"I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."
In the wake of 9/11, much has been written of the link between religion specifically, Islam and the rise of the terrorist threat: the religion of Mohammed, we are told, represents a dire threat to the West, comparable, in scope and potential lethality, to that of the old Soviet Union perhaps greater. In recent days, we have been subjected to warnings that this threat will "inevitably" take the form of a nuclear device, detonated, perhaps, in an American city. Be that as it may, the nuclear incarnation of the Muslim Threat is depicted as a deadly potential. In spite of a veritable flood of scare stories, to the effect that Al Qaeda-like terrorists are about to get their hands on a nuclear device, or have been trying to acquire one, no one argues that Osama bin Laden or his allies have a nuclear device. But there is another brand of religious fanaticism that actually does have The Bomb, whose adherents are not only willing, but also, one could argue, even eager to use it.
OPPENHEIMER WAS RIGHT
"I am become death, the shatterer of worlds" these were the first words out of J. Robert Oppenheimer‘s mouth as he saw his handiwork blossom over the New Mexico desert, in 1945, at the dawn of the nuclear age. He was quoting the Bhagavad-Gita, the holy book of the Hindus, and, as Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor reported in 1998:
"In India, Dr. Oppenheimer’s words are increasingly quoted by a new type of Hindu activist. For them, his use of their sacred text shows how Hindu ideas of deity are connected to modern times. Fire and fire rituals are a major element of Hinduism. The visage of creator-god Vishnu is like the brilliance of a nuclear flash, they argue."
Marquand points out that India’s nuclear arms program is suffused with Hindu imagery: the Agni rocket stands for the Hindu fire god; the Trishul missile is named for the trident of righteousness held by Vishnu. Defending the Indian government’s decision to go nuclear, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared that nukes are
"A necessary component of overall national strength….The greatest meaning of the tests is that they have given India shakti."
The Hindu concept of shakti refers not just to power, but divine power, i.e. the military prowess of the Hindu pantheon. In Hindu mythology, Shakti is the consort of Shiva ("the Destroyer"), and this was also the code name for India’s nuclear program during its developmental stage. In hailing his nation’s swollen sense of shakti, after the 1998 nuclear testing that inducted India into the nuclear club, Vajpayee expressed a key precept of the Hindutva movement that now threatens South Asia with nuclear destruction.
HINDU-FASCISM IN ACTION
The rise of Hindu fundamentalism as a political force in India catapulted the Bharatiya Janata Party to power and sought to expunge the Gandhian pacifism of the old militantly secular Congress Party tradition, replacing it with a new martial spirit. The idea of Hindutva, which energizes the Hindu activists, sees India not only as a Hindu state, but as a militantly revanchist force in the region, a nation determined to recapture its old empire. As I explained in a previous column devoted to this fascinating subject, the Hindutva movement has created a whole mythology based on the idea of ethnic Indians as the first and only pure Aryans: the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol, and has been revived by what I call the Hindu-fascist forces in India. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological center of Hindutva, has a provision in its constitution that its leader must be a blue-eyed Sarasvat Brahmin.
I hesitate to use the term "neo-Nazi" to describe a contemporary political movement, as it has become almost a ritualistic term of abuse. However, in this case, the label fits precisely: to begin with, the Hindutva theory of "Aryan" racial superiority is nearly identical to that of the German Nazis. Hitlers followers borrowed not only the swastika but also adopted other mythic aspects of Hindu mysticism, such as the alleged Arctic origins of the "Aryan" race propagated by B. G. Tilak and others.
Marquand cites Francine Frankel, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India, as saying that India’s ruling party "has reinterpreted Hinduism to include a manly assertiveness." This is confirmed by the exclamation of one Hindu leader who, averring his support for India’s nuclear program, declared "We are no longer eunuchs!"
The psycho-religious symbolism of India’s nuclear exhibitionism may have eluded our political leaders, but it wasn’t lost on the scholarly community. Marquand cites Sanskrit scholar Surendra Gamphir, who says militarism is so "deeply embedded [a] concept in Hindu culture that you hold scripture in one hand and a weapon in the other."
In short, what we are dealing with, in India, is a bunch of neo-Nazi nutballs with a giant nuclear chip on their shoulders and suffering under a terrible feeling of inadequacy, or impotency. Calling a group or party "nutballs" is a bit harsh: but, again, there is no other way to describe the Indian leaders’ professed indifference to the consequences of a nuclear exchange. Surely a stoic calm in the face of such a horror has deep and dark psychological roots. Such a volatile mixture of psychological and ideological maladies ought to have set off alarm bells, back in 1998, when they became a nuclear power, but nobody seemed to "connect the dots," as they say. As Marquand pointed out at the time:
"Yet after last month’s test, experts in New Delhi and Washington are not speaking of a ‘Hindu bomb’ – [even] as they speak of an ‘Islamic bomb.’"
