Sunday, September 24, 2006

Help Wanted?

Byline by M J Akbar: Help Wanted?

The key to understanding the latest turn in Anglo-American policy towards India and Pakistan is that recent incidents of terrorism in Britain owe as much to local Muslim anger about Kashmir as they do to Iraq or Palestine. A good percentage of British Muslims are Mirpur-Kashmiri in origin, with links to jihadi groups in Pakistan, and provide an abundant source of British-Muslim suicide terrorists.

Tony Blair, anxious to sew some of the tatters on his reputation before he leaves office, is keen these days to address the "root causes" of Muslim anger, and Kashmir is right up there along with Palestine. He has made a well-advertised trip to Palestine. Kashmir is more complicated. But by any logic, George Bush is the better interlocutor, since he has excellent personal relations, as well as political leverage, with both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf.

This perhaps was why it was Bush who raised the issue of Kashmir during his talks with Pervez Musharraf on Friday 22 September in Washington, rather than the other way round. It is logical for Musharraf to bring Kashmir up. Why did Bush do so? I am not revealing any state secret. This comes straight from Bush himself.

This nuance has not yet reached the attention of Indian public opinion, which is understandable. It also seems to have eluded the Indian establishment, which is less explicable.

During his comments to the media after the talks, Bush said that he "admired" Musharraf’s leadership and praised him as a symbol of moderation, according to the news agencies, AP and AFP. He then added that he "raised the Kashmir issue with the Pakistani leader". Bush went on to ask Musharraf: "What can we do to help? What would you like the United States to do to facilitate an agreement? Would you like us to get out of the way? Would you like us not to show up? Would you like us to be actively involved? How can we help you, if you so desire, to achieve peace?"

It was an interesting, and even remarkable, array of options. Musharraf did not tell us what his answer was, but he certainly would not have kept silent. Instead of Pakistan asking for America’s help, it was America asking what it could do to help. We will learn about the implications of these remarks when they begin to take effect on policy. Musharraf informed Bush that his meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh in Havana had been "excellent" and that India and Pakistan were "moving on the Kashmir dispute especially". The story from Delhi so far has concentrated on the "joint mechanism" for a concerted effort between India and Pakistan on terrorism. The stress has not been on Kashmir, but maybe Musharraf understands what happened differently.

Bush linked Kashmir and Palestine. He agreed that the US could not impose a settlement in either dispute. But, he added, "We can help create the conditions for peace to occur. We can lay out the vision. We can talk to world leaders — and we do."

The September pirouette began a few days earlier with a slight thud, almost inevitable since Bush and Musharraf have to negotiate through so many thickets to find common ground. But it quickly picked up momentum and indeed some style, since both knew what they were doing. That their meeting ended in laughter and expressions of admiration says a great deal about the confidence Bush has in Musharraf, who has proved a master strategist. Who else but Musharraf could sell the deal he made with the Taliban as another tactic in the war against terror? And Bush bought it.

But was it a one-way swap? Did Bush have something to sell as well?

Pakistan has been in the news in an American campaign season (the elections to Congress in the first week of November) for the worst reason on Bush’s long list of problems: Osama bin Laden.

Five years ago, America went to war against a Taliban-led Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, the self-declared mastermind of 9/11. If the Taliban had handed over their permanent guest to America, the case for an invasion would have collapsed. Five years later, Osama is still free, and questions are being asked. On the weekend before 9/11 I happened to be on a CNN programme called At War This Week. I pointed out that while America, despite satellites and the most sophisticated military and intelligence presence in the region, claimed that it could not find Osama, Osama seemed perfectly capable of finding America whenever he wanted. He had just reasserted this ability by sending another tape, replete with his familiar themes, to Al Jazeera in the week before the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Did these tapes reach Doha on Alladin’s magic carpet? It was common knowledge that the tapes went from Osama’s residence to Qatar by old-fashioned, almost antique, Cold War tradecraft: letter box drops and a courier system. If British and American intelligence agencies, honed on Cold War espionage, could not discover a fairly porous human chain, then one had to suspect either their ability or their intention. It is a tough choice.

