As many already know, my father Deepak Chopra (along with thousands of others) has taken a vow of non-violence in all his actions and words. As a result, he's unable to respond that aggressively to an article written by Dorothy Rabinowitz in Monday's Wall Street Journal critical of his response on CNN and elsewhere to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Fortunately, I haven't taken the vow.
In her opinion piece, Ms. Rabinowitz charges that Deepak has over-simplified the issue of global terrorism. How ironic considering the profound over-simplification of her article (not to mention the recklessness of it) entitled "Deepak Blames America."
The same way she questions Deepak's authority on the subject, I have no idea what qualifies Ms. Rabinowitz as an expert in this regard but she clearly appears to be no student of history. If she was, she would understand the context in which this latest terrorist attack appears to have occurred. To summarize: in the 80's the CIA financed the militarization of Afghan rebels to resist Soviet expansion in the region. At the same time, the US also subsidized Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, to train and provide tactical support to those same Islamic militants.
Fast forward to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Soviet's pulling out of Afghanistan, and the United State's subsequent withdrawal of support from the region as well. The result: a vacuum filled with a lot of guns and rage. After 9/11, in an effort to once again re-establish control of the wild proliferation of fundamentalism in the region, the US returned to the Indian subcontinent with a bit of sound and fury only to find the mess they left behind and the deep ties between the ISI and the Mujahadeen turned Taliban. In other words, there is a distinct link between the rise of Islamic militancy in the Indian Subcontinent and the US activities there over the last few decades. Allegations that the group of terrorists that perpetrated the Mumbai attack has links to a Pakistani-based terror group and that they actually launched the attack from Karachi seems pretty solid. Is it too much to ask for a WSJ journalist to tie this all together?
Let's get to the heart of the matter, though, which is about constructing a solution for global terrorism, not just assigning blame for it. To hypothesize that this is simply a problem restricted to Arab and/or Islamic parts of the world is plainly naïve and reckless. To deny the inherent, tangled hierarchy of ongoing conflicts in Israel, Iraq, and Kashmir that pit opposing ideals against one another with the supply of billions of dollars into the oil industry, ground zero for which is the American ally Saudi Arabia, and the even more profitable arms trade that subsidizes all sides of these wars showcases Ms. Rabinowitz's unprofessional lack of understanding.
Our collective inability to construct a well thought out creative solution that goes beyond declaring a "war on terrorism" or insanely cheering on continued "shock and awe" campaigns in Arab regions around the world is a complicit part of the ongoing problems we face. Yes, America -- for all the democratic ideals for freedom and liberty it declares to the rest of the world -- does indeed have a fundamental responsibility to stay true to them and be held accountable when we fail to even give the appearance that we care for them, as unfortunately the Bush regime has shown the last 8 years. We can no longer afford the delusion that we have no part in a global community plagued by the sickness that is Islamic fundamentalism largely brought on by economic disparity and ideological hypocrisy, not to mention myopic policies, oil money, and arms sales that nurture it. To pretend otherwise is to perpetuate and encourage more brazen attacks. To think that this creative solution should not appeal in some way to the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom are not terrorists, is plain negligence.
The goal here is not to demonize the US and pin all of the world's problems -- and certainly terrorism specifically -- on the US and/or its foreign policy. But clearly as we enter a new era and Presidency, we have an opportunity to contemplate a new cohesive strategy for dealing with the plague of the 21st century -- Islamic fundamentalism. Part of that is to examine our own recent political history. We need to look at CIA activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, specifically in the 70's and 80's, to prop up the Mujahadeen who would become the Taliban. Let us recall that the CIA brought Saddam Hussein, who at the time was a thug in exile, back to Iraq and installed him as President. This was done to combat Soviet expansion in Asia and to guard against Iran's growing Ayatollah Khomeini steered fanaticism. Debate all you want the merit of these operations and what they would eventually lead to... in fact that is what we must do.
Now let's get personal. In her piece, Ms. Rabinowitz cites Deepak's lack of compassion and empathy for the victims of the attacks in Mumbai. That's funny -- I didn't notice her sitting at our Thanksgiving dinner table last week, a decidedly somber event that coincided with the attacks in the country where our family is from and many still live. We were downcast not only because of our cultural connection to India but our personal connections to several friends who were literally in the Taj, the Oberoi and some of the other sites when the attacks took place. For 48 hours straight, my mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, and wife reached out to countless family members, friends, and colleagues, fearful each time that we were not able to connect with someone, assuming the worst. Fortunately for us, no one we know closely so far is amongst the dead.
