Boston, Massachusetts. Star and stripes flags are fluttering nowadays on the front porch of nearly all houses in the United States: “I am proud to be an American and I stand by my country”. This is a great feeling and one wishes that Indians had the same attachment and pride in this great country that is India. For it is sometimes good to have an ego: it gives you a collective identity to rally around in time of trouble and strife. And this is exactly what happened to Americans after 11th September 2001.
America’s ego, though, has only been slightly dented by the WTC attacks and Americans have rebounded as never before. Thus, behind the courteous ‘howdy’ smile, you can still feel this ego: “we know better, we know everything”… This ‘ignorant arrogance’ is most striking when it comes to India. During the one month of our stay in the US, we have only come across hostile articles about India, in most of the American mainstream newspapers, one after the other. Not only ignorant, but also intensely biased – and unfortunately – written by correspondents sitting in India, who do not have the excuse of ignorance, as they have ample time and documentation to balance their articles. Are they the deliberately misleading their ignorant – but innocent – American readers ? The Houston Chronicle did a piece on the plight of Muslims in Gujurat during the riots, mentioning only in the last two lines, that the riots were triggered by the killing of “Hindu militants” in a train, omitting to mention that 38 of them, burnt in the most terrible manner, were innocent women and children, whose only fault was that they were Hindus. The LA Times wrote a story on the sorry plight of Muslims in the valley of Kashmir, also expediently forgetting to state that there were 300.000 Hindus in the valley of Kashmir in 1947 and that they were all forced to flee through terror, an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world. The Boston Globe wrote that “the West should be more wary of Hindu fundamentalism than Islamic fundamentalism”, such an outrageous statement that it would be laughable, if it was not so harmful in terms of the damaging of India’s image with the result that American policy makers become more hostile and US businessmen refuse balk at investing their dollars in a “dangerous” country (in spite of repeated protests by Indians, the Boston Globe refused to publish a counterpoint) .
The problem is that when you are in India, you are given the impression that the US govt is slowly coming closer to the Indian point of view, because of clever ego massaging by US diplomats, who pat India to Delhi when they come to Delhi…and in the same breath, congratulate Mr Musharraf the next day in Islamabad. And this raises another important question: is this hostile tone of American newspapers a reflection of the present US policy towards India ? “Influenced and supported by noisy self-appointed Indian ‘secularists,’ writes Graydon Chiappetta, many Western scholars and government officials are now taking an exceedingly negative position on what they like to call ‘Hindu revivalism’. On July 16 of this year, for instance, the State Department held a conference entitled, ‘Hindu Revivalism in India: Position, Prospects and Implications for the U.S.’ Many highly placed individuals were pre¬sent including former Congressman Stephen Solarz, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia John Malott, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Analysis Phyllis Oakley and a wide range of U.S. government officials. Scholars were invited to make presentations on Hindu Revivalism. On the whole,there was a lot of finger pointing at Hindu revivalism as the source of India’s current problems and of potential conflict with the U. S. Lisa McKean, of the University of Sydney, described VHP-sponsored groups in America as “front organizations” for a larger fascist cause. She also referred to VHP activities, including Diwali celebrations and Swami Chinmayananda’s spiritual camps as “covert operations” and to active members as “militant activists.” Lisa called the late Shri Chinmayananda a ” master manipulator” and alleged that he initiated unwanted physical contact with women, including herself. Not content with merely bashing VHP, Lisa labelled the monthly magazine, Hinduism Today, as a front paper supporting militant activities and Global Vision 2000 as a fascist assembly. She described Hindus moving into professional positions as “infiltrators” working for the cause of Hindu fundamentalism. She was given an ovation at the end of her presentation.
The irony is that the United States prefers to rely in Asia on China and Pakistan, two undemocratic nations, who both hate America, while sidelining India, a democratic, pro-Western, liberal bastion of freedom in Asia. But is the United States herself that democratic ? Because of the 11th September tragedy, Americans have become very edgy. Security at airports is a nightmare and airlines are using the security excuse to clamp down on their passengers. Travelling by Continental Airline, for instance, can be an traumatic: our cell phone was detained by their staff, because it was not charged and is now lost, without compensation. All our luggage was lost in Newark, when Continental cancelled its flights for bad weather (which would not have deterred Indian Airlines); they refused to give us hotel accommodation, no expenses to buy toiletry and clothes, although till to our baggage had not been found. There are now video cameras everywhere in the States: at airports, in the streets, at traffic lights, in shopping malls… Everything is known about you through computerization and there is actually very little freedom: “you may go to jail for something you say as a joke”, we once heard on the Atlanta airport PA system.
Americans may have a big ego, but they has very little guts. Today, at the least threat of trouble, airports shut down, airplanes go into steep dives and people panic – big drama. But India has lived with terrorism for decades and deals with it with a fatalistic smile. People, when they go outside their homes in Delhi, are never sure whether a bomb will not explode in their face in some market or their plane won’t be hijacked. Yet, America’s ego is bound to get further battering: the US stock market is in the process of collapsing, the economy is getting into recession and there are definitely going to be more bombings and terrorist attacks on American targets throughout the world. For the truth is that not only the Muslims, but also much of the world hates the US for its arrogance and propping-up of dictators, such as Musharraf or Jiang Zeming.
This battering of America’s ego is good for two reasons. The first one is that it will teach the US some humility and perhaps help Americans to recognize that countries like India are their real friends; and the second is that whatever its faults, the United States is still the major superpower in the world, a power which has always shown that it rises-up to exceptional occasions, whether during the second world war, when it helped humanity to get rid of the asuric menace of nazism, or today in this very important war against terrorism, which is actually a war between the West and India on one side, and Islam and China (which let us not forget, has given Pakistan the nuclear weapon) on the other side, as Samuel Huntington, in his book “A clash of civilizations”, had rightly predicted. But first the battle lines have to be clearly drawn and friends and enemies recognize each other.