The senseless attack on the Charlie Hebdo news office , its credentials notwithstanding, as well as an associated hostage drama, in which a total of 17 people were killed, galvanised the French public to the extent that over 3.7 million people, including 40 world leaders, turned up for the Unity Rally throughout France. Compare that with our lukewarm and divided response to a far graver tragedy that befell us some three weeks earlier: the indiscriminate and wanton slaughter of around 140 children, their Principal and their teachers, by mindless brutes. It was heartening to see though the new found resolve amongst our military and political leadership to combat terrorism of all shades, a far cry from its reaction to endless atrocities perpetuated on our hapless citizens over the past three decades. Constant exposure to information bombardment of a singular politico-religious kind, aided by the influx of billions of petrodollars, has desensitised us to the extent that we have become immune to pain inflicted on others and we have increasingly tended to favour the oppressor over the oppressed.
It is perhaps a sign of the technological times that the Israeli onslaught against the hapless Gazans last summer finally generated some attention: previous ones in 2008 and 2009, just as brutal, went unnoticed. Not enough apparently though to provoke any reaction, howsoever nominal, from the big self-righteous guys with the big guns and the big mouths, happily engaged in their self-professed Jihad in neighbouring climes. If I recall correctly, when Israeli brutality was at its height during the past intifada, an emergency meeting of the Heads of State of the Arab League countries had been called to discuss the possible responses, but they couldn’t even agree on a draft resolution censuring Israel for its criminal acts, having exhausted their energies in lavishing the choicest of epithets on each other.
Some points to ponder, though: How is it that such a small country like Israel, surrounded by heavily peopled, strongly armed and abundantly affluent Arab countries, is allowed to get away repeatedly with such naked displays of brutality? Why is such a country an oasis of peace amidst a desert of strife? Why are the surrounding Arab countries, whose combined defence spendings are at least a hundred times more, are still powerless in confronting external threats? Why do these Arab Muslim states never think of the possession of nuclear warheads by Israel as an existential threat, while the mere thought of the remote possibility of a nuclear Iran sends them into a paroxysm of rage? Why did the invasion of a relatively insignificant country like Afghanistan trigger the mass influx of extra state jihadis, while the capture and continued occupation of the third holiest site of Islam, Jerusalem, in the heart of the Arab lands, didn’t? Why were the indoctrinated jihadists used to repel one superpower, while for a crisis in their own lands, the Gulf monarchies had to plead for the intercession of the other superpower-led coalition, spurning bin Laden’s offer of assistance?
The answer perhaps lies embedded in the response Gen Moshe Dayan, the architect of the ’67 war victory, gave, when pressed as to what he owed his success to. His succinct comment: ‘A careful choice of enemies’. To be fair, six elements define Israel vis-a-vis its Muslim neighbours: internal cohesion, functional democracy, rule of law, the importance it ascribes to intellect and innovation, effective use of available resources and most important, its extreme benevolence towards its own people, while being ruthless towards its enemies; in its Muslim neighbours, it is the reverse. Israeli crimes against its enemies pale in comparison with what the likes of Saddam Hussain, Hafez al Assad, Bashar Assad and the latest entrant in the field, Gen Sisi of Egypt, did and still do to their own people. Few talk about the continuing blockade of the only escape route of the Palestinians from Gaza by Egypt,effectively boxing them in a densely- populated strip. More than a hundred times more Muslims have been massacred, most in cold blood with self-righteous ease, by the Saudi-financed takfiris than the entire West-Israel combine could manage, yet rather than eliciting revulsion, it continues to receive our moral support. At the height of the US occupation of Iraq in the mid-2000’s, al Qaeda’s pointman in the war-ravaged country, Al Zarqawi, was more intent in bombing Shiite residential areas, markets and shrines, rather than combatting the invaders. Perhaps its time for us to wake up and smell the coffee!
Following on from the above, the manner in which the near total security of Israel vis-a-vis internal discord among and between its neighbours has come about, is worth a closer look. This has been accomplished, by design or default, through the sustained presence of repressive regimes in its periphery, discriminatory towards their own people, brutal towards the expatriates working there, yet consistently caving in to external threats. Israel must have gauged earlier on that it couldn’t bank on this alone and would need other guarantees.
Seven back to back events that transpired in 1979-1980, many if not all apparently engineered, provided a lucky(?) break: the Isamic revolution in Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussain’s aggression against neighbouring Iran(incited by the US and underwritten by the Gulf monarchies), the occupation of the US Embassy at Tehran by radical students, the occupation of Haram al Sharif (planned and executed by ultra-radical disgruntled graduates of Medinah Islamic University) and the storming of the US Embassy at Islamabad in response.
The setting was ideal for fomenting sectarian strife, which would keep the Muslim world occupied and ablaze for near eternity, a sort of rekindling of ancient animosities. A tacit tripartite understanding that was reached on the Afghanistan issue envisaged the US providing guidance and hardware, the Saudis the ideology as well as the bulk of the funds, while execution on ground was left to Pakistan. Radicalisation of a society becomes much easier if sweetened with honey: radical Madrassas mushroomed at a 100 to 136% growth rate, with no dearth of talibs, as the best possible living facilities were provided, mosques and Islamic universities were lavishly funded, Saudi Hadood laws were introduced verbatim and Islamic education of the Wahhabi variety was introduced in public schools. In short, the soul of Wahhabism was injected into the body fabric of Sunnism, the liberalism of Imam Abu Hanifa being replaced by an unfamiliar and ultra-rigid creed.
This was supposed to be a win-win situation for everyone: the Saudis to keep their Wahhabi ideologues, bound by a 250 year old agreement with the House of Saud, sated and happy in distant climes; for Pakistan, it spelled the legitimacy of a dictator , a lot of cash and the opportunity to use its newly-acquired ‘strategic assets’ against an arch enemy and as the reasoning subsequently went, it won’t be a bad trade-off if some minorities get conked-off in the bargain to whet their appetites, provided they advanced the national agenda. US and Israel must have been obviously delighted(as they were at the Iraq-Iran fratricidal war, in which their only regret was that it ended too soon), at the prospect of seeing Muslims occupied in their own bloody affairs. This possibly helps to explain why, despite 15 out of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 being Saudis, the strong US-Saudi partnership never came under strain and why, despite the Americans getting bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, they never seriously pursued the issue of choking funds flowing from the Gulf monarchies to the jihadi networks.
All religious matters stemming from political causes can be resolved with time, but such venom like the takfiri doctrine, which espouses fatwas of apostasy on anyone disagreeing with their views and thereby making their killing not only compulsory, but an act of extreme piety, is difficult to obliterate. But as they say, what goes around, comes around, and the House of Saud is finding to its intense discomfort that the very fires it helped to stoke throughout the world have now reached their own backyard.