The same can't be said for many of the devoted people and hotel staff who made our stays, business meetings, late night drinks and kebabs extravaganzas at the Taj and Oberoi so memorable and meaningful. Many of those that survived the attacks, even after they have lost so much -- their colleagues and even families in some cases -- are the same resilient people that are today pledging to rebuild these cultural and business epicenters to be stronger than ever. That, Ms. Rabinowitz, is also part of the re-construction and diplomacy plan, and my family plans to be there as soon as the doors open once more. Will you?
Or is it less troublesome for you to remain ensconced in your a priori knowingness and dispense judgment on those who bother to travel the world and engage in dialogue with people of all different perspectives?
As an entrepreneur with a business that employs several dozen in India, I travel to India at least once a quarter and feel like I have a pretty firm grasp of what's on the minds of the citizens of Mumbai right now. My father travels to India just as regularly, not to mention the over two-dozen other countries that he visited last year alone. As a journalist, I also happen to have spent considerable time in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Chechnya, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, Kashmir, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia, sometimes sitting across from some of these terrorists and engaging them in dialogue and debate. That's not to say that I empathize with them or their cause: I don't. But I do bother to acknowledge them, which may be the first step in trying to understand the warped psychology of their minds. Only then can one presumably start to refine a real plan for eliminating it, if even that requires deployment of precise military means to excise the cancer that are terrorist sleeper cells. But to think the solution ends there is naive.
Then again, that clearly is not Ms. Rabinowitz's intent because there is another complicit part to all of this -- the media. Dorothy Rabinowitz, for example is an incredibly accomplished journalist and certainly someone with the intellectual capacity to understand the complexity of the issues if she wanted to. And yet instead of writing a thoughtful piece on the Mumbai attacks, she and the WSJ choose to publish a salacious article under the heading of "Deepak Blames America" which clearly is all about generating controversy and news. They were successful in creating publicity over this imaginary story-considering all the subsequent coverage, including my father's appearance Monday night on the Fox News show Hannity and Colmes in which the article was cited (both Fox News and the WSJ, of course, are owned by News Corp/Rupert Murdoch... another story for another day). Of course, ultimately the real goal of the media, news networks included, is more viewers, more readers, and more buzz. The consequence is that it fuels a public that wants simple three-word headlines and analysis that doesn't rely on understanding the history or context in which events occur. It's a brave new world for media everywhere because someone is always watching and blogging.
That's where the "Marshall Plan for the Muslim world," that Ms. Rabinowitz sarcastically cites in her article, comes in. That, by the way, was my idea that I lent my dad for his appearance on Larry King! I happen to think a long-term holistic and strategic plan that helps rebuild the blasted ghettos of the Arab world, where so much of this hatred festers, is the only reasonable solution to the militant trend that we see proliferating around globe now.
Here's the thing -- and the final point -- I'm a first generation American and proud to be so. I believe the US needs to take a strong leadership role in eradicating the planet of terrorism. I certainly don't think I have the knowledge or experience to shape that policy and never claimed to. But as concerned and proud citizens it's our responsibility to challenge our leaders to come up with new ideas, learn from the mistakes of our past, and be very conscious of the world they are shaping for our children.
It's not at all an easy solution and there will likely be mistakes in the future but it would behoove us as a nation to not learn from some of the ones we have made in the past. The war in Iraq comes to mind. It's a worthy debate whether or not the war can be qualified as a success. But part of the discussion has to be an acknowledgment of the facts -- that somewhere between 400 thousand to 1 million Iraqi civilians have perished. Some may argue that that is the price of war and long-term peace and security in the region. Others will say that beyond the immediate cost of those lives is how that has galvanized another generation of Islamic militants.
It's a good and important debate to have as it will ultimately fuel new policy. Gitmo and Abu Ghraib also have to be part of that same discussion. As does the fact that Saddam Hussein, the late dictator we love to hate so much, as noted above, was originally a prop of the US after an American sponsored coup. For years, the US was well aware of his brutal tactics with his own people including the infamous torture chambers and rape rooms and yet tolerated them because of the so-called broader strategic security interests in the region. To pretend that that was the reason the US decided to "liberate the Iraqi" people is revisionist at best, but really just flat out wrong. That one's for you Sean Hannity -- another accomplished and intelligent journalist who knows better than to lean on that false crutch for his ongoing cheerleading of the war.
I'm open to debate on all of the above but prefer to do so with those that are actually serious and solution-oriented, not just in search of more readers or a higher rating. Today, in the face of great danger around the world and more looming terrorist attacks, we all have to be willing to ask ourselves how we can actually contribute in a meaningful way to constructing a long term sustainable and peaceful planet. Maybe I am the naive one because I still believe in our spiritual patriarch Mahatma Gandhi who said if you want to see change in the world, start with yourself.
Maybe I will take that vow after all.
Gotham Chopra regularly blogs at www.intent.com