Culture and civilization have not altered the barbaric nature of human beings. The more it changes the more it remains the same. And it's the big powers that are responsible for this perverse Genesis. An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. - Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1253, when French ambassador William of Rubruck arrived at the court of the Mongol warlord at Karakorum, he was struck by the elaborate security precautions. This was because the mighty Khan had heard that no less than 40 assassins in various disguises from the Middle East had been sent to assassinate him. In response, the Khan sent one of his brothers with an army to the ‘land of assassins’ and ordered him to kill them. Hulegu destroyed the assassin bases in Persia and Baybars in Syria.
Today, the situation in Washington is similar to Karakorum except that the new millennium assassins, relying on their will to die and simple box-cutters, and with many still at large, have created for the first time an abiding aura of terror in the American history. It was not Pearl Harbor in 1941, but September 11, 2001, which has actually stunned the US.
Millions of Muslims live in France, Germany, UK and the US. Some have suffered the backlash, which can be deadly and self-perpetuating. Jehad and crusades have gone on since Islam’s birth in the 7th century. But this jehad is universal, it includes Hindus and others. It might end in terrible damage to human civilization itself.
Although Europeans had heard of early assassins through crusaders and travelers, they could put together the story only in the 19th century. Not many crusaders were victims, the first being Conrad, King of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Marco Polo, who passed through Persia in 1273, mentioned the fortress in the Alamut valley near the Caspian headquarters of a sect. Enclosed between two mountains, it was like a paradise with gardens of beautiful flowers and fruit trees, streams of water, honey and wine. Beautiful women sang, danced and entertained the guests. When the Alamut Sheikh wanted an enemy to be assassinated, one of the disciples was commissioned. He was given hashish, a ‘glimpse’ of the paradise, and told that he could return to the paradise if alive, otherwise he would enter it directly.
But this was only fertile European imagination, a misconception that still persists in the West. The only motivation was religious fervor and obedience to the Sheikh’s cause. The assassins learnt languages, the art of fighting, even posed as Sufis, waited for years, even decades, for the opportunity to knife the target and die — contented.
The word ‘assassin’ perhaps originates from its abusive use in Syria, their stronghold much later, where they were considered wild and fanatic, like narcotic addicts.
The intolerance bred by ‘my god is the only god’, followed by ‘my true and only’ ideology like fascism, Nazism and communism have been used to butcher hundreds of millions over the millennia, around 80 million in 20th century alone.
The followers of Buddha, Tao, Confucius, Mahavira, Shamans and Hindus never forced their belief on others. The world now awaits the latest clash.
Ever since Darwin’s theory of evolution, westerners, particularly Anglo-Saxons, put great faith in the survival of the fittest theory. So there was colonization in the garb of the white man’s burden, the brutal elimination of Red Indians on the American continent, organized slavery and the dehumanization of the blacks in Africa and the US. One wonders if the second atomic bomb against Japan was really necessary.
Then came the napalm and chemical bombings in Vietnam.
Who established the nurseries of terrorism with billions of dollars of arms due to which countries around Afghanistan and beyond still suffer? And who cares for the poor Muslim masses who want to be left in peace but have to pay for the blunders of their leaders in Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Palestine and Iraq?
The short-term selfish interests of big powers have brought humanity to this stage.
After the Berlin Wall fell, came globalization, a distorted version of capitalism, to promote narrow corporate interests of the West, with no accountability to the people who suffer as in South-east Asia. Under this charade, hundreds of billions have been transferred from Russia and East Europe to western banks and institutions, reducing the people to penury. With the Globalization of western media, Leftist and other forms of dissent are screened off. The exploited, who could earlier sustain hopes in Leftist ideologies, now have fundamentalist ideologies to resort to.
For the US and its allies, Islamic fundamentalism has become a life and death challenge of the new millennium. Fifty years ago, the Islamic Ummah had started bestirring into violence a structure whose major fault lines cut a wide swathe from Atlantic to China. It is now in full-bloom around Afghanistan and Pakistan, a strategic center of the Islamic world. Trained by the CIA and ISI, there are now over 100,000 jehadis all over the Islamic world, in Kashmir, Albania, Chechnya, Xinjiang (China), Central Asia and elsewhere. They are sustained by heroin exports and smuggling. It’s crucial that leaders of all countries must forget their short-term interests and ponder what has gone wrong with the human race, and find peaceful solutions. At least to live and let live.
Originally published in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi 3 October, 2001 (Oped page)