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DAWN - Opinion; 09 June, 2004

Published Jun 09, 2004 12:00am

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Playing oil politics

By George Monbiot

"Some people have wacky ideas," the new Republican campaign ad alleges. "Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry." Cut to a shot of men in suits riding bicycles.

Sadly, the accusation is false. Kerry has been demanding that the price of oil be held down. He wants George Bush to release supplies from the strategic reserve and persuade Saudi Arabia to increase production.

He has been warning the American people that if the president doesn't act soon, he and Dick Cheney will have to share a car to work. Men riding bicycles and sharing cars? Is there no end to this madness?

Like the fuel protests that rose and receded in Britain last week, these exchanges are both moronic and entirely rational. The price of oil has been rising because demand for a finite resource is growing faster than supply.

Holding the price down means that this resource will be depleted more quickly, with the result that the dreadful prospect of men sharing cars and riding bicycles comes ever closer. Perhaps the presidential candidates will start campaigning next against the passage of time.

But a high oil price means recession and unemployment, which in turn means political failure for the man in charge. The attempt to blame the other man for finity will be one of the defining themes of the politics of the next few decades.

This conflict was exemplified last month by the leader of the British fuel protests of 2000, Brynle Williams. "I'm afraid to say I'm not very proud of what happened three years ago," he admitted in a documentary broadcast on S4C on May 4. "We all want turbo-charged motors now ... but we must remember that it's some poor sod at the other end of the world who ends up paying for it."

Five days later, on May 9, he told GMTV that he was ready to start protesting again. Self-awareness and self-interest don't seem to mix very well. To understand what is going to happen, we must first grasp the core fact of existence. Life is a struggle against entropy.

Entropy can be roughly defined as the dispersal of energy. As soon as a system - whether an organism or an economy - runs out of energy, it starts to disintegrate. Its survival depends on seizing new sources of fuel.

Biological evolution is driven by the need to grab the energy for which other organisms are competing. One result is increasing complexity: a tree can take more energy from the sun than the mosses on the forest floor; a tuna can seek out its prey more actively than a jellyfish. But the cost of this complexity is an enhanced requirement for energy. The same goes for our economies.

They evolved in the presence of a source of energy that was both cheap to extract and cheap to use. There is, as yet, no substitute for it. Everything else is either more expensive or harder to use. Without cheap oil the economy would succumb to entropy. But the age of cheap oil is over. If you doubt this, take a look at the BBC's online report on Monday of a conference run by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil.

The reporter spoke to the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol. "In public, Mr Birol denied that supply would not be able to meet rising demand ... But after his speech he seemed to change his tune: 'For the time being there is no spare capacity. But we expect demand to increase by the fourth quarter by three millions barrels a day. If Saudi does not increase supply by 3m barrels a day by the end of the year we will face, how can I say this, it will be very difficult. We will have difficult times.'"

The reporter asked him whether such a growth in supply was possible, or simply wishful thinking. "'You are from the press?' Birol replied. 'This is not for the press.'"

So the BBC asked the other delegates what they thought of the prospects of a 30 per cent increase in Saudi production. "The answers were unambiguous: 'absolutely out of the question'; 'completely impossible'; and '3m barrels - never, not even 300,000'.

One delegate laughed so hard he had to support himself on a table." And this was before they heard that two BBC journalists had been gunned down in Riyadh. The world's problem is as follows. We now consume six barrels of oil for every new barrel we discover.

Major oil finds (of over 500m barrels) peaked in 1964. In 2000, there were 13 such discoveries, in 2001 six, in 2002 two and in 2003 none. Three major new projects will come on stream in 2007 and three in 2008. For the following years, none have yet been scheduled.

The oil industry tells us not to worry: the market will find a way of sorting this out. If the price of energy rises, new sources will come on stream. But new sources of what? Every other option is much more expensive than the cheap oil that made our economic complexity possible.