"We could take a strike, survive and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished."
One Western diplomat worried aloud that "these people have never heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," but, then again, perhaps Westerners have trouble understanding the concept of reincarnation, which figures prominently in the religions of Asia, and especially in the Hindu tradition. You may be incinerated by a nuclear bomb in this life, but don’t worry you’ll come back. Perhaps as a citizen of a more civilized country, where the idea of mass death is unthinkable. It’s the next best thing to a green card.
MUSHARRAF PLAYS DEFENSE
The Pakistanis, for their part, are playing a strictly defensive role in this nuclear drama. Outnumbered by India’s massive army, which is poised on the border, its only advantages are a more modern air force, its special relationship with the US and the willingness to press the nuclear trigger. The determinedly pro-American General Pervez Musharraf, who single-handedly stopped Pakistan’s slide into Afghan-style fundamentalism, has had to fight a war on two fronts: against Al Qaeda and the Indian ultra-nationalists, both of whom are pushing determinedly into the disputed Kashmir region and share a common goal: the dissolution of the Pakistani state.
As professors John T. Rourke and Mark A. Boyer, both of the University of Connecticut – Storrs, point out, the ideologists of Hindutva hold up the idea of a Greater India as a key foreign policy objective:
"The BJP’s platform advocates not only the return of India to its traditional Hindu culture, but also the resurrection the India that was once a great power. Many Hindu nationalists have maps depicting the ideal of Akhund Bharat, ‘Old India,’ with territory encompassing Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan."
THE PALESTINE PARALLEL
Energized by a sense of religious messianism, and dedicated to the restoration of a lost empire, the Hindu-fascists of the BJP have a lot in common with their Israeli allies most importantly, they have a common enemy in Islam. Embarked on an extensive program of military cooperation, the two countries have affected a similar stance in the post-9/11 era: that of being more royalist than the king (i.e. the US) when it comes to the issue of terrorism. The Israelis have argued that, like the Americans in Afghanistan, their incursions into Palestinian territory are justified in the name of the "war on terrorism." Likewise, New Delhi, in justifying its ongoing subjugation of Kashmir and incursions into Pakistan, cites the pursuit of "terrorists" as justification and darkly hints that Pakistani intelligence masterminded the recent attack on India’s parliament.
At the core of the conflict is the issue of Kashmir, which India has invaded, and holds against the will of the largely Muslim population. While formally agreeing to hold free elections, India has managed to delay the process since 1948, when both India and Pakistan voted for the Indian resolutions which called for a UN-supervised plebiscite. India’s Occupied Territories, like Palestine’s, are held under martial law, and that is not the only parallel: here, too, religious ideology provides a ready justification for a foreign policy of militant expansionism, the unanswerable justification for daily atrocities visited on an occupied people.
TONY BLAIR, ARMS SALESMAN
Another key ally of India is Britain. Foreign secretary Jack Straw made a special trip to Islamabad the other day to accuse Musharraf, on his home turf, of "aiding ‘terrorists’ in Kashmir" and demanded that he curb "extremists," i.e., anyone fighting against the Indian occupation. As John Pilger points out, Britain’s New Labor has acted as a kind of brokerage firm for the British arms industry, and Tony Blair has been a most effective salesman when it comes to peddling his wares in New Delhi:
"In January, as the two countries prepared for war, Tony Blair arrived in the subcontinent on what was called a "peace mission." In fact, as the Indian press revealed, he discussed the opposite of peace a £1billion deal to sell India 60 Hawk fighter-bombers made by British Aerospace. ‘The issue of India acquiring the Hawks," reported the periodical Outlook India, ‘was raised by Prime Minister Blair with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, defense minister George Fernandes said today.’ Three weeks later, the British High Commission in New Delhi threw a party for a group of British arms salesmen in town for a major weapons fair called Defexpo, whose organizers made no secret of their aim to exploit the ‘recent developments taking place in the south-east Asia region’ in other words, the conflicts in Kashmir and Afghanistan."
REMEMBER THE MONTAGNARDS
With Britain, Israel, and India arrayed against him, General Musharraf who has loyally cooperated with the US in the fight against Al Qaeda at great risk to his office and his life is in a very tenuous position, and whether he holds out is crucial. For if he falls, then the fate of all pro-American regimes in that part of the world is prefigured: Musharraf and his Arab brethren will share the fate of the Vietnamese Montagnards, and those Cubans who foolishly but heroically went down to defeat at the Bay of Pigs. Everyone in the region will get the message, fast, and America’s allies in the war on terrorism will be reduced to Israel, Britain, India, and maybe Turkey.
THE STAKES FOR AMERICA
That is why George W. Bush’s position is nearly as tenuous as Musharraf’s. He must balance the demands of our rabid "allies," pushing for an open alliance with India, against the national interests of the US, which militate in favor of Musharraf. Again, the parallels with the Palestinian conundrum are striking: Bush has been veering back and forth, first praising Musharraf for his steadfast support to the US military effort, and then scolding him publicly for supposedly not doing enough to rein in Kashmir militants and for stubbornly (and correctly) insisting the goal of independence for Kashmir is "a just struggle." It is a mirror of US relations with Arafat.
