Now the West too feels the pain and suffering
Now that the anger and outrage that followed the wanton killing of innocents in Bali have subsided somewhat, the West should ask itself why Asian and African people have not reacted in the way that Americans, Britons and some others did.

It is not that Asian and African people have lost their emotional moorings that they do not empathise with the grieving families.

For decades now people from the Philippines and across Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, have suffered from terrorism that killed or maimed thousands and made millions of others victims of depravity.

When bombs indiscriminately killed innocents, when suicide bombers targeting political enemies blasted men, women and children who had nothing to do with so-called freedom fighters and their perceived political goals, who mourned for the dead and dying? Not George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard or other western leaders.

At most, the western classes tossed a dollar or a pound into a hat held by some do gooder non-governmental agency preparing to civilize the natives and proselytize them into worshipping the western ways of socio-economic development.

That, as far as it went, was the western way of commiseration. Admittedly there were many thousands of western people who had lived in Asia and Africa, or were simply shocked by the callous arbitrariness of terrorists who were ready to kill without compunction, people of their own religious or ethnic group.

Former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in a lecture he gave at Chatham House London about four years ago made the point very well. Referring to the prevailing attitude of states to the question of terrorism, he said there were two approaches. One he called the Nelsonian approach - the studied indifference that argues that terrorism is happening elsewhere, we are not affected, so why worry.

The other is the show of sympathy - we would like to help you but we don't have the laws in our country to help you fight terrorism. But the readiness to fight terrorism, to take legal and other measures to make the rhetoric effective and efficacious, is mere public grandstanding until they themselves fall victim to the terrorist attack and their citizens lie decapitated in pools of blood.

Whether such terrorism is unleashed by the state or sponsored by it or whether it comes from those who wish to overthrow governments or secede from the state, its end result is indefensible if the victims are the countless innocents without a stake in that fight. This is another reason why many non-westerners react with less outrage when the west and westerners become targets of terrorism. It is not that they don't feel morally abused when terrorism strikes. Rather they feel that just as they suffered alone and with little help from the west, the west must be left to feel and understand the pain and suffering too.

Furthermore, they see and feel the double standards adopted by the west. It was Queen Victoria's foreign minister Lord Palmerston who said that England had no permanent enemies or permanent friends, only permanent interests.

In 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. said of the United States: "My government is the world's leading purveyor of violence".

These two statements, more than a century apart still stand as sentinels to the realpolitik that guides the political and strategic actions of two nations that are separated by the Atlantic Ocean but united by the terrorism and violence they have unleashed themselves or sponsored, during various times in their histories.

Asians are aware of the weapons of mass destruction that the United States used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and later in Vietnam when this country that now speaks of evil states and genocide used napalm and defoliants such as "Agent Orange" against the Vietnamese and their country.

Asians have not forgotten the undeclared war that Washington launched against Cambodia.

The world has not forgotten that Washington conspired to oust the elected leader of Iran, Mohamed Mossadeq, tried to assassinate Fidel Castro, that Britain and US helped Saddam Hussein to build the weapons of mass destruction that they now decry and encouraged him to launch the disastrous war against Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary regime.

These two nations that now strike a righteous pose having violated every known norm of civilized political conduct now dare preach to the world how it should be saved from dictators and terrorism.. Had September 11 not happened, the west would still be wallowing in its smug self satisfaction that it was safe from the terrorist threat because it was economically and militarily powerful, nay invincible.Like the Bourbons of France, the United States learned nothing and forgot nothing. Had George W. Bush learned the art of reading, history would have told him that ordinary peasants in black pyjamas and wide-brimmed bamboo hats humbled the mighty Eagle and removed its talons. It now seems he-and his sidekick Phoney Blair- want to be taught personal lessons in humility. They might not have to wait long.

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.