Alternatives to US Domination: Prof. Mahmood Mamdani

At the Press Club of India on 30 December 2008 an unusual lecture on 'The World before and after 9/11: alternatives to US domination' by Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, the author of Good Muslim Bad Muslim: America and the Roots of Terror traced the origin of political Islam in South Asia to the political struggles of 1857. His wife Mira Nair, the Film Director was also present along with the academia and media persons.

Mamdani referred to the influence of Jamaluddin Afghani of Iran, Abu ala Mawdudi and Syed Qutb on political Islam and said, "When I read Syed Qutb’s ’Milestones’, particularly the introduction where he says he wrote it for an Islamic vanguard, I thought I was reading Lenin’s ’What is to be Done?’ When I read the main text, particularly Qutb’s distinction between friend and enemy, a friend as one with whom you must use persuasion but an enemy as one who needs to be dealt with by force, I was reminded of Mao ze Dong’s distinction in his essay ’On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People”. Mamdani stated that Pakistanis are Hindus with Muslim names.

Given the widespread presence of language of politics in religion, he argued that the text must not be split from the context as is being done in the post cold war era. Sadly, even the international human rights discourse is not contexualising the crises. .
Terror is violence against civilians but it has a political base. Violence of Hamas is seeking reforms in the same way as African National Congress sought end of apartheid as a pre-condition for end of violence.

Illustrating from the developments in African nations, South Africa was cited as an example of deglobalizing conflicts because global powers have short-term stakes and they can run away at their whims and fancies but regional approach is long-term based because there is no escaping from the neighborhood. In spite of Pearl Harbor, World War Two was fought in Europe and Asia, not in the US. The Cold War was not fought in Europe, but in Southeast Asia, in Southern Africa, and in Central America. Right up to September 10, the US and Britain compelled African countries to reconcile with terrorist movements in the name of reconciliation - as in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone, and in Angola.

He evinced his strong dismissal of the tendency to distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims. Elsewhere he poses a question,"How do you make sense of politics that consciously wears the mantle of religion? and has ridiculed the theorizations to the effect that terrorists of September 11 did not just hijack planes, they hijacked true Islam. In any case, Jihad is a struggle against external enemies of Islam, which is the Islamic version of the Christian notion of "just war". Mamdani says, "Terrorism is not a cultural residue in modern politics. Rather, terrorism is a modern construction."

In an article written for Social Science Research Journal, he has referred to the scenario in 1985 wherein Ronald Reagan met Afghani leaders of the Mujaheddin and introduced them to the media present at the White House lawn saying, "These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America's founding fathers" in order to harness one version of Islam in a struggle against the Soviet Union in the aftermath of US defeat in Vietnam and the collapse of the Portuguese empire in Africa in 1975. US cultivated terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet. It partnered with apartheid South Africa, which was accused by the UN of perpetrating "a crime against humanity." This partnership bolstered a number of terrorist movements: Renamo in Mozambique, and Unita in Angola to paralyze government. Very soon, US inspired terrorism shifted its focus to Central America, to Nicaragua and El Salvador.

It was in this and in the post Iranian Revolution of 1979 context that Afghanistan policy became its strategic intervention and roped in pro-American Islamic lobby. as well.

US administration hoped to turn a religious schism inside Islam, between minority Shia and majority Sunni, into a political schism to contain the influence of the Iranian Revolution as a minority Shia affair. Towards this aim it forged a US/Saudi (Wahabbism)/Pakistani/Mujaheddin (Taliban) alliance as alternatives to secular nationalism. and Israeli intelligence created Hamas as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation. These were covert and overt military interventions.

It is noteworthy that military issues are political issues which the Israeli way of hitting back with disproportionate force or the US way of pre-emptive war against terror or Saudi way of war on indecency does not recognise. Unless the political roots of military issues are taken cognisance of the shift from criminal justice to political justice is not possible.

Even terror has a political base but when a nation state has militarize, it downplays the political dimension but the same state when it chooses to demilitarize, it highlights the political aspect. It must be noted that political violence is political and criminal violence is social. Therefore, solutions to current military crisis must lies in the political domain. Violence cannot be its own explanation. The political development in the aftermath of Madrid bombing provides an alternative solution.

Underlining that Pakistan is a fragmented power, the South Asian crisis has a regional
dimension and it merits a regional solution. Taking the route of Israel-US-India nexus will have both internal and external costs for India.

It is a fact that South Asia as else where perhaps has been a witness to a regime of rampant impunity even for those who were involved in crimes against humanity.

In a context where violence has been privatized and there is a proxy war underway, the challenge lies in demilitarizing society. India can take the initiative in this regard not US even under Barack Obama who was initially a peace candidate but later he became an advocate of "right war".

Mamdani concluded, violence must be historicized. Language of justification cannot explain itself. It is understandable if a weak regional power seeks the help of global power but it is not understandable if strong regional power does the same.

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