Such were the dilemmas that persuaded Wolf Blitzer of CNN to ask Bush, during an interview, whether he would send American troops in pursuit of Osama if he received reliable intelligence that Osama’s safe haven was in Pakistan. Bush replied in the affirmative. Was he taking Pakistan agreement for granted, or had a deal already been made with Musharraf that American troops would be permitted to use Pakistani soil for their operations? Musharraf objected to Bush’s unilateral decision, but this clearly had no impact on the bonhomie of their meeting. American troops are already in Afghanistan, with close communications support from Pakistan, and the border isn’t etched on stone.

Diplomacy is about give and take, and Musharraf has taken back with him to Islamabad some forward movement on Kashmir from his linked trip to Havana and Washington. The sentence he used at the White House — "we are moving on the Kashmir dispute especially" — was not accidental. The use of "especially" was particularly deliberate. We are not aware of the full meaning of this word. Perhaps we will discover that after the first phase, that of a "joint mechanism", is in place.

The "joint mechanism" between India and Pakistan on terrorism opens the way for a bilateral body that has the ability to monitor and investigate terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, since this mechanism has been designed to allay Indian concerns about Pak support for terrorism in India. This is an extremely bold move, since Delhi has co-opted the country it has accused of terrorism into the solution of the problem. The presence of Pakistan police officers in Delhi and Mumbai, and certainly Srinagar, will arouse unprecedented levels of interest. The reaction of Indian intelligence officers will be even more interesting.

No one sane would want to sabotage a solution to the Kashmir problem, and if George Bush and Tony Blair can help attain one, then may they get half of the Nobel Peace Prize money that awaits Musharraf and Manmohan Singh. The tough part is the definition of a solution, even after we have managed to define terrorism. The official Islamabad line, repeated as frequently as you want to hear it, is that the violence in Kashmir is not terrorism but a war of liberation. Words words words: and how much blood flows between them…

The disconcerting fact about the Havana deal is that it is a marked departure from the line that Delhi has been taking for at least a year. The immediate reaction to the Mumbai train blasts, for instance, was to blame Pakistan. Whether wise or not, that certainly begs a question: what has happened in the weeks since that incident to persuade Dr Manmohan Singh that Islamabad can be a partner in the solution to our most difficult and painful problem? Every citizen has the right to know the answer, and judge its credibility, otherwise suspicion will provide its own set of answers. Before a solution obtains the grandeur of a multilateral approval, or a bilateral agreement, it must pass the sieve of a national, unilateral acceptance.

The first base is home, and it always comes first.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Holier than me

Byline by M J Akbar: Holier than me

An intriguing part of the conversation between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and "an educated Persian" now made world-famous by Pope Benedict XVI, is that the Persian seems to have no name. There is no mention of it in the speech made by the Holy Father during his "Apostolic Journey" to the University of Regensburg on 9/12.

The Persian must have been an intellectual of some importance if he was good enough to merit an audience with an "erudite" emperor. Does his name exist in the original text, since it was "presumably the Emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402"? Was the name mentioned in the version produced by Professor Theodore Khoury, which the Pope has read, and which he used in a speech on a critical aspect of a sensitive theme at a time of conflict, on the Islamic doctrine of "holy war"? I ask because names lend greater credibility to text. Was the name omitted because Muslims of the educated kind preferred anonymity? Not at all. Imam Ghazali and Ibn Khaldun were household names at the time of this dialogue.

There are other uncertainties in the Pope’s speech, which purports to be about "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections" in which he quotes Manuel’s ignorant, but, given the history of the early and medieval Church’s continual diatribe against Islam and its Prophet, predictable view. This discussion on "holy war" appeared in the seventh conversation and was "rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole". It is interesting that Pope Benedict should select what was "rather marginal" for emphasis and ignore the apparently more substantive issues that were discussed. What is genuinely disconcerting is that the Holy Father should accept Manuel’s taunting, erroneous and provocative depiction of the Prophet’s message without any qualification. Pope Benedict is not at all disturbed by phrases as insulting as "evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". This is utterly wrong, as even a cursory understanding of Islam would have made apparent. Are the Pope’s speechwriters equally biased or ignorant? The Pope treated Manuel’s observation and commentary as self-evident truth.

I have a further question: Why didn’t the Pope quote the Persian scholar’s answer to Manuel? It was a conversation, after all. Are we to believe that the Persian gave no answer, that he did not challenge such a rant? He could not have been much of a scholar in that case. If he did not reply he justifies his anonymity.

