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Satyabrata Pal

By Arun Kundnani
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2014, pp. 256, Rs. 1339.00


Like its subject, this is a book that will stir strong feelings. It is not a dry, objective examination of its subject. It is a polemic, deeply felt and passionately argued, a diatribe against the assumptions which underpinned the war on terror in the UK and US and a denunciation of the tactics with which it was fought. In India, with our own experience and fears of ‘cross-border terrorism’, we sympathize with the West, though we also mount the moral high ground, from which we bend down to gently rub its nose in the debris of 9/11, piously contrasting our solidarity with its earlier indifference or hostility to our travails. But mostly we envy the seeming efficiency with which the West has fought its war, thwarting all attempts to replicate the large attacks in the US and West Europe of the early 2000s. We contrast this with what we take to be our own softness and ineptitude, which have left us exposed to repeated attacks. This book should therefore be required reading for any Indian who either hankers for the transplantation of the West’s methods here or has a role to play in deciding if they should. It sets out the enormous cost in human suffering that the war on terror imposed on Muslims in these countries. In India it would mean traumatizing 14% of our population. In a lecture of sustained irony delivered in 2008, which he called ‘Inventing the Enemy’, Umberto Eco explained that the godfather of his theme was a Pakistani cabbie in New York, who had asked him who Italy’s enemies were, and had refused to accept his response that it had none. Thinking it over later, Eco said in his lecture, he realized that, having ‘an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth’. To illustrate this point, he asked his audience to see ‘what happened to the United States when the Evil Empire vanished and the great Soviet enemy faded away. The United States was in danger of losing its identity until bin Laden, in gratitude for the benefits received when he was fighting against the Soviet Union, proffered his merciful hand and gave Bush the opportunity to create new enemies, strengthening feelings of national identity as ...

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