The media space was saturated with rocket attacks on Kabul, boosting Islamophobia sky-high.
When the dust settles on the Israel-Gaza war, Israel will be confronted with an existential question: should it redesign itself to harmonise with the region and beyond? Or continue in the old, exceptional ways?
The exclusive Israeli-style vengeance seen in 50-plus days of bombardment, a jaw for a tooth, was possible only with the American hegemon standing foursquare behind all of Israel’s actions.
Today’s situation is this: Brics is standing firm while the G-7 are falling apart on the Israel-Gaza conflict. A target must quickly swim into their ken to keep the G-7 in an anxious huddle.
What might this target be? Islamic terror may well spiral upwards from Gaza’s ashes. An initiative to resurrect the Islamic menace already been taken by Naor Gilon, Israel’s ambassador to India. With considerable alacrity, he sought to enlist India’s support by fulfilling his end: Israel declared Lashkar-e-Tayyaba a terrorist outfit. It has poked two fingers in Pakistan’s eye. The Israelis hope this will move New Delhi to proscribe Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
But while Israel has proscribed Pakistan-based Lashkar as “terrorist”, India shirks from casting Hamas in similar terms. The media, especially in the West, may not appreciate the umpteen arguments New Delhi may have for its equivocation. The Israeli ambassador’s initiative falls far short of the florid imagery of Ukraine’s ambassador to describe Russian troops in Ukraine: “Like the Mughal massacre of Rajputs.”
The Israeli initiative came when Hamas was more in the news than ever before but so was Gaza, with optics so horrible as to make Israel’s sales pitch unbelievably insensitive. Millions of television viewers worldwide see Hamas and the Palestinian resistance as one. It must all be extremely embarrassing for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority chief, who the US and Israel hope to foist as leader, quite incongruously, of the men holding wounded babies in their arm, women carrying their meagre belongings, bombed hospitals and scenes of horror like Dresden in the movies. Those bearing the pain don’t know Mr Abbas.
The idea to resurrect Islamic terror as the last-ditch effort to patch up a crumbing world order has many takers, but credit for its earliest authorship goes to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He was fiercely opposed to picking quarrels with Russia because that would divide Europe, he argued. Islamic extremism attracts a wider coalition which, according to him, would include Russia and China. After all, the last two had their own “Muslim” problems in the Caucasus and Xinjiang.
In disgrace for having fudged an official document to go to war in Iraq, Mr Blair persisted nevertheless: the West will pay a heavy price for not entering the war in Syria, he warned.
Mr Blair is a holdover from the George W. Bush sole superpower era. In fact, the Anglo-Saxon trio of Mr Bush, Mr Blair and Australian PM John Howard were in the vanguard promoting post-9/11 Islamic terror as a suitable substitute for the vanished Soviet Union to cast as the enemy to sustain Western cohesion. AUKUS has the same three in concert. The concept seemed valid until the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Francis Fukuyama’s End of History proved wrong.
The antecedents to post-9/11 Islamophobia could be traced to the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when the Arabs did so well as to give the Gulf states the self-confidence to quadruple the price of oil. Pockets bulging with petro-dollars, the Arab sheikhs turned up in London to see the rain. The Savoy and the Dorchester hotels had “full occupancy” notices hanging in the lobby, all booked by the sheikhs. Marks and Spencer had signs in Arabic. Savile Row oversold. The “anti-Christ” had entered the citadel. To get even, publishers gave hefty advances to Sir Vidia Naipaul and Salman Rushdie for Among the Believers and The Satanic Verses.
The booming Gulf economies attracted Indian labour, primarily from Kerala. The state’s neat, austere skyline began to be dotted with garish “Dubai houses”. The resentment at Muslims (mostly) acquiring new prosperity spilt over into communalism. This coincided with Gen. Zia-ul Haq beaming the “Nizam-e-Mustafa” from Pakistan, tremors from the Meenakshipuram conversions -- all boosting communalism locally which was, in due course, to tie up with global Islamophobia, one reinforcing the other.
It was the thick saffron wave on which Narendra Modi rode to power in Gujarat in 2001. On October 18 that year began the US fireworks over Afghanistan. The media space was saturated with rocket attacks on Kabul, boosting Islamophobia sky-high. Under this canopy, the Gujarat pogrom of February 2002 appeared to have international endorsement. Hindutva basked in the thought that the war on terror would help it prosper. But it was soon seen that the war on terror created more terror.
Egged on by the “neo-cons” seeking comprehensive global dominance, Washington’s lightning war on terror began with Afghanistan. It ended ignominiously with the messiest departure from a country which the US had occupied for 20 years.
By now the decline of the US, China’s rise, and the emergence of a multi-polar world, the weakening G-7 and an expanding Brics were all causing anxiety. After the Afghan debacle, Nato’s westward expansion up to the Ukraine-Russia border became the provocation for another war. Russia would be brought down on its knees, Vladimir Putin’s nose would be rubbed in the dust and, willy nilly, a victory would be manufactured to resurrect the hegemon. Alas, victory eluded the US once again.
All of this imbues the current round between Israel and Gaza with consequences way beyond the immediate. Either a beginning towards a two-state solution will soften the Arab view of Israel. Or Israel will continue to look for support for all its tantrums by a hegemon which is in retreat.