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Friday, Apr 12, 2002

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Battle of beliefs

Timeri N. Murari

WE ARE now living in the age of the Right Wing. At one time, not so many years ago, we had something called the Left Wing that dominated a lot of our thinking. The erstwhile USSR, India, the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, and a few others in power, were the Left-Wingers of the world. They gave us the impression they were compassionate and caring, though they could unleash violence too in the pursuit of their causes.

For the last eight years, we have lived also with the American Democratic administration. I would not call it Left Wing but it certainly is the more liberal of the two parties. Now it is the US President, Mr George Bush's Right Wing Texan philosophy ruling the US and, because of that power, the rest of the world. The Right Wing is now in the ascendant and we are seeing its terrible manifestations in Israel and Gujarat. Israel, ironically or tragically, is now repeating with a vengeance what was done to its people in Germany. I guess memory is short and history condemns us to repeat our mistakes. Or copy the ones others make in the mistaken belief that they solved a problem.

The military action against the Palestinians is Israel's pogrom against a weaker people. Certainly, suicide-bombers are as hard to deal with as jehadis, all of them willing to die for their causes and eliminate as many of their enemies as they can. But Israel's militant Right Wing brought it upon itself and is now massacring the Palestinians in the refugee camps.

Meanwhile, we have our own Right Wing rampant in Gujarat. They are still attacking Muslims and our government is appointing commissions! In Kashmir, we have the reverse, right wing Muslims (the jehadis) attacking the people and the police.

I wonder whether violence has ever solved a political or social problem? The former US President, Mr Bill Clinton's comment, "we cannot draw new borders out of blood" applies to all those who believe blood is the solution.

Violence only generates further violence. Newton's Third Law of physics applies equally to the human problem: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

What is it that makes someone willing to sacrifice his or her lives for a cause? There was an astonishing film, The Battle of Algiers, which examines the reasons why one man becomes a terrorist. The film was made in 1965 and its director was the brilliant Italian, Gillo Pontecorvo. At the time of the making of this film, Algeria had finally won its freedom from France and had become an independent nation. However, the war between the French occupiers and the Algerians was long and extremely bloody, with atrocities committed by both sides. Interestingly, the Algerian government commissioned the film and Pontecorvo was given a free hand in making it. It was shot in black and white, and that gave the film a realistic, harsh look.

The film opens on a terrifying scene of torture. Soldiers casually, indifferently, torture a man to get information out of him about a terrorist called Ali La Pointe. The shaken man, bearing his pain no longer, leads the soldiers to Ali's hiding place. He is in a secret chamber behind a wall.

From that point, the film goes into flashback and tells us how and why Ali became a terrorist. He is scraping a living in occupied Algiers when he is set upon by French white youths. When he fights back, he is arrested by the police, beaten up and thrown into prison. This politicises him and when he is released, he joins a terrorist group. The group has both men and women, with the women planting bombs in cafes and clubs. We see the carnage of these bombs and the French army retaliating with arrests, shootings and torture. In the end, Ali is killed by the soldiers.

The Battle of Algiers is a film that has long been forgotten. All the occupational forces and Right Wing power groups who believe that violence is the only solution should watch it. Algeria did win its freedom from the French only because of their Alis who gave their lives for this cause. But they became terrorists only because of the injustice meted out to them in the first place. Israel, with its present war on the Palestinian people, is creating even more terrorists. For each man, woman and child killed in these attacks, the survivors are infected with hatred. It will be only a short-term victory for the Israelis. Our Gujarat Right Wingers have also committed the same mistake. They might not be an occupying army but they are the majority using their muscle-power, backed by a legitimate government, to spread terror and kill innocents.

All they have really done is create a new breed of terrorists. The ones who can cross the porous border into Pakistan, be trained in arms and bombs, and one day, return to take their revenge.

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