The new technology designed to extract the dregs from old fields is expensive and doesn't seem to work very well, which is why Shell was forced to downgrade its anticipated reserves (other companies, under pressure from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, will surely follow).

Extracting oil from tar sands and shales uses almost as much energy as it yields. The same goes for turning crops such as rape into biodiesel. Nuclear power is viable only if you overlook both the massive costs of decommissioning and the fact that no safe means has yet been discovered of disposing of the waste.

We could cover the country with windmills and solar panels, but the electricity they produced would still be an expensive means of running our cars. Just as the oil supply begins to look uncertain, global demand is rising faster than it has done for 16 years.

Recently General Motors announced that it is spending $3bn on doubling its production of cars for the Chinese market. Seventy-four minutes later, we saw the first signs of entropy: the International Air Travel Association revealed that the airlines are likely to lose $3bn this year because of high oil prices. The cheap carriers complained that they could be forced out of the market.

If the complexity of our economies is impossible to sustain, our best hope is to start to dismantle them before they collapse. This isn't very likely to happen. Faced with a choice between a bang and a whimper, our governments are likely to choose the bang, waging ever more extravagant wars to keep the show on the road. Terrorists, alert to both the West's rising need and the vulnerability of the pipeline and tanker networks, will respond with their own oil wars.

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle," H.G. Wells wrote, "I no longer despair for the human race." It's a start, but I'd feel even more confident about our chances of survival if I saw George Bush and Dick Cheney sharing a car to work. -Dawn/The Guardian News Service.

Women's involvement in crime

By Hafizur Rahman

One's mind and senses go numb on reading the details of some of the recent crimes against women in Punjab. Then, almost every week a whole family is wiped out in small towns, shot dead or strangulated or their heads bashed in. No consideration is shown to women and little children in the craze for vengeance.

As a Pakistani I hang down my head in shame at what we are doing to each other. Leaving apart the cases of gang rape which are symptomatic of the baseness to which the male can descend, just look at what now appears to be the pastime of the he-man in this part of the country - the desire to shame one's opponents by making their womenfolk parade naked in public.

There is another aspect of this situation too, of women's own involvement in crime. They are increasingly taking to criminal acts, maybe to show off their progress. A psychologist I know attributes the growth of female criminals to the tendency among men to dishonour decent women. He says it is a sort of revenge mechanism. It may be so. I don't know.

In our publicity literature meant for outside consumption we proudly display photographs of young girls engaged in pursuits which, in many Third World countries, are still the exclusive preserve of men.

To this pictorial gallery we can add another which appeared in a Lahore newspaper some months ago, to illustrate the enterprising Pakistani female. This was the photograph of three women who had been caught stealing a car.

According to the news report, these women asked the car owner for a lift, and when he got down at a shop to buy something they drove off with the vehicle. They were described as "educated and fashionably dressed."

Whatever one may have to say about this description, the picture showed them as decent-looking and well- dressed middle class members of the feminine breed in their late thirties.

They certainly didn't look as if they would decamp with your car, or even your bicycle. Perhaps the photographer was not able to catch the revenge mechanism on their faces.

Have women then decided to go in for crimes in which previously they had no interest? If yes, is it out of sheer necessity or just for the heck of it? Are their parents or husbands or children privy to the new spirit of enterprise on their part? Have they too been influenced by video films on crime and violence, or did these three bright females, for example, cook up their venture on their own?

Most importantly, did they bargain for their arrest with the police, photographs in the papers and the resultant ignominious publicity? Or was this publicity the real attraction? After all, these questions do arise but I'm not going to answer them.

It is too much to think up questions of a public nature and then provide the answers too. Maybe there is some connection in this case with the theory of revenge mechanism propounded by my psychologist friend.

The transition from APWA to WAF is one index of the change that has come about in recent years in the attitude of educated women towards their treatment by men. APWA was the goody-goody organisation confining itself strictly to poor women's welfare.

