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Salman Rushdie on American obligations post Afghanistan(32 posts)

Salman Rushdie on American obligations post AfghanistanMJ
Feb 6, 2002 1:58 AM,11447,645579,00.html

Anti-Americanism has taken the
world by storm

The US has an ideological enemy harder to defeat than militant Islam

Salman Rushdie
Wednesday February 6, 2002
The Guardian

They told us it would be a long, ugly struggle, and so it is.America's war against terror has entered its second phase, a phase characterised by the storm over the condition, status and human rights of the prisoners held at Camp X-Ray, and by the frustrating failure of the US to find Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

Additionally, if America now attacks other countries suspected of harbouring terrorists, it will almost certainly do so alone, without the backing of the coalition that supported the action in Afghanistan. The reason is that America finds itself facing an ideological enemy that may turn out to be harder to defeat than militant Islam: that is to say, anti-Americanism, which is presently taking the world by storm.

The good news is that these post-Taliban days are bad times for Islamist fanatics. Dead or alive, Bin Laden and Omar look like yesterday's men, unholy warriors who forced martyrdom on others while running for the hills themselves. Also, if the persistent rumours are to be believed, the fall of the terrorist axis in Afghanistan may well have prevented an Islamist coup against President Musharraf in Pakistan, led by the more Taliban-like elements in the armed forces and intelligence services - people like the terrifying General Hamid Gul.

And Musharraf, no angel himself, has been pushed into arresting the leaders of the Kashmiri terrorist groups he used to encourage. (It's just two and a quarter years since he unleashed the same groups against India and engineered the last Kashmir crisis.)

Around the world, the lessons of the American action in Afghanistan are being learned. Jihad is no longer quite as cool an idea as it was last autumn. States under suspicion of giving succour to terrorism have suddenly been trying to behave with propriety, even going so far as to round up a few bad guys. Iran has accepted the legitimacy of the new Afghan government. Even Britain, a state which has been more tolerant of Islamist fanaticism than most, is beginning to see the difference between resisting "Islamophobia" and providing a safe haven for some of the worst people in the world.

America did, in Afghanistan, what had to be done and did it well. The bad news, however, is that none of these successes has won friends for the United States outside Afghanistan. In fact, the effectiveness of the American campaign may paradoxically have made the world hate America more than it did before.

Western critics of America's Afghan campaign are enraged because they have been shown to be wrong at every step: no, US forces weren't humiliated the way the Russians had been; and yes, the air strikes did work; and no, the Northern Alliance didn't massacre people in Kabul; and yes, the Taliban did crumble away like the hated tyrants they were, even in their southern strongholds; and no, it wasn't that difficult to get the militants out of their cave fortresses; and yes, the various factions succeeded in putting together a new government that is
surprising people by functioning pretty well.

Meanwhile, those elements in the Arab and Muslim world who blame America for their own feelings of political impotence are feeling more impotent than ever. As always, anti-US radicalism feeds off the widespread anger over the plight of the Palestinians, and it remains true that nothing would undermine the fanatics' propaganda more comprehensively than an acceptable settlement in the Middle East.

However, even if that settlement were arrived at tomorrow, anti-Americanism would probably not abate. It has become too useful a smokescreen for Muslim nations' many defects - their corruption, their incompetence, their oppression of their own citizens, their economic, scientific and cultural stagnation. America-hating has become a badge of identity, making possible a chest-beating, flag-burning rhetoric of word and deed that makes men feel good. It contains a strong streak of hypocrisy, hating most what it desires most, and elements of self-loathing ("we hate America because it has made of itself what we cannot make of ourselves").

What America is accused of - closed-mindedness, stereotyping, ignorance - is also what its accusers would see if they looked into a mirror.

These days there seem to be as many of these accusers outside the Muslim world as inside it. Anybody who has visited Britain and Europe, or followed the public conversation there during the past five months, will have been struck, even shocked, by the depth of anti-American feeling among large segments of the population, as well as the news media.