I am not erudite enough to have read the dialogue in the original Greek, or Professor Khoury’s edited version of it. I can only go by the Pope’s speech in Germany.

Some uncertainties can be explained by the distance of six centuries, as for instance the sentence that the conversation took place "perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara". The fact that we are reading Manuel’s record, rather than the Persian’s, also explains why it lays more stress on the emperor’s view of theology.

What is aggravating is that the Pope has been free with assumptions, and liberal with its first cousin, innuendo. The peaceful piety of Manuel becomes an indictment of Islam, which is held to be violent in preference and doctrine. The innuendo is cleverly expressed, indicating that some effort has been taken to be clever. The famous verse of the Quran, that "There is no compulsion in religion", is juxtaposed with the proposition that "According to the experts, this is one of the Suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat". The implication is that when he was not under threat, he drew out his sword and went on a rampage. This is the kind of propaganda that the Church used to put out with abandon in the early days, adding gratuitously comments about believers and "infidels". This is the line that those who have made it their business to hate Muslims, use till today. But the Vatican had stopped such vilification, and it is unfortunate that Pope Benedict has revived it.

If he had consulted a few experts who understood Islam, he might have been better educated on "holy war".

It is absolutely correct that no war verse was sent down to the Prophet during his Mecca phase. Despite the severest persecution, to the point where he almost lost his life, he never advocated violence. There are innumerable verses in the Quran extolling the merits of peace, and a peaceful solution to life’s problems — including a preference for peace over war. The Quran treats Christians and Jews as people of the Book, despite the fact that they did not accept the Prophet’s message. It praises Jesus as "Ruh-Allah", or one touched by the spirit of Allah (this is the best translation I can think of). Mary, mother of Jesus, is accepted as virgin, although the Quran is equally clear that Jesus is a man, and not the son of God.

The war verses are sent to the Prophet only when he has been in Medina for some time, and has become not only a leader of the community but also head of a multi-faith state. War, in other words, is permitted as an exercise in statecraft, and not for personal reasons, including persecution. Further, it is circumscribed with important conditions. Surely no one, including Pope Benedict, believes that a state cannot ever take recourse to war? Indeed, the history of the Vatican is filled with war. The Quran’s view of war, as an answer to injustice, certainly merits more understanding than censure.

Manuel’s view is better understood in the context of his times. He was monarch of a once-glorious but now dying empire. The Ottomans had been slicing off territory for centuries; the first Crusade had been called by Pope Urban II three centuries before to save the Byzantines from Muslim Turks. The heart of the empire, Constantinople, was now under serious threat. If Tamerlane (another Muslim) had not suddenly appeared from the east and decimated the Ottomans, Constantinople might have fallen during that siege which so depressed Manuel. It was hardly a moment when the Byzantines could have the most charitable view of an Islamic holy war. What is less understandable is why Pope Benedict should endorse a fallacy.

The present Pope is not a successor to the great and wise John Paul II. He is heir to predecessors like Pope Nicholas V who issued "The Bull Romanus Pontifex" in January 1455. This Holy Father sought "to bestow favours and special graces on Catholic kings and princes, who ... not only restrain the savage excesses of the Saracens (that is, Muslims) and of other infidels, enemies of the Christian name, but also for the defence and increase of the faith vanquish them..." He then praises King Alfonso for going to remote places "to bring into the bosom of his faith the perfidious enemies of him and of the life-giving Cross by which we have been redeemed, namely the Saracens and other infidels..."

And so on. This was the philosophy that created the Inquisition in which Muslims and Jews were killed and driven out of Catholic kingdoms in Spain and Portugal after the Christian reconquests. Do note that Muslims did not have any exclusive copyright over the use of the term "infidel".

I have no particular desire to introduce 16th century dialectic into contemporary attempts to bridge inter-faith misunderstanding, but it is pertinent that Nicholas V became Pope some sixty years after Manuel’s conversations with the unnamed Persian. Equally, there is no point in quoting from, say, Dante’s rather bilious descriptions of the Prophet and Hazrat Ali for that language belongs to a different world.