On the other hand, WAF is aggressive, and even abrasive, as also purposeful and realistic to the core. It believes that women's rights and privileges, as recognised and acknowledged by the modern world - and even those conceded by Islam - are being trampled upon and need to be talked about in Pakistan.

It has done more by way of awakening both women and men to this issue in ten years than APWA could even dream of in its fifty years of existence. I started with women car thieves.

I don't mean to imply that consciousness of rights has led women to embark upon such sidelines as petty crime. But it does make one think. This would have been absolutely unheard of not so long ago.

Of course women have always been in the crime business, but to a limited extent. They had their beats, sort of, and kept to them. Now they seem to have started poaching in strictly masculine preserves.

From car- lifting to bank robbery is not a long haul. Is anyone ready to lay a wager on when the first all-women bank dacoity is likely to occur? Whenever it does I can bet one thing: the she-robbers will go straight for the lockers where the jewellery is stored!

Car theft is somewhat on the lines of the things that leisured, wealthy and over-smart sons of influential parents in big cities are fond of doing. Just for the thrill of doing something unlawful.

I don't remember reading the sequel to the case involving those three women. Maybe it was a flash in the pan and nothing more. I don't think educated middle class women in Lahore will be inspired by it to take seriously to wholesale acts of car-lifting.

The real surprise is why hand-to-mouth and oppressed women in this country abstain from criminal acts. Is it the restraint of religion or the bounds of tradition that keep them away? Because the provocation is certainly enormous. At the lower social levels the exploitation and the rigours of poverty are so excruciating that it's a wonder there are not more women murderers around.

While they digest my words, readers can look forward to more and more stories of new criminal ventures by hard-pressed women. So far such ventures have mostly revolved around illicit romantic attachments and their often gory consequences, and that too mainly in the villages where, actually, women are more liberated in some ways. Also they are becoming increasingly involved in the drug-pushing trade.

I don't think that by calling it a revenge mechanism we can fully understand all its implications. With all our glib talk of the woman's place in an Islamic society - talk that is more gas with no substance to prove our bona fides in the matter - what do we really want her to be? A logical view is that half the population cannot remain absolutely different, and more ethical, than the other half.

If the men in Pakistan are bent upon becoming immoral, corrupt, intolerant and undemocratic, they can't expect their womenfolk to be angels. Not for long anyway.

Decline of the West

By Gwynne Dyer

All the countries whose troops fought in Normandy sixty years ago - the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Poland - sent their leaders there on 6 June for the last big commemoration of D-Day.

The soldiers who fought there and survived are entering their eighties now, and not many will be left in another decade. But it feels like the last time for a lot of other things as well.

The D-Day landings were the biggest amphibious operation in history, but the battle for Normandy was not all that big by 1944 standards. Total losses for the Western allies down to the break-out from Normandy were 32,807 killed, while the simultaneous Soviet offensive in Belorussia on the eastern front cost about 250,000 Soviet lives. And despite the film 'Saving Private Ryan', less than a third of the Allied dead in Normandy were Americans.

It was the British and Canadian troops who fought their way through a German killing zone twenty miles (30 km.) deep, drawing German resources to the east of the beach-head so that General Patton's American tanks could break out from the western end and race for Paris. To be precise, 17,769 British and 5,002 Canadian soldiers (and 650 Free Poles) died in the Normandy battle, compared to 9,386 Americans.

Yet Normandy really was an American battle above all, and an important one. The war against Hitler was already won by June, 1944: the Soviet army was less than a year away from entering Berlin.

The D-Day landings were really about where the Soviet army would stop, and their success meant that the armistice line would be drawn down the middle of Germany, not at the English Chanel.

The result was a half-century in which the United States and western Europe became so deeply entwined that people talked about 'the West' as if it were a permanent political phenomenon. It isn't.

There never was a 'West' politically before 1945: just countries inhabited mostly by people of European descent, sharing the same broad cultural and religious heritage, who fought one another regularly and built competing empires around the planet.

