Behind the Billowing Smoke


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Jawed Naqvi

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By Jawed Naqvi

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BEFORE he was stopped for questioning at the Boston airport last week, Azam Khan was perceived as a ghetto-embracing politician, an Indian Muslim with a provincial worldview.

He was once quoted as famously wanting to lead a mob to tear down the Taj Mahal because it symbolised a waste of money. He had earlier claimed that the Babri mosque could only be demolished over his dead body. Well? And he runs an educational institution after a Muslim hero who strove to restore the caliphate in Turkey against Kemal Ataturk’s modernising efforts.

After he was checked at the Boston airport, following which he kicked up a right royal fuss, Azam Khan comes across as the gross neighbour who walked into a house in mourning with an eye on the warm biryani.

The minister from Uttar Pradesh mistimed it though. He had gone to the United States to be feted by the Indian diaspora but was quizzed at the airport where security happened to be on a higher alert than normal.

He claimed he was singled out for being a Muslim. It is perfectly possible that the computerised data on the US terror watch flickered when it saw someone close to his description, and why not?

After all, Muslims have been in the thick of these things. Two Muslim migrants had shockingly wreaked havoc in Boston the other day, evidently in pursuit of their religious calling. They attacked a marathon race, making it the third time when people with Muslim names targeted sportspersons at events where the prize was a cornucopia of human fellowship.

How does Azam Khan respond to the fact that people bearing Muslim names killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972? They targeted a friendly Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009.

Who knows what the computer threw up on him, but Azam Khan is known to be so self-absorbed he wouldn’t have noticed that Meera Shankar was handed a pat-down at a US airport when she was India’s ambassador in Washington DC. It’s a country in serious trouble. Former defence minister George Fernandes and movie actor Shahrukh Khan were questioned too.

What seems even more ironical for Azam Khan’s pervasive sense of victimhood is the fact that Narendra Modi has been denied a US visa, ostensibly because of the extremist politics he practises in Gujarat.

The tangled skein of terror and counter-terror of course goes beyond easy references to religious pursuits as the source.

The example of Timothy McVeigh has been cited in the context of the Boston tragedy. McVeigh was a former US soldier with a disturbed childhood. He was decorated with a military medal for his services in the Kuwait-Iraq expedition before he rammed a truck loaded with explosives in Oklahoma into a government building packed with people.

His grouse with the American government seems to have had little to do with his Roman Catholic faith.

McVeigh was executed with a lethal injection, but every year militarist American policies create more and more disturbed war veterans. The Guardian in February detailed a horrific tragedy unfolding in the United States with practically every military outing.

Describing what it said was a suicide epidemic among US war veterans, The Guardian homed in on the heartrending story of William Busbee, “archetype of the US soldier” whose mother feels he was let down by the army he loved so much.

“Libby Busbee is pretty sure that her son William never sat through or read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, even though he behaved as though he had,” wrote The Guardian. “Soon after he got back from his final tour of Afghanistan, he began rubbing his hands over and over and constantly rinsing them under the tap.”

The reference was to Lady Macbeth’s writhing with guilt at the cold-blooded murder of King Duncan by his trusted lieutenant, her husband.

“Mom, it won’t wash off,” the 23-year old William Busbee said. “What are you talking about?” the mother replied. “The blood. It won’t come off.”

The paper records how on March 20 last year, the “soldier’s striving for self-cleanliness came to a sudden end. That night he locked himself in his car and, with his mother and two sisters screaming just a few feet away and with SWAT officers encircling the vehicle, he shot himself in the head.”

Busbee became part of a gruesome statistic. In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone, the report noted. “To put that another way, more of America’s serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.”

But who is the enemy that young men like William Busbee and Timothy McVeigh are routinely deputed to fight? Before the blood of the three victims killed in the Boston blast was dry, President Obama had sanctioned $133 million or thereabout to arm religious extremists fighting the secular albeit undemocratic Assad regime in Syria.

The trouble is that many of the beneficiaries of the American largesse in the Syrian conflict are the same people whose ideological perversion was responsible for the tragedy of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

This cynical American pursuit of make-believe strategic security becomes equally untenable when the Boston bombers turn out to be inspired by anti-Russian religious bigots who are considered to be kosher by Washington as long as they don’t harm Americans.

I can fully understand Azam Khan getting frisked at the Boston airport, but it is difficult to accept the rest of the story behind Boston’s billowing smoke, which masks America’s unending tryst with self-inflicted horrors.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

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Re-posted from DAWN.com

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