It is a mirror of US relations with Arafat.
A SELF-INFLICTED TRAGEDY
American collusion with a newly-aggressive and expansionist India has helped bring us to this point standing at the edge of a nuclear catastrophe in South Asia. "Weapons of mass destruction" the mantra we hear so often when it comes to Iraq hardly seemed to matter where India was concerned, at least until very recently. Oh, there was near-universal hand-wringing when India tested nukes, but no imposition of any but the mildest of sanctions and even the beginning of a US-Indian rapprochement. Months before 9/11, we had already greatly increased our previously low-level military cooperation with India, and, last I heard, joint US-India war games were scheduled to occur even as US officials were saying the Indo-Pakistani war could go nuclear in three weeks.
PUTTING AMERICA FIRST
The American interest in the India-Pakistan dispute is twofold:
- Aside from the moral value of circumventing mass death, we have an interest in preventing a nuclear war that could have unpredictable and invariably dire health consequences well beyond the immediate vicinity of the catastrophe.
- Pakistan is a key battlefield in the entirely legitimate effort to eliminate Al Qaeda as a military force. Without General Musharraf, and his largely US-trained-and-equipped military, a massive US operation in Pakistan an invasion is inevitable. Which is precisely what the War Party wants .
Both American interests, and justice, dictate a policy of unequivocal support for General Musharraf. For he is our Pinochet in the war on terrorism, and, like his namesake, he deserves better than to be thrown to the dogs. All this guff about how "democracies" never start wars is surely proven wrong by the example of India, which started the regional nuclear arms race by being the first to conduct tests, and is now openly threatening its neighbor with nuclear annihilation.
"We must be prepared for mutual destruction on both sides," says Indian defense secretary Yogendra Narain. This seeming indifference to the prospect of 12 million people incinerated in the first stages of a nuclear conflict is echoed by Hindu-fascist military strategists, such as Lieutenant General Satish Nambiar, affiliated with a military think-tank based in New Delhi.
"I don’t think the Americans want a full-scale war on their hands in this region. I think there would be some pressure on Pakistan so that the situation does not escalate into a war situation. In the worst-case scenario, if Pakistan escalates and there is a war, then we will deal with it. We must be prepared. We have been fighting a war with one hand tied for the last 15 years."
The cultural blinders we wear in the West prevent us from seeing the full horror of the monstrous Shiva rising in the East. Many were struck by the weird admixture of medieval notions and modern methods that animated the cadres of Al Qaeda. But then what are we to make of this news?:
"Indian scientists are turning to an ancient Hindu text in their search for the secrets of effective stealth warfare. They believe the book, the Arthashastra, written more than 2,300 years ago, will give Indian troops the edge on their enemies. India’s Defense Minister George Fernandes has approved funding for the project, and told parliament recently that experiments had begun."
A single meal that will energize a soldier sufficiently to fight for a month; footwear that enables the wearer to walk for hundreds of miles without tiring thanks to the application of a serum made from the flesh of owls and vultures; a magic fairy-dust made of fireflies and the eyes of wild boar that bestows the ability to see in the dark: these projects, as well as numerous recipes for chemical warfare, are being decoded from the ancient Hindu texts by Indian scientists. Given the growing US-Indian military relationship, one can legitimately wonder if perhaps US tax dollars are being used to investigate the military uses of sacred bat guano mixed with eye of newt.
Humor aside, this is serious, folks. The Indians have indicated they are planning to invade parts of Pakistan, and run the risk of all-out retaliation leaving it to the Americans to restrain Musharraf. But what if he won’t be restrained and why shouldn’t the Indians restrain themselves?
Of course, they won’t: madmen never do. That’s why we consider them mad to begin with. We know we are dealing with madmen when we listen to Professor SV Bhavasar, whom the BBC describes as a "space scientist," defend the effort to give the sacred Hindu texts a military application:
"All of us are excited about the possibilities and do not for a moment think that the idea is crazy."
I don’t know what they’re smoking over there, but it seems like some pretty powerful stuff. A space scientist? That appears to be a typo I think what the BBC meant was spaced scientist, as in so spaced-out that he doesn’t know fantasy from reality.
What’s scary is that we are not talking about ignorant peasants, here, but of scientists and the people in charge! Of course Professor Bhavasar doesn’t think the idea is crazy because Indian society has gone completely bonkers, and is now capable of anything yes, even a genocide of Hitlerian proportions.
Who will stop them? Will the President of the United States overcome the active collaboration of our "allies" with crazed Hindu-fascists and demand that New Delhi stand down? This, more even than 9/11, may prove to be the real test of his presidency.