After 1945, however, the threat of Soviet troops permanently stationed in the middle of Germany made all the Western European powers implore America to stay in the continent militarily - and Washington, which had identified the Soviet Union as its main post-war rival for global power, was ready to comply.

The creation of the NATO alliance in 1949 sealed the deal: the interests of Western Europe and the United States were now the same, and so 'The West' (aka the 'Free World') was born.

The alliance thrived for almost half a century, but it was bound to go into a slow decline once its reason for being, the Soviet threat, ceased to exist at the beginning of the 1990s.

Strategic concerns diverged: official Washington sees China as a potential challenge to America's status as sole superpower, Europeans see it mainly as a trading partner.

Social and political values were already far apart, and getting further: Europeans tend to see Americans as religious and ideological zealots living in a raw capitalist society where the poorest tenth might as well be in the third world; Americans see Europeans as feckless, free-loading socialists who don't understand that the world is a dangerous place.

Nine-eleven didn't cause this rift, but it added another layer: Europeans see terrorism as a long-term problem that can do considerable damage and must be contained; Americans (or at least those who set the terms of the public debate) see it as an apocalyptic threat that must be destroyed at any cost.

This mindset fed the Bush administration's instinctive unilateralism and provided a saleable political rationale for the neo-conservatives' project of pax americana'.

The resulting wars have accomplished in three years what might otherwise have taken fifteen: the Western alliance has been gutted, although the shell remains.

Exactly one year ago Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser, mournfully told journalists at the G-8 summit how disappointed she was with the French, the Germans and even the Canadians: "There were times when it appeared that American power was seen to be more dangerous than Saddam Hussein. I'll just put it very bluntly. We just don't understand it." Maybe she understands it a bit better now, but probably not.

No matter. The West, as a coherent political and military influence in the world, is breaking apart and this is not necessarily a tragedy. The unique and temporary circumstances that summoned it into existence have vanished, and so it was bound to follow. -Copyright

The blasts of hatred

By Zubeida Mustafa

May was a bad month for Karachi. Two bomb blasts in two Shia mosques took a toll of 50 or so lives. Many more were wounded. In between these two devastating events came the assassination of Mufti Shamzai, the head of the Binori mosque, who is said to have had at one time close links with Osama bin Laden and Mulla Umar.

Apart from these three major events which shook this city of lights and caused it to be shut down on several occasions leading to enormous economic losses, there were two bomb blasts (in front of the PACC).

There was further loss of life when violence broke out as angry protesters took to the streets. All this occurred against the backdrop of a rising graph of thefts, hold-ups, murder and car snatching.

Although the mosque killings were not a manifestation of sectarian violence in a conventional sense - the two major communities, the Sunnis and the Shias, continue to live peacefully with no signs of animosity between them - but those targeted happened to be the Shias.

Hence this use of the label "sectarian", though "hate crime" would be a better term, as suggested by one of our correspondents in our letters column. This rise in violence aimed at the Shias was confirmed by the Amnesty International's Report, 2004, which, coincidentally, was also released in May.

The staggering loss of life, the sense of insecurity and despair generated by this carnage was disturbing enough, to say nothing of the very grave implications of the public perception of these events.

The findings of the investigators looking into the blasts and earlier attacks were also horrifying. Our leaders of opinion were simply not prepared to confront the forces of militancy and sectarian hatred. The considered opinion of one group for the Shamzai killing was that it was organized by the Americans.

The ubiquitous foreign hand was cited in abundance by several leaders - RAW (India's intelligence agency), Israel's Mossad and the entire non-Muslim world (implied by sweeping statements that no Muslim could shed the blood of another Muslim worshipper) were held as the culprit.

But no accusing finger was pointed by any one in office at the so-called jihadi parties, which preach death to the "infidel" as defined by them and promise paradise as a reward for the killer.

This is extremely disturbing because, while these speculative views were being expressed, the police and the intelligence agencies were probing into previous attacks.