Western anti-Americanism is an altogether more petulant phenomenon than its Islamic counterpart, and, oddly, far more personalised. Muslim countries don't like America's power, its "arrogance", its success; in the non-American west, the main objection seems to be to American people. Night after night, I have found myself listening to Londoners' diatribes against the sheer weirdness of the American citizenry. The attacks on America are routinely discounted ("Americans only care about their own dead"). American patriotism, obesity, emotionality, self-centredness: these are the crucial issues.

It would be easy for America, in the present climate of hostility, to fail to respond to constructive criticism, or worse: to start acting like the overwhelming superpower it is, making decisions and throwing its weight around without regard for the concerns of what it perceives as an already hostile world. The treatment of the Camp X-Ray detainees is a case in point.

Colin Powell's reported desire to grant these persons PoW status and Geneva Convention rights was a statesmanlike response to global pressure; his apparent failure to persuade President Bush and Mr Rumsfeld to accept his recommendations is a worrying sign. The Bush administration has come a long way from its treaty-smashing beginnings. It should not retreat from consensus-building now. Great power and great wealth are perhaps never popular.

And yet, more than ever, we need the United States to exercise its power and economic might responsibly. This is not the timeto ignore the rest of the world and decide to go it alone. To do sowould be to risk losing after you've won.

© Salman Rushdie 2002
Rushdie, still the best.Alex-in-Evanston
Feb 6, 2002 7:14 AM
He dips into the muck every now and then, but his political eye is very keen. I hope he lives a long life and stays active with the word processor.

I think it's sadMcAndrus
Feb 6, 2002 8:00 AM
I think it's sad, actually. I know little of Rushdie but what little I did know what positive. He seemed an independent thinker.

Here he just looks like an American basher and the world is full of those.

Last time I looked you could consider our recent actions as pure self defense but to Salmon they look like hegemony and cultural (if not literal) imperialism.

Oh, well .....

Anybody else notice the similarities between our current place in the world at that of the British Empire in the 19th century?
you must have misread itMJ
Feb 6, 2002 8:22 AM
he said the US kicked ass and did what needed to be done in Afghanistan - however, he points out that the rest of the world (not him) is very anti-US at the moment (both in the 'west' and elsewhere) for all manner of spurious reasons - then he says that the US can silence their critics by stepping up to the plate and dealing honestly with things when the US should - use American power responsibly is his concluding message -
exactly how did he bash anybody?

please read it again and see if you have changed your mind
You're mostly right, sorry.McAndrus
Feb 6, 2002 9:09 AM
Yes, I did read a couple of my own prejudices into it. Yes, he is, for the most part sympathetic to America's cause and critical of the naysayers.

He falls, though, to a weakness of the commentary class when he finishes the piece talking about Camp X-Ray.

"Colin Powell's reported desire to grant these persons PoW status and Geneva Convention rights was a statesmanlike response to global pressure; his apparent failure to persuade President Bush and Mr Rumsfeld to accept his recommendations is a worrying sign. The Bush administration has come a long way from its treaty-smashing beginnings. It should not retreat from consensus-building now. Great power and great wealth are perhaps never popular.

And yet, more than ever, we need the United States to exercise its power and economic might responsibly. This is not the timeto ignore the rest of the world and decide to go it alone. To do sowould be to risk losing after you've won."

From somewhere this obsession with American "unilateralism" has seem to have sprung from the ether. To my knowledge our government has pretty consistently acted in our own self-interest. When it is in our interest of form an alliance, we do so. When it is not in our interest, we act alone.

You can see this as far back as 1803 and the Barbary Pirates conflict under the Jefferson administration. No doubt the Europeans - who were afflicted by the same Barbary Pirates - were also fretting about American unilateralism then as well. But we crushed the pirates and opened the Mediterranean for unfettered naval commerce.

I'm sorry. It's just so wearisome to see obviously bright people like Rushdie ritually wringing their hands over our actions.

