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Byline by MJ Akbar: Blame Game
Contrary to anything you may have learnt from sections of the right-wing media, the current price of oil is not a Muslim-Arab conspiracy to destroy civilisation. It is nothing more, and nothing less, than market-economics coming home to roost. If the price of a car can be subject to market forces there is no reason why the price of a national source should be subject to charity. Russia, which is a very Christian country, has not offered to sell its oil at thirty dollars when the market price is around seventy.
It is a well known axiom that the victor lays down the law, or at least defines the meaning of ‘justice’. But such behaviour is not sustainable because it will be challenged — effectively. The conversion of the victim into the monster is an old tactic. As the English proverb puts, give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
The problem, of course, is not the fact, but the perception. I am writing this column on Saturday 3 September, and here is a list of facts listed in this morning’s Asian Age. It is therefore an arbitrary or accidental list; if I had written this piece yesterday, the list would have been different. The list was distributed not by the Al Islamic Jihad News Agency but by Associated Press, which sends out a package titled ‘Today in History’. According to AP, 3 September was a pretty tough day in world history.
On 3 September 1189 Richard I was crowned King of England, a few months before the left for the Anglo-French crusade against Saladin. In 1497, Isabella of Spain married Manuel, King of Portugal: one of the conditions of the marriage was that Manuel would have to expel all Jews from his kingdom. In 1609, Henry Hudson, looking for India, discovered Manhattan. In 1791 the French reversed their revolution a little bit and created a constitutional monarchy. In 1879 the Afghans massacred a British delegation in Kabul, leading to the second British-Afghan war.
In 1904 Japan defeated Russia (the first Asian nation to defeat a European army in modern times). In 1939 Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany and in 1945 Singapore returned to British possession that day.In 1950, said AP, surely quoting from its archives, "Several Viet Minh terrorists assigned to kill US minister to Indo-China Donald Heath (were) arrested". I hope that the Viet Minh suspects (they had only been arrested, not convicted) were called "terrorists" because they were allegedly on an assassination assignment rather than because they belonged to the Viet Minh, because at least in my book a guerrilla fighting for the liberation of his nation from a colonial occupier and imperialist is a nationalist rather than a terrorist. (That is why I have such high regard for George Washington.)
Check out what happened on 3 September 1497. Five years before, in 1492, Granada had fallen to the Castilians, ending 781 years of Arab rule over various parts of the Iberian peninsula. What was the foremost priority of the new Catholic rulers? The expulsion of Jews, who had lived peacefully under Muslim rulers for nearly eight centuries. But do an opinion poll and the overwhelming majority will believe that Muslims have been the enemies of Jews for 1,400 years. Try pointing out that Jews were given a place of dignity for four hundred years after being expelled from Spain and Portugal in the Ottoman empire and eyebrows will rise. I can’t help adding that Richard I had a peculiar sense of humour: one of the things that made him laugh was watching teeth being extracted from ageing Jews.Such mischaracterisation fits in with the portrait of Islam as a religion of war, spread by the sword etc etc. (If it had been spread by the sword there would have been no Christians left in Spain.) The few war verses of the Quran are lifted out of context and hammered into the collective consciousness of the world. A handful of stupid, or evil, clerics spewing nonsense — whether in India or Britain — are turned into the evidence required to demonise a whole community, which is a bit like saying that all Hindus share the disturbed thought-process of a fire-breather like Togadia or Singhal.
In a wise article in the Guardian of July 23, the Reverend Dr Giles Fraser,vicar of Putney, says about Tony Blair’s Britain: "Muslims who preach hate are to be deported and subject to new restrictions, Charles Clarke (British home secretary) announced in the Commons on Wednesday. So what would the home secretary have to say about stuff like this: ‘Blessed is he who takes your little children and smashes their head against the rocks’? Or this: ‘O God, break the teeth in their mouths… Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime; like the untimely birth that never sees the sun… The righteous will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.’ No, this is not Islam, it is the Bible. And there is a lot more where that came from. Why, then, are so many commentators persuaded that the Quran is a manual of hate — compared to the Judeo-Christian scriptures, it is very tame stuff indeed." The good Reverend also points out that Samson could well be considered the world’s most famous suicide-missionary.The temptation is alluring, but it doesn’t help to blame Islam for the sins of Muslims. Just as no one in his right mind would blame Christianity for the deeds or misdeeds of Robert Mugabe today or Augusto Pinochet yesterday.
Clever politicians like Tony Blair, who will be in India this week, are always correct in their remarks, even while they encourage just that little touch of hysteria in mass media that will deflect attention from the correct diagnosis of their problems. Blair’s problem after the suicide bombings in London is to explain how young men, born in liberal, modern, progressive Britain could behave like children from a Palestinian refugee camp. It is an extremely pertinent question, and the answer lies not in Islam, but in Tony Blair’s mirror.Like a good politician, Blair has found his scapegoats, including one cleric who looks like a made-for-tabloids leftover pirate from a Peter Pan movie. But if he wants to know the truth, which I do not believe he does, he would be better advised to watch television news instead of Friday sermons. The war in Iraq comes home to Britain every day on television. The dangerous anger of those young men was not aimed against Britain, but against a government and its decision to go to war and occupy Iraq behind a gauze of lies. This does not make their violence acceptable. Killing innocents is a crime in any text (and specifically forbidden, incidentally, in the rules prescribed for a legitimate Jihad). But neither does their crime exonerate Blair from his crime. Blair is not paying for his sins. His country is.It is no accident that the Conservatives have an old candidate with a new message in their party’s leadership contest, Kenneth Clarke. The new message is direct: the war in Iraq is among Britain’s costliest mistakes. Clarke is an old-blue Tory, and a businessman (he is vice chairman of British American Tobacco). The only thing radical about him is the suede he prefers for his shoes. Conservatives are traditionally more pro-American than Labour. Clarke would not have made Iraq an issue if it did not have bounce. There was an inevitable spurt of support for Blair after the bombings. Good politicians always benefit from a crisis, and Blair is among the best at his game. But the fizz can leak as fast as it builds up.
The Arab-Israel war of 1973 changed the place of oil in the world’s economy. Opec has not looked back. The Anglo-American occupation of Iraq has been the principal reason for the price of oil touching seventy dollars a barrel and remaining in stratosphere. War does not come cheap. George Bush and Tony Blair look steely when anyone mentions the number of soldiers who have died fighting for their misjudgments, and indifferent when Iraqi casualties are speculated. Nemesis appears in more than one form, sometimes as a child’s haunting coffin, and sometimes as a mother’s tent near your holiday home. Both Bush and Blair have fought their last election. Their successors will go broke paying death duties.