What were their findings? The attackers responsible for the two incidents of terrorism in Quetta last year that led to the death of 50 Shia worshippers in a mosque and 13 Hazara police trainees belonged to the supposedly banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi which makes no bones about its hatred of the Shias.

There are other similar groups - notably the Sipah-i-Sahaba and the Jaish-i-Muhammad - which had been declared banned in January 2002 but which continue to operate with impunity under other names. Their members have been found to be involved in many attacks of a sectarian nature.

These groups have demonstrated their skill and resourcefulness in pursuit of their deadly mission. First, they have managed to indoctrinate and mobilize their workers so thoroughly as to produce suicide bombers.

Only a person who is blindly committed to his particular creed and inspired by the message he has received from his mentor would kill himself in the course of his mission.

His is not the case of a Palestinian driven to the depths of despair, despondency and frustration by an oppressive and usurping power which is devastating the Palestinian community and its homeland.

Secondly, the extremists have infiltrated the police and the armed forces and have managed to recruit prayer leaders (pesh imams) of the mosques of the poverty-stricken areas where they find it easier to enlist followers to their cause.

With their members in many key areas of the agencies responsible for providing security to the people, these groups find it easier to carry out their unholy mission without any let or hindrance.

Thus, the suicide bomber of the Hyderi mosque was a serving policeman who was a member of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. Likewise, those who were involved in the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Musharraf were from the army and air force.

Today the militants see the Shias, the United States, Iran and President Musharraf as their common enemies. It is a paradox that such disparate elements have been thrown into the same boat by the accident of circumstances.

Hence clarifications from the American government that the Al Qaeda was not involved in the Karachi killings should not lead to any complacency on its part. The militants do not always operate as part of clearly identifiable organizations under a registered flag. They are loosely-knit groups with broad goals and strategies.

In this crisis, the need of the hour is to identify the nature of the violence, the parties which are perpetrating these nefarious crimes, the factors which are contributing to the growth of these groups and the steps that need to be taken to root out terrorism.

In the wake of the Ali Raza mosque tragedy the president is reported to have taken an important decision to restore peace to Karachi. We do not know what this decision is. But in his article on "Enlightened moderation", he explains that the root cause of extremism and militancy lies in political injustice, denial and deprivation.

According to him, when this combines with poverty and illiteracy, it leads to an explosive mix of an acute sense of deprivation, hopelessness and powerlessness. People suffering from these lethal ills are cannon fodder for the propagation of militancy and extremism.

Very sound reasoning indeed. It does not explain, however, why the parties propagating militancy are allowed to operate so freely and recruit the "hopeless" and "powerless" people for their purpose.

Besides many of the key actors in this process who exploit the common man are neither poor nor illiterate. They are politically astute people and for them this is basically a game for power.

Although the government appealed to the MMA and other political parties not to politicize the violence, the fact is that there is already too much politics in the role of the militant religious groups in Pakistan.

They were created/sustained by the United States and the ISI for fighting against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. They infiltrated into Kashmir to fight against the Indians in the Valley. But now that they turned their guns on the US, the Shias and the president himself on account of his moderate views and pro-American policy - as could have been expected - there is a hue and cry. Terrorism is a double-edged sword. It is like the fire which will burn those who are targeted as well as those who use it for their narrow aim.

One can't be selective in one's approach vis-'-vis terrorism. One cannot expect the jihadis to fight in Kashmir and not indulge in sectarian violence within Pakistan.

This is something which must be recognized by many of the religious parties too who have spawned the militants and never renounced them, though they pretend to distance themselves from their act of terror.

Terrorism leaves no room for politics and should be shunned in toto. Today there is need for the administration to be unambiguous on this count. It should adopt a clear-cut strategy to crack down on the militants.

As for the "cannon fodder", it is not just illiteracy and poverty that must be addressed. There is also need to stop feeding our schoolchildren on a diet of religious hatred, obscurantism and intolerance which some of our textbooks preach.