Great nations do not form alliances built on consensus, they form alliances built on leadership and common purpose. At the moment, we are leading and I hope we continue to lead.
You're mostly right, sorry.MJ
Feb 6, 2002 9:54 AM
it's only springing from the ether for you and anyone else who ignores the rest of the world

Camp X-ray is getting horrible press everywhere for the US but in America where no one seems particularly concerned - think about it this way - it gives others a pretext or reason to treat US military personnel who are captured in Camp X-Ray conditions - imagine what US reaction would be then - the US wouldn't like it

people wring their hands because the US does act unilaterraly and can project itself in any number of formats across the globe - shouldn't that power and influence be used responsibly?

Rushdie's point is why not deal with global concerns honestly - step up to the plate and lead - leading isn't telling everybody else what the leader is going to do - use the power but use it well

US uniltaeralism is a huge problem - if the US practiced a policy of engagement in places like Afghanistan it wouldn't have become a terrorist hide out
Need a big stick in order to speak softlymr_spin
Feb 6, 2002 10:21 AM
Teddy Roosevelt understood it well. Sometimes you send the navy around the world just because you can.

Part of what the US did in Afghanistan is make it absolutely clear that it is no paper tiger. It also made it crystal clear that you don't have to like America, but you will fear the wrath of America.

A lot of people around the world viewed America as fractured and weak. All bark and no bite. Not any more.
Need a big stick in order to speak softlyMJ
Feb 6, 2002 10:41 AM
agree to a point - while I'm sure it's nice to scare people - a more effective policy of engagement, (perhaps backed up with the ability to bitch slap enemies) will get you further than ignoring people until you bomb them

you catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar
I agreemr_spin
Feb 6, 2002 11:34 AM
But if flies who wish for your destruction don't believe you have vinegar and will use it, you will give away a lot of sugar and never be safe.
Perhaps you couldBob D
Feb 6, 2002 9:12 AM
Explain exactly which one of the hundreds of innocent Afghanistanis slaughtered by aimless US bombing of remote villages in the one-in-a-million shot at OBL was the threat to the US that makes that "pure self-defence".

Pluheese - call a spade a spade "we revenge bombed the sh*t out of these peasants coz we can" and be done with it - but pure self-defence? Common...
Perhaps you couldMJ
Feb 6, 2002 10:00 AM
I don't know if the Afghans would agree with you - innocents died (I thought the estimates are in the thousands for innocent Afghan bombing victims) and it may have been revenge motivated - but it worked - no more Taliban, no more openly terrorist state

I think the Afghans looked pretty happy getting their beards shaved off and flying kites - there is no other way to comment on Afghanistan except to say it was a total success

maybe now the US can follow through with development
All that may be true, butBob D
Feb 7, 2002 1:28 AM
The key word there was "pure". IT seems to me that "innocents died" and "pure" do not make easy bed fellows....
All that may be true, butMJ
Feb 7, 2002 2:25 AM
nor should it - for the record I don't think anything is pure especially when military action is involved - the point remains while it may have upset Hampstead liberals (I assume you're in the UK) while they were sipping coffee with well fed bellies, Afghans are pretty pleased with the outcome - that sounds 'pure' to me

there's an obvious question here - do you have any suggestions on how you would have (realistically) dealt with the situation differently?

the world is imperfect - yes it keeps me up at night too
All that may be true, butBob D
Feb 7, 2002 6:42 AM
And I suppose that you have spoken to all the "happy" Afghans who had been randomly bombed to oblivion? I bet they are absolutley extatic?

You are missing the point. There may or may not have been a better way to deal with it, but to call it "pure self defense" it as laughable as it is fallacious. Some honesty is called for. They were bomber because they were an easy target and there was poilitical capital to be made from it. I don't notice the US bombing Russia, China or Isreal on account of "terrorism" or other human rights voilations. Or a whole host of other places.

