Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Extremism in US & Pakistan

February 26, 2011


COMRADE Stalin must be laughing in his grave. The two states, the US and Pakistan, that collaborated to bring down the empire he had assembled, are now being threatened by the monster they had created together — religious radicalism — to dismantle the 'evil empire'.

Two recent events bring home the truth more poignantly than any number of books and speeches. The cold-blooded murder of Governor Salman Taseer by a religious fanatic in Pakistan, and the near-fatal shooting of liberal Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and the killing of six others in the US by a right-wing fanatic, Jared Loughner, happened at about the same time. This is not the only similarity.

Let's see how these events were seen in the two countries. The religious conservatives in Pakistan haven't even condemned this act of unmitigated murder, nor have they expressed any regret for the constant drumbeat of hateful rhetoric against the voices of moderation. The reaction of the right-wingers in the US is not that bad, but is not entirely different either.

As journalist Michael Tomasky has observed, the Republicans who have condemned Loughner “are silent on the question of violent rhetoric that emanates from the right-wing American society”. He goes on to say that “for anyone to attempt to insist that the violent rhetoric so regularly heard in this country had no effect on this young man is to enshroud oneself in dishonesty and denial”.

What we are looking at today in the world, especially in the US, has been in the making in the course of three ideological conflicts that took place, one after the other with hardly a pause, during the last 70 years —perhaps the most violent 70 years in human history. These three conflicts, where the US assumed a dominant role, happened in this order: first, the conflict with the fascist alliance; second, with the communist Soviet Union; and now with the Muslim extremists. These conflicts played on the psyche of the antagonists in a way that has not even been noticed, let alone understood. Let me make an attempt.By a little understood working of the human psyche, the antagonists in a mortal combat absorb part of the personality of the adversary through a process that can best be described as 'psycho-osmosis'. Having gone through this process, the oppressed become the oppressors, as for example the Zionists; the law-enforcers become the law-breakers, like the police and intelligence agencies; and freedom fighters become ruthless dictators, like so many post-independence leaders in Asia and Africa. The Americans having been a party to all three conflicts and have undergone that transformational experience thrice.

In the conflict with the fascist adversary, the American society absorbed a part of Nazi worldview — racism. During the war with the fascists and the Japanese the US did not act against the Italian or German Americans, but did so against the Japanese Americans. By the executive Order 9066 of 1942, President Roosevelt gave army the power, without warrant or indictment or hearing, to arrest every Japanese American on the west coast — 110,000 men, women and children — and intern them in camps under prison conditions. It was later upheld by the Supreme Court on grounds of military necessity. Reminiscent of that racist policy is today's 'profiling' by the US security agencies.

The second phase of psycho-osmosis was experienced by the American society during the Cold War. While opposing a totalitarian regime, the US produced its own version of commissars, prosecutors and ideologues, vividly portrayed by persons like John Foster Dulles, Joseph McCarthy, Edgar Hoover and Billy Graham, who almost succeeded in turning America into an ideological police state. In the Muslim world too the US allies grew closer to the totalitarianism they were supposed to fight against, and persecuted the liberals and secularists so relentlessly and ruthlessly that even today, two decades after the end of the Cold War, the liberals remain weak and almost irrelevant in most of the Muslim societies.

In the third phase, the Christian fundamentalists and the Muslims radicals have locked horns, and have assimilated part of each other. In response to Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Ayman al Zawahiri, Baitullah Mehsud and others, the US has produced its own version of religious fanatics — Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwel, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush and others who have laid the foundations of the 'American theocracy' as Kevin Phillips calls it in his book of that title. Holy war has been declared by both sides, and the crusaders and the jihadis ride again after 700 years. There are other similarities too, including the one that is rather comic.

Donald Rumsfeld, himself a crusader, believes that this is a clash between Good and Evil, and would continue for a long time, maybe for ever. Bin Laden also believes that this is a clash between Good and Evil, but he is more optimistic. Islamists, he believes, would prevail over the infidels in not too distant a future. Then there is that curious case of statues. While Mullah Omar had the statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan blown up to establish the piety of his rule, George Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft, also found the statue of justice at his department quite improper, but stopped short of blowing it up. Instead, he had the bare upper portion discreetly covered with blue cloth, and covered it stays even after his departure.

As a consequence of this clash of faiths with a medieval mindset, the two societies, the American and the Pakistani, are now the most intolerant within their respective civilisations. That this should happen to the Pakistani society is a regional disaster. That this should happen to the American society is a global calamity.

The writer is a retired civil servant.