Saturday, July 09, 2005
London's not burning. We have to wait and see whether the Brits go the same road as the Americans – first wake up in utter disbelief that anybody could actually hate them this much, then react in ways that make more people hate them more intensely. I think it's unlikely.
The Brits, especially London and Londoners, have been through too much. From all accounts, they're taking this in their stride. Brit stoicism, stiff upper lip, nasty-business-what, would-you-please-pass-the-marmalade beastly-weather-we're-having. I love them for it.
I've admitted it before. I'm an Anglophile. It's not a conscious, rational decision, it's just that when my generation were growing up, the Brits won the information war for our hearts and minds. They didn't need MTV or i-Pods. Their shock trooper was Enid Blyton, with an intensive barrage of idyllic English summers and a relentless fusillade of food descriptions. Later in the campaign, 1500 years worth of heavy armour from Chaucer to Kingsley Amis, marshalled by the Children’s Division of the British Council Library, simply rolled over my consciousness. (Maggie Thatcher shut down the Children's Section, may she bubble at the mouth with Mad Cow Disease!)
In 2001 I saw for the first time the little streams and rolling meadows, the hayricks and horizon-blued woods of England. If it had been damp dripping October, I might have escaped from the spell. Instead, it was a glorious August, the finest weather in 30 years. I was lost. Two months later the Shenandoah Valley wooed me with the blazing colours of fall, but it was too late, too loud, too long.
But I digress ... My last post evoked some visceral responses. I need to respond to some of them here.
Jai said Indians cannot aspire to any moral superiority in this regard. I agree. Indian politicians, and as a result the Indian Government, can be sickeningly hypocritical. The best option is to call it like it is, whether it's an Indian or an American saying things that are patently untrue and insincere.
This means that if Bush says
(a) he's fighting terrorists
(b) he's going after Osama bin Laden
(c) Eye-rack are helping bin Laden by stocking WMD
and later it transpires that
(i) he's fighting terrorists only as long as they're not in Pakistan
(ii) he's realised he can't get Osama so he has to choose a sitting target and
(iii) WMD can’t have been the reason for bombing Eye-rack because everybody knew they were never there
then he is a liar.
Unfortunately, he's also the President of the most powerful nation in the world.
Which is why I call him a bully.
Fingeek, wisely enough, cautions that India gains nothing by "standing up to the bully". True. Much better to make money out of them while we can. He points out that many Iraqis were happy to be rid of Saddam. I agree. There are, however, three points one should not forget.
First, the invasion had nothing to do with the events of 9/11, with the excesses of Saddam and Uday or even with any perceived threat to the USA. There were no WMD in Iraq. Saddam did not plan or execute the events of 9/11. There were regions on earth that were even worse off than Iraq - Rwanda, Afghanistan, East Timor, Chechnya.
The US invaded Iraq for the strategic ends of Bush & Co. These included the creation of a rallying point so that at least some of the electorate would not realise the pathetic truth – that Bush is a lousy leader and a hopeless administrator. What the US definitely did NOT do was to invade Iraq for the well-being of Iraqis.
Second, who made the US the arbiter of other nations' destinies? Today they invade Iraq and we exult because a repressive dictator has been toppled. Except for the Middle East, the rest of the world consoles itself. Saddam had it coming, maybe they’ll bring down the price of oil, it’s only a slab of desert in the middle of nowhere, it’s not as if they’re bombing a REAL country.
Well, wake up, world. For a large portion of the US electorate, anywhere outside the 50 mainland states is “somewhere out there”. Some of them don’t even know the capital of the next-state-but-one. If tomorrow Pulao Hariyali (what else should one call a Bush-Rice combo?) decide to roll into Liechtenstein, Paramaribo, Ulan Bator, who’s going to stop them? Where do we stop them? Marseilles? Milton Keynes? Remember Donne – “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”.
Third - and this one is addressed to Ozymandiaz – I have criticized the US government’s policies and actions. I do not regard Americans as evil, notwithstanding my comments in this very post (based on personal experience) about their vast insularity. I do not regard them as uniformly stupid, in spite of the pretzel story and more like it. I have friends in the US, I have friends who are now US citizens. My graduate guide in the USA was one of the most intelligent and open-minded individuals I have ever met, not to mention an extremely kind and sensitive person. I used the term “redneck” to represent a type. The British yob, the Indian bigot, the Euro Nazi – these are all types based upon real people. We should not (and I do not) assume that entire populations are composed exclusively of these types.
The invasion of Iraq was an act of the US government, not an action by the people of the USA. It has led to a very obvious and perhaps potentially damaging schism in the body civic. At the same time, it has brought to light some of the best features of the American polity.
The American media have focused public attention on the excesses of Abu Ghraib, on the meaningless deaths of soldiers of at least 6 nationalities, on the awarding of contracts without tenders, the slaughter of civilians by hopped-up undertrained soldiers, the shameless profiteering by the most powerful politicians in the US. Americans have faced up to an increasingly repressive establishment and voiced their concern over the direction in which their democracy is headed.
Sadly enough, even after these stories broke in the media ,the US saw fit to re-elect George Herbert Walker Bush III with his Cheney and Rice combo. Fox TV and USA Today won over the voices of reason.
Well, the Brits are not significantly wiser. They re-elected Blair, a man who sent their sons to die in Iraq over a lie.
I still hope, however, that Britain will not react the way the US did. I hope that none of my friends who have spent the best years of their lives in that “green and pleasant land” will wake to a midnight knock, or spend days in prison because a booking clerk couldn’t make out what they said. I believe that the days when this man was defended and lionised cannot come back.
One of the differences I perceive is that humour is an industry in the USA. In Britain, I suspect, it’s more low-key, more a tradition of self-deprecation. Sixty years ago, the most appealing face of Britain was a creased bulldog visage with a cigar. Today, it may be people like this.
Laugh at your enemies. It’s difficult for them to be terrifying when they’re being laughed at. And the absence of terror goes a long way towards defeating terrorists.
In any case, it's not healthy to go for very long without a belly laugh. So go read some other blog now.