking at the AfPak strife through a more rational prism.
One of the Maoist critiques is well grounded in history and logic. After all before the advent of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, for centuries its Muslim rulers and Muslim citizens had preserved the Bamiyan statues, even flaunted them to visitors. At some point dynamiting the Buddhist statues became a symbolic retribution for the foreign inroads into an otherwise placid, traditional, slowly waking-up conservative society.
After all, the regressive features of the neo-fanatics, be they of the Al Qaeda or the Taliban, were originally enshrined in the state of Saudi Arabia. Who can deny that women were and to an extent still are treated as second-class citizens there? The idea of secular education is far-fetched, as it would seem to be in Swat. Beheading, blinding, maiming, torturing of convicts, traits common to Al Qaeda and Taliban, were carried out routinely in the state of Saudi Arabia. Yet, it was embraced by the world as a moderate Muslim state.
This duplicity legitimately instills the familiar doubt that there is perhaps something other than their fanaticism that makes the Taliban–Al Qaeda duo the target of the world’s most powerful military machine.
Suppose some day, by a miracle, the pacifists of the world succeed in disarming the residual militants in Palestine, the Taliban surrender their arms, Al Qaeda is disbanded and the Maoists in India adopt Gandhian methods. My hunch is that nothing could unnerve the Netanyahus, the Chidambarams and the assorted AfPak ideologues more than the terror of a just peace.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.