Thursday, April 28, 2016

Two books..

Two books..
In 2006, two seminal books were published. Both of them were shortlisted for the prestigious National book awards, and one of them went on to win the Pulitzer award for Non-fiction that year. Both of them revolved around the 9/11 and its aftermath -which in is own way contributed and propelled America to invade Iraq on the pretext of ferreting out Saddam and his hidden Nuclear power.. I am talking about Richard wright’s “The Looming tower” - one of the finest accounts of the rise of Osama Bin laden and his coterie Al-Qaeda , and the other is Rajiv Chandrasekhar’s masterly journalistic narrative of America’s disastrous effort on post-conflict rehabilitation of Saddam’s Iraq “Imperial life in the Emerald city”Both these books are must read for anyone who wishes to have a sane, balanced and an objective ( If that is possible at all) view of last 15 years of terrorism and America’s intervention as Global peace maker in parts of the world largely ruled by convictions, aspirations and cultural influences so very different to what America stands for and wishes to impose.
While it is common fact, that 9/11 forever changed the social and political fabric and equations around the globe, Wright’s book traces the growth of Muslim radicalism through the eyes of its principal players, their travails, their dreams, the help and assistance they got from foreign powers, their disappointments and finally the crescendo of the twin towers (Looming tower) crumbling down on that fateful day. The sense one gets out of this research is a feeling of inevitability of what happened. And that makes it stark and gloomy. That a man like Osama bin Laden could grow, thrive, build and plan his Jihad could not have happened without help from the very sources he chose to destroy. Wright walked on razor’s edge describing the psychological evolution of the Arab world, and what he succeeds in presenting to us is a honest account of why 9/11 happened. Millions of pages have been written, no doubt , on the cause and rationale for such an inhuman act; but Wright achieves a balance between two factions - which is quite admirable for an American writing it. The country honored him with the Pulitzer for this effort. Again, a testament to the principles of freedom of speech that America stands for.
9/11 is now part of historical landscape of the Human race, and I am sure more will be written and debated on it as time goes on. I was however, more intrigued by Rajiv’s wonderful book on America’s presence in Iraq after Saddam’s dethronement. A quick historical background to this work will be in place. In 1992, the renowned Political scientist Professor Samuel P Huntington proposed a radical idea in his lecture, which he later published as a full length book. It was called “ clash of civilizations”. Prof Huntington argued that with the Cold War behind us, civilizations will now clash for establishing ones national,social, cultural and political identity over each other. The phrase “Clash of Civilizations” was coined by Albert Camus in late thirties to define a facet of existentialism. Coming back to our theme -The idea of democracy and democratic institutions as the only panacea for all problems of Humanity is an offshoot of what Prof Huntington stated. Democracy works under certain conditions, not all. From Athenian times, this theme of what is a better form of Government and is it at all possible to impose one particular form of Governance on people with diverse cultural and racial background – has been argued extensively without any concrete solution. Yet, time and again in History, we find larger powers forcefully pushing down ideological medicine in an other’s throat, regardless of whether its recipients are ready and prepared for that dose or not. This clash has generally taken the form of West vs East or East Vs West, whichever way you would want to look at it. Pages of history are nothing but bloodied words of such conflicts. Nothing illustrates this irony more than what happened in few years that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The second gulf war, like the first - in retrospect looks a wasted effort. Tomes and scholarly books has analyzed threadbare why America chose to descend on Saddam’s dictatorship at all in the first place. Through the eyes of the present , past will always look colored and biased. And digging the past in the light of new evidence makes no sense, because when those decisions were taken such evidence was not present. So in Rajiv’s book, he does not talk about the origins of the second gulf invasion, but picks his thread from the point when the war is over and act of reconstructing Iraq on US terms began.
The story of CPA or the Central Provisional authority – the agency that US established on Iraqi soil to manage the transformation of Iraq from scars of dictatorship to pristine heights of democratic values and institutions, is nothing short of travesty. Established just few months after the war CPA, ensconced in the erstwhile Palace of Saddam, was to be the voice of freedom, prosperity and Liberty for Iraqians. America was to show the world how to democratize a nation. Rajiv details the abysmal failure of this effort in his book. Every aspect from Administration to Military to Industry to essential services to Entertainment reeked of complete dichotomy between what America “felt” was right, to what “Iraq” really needed to pull itself up from throes of devastating war. As one reads Rajiv’s’ objective prose, we get the feeling that right intentions were in place, but the remedy had to different and customized to local needs and aspirations. What could have been a perfect example of how to resurrect and build a nation turned out to be a caricature of how it should not be approached or done. And this where Professor Huntington’s words ring true - A victorious nation is not merely satisfied with a victory on the battlefield, but would wish to impose its national principles on the defeated.. Problem begins right there. The model which works for us need not be the model that works for another. More so, in a country that has a hoary, rich and deep past. This fundamental lack of common sense is evident in each act of restoration the CPA attempted in Iraq.
Towards the end of the book, based on interviews and conversations with Local Iraqi’s, One gets the feeling that they preferred Saddam’s rule than the healing hand of America. This is so tragic, considering there was a great opportunity to showcase a truly Global understanding of Political and social realities. Instead, the couple of years of CPA ended up doing more harm than good. There was such a yawning gap between an ideal America wished to achieve and ground realities they chose to ignore in the process, that a great effort remained wasted and groundless, when it could have easily been otherwise.
I read both these books years ago, But I was reminded of its lessons yesterday during a casual conversation in a coffee shop. There was good healthy conversation on historical currents driving Political convictions and how democracy is only an ongoing experiment and not a final conclusion. For those of my readers interested in this dialogue, I strongly recommend both these books for good weekend reading. It is entertaining, educative and illuminating.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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