Regrettably, the government has given in to the lobbies, which want to prepare a critical mass of youth willing to kill themselves to gain paradise in the next world.

Ronald Reagan's dark side

By Mahir Ali

Here'S a modern American paradox. If it's difficult after all these years to be too harsh on Ronald Reagan's presidency, that's largely because its worst excesses have been rendered relatively unremarkable by the events of the past three years.

On the other hand, it would be absurd to overlook the fact that in terms of ideology and practice, George W. Bush isn't so much his father's son as a genetically modified variant of the Reagan prototype.

Many of Bush's right-hand men earned their stripes, so to speak, during the Reagan years. Therefore it is not particularly surprising that even the rhetorical devices of two decades ago - the "war against terrorism", a battle between "good" and "evil" - have been redeployed in recent years.

Of course, the nature of "evil" has changed in the interim. Back in the early 1980s, Reagan in famously described the Soviet Union as an evil empire, and to him communism in all its forms was the main enemy.

His version of the "war against terrorism" therefore, involved close collaboration with brutal military dictatorships in Latin America to crush popular rebellions.

In what is just one among innumerable ironies, it also involved the direct sponsorship of terrorist outfits such as the contras, who were infiltrated into Nicaragua from CIA-operated training camps in Honduras in order to destabilize the Sandinista government. They did so chiefly through murder and pillage directed against civilians.

That didn't prevent Reagan from positing moral equivalence between the mercenary marauders and the founding fathers of the United States. And his administration went out of its way to keep funding the contras in defiance of congressional restrictions.

It conspired to sell arms, sourced from Israel, to the Ayatollahs in Iran as a means of obtaining the release of American hostages held by the Lebanese Hezbollah. Funds from the sale were diverted to the contras.

A couple of heads rolled after the Iran-contra scandal became public, but Reagan feigned ignorance and got away with it. He wasn't, after all, the sort of person whose lack of knowledge in more or less any context strained credulity.

Generally, the poor grasp of facts was partly an act; it served to accentuate plausible deniability in cases such as Iran-contra, but was also designed to enhance electoral appeal.

Why a substantial section of American voters respond positively to limited intelligence isn't easy to understand, although the likeliest explanation lies in their eagerness to find something to relate to in the candidates on offer.

American children are brought up to believe that anyone can grow up to be president. Confronted with the likes of Reagan and Bush, it isn't hard to believe that.

Career-wise, Reagan's trajectory is certainly more intriguing than that of the incumbent. Unlike George Dubya, Ronnie didn't have a privileged childhood. Life was a bit of a struggle until he made a bit of a name as a radio commentator, eventually graduating to B-movie roles in Hollywood - more on the strength of his ability to memorize scripts than a formidable screen presence.

He moved to television before venturing into politics, but the Hollywood phase was crucial in the formation of his character. A self-described "bleeding-heart liberal" who voted thrice for Franklin Roosevelt, he subsequently shifted sharply to the right; as president of the Screen Actors Guild during the McCarthyist wave, he was notorious as an anti-communist crusader.

Reagan's first major political intervention took the form of a 1964 speech in favour of the extremist and divisive Republican presidential candidate Barry Gold water. Two years later he defied expectations by becoming governor of California.

After two more years he made his first attempt to secure the GOP presidential nomination. He failed in 1968 and again in 1976, but his perseverance paid off in 1980.

Again unlike Bush, Reagan won his first presidential election by a landslide, against an opponent perceived as weak and irresolute. It has long been rumoured that Reagan's aides succeeded in persuading Iran's ayatollahs not to release the Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran before polling day, lest their freedom redounded to Jimmy Carter's credit.

What adds credence to this theory is the fact that the hostages were eventually freed on the day of Reagan's inauguration. In his inaugural address, the new president declared: "Government is not the solution, it is the problem."

Whatever one may make of that as a generalization, it was undoubtedly true of the Reagan administration. Perhaps the accolade could be extended to most other US governments in living memory, but it is particularly applicable to the heirs of Reagan who grabbed the presidency in 2000.