A suggestion to those who believe in an "international outcry". Hyper-reactions tend to suggest nervousness. Islam is not a weak doctrine; it is built on rock, not sand. Reason is a more effective weapon than anger.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What a Fall

Byline by M J Akbar: What a Fall

I first saw the Niagara as a child, in the Readers’ Digest, in the form of a retro wavy-line illustration for an article on a man who jumped over the Falls in a barrel. It was the kind of article that used to make Americans, who owned the Digest, rich, and Indians, who read it, literate. The chap inside the barrel was either mad or French, or possibly both, but he survived to become an international icon. Why did he dare death? Perhaps because circus had not been replaced completely by television as family entertainment, and the world still bred stuntmen who could put their heads in a lion’s mouth for a living.

He could not have made that jump from the American side of the Niagara Falls, or he would have landed on hard rock and reached purgatory rather than the Digest. The Niagara river sweeps to the edge of the precipice with a brisk, choppy urgency, and then divides unevenly on either side of an island before descending with a crash, a roar and a cloud into the gorge. The American falls are linear, much smaller, and hit huge boulders of rock.

The Canadian falls form a horseshoe over which an olive green river changes colour suddenly at the invisible line of descent, turning an exquisite jade interspersed with powerful, broad rolling columns of milk-white. Ever so often, foam ascends up the fall, like a salmon cascading up a perpendicular storm. The gorge is enveloped by a mist that rises into a vague, unthreatening, unsteady mushroom cloud.

Remarkably, the river turns placid very quickly, as if energy has rebounded into the air rather than travelled forward with the water. The man in the barrel understood that if he developed just a little extra momentum, he would be pushed by the force into the calm.

However, despite being mad, or French, he had the gumption not to try and repeat the stunt.

I was told of a child of five who fell from a boat gone amok on the regular part of the river, and survived because of his life vest and the unmentioned possibility that the Almighty had personally drafted his destiny. One acrobat strung a tightrope through the wet cloud, from one end of the horseshoe to the other, strapped a man, seated in a chair, on his back, began to cross, stopped halfway, placed the man-plus-chair on the metal wire and walked on to the other side. By the time he returned to save his partner in the act, he was still sane, but his companion had turned into a gibbering idiot.

There is something in the Niagara air that encourages dubious behaviour. For some reason — possibly a holiday mood — I began surging with puns. Let me offer you a particularly poor one. The Canadians have the Niagara Falls; the Americans have the Niagara Fallout.

One should have known by the signage of the first restaurant to greet us in the city of Niagara: Bar B.Q. Village. Restaurant. Indian Cuisine. Pakistan and Bangladesh Foods. Halal. There were more nations represented in the Sunday tourist melee than sit in the United Nations. A walk through the promenade was a journey through a dictionary of languages. Of those I could recognise, if not understand, Gujarati was at the top, closely followed by Tamil. If American is given its correct due as an independent tongue, and the subcontinent variety formally disowned by Oxbridge (see placard), then English came pretty low on the list. Identities swarmed by: an Arab pushing his mother in a wheelchair; Afghan women in headscarves gossiping on the railing; a bald man in a red Suisse T-Shirt; a Latino honcho with a padded crotch. The most visible faces were Chinese and Indian, a display of the new purchasing power of their surge-economies. Judging by the number of Louis Vuitton bags, Indians and Chinese are either getting richer at a fabulous pace or Chinese counterfeiters have taken over the commerce in quality brands.

Canada and America share the Falls. There is the occasional spiteful jibe from America, which is uncomfortable with being the junior partner, but the wonder of the world is peacefully shared. What would have happened if the Niagara had been on the border of India and Pakistan? War would have broken out over the small patch of green separating the two sections, for starters: if we can fight over the frozen water of a glacier, we can certainly go to war over the flowing torrents of a fall. Media would have constantly described it as the most scenic battlefield in the world. Every evening, frontier guards from the two countries, flaunting military plumes, would have high-goosed to assert sovereignty to the plaintive sounds of some forgotten British Indian Army hymn. The national flags would flutter high. In addition, 30 saffron banners would wave over Shiv temples on one side, and 48 green flags would test the breeze over mosques on the other. There would probably be one shrine at which troops from both countries would forget their differences and pay common homage. The most fascinating aspect of an Indo-Pak Niagara would of course be the fact that there would be no water in the fall. We would have drained the water upstream and diverted it to wheat production. At the bottom of the gorge, dhobis would be washing dirty linen in the trickle that survived the water-hunters.

