Terror of borrowed idioms - Jawed Naqvi - Thursday 5th May 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/05/terror-of-borrowed-idioms.html

US COMMANDOS had killed the world’s most savage terrorist, exulted the petit TV anchor during a live programme near Delhi. I asked her if Osama bin Laden was more savage for India than Pakistani cleric Hafiz al Saeed, for example, who is accused of planning the ruthless Mumbai massacre of November 2008.
She toned down her screaming after that but the question remains. Why do our media unthinkingly borrow idioms and motifs that do not reflect the reality for their people, including those fighting terrorism in their own way?
For the Sri Lankan government it was Velupillai Prabhakaran who posed the biggest threat to their survival, not the messianic zealot who died in Abbottabad on Sunday. Russia is grimly fighting the well-armed Chechens, usually called rebels, not terrorists, by the western media.
When the Tamil rebel was killed by Sinhalese troops, though not without a dubious annihilation of Tamil civilians, something the world has so far failed to address, young Sinhalese men and women danced in Colombo. And so did the Americans in Time Square and Pennsylvania Avenue on Sunday.
Therefore, give it to the good old British for not threatening the world with the ‘with us or with the enemy’ choice when they had declared the IRA a terrorist organisation. There were Irish Americans at the time together with so many unrelated people across the world that saw in Bobby Sands’ death by fasting a heroic act. No one was denied a British visa for holding that view.
And what was the global war on terror anyway, which we are all supposed to have been a party to? Was it not rooted in a quarrel between two Saudi Muslims of the puritanical Wahabi sect?
Osama bin Laden was a religious man with a mission. After he helped defeat communist atheists in Afghanistan he wanted to rule Saudi Arabia because its rulers were corrupt and not quite as Islamic as he would have liked them to be.
Sadly for him, Riyadh was already ruled by a barbaric system that Bin Laden could have scarcely improved upon. It remains a country after all where convicts are publicly beheaded after Friday prayers, they are flogged, their hands are chopped off, their eyes gouged out. The Indian government recently managed to save a citizen from being thus blinded. But every convict in Riyadh is not as lucky.
The US-led war on terror started by forcing the world to choose between one of two barbaric systems on offer, an idea that was repugnant to most Muslims as it was for the rest of humanity. America’s less than honest support to Saudi rulers will not abate with the death of Osama bin Laden. The Saudi-led and Washington-backed assault on pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain validates the fear.
It is perhaps part of the way big powers conduct their affairs that the US had to lie through the teeth about an imagined calamitous plot that Saddam Hussein was brewing.
It became a ruse to invade and occupy Iraq. Yet the Indian media did not question the idiom. Saddam Hussein was perhaps the only Arab leader who described Kashmir as an integral part of India. If anything, New Delhi should have been grateful to Baghdad for that view. Yet, the Indian government lost no time in turning its back on Saddam. That America conducts the foreign policies of many a country is axiomatic. But India takes the cake in this regard. It broke its 50-year-old aloofness with Riyadh and invited the Saudi king to be its chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations.
However, the monarch refused to abide by a key protocol. He did not go to Mahatma Gandhi’s shrine as that would offend his version of Islam. It must be added here that Pakistan’s former president Gen Pervez Musharraf did not have such qualms when he offered flowers at Gandhi’s shrine in 2001.
That the Indian middle classes loved George W. Bush when the rest of the world had abandoned him was spelled out by the Pew opinion poll.
However, fudging the Indian calendar to make it sound similar to the way Americans read their dates is unnecessarily servile.
TV channels routinely use 9/11 and 26/11 to refer to the dates when the attacks happened in New York and Mumbai respectively. It matters little that the months and the dates were entirely different in the two attacks.
Possibly the most outrageous part of the celebration of Sunday’s killing of Osama bin Laden was the codename assigned to it — Operation Geronimo. How I wish Marlon Brando were alive today to knock some sense into the gung-ho minds of the Obama team.
Geronimo was an Apache Indian hero who was trapped by deceit by western settlers in the late 19th century. He died in virtual captivity after becoming a Christian. Brando, who had fought assiduously on behalf of the American Indian community, would not have hesitated to see the codename as a white supremacist slur. Did President Obama choose it?
The story of Geronimo may unwittingly give more credit to Osama than is his due. Though outnumbered, Geronimo fought against both Mexican and United States troops and became famous for his daring exploits and numerous escapes from capture from 1858 to 1886.
One such escape, as legend has it, took place in the Robledo Mountains of southwest New Mexico. Geronimo and his followers entered a cave, and US soldiers waited outside the cave entrance for him, but he never came out. Later Geronimo was spotted in a nearby area. The second entrance to the cave has yet to be found and the cave is still called Geronimo’s Cave.
Was Geronimo a terrorist? Victors, and in this case the Obama team, can have us believe what they wish.
It is for us to remember that not too long ago, another US president had used ‘terrorist’ for an entirely different mission.
Ronald Reagan went on to subvert the democratically elected regime in Nicaragua as terrorist. Whose turn is it next? Perhaps a certain maverick who uses women guards to protect him in an oil-rich North African country?
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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