For Reagan and his mob, small government essentially meant cutting taxes for the rich (a practice that has continued under George W.) and easing out of the state's welfare commitments. Inevitably, the rich became richer and the poor felt the squeeze.

This doesn't mean Reagan wasn't a big spender: he was responsible for some of the largest deficits in US history. It's just that he didn't believe in wasting money on health or education; instead, he poured cash into further building up America's already formidable nuclear arsenals, as if there was no tomorrow.

That was a particularly dangerous path for someone who believed in Armageddon. Tributes this week have dwelt at length upon Reagan's role in "winning" the cold war.

His administration certainly did play a role in precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union, not least by pushing ahead so far and so fast in the arms race that the USSR, already lagging far behind, couldn't ever hope to catch up. However, until Mikhail Gorbachev came along, it was willing to die trying.

In the US-Soviet arms reduction pacts negotiated towards the end of Reagan's second term in office, Moscow was willing to make proportionately larger concessions than Washington.

It is unlikely that any of Gorbachev's predecessors would have agreed to such terms. But for the advent of Mikhail Sergeyevich, it isn't impossible that the cold war would have ended with a bang rather than a whimper.

Throughout his first term, Reagan adopted a ridiculously gung-ho approach to international affairs, with Margaret Thatcher as an eager accomplice. A British anti-nuclear poster in the early 1980s depicted them in a classic Gone With The Wind pose, with the blurb: "She promised to follow him to the end of the world. He promised to arrange it."

The bleak humour wasn't unwarranted. It was decidedly less funny when Reagan took it upon himself to crack jokes about impending doom, such as this apparently off-the-cuff quip, in 1984, into a microphone that he supposedly didn't know was switched on: "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

In truth, Reagan's version of Armageddon was fought out in the forests of Nicaragua and the hills of Afghanistan. Much like the contras, the Mujahideen were held up as paragons of gallantry and fortitude, and jihad was touted as a supreme virtue.

If the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was a crime, it was only compounded by the US-sponsored response, delivered with the assistance of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (Zia-ul-Haq, not surprisingly, was high on the list of Reagan's favourite tyrants).

As an anti-communist crusader, Reagan was quite complacent about consorting with the sort of Islamic zealots his successors are trying to hunt down. To some it may seem an impolitic question to be raising this week, but it's worth articulating all the same: Had the US pursued a considerably less outrageous foreign policy in the 1980s, would the attacks of September 11, 2001, nonetheless have occurred?

Quite possibly not. But this is not an aspect of Reagan's legacy that is likely to come under scrutiny in the US. Not in a hurry at any rate. His state funeral on Friday will provide yet another opportunity for paeans and panegyrics.

He has already been described as possibly the greatest US president in the 20th century. There has been talk, not entirely in jest, of adding his rugged visage to Mount Rushmore.

"The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to obtain [their objectives]."

Reagan said that. He was speaking of the Soviets, but it seems to be a fairly accurate description of his own administration. And that of his vice-president's son.

Bloodshed in Afghanistan and Nicaragua. Support for extreme-right military juntas in countries such as El Salvador, Bolivia and Pakistan. The gratuitous invasion of Grenada. The attempted assassination of Moammar Qadhafi through the bombardment of Libya.

An ideological shift that dragged the political centre several degrees to the right. These are among the images that memories of the Reagan era conjure up, alongside Ronnie's symbiotic relationship with jellybeans, a disarming line in self-deprecation, and a considerably less amusing tendency to confuse cinema with real life.

Reagan once praised his British soulmate as "the best man in England". Thatcher returned the compliment by describing him as a "poor dear" with "nothing between his ears".

That's a bit harsh. There was something between his ears. Reagan was a scar on the face of American democracy. A scar that never completely healed. And now we are stuck with the sequel.

E-mail: mahirali2@netscape.net.

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