Capitalism starts where nature ends. Cross the street from Niagara, stroll up a mild incline and you suddenly arrive on a street that makes money out of fear. It is an extraordinary fact that children who do not display the slightest tremor at the ferocity of nature, available free at the Niagara Falls, pay good money to enter Frankenstein’s Gothic-lettering laboratory. The fear-shop managed to mix up Frankenstein with Dracula, but that is a minor quibble. Puns rule on Fear Avenue: a deep baritone voice orders the passer-by to step into Frankenstein’s world to kill time. Across the street, King Tut’s eyes glow a deep red, his slab-shaped beard moves to and fro and periodically he utters a few words which, fortunately, I cannot decipher. Why does artificially induced fear, which needs to cross but an age-line to slip into laughter, work? It must be because the child’s imagination is still pristine, endless, and unburdened by the mundane facts that govern life’s reality. Is age the slow erosion of imagination?

The big debate in Canada is whether the looming labour shortage should be solved by immigration from abroad or more babies at home. (I shall bravely resist the temptation to labour away at another pun.) Canada has enough space, a First World economy and not enough people at the bottom end of the economic pyramid, hence the soft immigration policy. Basically all you have to do is turn up, even using political asylum as your stated reason, hang around for three years and they make you legal. An Indian working in my hotel told me that he had come for a cousin’s marriage 15 years ago, and never returned. There are a million South Asians in Toronto, and Punjabi is their national language. Some turn up to claim political asylum. That is probably why the waiter with a heavy Bangladeshi accent at one Indian restaurant told me that he was from Afghanistan. My sympathies are with this young man. Canada cannot be the happiest destination for Bengali sons whose mothers ordered them to wear monkey caps when the Kolkata or Dhaka temperature dropped in November. The winter temperature in Toronto can stay at minus thirty for months. You need a bear hat around here rather than a monkey cap.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

America 1968

Byline by MJ Akbar: America 1968

Washington: America has returned to 1968. On 31 August, a vital deadline at the very top of George Bush’s agenda passed, and no one died at the deadline. Instead, the intended victim was frisky to the point of being cocky. Thursday was the day given by the international community, led by the United States and followed by the United Nations, for Iran to submit to pressure and abjure its nuclear programme. The weight of the Security Council lay behind the ultimatum. Far from cowering, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited over a hundred and fifty journalists to Tehran, including the powers that be from American media, to taunt Bush to a one-to-one debate, lecture America and its allies on good and evil, and litter the world with one-liners. In essence he had asked two questions (to echo Stalin’s question to the Pope): How many divisions does the Security Council have? The second question was to America: How many divisions does the Pentagon have to spare for Iran?

Washington, for a change, did not need additional evidence in its search for the fabled "weapons of mass destruction," this time in Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported this week that Iran continued to produce enriched uranium, albeit on a small scale and at relatively low levels, at its Natanz facility. Iran’s answer remained what it has always been, and one which should be familiar enough to the Indian subcontinent: its nuclear facilities were there only for peaceful purposes.

Good night.

On the domestic front, Ahmadinejad is a touch more forthcoming. He accuses the West, alias America, of mouthing human rights while maintaining the world’s most notorious prisons, and being the source of all the problems we face, while behind him banners declare: "Nuclear Energy Is Our Inalienable Right."

Good morning.

Compared to Ahmadinejad on a nuclear future, Saddam Hussein was an overblown mouse when shock and awe smashed his regime and toppled his preposterous statue. Saddam was always less than met the eye and, like any bully-cum-dictator, vulnerable to a deal. Ahmadinejad is not interested in stupid statues. Everyone who has met him has returned impressed with his intelligence. He could be more than meets the eye.

Strength is a relative matter. You are not as good as your arsenal. You are only as good as your capability. When George Bush was planning the invasion of Iraq, one country that kept very quiet indeed was Iran. Three years later, Iran is doing the talking, and America is wondering what to do. Bush has snared America in a self-made trap, and Iran is laughing all the way to a nuclear bank. It is still a long walk. Iran is nowhere near weapons-making capability yet. But it is on the way.