I work shifts.
All that may be true, butMJ
Feb 7, 2002 7:00 AM
you're right it wasn't pure self-defence - like I said nothing is pure especially military actions

because the US doesn't project military authority into other places doesn't mean it should avoid ever doing so when such intervention is helpful/necessary - there's no sense in that - it's like saying to somebody because you've never done an honest thing before you shouldn't now either...

as far as ecstatic Afghans - Rushdie's point is that thus far nobody is happy with the American response except the Afghans - exactly the case that you seem to be making now - there's not opposition to the US intervention or presence in Afghanistan by the Afghans - they just want (understandably) the bombs to hit the right people - just like the British did during the Gulf War when more British military personnel were killed by friendly fire from the US than by the Iraqis
That's exactly not the point I'm making.Bob D
Feb 7, 2002 7:19 AM
We are on common ground - the poster described the American acion as "pure" self defense - it was that which I was disputing.

However on the point of nobody being happy but the Afghans, you misunderstand me. I have no idea how many of them are pro/anti the campaign. There is no realiable reporting by the very nature of the situation. I suspect the answer is that there are many who are now happy to take of their bhurkas and listen to pop music, and also a great humber who think that their houses destroyed, family and friends killed/maimed is too high a price to pay. Especially as the snows have now stopped most of the aid efforts, and we don't seem to be matching explosives lb for lb (and certainly not $ for $) with food and shelter...
you're rightMJ
Feb 7, 2002 8:30 AM
development is the key

I've not heard anything negative from Afghans about the outcome of the war - of course people are upset when innocents are killed - you'd think we'd hear something if people were that upset

nothing's pure
Feb 7, 2002 8:50 AM
When you say "outcome" - what exactly do you mean? I can't actually detect any outcome as yet - just that we are so far thru a process that is going who knows where for who knows how long. We are still bombing the Afghans, though I don't think any one pretends that we are going to get OBL thus, and now there is talk of Iran/Lybia/where ever. Hard to see that as an "outcome".

Sure, the AK movement is one canvass for the time being, but for how long before they pop up again. It's like trying to smother a leaking main - as soon as you move, it squirts out again somewhere else....
Feb 7, 2002 9:58 AM
I know what you mean - will we ever be able to say that 'it' has ended (probably not while Bush is in the White House and macho posturing with Cold War military gestures inappropriate for a this problem)

I think we can define the outcome thus far - Rushdie does that pretty well in the above post

Iran/Libya/Iraq/North Korea - I'm surprised Bush could say all those countries' names correctly - but as Rushdie says above the rest of the west will not support (overt) unilateral US action - the whole thing could still yet be a can of worms - time will tell - but in the circumstances there was no other choice in Afghanistan - admittedly a fait accompli by OBL - but something like 11 Sep can't be ignored just like poverty, infrastructure, development and alienation in the third world can't/shouldn't be ignored

maybe we'll luck out and scrape his DNA off the inside of a cave...
An example of self defenseMcAndrus
Feb 6, 2002 10:53 AM
I am in a bar, having a peaceful drink and bothering no one. I see an attractive lady down the bar. I glance at her, perhaps a moment longer than politeness requires.

Her boyfriend notices the look. When I leave the bar, the boyfriend acosts me outside the door for flirting with his girl. He takes a swing at me.

I deflect the swing and return the punch. But instead of hitting him, I hit his girlfriend who is standing next to him.

Was I acting in self defense even though an innocent was hurt?
Feb 7, 2002 1:13 AM
Not...Bob D
Feb 7, 2002 1:30 AM
Example of an act of naked agression that harms an innocent 3rd party - that is not "pure self defense".
Feb 7, 2002 2:29 AM
court's in most jurisdictions would disagree with you - so unless we're talking subjectively about what you think please try and look at things from an objective sense

naked aggression it is not - pure self-defence it is

you may be able to argue that the example doesn't fit the circumstances of the dicsussionand therefore doesn't prove anything but the example stands up by itself
Nothing to do with it.Bob D
Feb 7, 2002 6:47 AM
What have Courts to do with this? So it is moraly worong to speed someone to hospital thus breaking the limit? Doesn't even bear on the issue.

