Society has to defend itself against terrorists and to punish them. However, by calling them 'evil' we concede that we do not understand them and are not willing to consider the causes of their actions. Calling them cowards is often plain silly. Western belief in the superiority of its civilisation matched with Muslim belief in the superiority of its secular and religious values, must lead to contempt. Contempt breeds hatred, hatred breeds violence, in both directions. We must stop calling our enemies evil and try to understand them if we want to stop the cycle of violence.
I love America. I love its intellectuals and liberals, I love its artists, its wild spaces and its bustling cities, its optimism, its belief in hard work and rewarding it, the perfectionism of its scientists and engineers, its belief in the freedom of speech. I love its vulgarity and the courage with which it produces its kitsch. I love friendly people wherever I find them. I love life.
'Evil' is a popular term of abuse which we heap on a person whose actions we do not understand and who acts without intelligible cause, a person who does something we would not do. People may be selfish, stupid, ill-informed or cruel, but they are hardly ever evil.
If we call a person evil, we admit that we do not understand him, do not want to understand him and will therefore never be able to do anything about the causes of his actions. All we want to do is to exterminate him -- and let someone else take up his cause.
Osama Bin Laden acted wrongly if he sent his suicide bombers into the Manhattan Towers and killed 6000 innocent people. So did Hitler when he bombed Coventry (in 1940: 450 dead) and Churchill when he bombed Dresden (in 1944: 41,000 dead). That did not make Churchill evil, for he had a cause and a purpose (ill-conceived or not) for doing so.
Osama killed innocent civilians, we hear. Their innocence is irrelevant. The Manhattan victims are innocent; but so are the soldiers who get killed in a war. They are enemies, but not criminals.
War and terrorism play by different rules. Those people who are not in power, do not control a state and an army, have to fight their battles as terrorists. Presidents do not need to be terrorists, that's why they aren't (except the Israeli government when it assassinates its opponents). The members of the French résistance were terrorists. Once terrorists have come to power (Israel, Northern Ireland, Algeria ...) they become statesmen.
It was Zionist terrorists who, prior to 1948, bombed the Palestinians out of their villages and thus paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel on Palestinian territory. The grievances (and the displacement of people) then created have never been resolved and lead through a chain of action and reaction to the Manhattan outrage and to the continuing incurable violence in Israel and Palestine. 'It is the curse of an evil deed that it continues to give birth to never ending generations of evil.' (Schiller)
Osama Bin Laden needs no defenders. If I still speak out 'for' him, say anything other than calling him 'evil', it is in our interest as non-violent people to understand him and take note of his bloody message.
In fact we have done so already (a silly thing to do if he were merely evil). In grand politics we are very polite to Muslims and Muslim states. Only after 11 September did President Bush advocate a 'viable Palestinian State', i.e. a larger territory and sovereignty (15 Oct 2001). Only after 11 September did so many western statesmen (except Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) discover their respect, if not love, for Islam. Only Prince Charles has always been a genuine friend of Islam.
On 27 September 2001, honest Joe Berlusconi declared at
a press conference in Berlin
Well, at least we can't call him a liar. But Manhattan has shown that a civilisation that is 'supreme' (how?) is not necessarily invulnerable.
Politicians routinely describe terrorists as cowards because they evade arrest and avoid being hurt.
This is a strange criticism. By the same token, soldiers are cowards because they wear steel helmets. American bomber pilots are cowards because they fly so high that the rusty Taleban anti-aircraft guns cannot reach them. They want to kill others without being killed themselves: that is cowardice, is it not?
Even the Manhattan pilots, who sacrificed their lives for their cause (however much we may disapprove of it) have been called cowards.
Why do the media use the term 'suicide' for terrorists who face certain death when they undertake a mission. A true suicide kills himself because he cannot bear life any more, he is running away from a problem.
The bombers of Manhattan and the Palestinian terrorists do therefore not commit suicide. They would gladly achieve their objective without sacrificing their lives. But the objective or their duty is more important to them than their life. Like Christians, but more sincerely!, they believe in immortality.
If they are suicides, then so were the soldiers in the trench warfare of the First World War who were mown down by grenades and machine guns when they came out of the trenches to attack the enemy. But they weren't. They merely did their accursed duty for their mother cuntry.
Westerners are so much wedded to this life, and only this, that they find it impossible to understand someone who can happily part with it. They gape like children at the incomprehensible spectacle.
By their incredulity they show how little empathy they have with any culture, religion or mode of thinking but their own and that, perhaps, there was no other way to wake them up from their self-centred complacency than the death of six-thousand tower workers who died for the West's sins of ignorance.
Ian Duncan Smith, the conservative leader, said a couple of months ago (10 Oct 2001): 'Bin Laden claims to speak for Islam, but he cannot. His is a cynical and suicidal cult dedicated to the destruction of civilisations and lives, irrespective of their faith.'
Not so, Bin Laden is not dedicated to destroying Muslim states. When has he ever tried?
Ian Duncan Smith said: 'This is a man who sends young acolytes to die for his own pathological purpose, while he himself skulks in caves. This is a man who prefers martyrdom at a distance.'
Fools denigrate their enemies. Bin Laden may be a criminal: he has broken the law of the United States. But who is the greater man, law-abiding Ian Duncan Smith or outlaw Osama Bin Laden?
Bin Laden's acolytes went happily to their fate. No English general has ever yet exposed himself to death in the front line. That is not cowardice but common sense: the foot soldier is more easily replaceable than the general.
The US pilots in the Gulf War, in Yugoslavia and now in Afghanistan 'skulk' in the clouds because they are too cowardly to expose themselves to the guns of the enemy. The whole of American high-tech warfare is nothing but a big support system for cowards: our media and our mothers screech the moment one body bag comes home.
After twenty white casualties they will press on our governments to abandon their 'just war', and they ignore the thousands of brown-skinned people that are being killed by our war machine and whose only body bag is their skin. We go to war only if the enemy is incalculably inferior. Osama Bin Laden, by contrast, took on, rightly or wrongly, the strongest country in the world. That may be criminal, brave or foolhardy, but it is not cowardly.
Osama hates and despises the Americans, the Americans hate and despise Osama: neither sentiment is justified. There are wonderful Arabs and there are wonderful Americans: all countries produce good people and bad people. Hatred and contempt lead to violence: Westerners, because of their 'superior civilisation', are particularly prone to contempt. Contempt provokes hatred.
The Manhattan attacks were not the cause without cause of everything. Society has to punish Osama, but we do not have to hate and despise him.
If anyone is a coward, it is us, for none of us is ready to die for any f***ing cause.
That may be a good thing though, for I distrust causes that are worth dying for. Perhaps they aren't.
Note: There is a decisive difference between the Western and the Hindu approach to evil. For Westerners, evil has no right to exist. For Hindus both good and evil have a right to exist. We have to live with evil. Good and evil are engaged in a never ending battle. There is no reason to be outraged.
© Ashutosh Vardhana 2001
Written on 11 Oct 2001, revised on 6 Dec 2001