If there is one alphabet that George Bush would love to have changed in the four-letter word that has begun to haunt him, it is surely "q." He will never say this himself, but everyone around him, both his friends and his opponents, are saying it. There is a palpable sense of regret in Washington that a mistake was made three years ago. The mistake was not going to war. The mistake was going to war with the wrong country. How they wish today that Bush had gone to war with Iran rather than Iraq. This is the unstated, or at least understated, revisionist view. After all, the rationale against Iraq was simulated, so it could easily have been whipped up against Iran — mullahs make a better target for racial profiling in any case than clean-shaven Baathists.

David Remnick of New Yorker gave some hint of this manipulation of the media recently: "...the Administration and its surrogates have issued a stream of disinformation about intelligence and Iraq; paid friendly ‘columnists’ like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher tens of thousands of dollars to parrot the White House line; accredited to the White House press corps a phoney journalist and ex-prostitute (Jeff ‘Bulldog’ Gammon aka James Dale Guckert) as a reliable pitcher of softball questions; lightened the Freedom of Information Act requirements; and pioneered a genre of fake news packaged video ‘reports’." He goes on, but I won’t.

If only all this had been directed against Iran ... Bush might even be triumphantly holding a few traces of future weapons of mass destruction before the cameras, possibly protected by some spacesuit type of clothing.

Iran’s current confidence is based on some solid parameters. Start counting.

1. The Pentagon’s infantry capability is seriously degraded by Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the British, who always brought up the tail, have stopped wagging. There have been cases where infantry units sent on leave have been turned back after barely touching down in the United States, such is the shortage of troops.

2. The proponents of the air-power-is-sufficient school have plaster on their lips after Lebanon. Israel’s failure to destroy the Hezbollah despite overwhelming air power has made the old wisdom the new wisdom: air power alone cannot bring victory. Ground troops have to follow through. So what will the bombing of Iran achieve, except a political fallout that might go out of control?

3. On the ground, the two most powerful militias in the region are allies of Iran: Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah in Lebanon and Moqtada Sadr’s militia in Iraq. By one of those ironies made in heaven, both are also functioning members of their respective governments — and so leave America in the unhappy position of not knowing quite what to do. Sadr’s men inflict serious casualties on Iraq’s America-sponsored Army whenever the Army attempts to control them. America’s human losses in both Iraq and Afghanistan are rising at haemorrhage levels, without a bandage in sight.

4. The credibility of both America and its principal ally in the region, Israel, has been damaged. There is a new mood in the air. This has affected America’s political credibility as well in the world’s toughest neighbourhood.

5. Washington’s seemingly inexhaustible treasury has been discovered to have limits. Bill Clinton, who has begun campaigning for his wife Hillary, has gone on the offensive. He left a budget surplus, he says: Where has this five trillion plus dollar deficit appeared from? Misadventures, of course.

6. The sanctions aimed against Iran are either innocuous or unimplementable. The best that Nicholas Burns (he who negotiated the nuclear deal with India) can come up with is sanctions against nuclear parts, a freezing of Iran’s overseas assets and a ban on the travel of their officials who have anything to do with their nuclear programme. Iran has long removed its assets away from American reach, and Vladimir Putin has already asked why any sanctions should apply to Iran’s peaceful nuclear sites, as for instance at Bushehr, where Russia is supplying equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars. No one has any answer. Burns incidentally did tell American television that even India had agreed to sanctions against Iran. He is cashing his chips even before the nuclear deal with India has gone through.

Nuclear poker is not easy when you don’t have too many cards.

The most important change in America is that of public opinion. The majority seems finally to have lost its appetite for war, and does not believe that Iraq has anything to do with the war against terror. A desperate Bush is raising the most extraordinary demons. He now considers the "Islamic" threat to be as dangerous as Fascists, Nazis, Communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century. Each one of those threats had the power and institutionalisation of a state. Bush’s "Islamic fascists" have become as big a danger to the world as Communists without being in power in a single country, from the shadows. For Bush, "It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

This is what makes America 2006 akin to America 1968. The mood had begun to shift against Vietnam in 1967, but it was in 1968 that the shift became decisive. The response of the establishment then (which was Democratic) was to call the battle against those dirty Vietnamese Communists the "decisive ideological struggle of the 20th century".

It didn’t work in 1968.

It won’t work in 2006.