So punching someone is pure self defence? Utter nonsence by any sensible measure - there was no need to do it, and no complusion, and plenty of alternatives. And to use your own point, no reasonable Court would call that "pure self defense" - nor would it be considered reasonable force.
Nothing to do with it.MJ
Feb 7, 2002 7:15 AM
your morality may not dictate that you would not choose to strike someone who had attempted to strike you - it seems that you differ from most people in that regard - perhaps other options, running away, talking it out, etc are more sensible (I would agree with you actually) and certainly are in a sense moral, but you could not say that punching someone who tried to punch you is morally (by most standards) or legally wrong - if you do you are most likely in a minority of one

the reason the court's are relevant is that there is an extended legal and sociological basis for allowing self-defence in exactly those situations - McAndrus said in the example he (tried to) punched the guy; not beat hm to a pulp and kick him in the face - that would be excessive and unreasonable and pass the boundary of self-defence

one might not believe or believe any number of things but to define with any certainty what other's do on the subjective basis of your own morality is wrong

a court may not consider it pure self-defence as other options may have remained open - but the court would recognise that it is nevertheless self defence of the variety that is allowed

whether the punch landed on the wrong person would be 1. unforeseeable and therefore not relevant or 2. the boyfriend's liability as he was the instigator

if this routine example isn't self defence - 1. how is it not? and 2. what is?
Nothing to do with it.Bob D
Feb 7, 2002 7:30 AM
You have a very low view of human nature. I do not have freakish friends/relations, but I can think of a few instances where they have opted to start/perpetuate a fight. They are not particulary morally driven and pure - they are just not thugs. Perhaps you see more of different types of people, or you are just a "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" supporter. I am not, I think it's better that way.

I can't see the value of stretching the example, but as you asked, yes I do think it's forseeable that if you get into a fight in close proximity to other people and punches are thrown, that someone might get hit/pushed etc accidently. All you have to do is hang around enough down town bars to see that theory in action.

The point is, you keep ignoring that small but important qualifier "pure". I find it hard to imageine many situations where deliberatly attacking someone where there was another option to avoid harm to one's self (as you rightly say, run, at least initally) can be described as "pure self defence".

Neither have I heard the "he started it" brawl defense work in court, for that matter...
Nothing to do with it.MJ
Feb 7, 2002 8:50 AM
a reasonable use of force for self-defence includes hitting someone who just hit you - it is therefore pure self-defence in my book (as it is in most interpretations)

not an eye for an eye kind of guy - but am also not likely to let someone take a swing at me and run away (for better for worse) - I don't see that as perpetuating, and certanily not starting a fight - I do see it as self-defence
You have the answer in your own statementBob D
Feb 7, 2002 8:57 AM
"let someone take a swing a run away". You have the option not to hit him, but you decide to. That is simply a conscious choice of voilence.

I argue against you - I think (to use your throw-away pseudo objective term) that in "most interpretations", and indeed logically, chosing violence over non-voilence can not be justly or sensibly termed "pure self defense".

Besides which, you argued that nothing is pure. Thoese two postions don't square.
You have the answer in your own statementMJ
Feb 7, 2002 10:03 AM
I think the response to strike back in self-defence in that situation is automatic it's not a choice - it certainly is for me - I wouldn't be thinking about it it would just happen - when I think about it the sensible thing to do would be to run but I know I wouldn't do that

pure self defence is reacting automatically to a threat - maybe not in the best or most logical manner
So I take it thatBob D
Feb 8, 2002 2:00 AM
The "J" in MJ is the middle initial of Mike Tyson then?

Drink less coffee, you'll calm down...
Read it againmr_spin
Feb 6, 2002 9:13 AM
You definitely misread it. He basically stated that while the rest of the world might support or at least silently assent to what the US did in Afghanistan, that same sentiment doesn't apply anywhere else. No other nation in the world wanted the Taliban around and Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorism. Now that they are gone, lots of people are asking who's next? Maybe Iraq? Afghanistan was almost criticism-proof. Anywhere else won't be. That's what he is warning about.
Feb 6, 2002 10:03 AM