Vol. 5 Num 396 Fri. July 08, 2005  

Bush policy of arrogance: More foes, few friends

It is not just the US that has changed irrevocably after the most horrendous attack on America on September 11, 2001. The whole world has changed since then, and yet many in the West have little idea about how much the change has been.

A potentially bigger change is taking place, though, in Muslim countries that is fuelling fanaticism and strengthening fundamentalist forces, and weakening the secular bases. And Bangladesh, which has a long history of being a moderate Muslim nation, is not spared from the 9/11 fallout, either.

The greatest tragedy of 9/11 is not what the US lost on that fatal morning, but what the world has lost since then -- which is a lot. The support or non-support for al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussain, or the Taliban is not contributing to the gradual change in the Muslim world, as moderate Muslims never regarded those ultra-Islamists as Islamic heroes taking on the infidel. Rather, it's the post-9/11 US policy that bracketed together the secular Muslims and the Islamist militants, greatly contributing to the cause of religious fundamentalists across the globe.

Secular Muslims have been quite understandably caught on the horns of a dilemma over taking a position on George W Bush's war on terror. They could subscribe neither to terrorism being perpetrated in the name of Islam nor to Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy pursued with outrageous arrogance.

Iraq war, false WMD cry
Like other Muslims nations, Bangladesh could not throw its weight behind the second US-led invasion of Iraq justified on a false cry for weapons of mass destruction. The attempt of Bush and his 'well-dressed butler' -- as The Economist once put -- Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to link Osama bin Laden's Taliban with former Iraq dictator Saddam failed to convince even their rabid supporters in the Muslim world.

Feeding the world half-truths and distorted facts, the US war-mongers delved into this dirty war in Iraq, which led to the killings of thousands of innocent civilians and a queerly spectacular rise of insurgency. The US war against its former henchman Saddam made the Iraqi people easy targets of assault from both insurgents and the US war allies alike.

Needless to mention, the reports on false WMD claim, brutal torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi jails, and abuse of Quran by a few US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay could only enrage the Muslims at the alliance's lying for its unjust war, spreading hatred towards the US policy of aggression.

The heat of a muted anger against the mindless war could be felt among predominantly secular Muslims in Bangladesh. And that set the stage for the fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh to capitalise on the general sentiment against the present US policy. Many previously unheard-of religious outfits brought out rallies, burnt Bush effigies and chanted slogans against the US in which the secular Muslims saw little to object to.

New world order
In the post-9/11 US policy, the countries that were reluctant to join Bush's war on terror were regarded as allies of terrorism. Such arrogance of America's cowboy president only could help the world get dangerously divided, forcing scores to believe that the Bush war is a sort of American jihad, its own brand of fundamentalism, against Islamist terrorists as well as peace-loving Muslims.

The world had a new order as formulated by the US, with South Asian nuclear rivals India and Pakistan scrambling to win the Bush heart first. India leaped to seize the opportunity to kill a few birds with one strategic stone. That move forced army-ruled Pakistan to choose, and it has chosen to take a guarded 'secular route' amidst outcry from mullahs.

A new South Asian order based solely on loyalty to the US policy is not what Bangladesh wanted at the expense of its characteristics as a moderate religious nation. So, Bangladesh not only missed out on the US offer by not openly supporting the US war in Iraq, but also remained oblivious of the fact that the ultra-Islamic militants could choose this very country, ridden with corruption and embroiled in confrontational politics, as their next destination.

Secular Muslims in Bangladesh sadly witnessed the rise of religious hard-liners who conveniently cashed in on the anti-America sentiment. All grenade attacks, blasts, assaults on the Ahmadiyya community, and activities of radical religious organisations that have occurred in Bangladesh since 9/11 appeared to have similarity with those in Pakistan. Many in civil society believe that these are the by-products of the US war in Afghanistan and bordering Pakistan, and that the US was unusually quick to spread its terror war over Asia, but painfully slow to help the affected countries to take care of the war baggage.

Human rights concern
Secret trials, eavesdropping on the Internet, racial profiling, and mass detentions now form the essence of the US policy, or at least it seems so.

Rights groups have been accusing the US of grossly violating people's basic civil and human rights, with Amnesty International observing that the war on terror must not be an excuse to deny these rights.

The controversial Patriot Act that has allowed the US agencies to 'sneak and peak' searches of people's homes and offices sent a chill down the spine of the Muslim population of America, severely curtailing their freedom since 9/11.

The situation is so suffocating that scores of Bangladeshi-Americans started telling their relatives back home that they no longer want to live in what once was the land of freedom.

A Bangladeshi professor living in New York had to part with his 30-year-old beard in fear of possible harassment by law-enforcing agencies and anti-Muslim groups.

A 16-year-old girl, Tashnuba Hayder, was arrested in New York City on the charge of 'domestic terrorism' by the FBI. But after weeks of intense interrogation, she was deported to Bangladesh for violating immigration laws! The American media ran stories on the traumatised Tashnuba and her family, depicting chilling details of police-state intimidation and anti-Muslim persecution.

Many such stories of harassment are there, and all these tales of horror have won America more foes than friends in Bangladesh.

The Bush administration has to understand Islam first before deciding about who it should fight with or against. The US leadership has to accept the conventional wisdom that war is by no means the only remedy to terrorism. Also, Bush has to realise the fact that any real change in the Muslim world should come from within and not be imposed by any US might.

If need be, the US can focus on changing the internal dynamics in Muslim countries by strengthening secular forces.

It is about time the US abandoned its military atrocities and foreign policy of arrogance and tried to understand why it is hated so much all over the world.

There is not much to argue if one says that only a policy of patience and pragmatism will surely help the Bush administration win over the Muslim world. At least, I won't.

The author is Joint News Editor of The Daily Star.