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Bush in Gandhi’s Country - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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President Bush’s visit to India coincided with a number of international efforts and forums calling for alliance between civilizations to avert a looming conflict between the West and Islam.

The Doha Forum “Alliance between Civilizations” is a case in point. It concluded with a tripartite statement by the United Nations, the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organization calling for an end to provocation and a start for intercultural dialogue.

The Forum fell short of calling for an apology for the provocative cartoons on Prophet Muhammad, or condemning them as an episode in a series of intentional, unjustifiable anti-Islam provocations. Of course, “freedom of speech” was advanced as the counterargument in defense of sympathetic Western reactions, albeit the likes of David Irving’s case were swept under the carpet.

European foreign ministers also met in Brussels, and called for dialogue between the European Union and “countries south of the Mediterranean, in North Africa and the Middle East;” (a pretty long euphemism for “Arab States”). Like the Doha Forum, the meeting supported the Turkish-Spanish initiative for alliance between civilizations.

Meanwhile, terrorism set a precedent and targeted the Mosque and Shrine of the Imams al-Hadi and al-Hasan al-Askari in Samerra, and scores of Iraqi mosques thereafter. Conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria claimed tens of victims and destroyed mosques and churches. An Israeli Rabbi with a group of extremist Jews attacked the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth, destroying part of the altar.

Against this eventful backdrop, Bush visits India, the country that gained liberty by denouncing violence. It was quite illuminating to see Bush, who adopts violence, war, torture, and covert prosecution as policies in the light of the Indian experience. Bush wrote in the visitors’ book at Gandhi’s tomb: “I am grateful for visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s holy shrine. His life has been an inspiration for people around the world, and his contributions to humanity placed him in the ranks of great leaders in history.” Evidently Bush wasn’t really that inspired as he failed to grasp the irony of the situation.

Later, in a press conference, Bush said: “The way to defeat terrorism in the short run is by sharing information and taking action. The way to defeat terrorism in the long run is by defeating the ideology of hate by an ideology of hope. This is democracy” Then, he proceeded to compliment India for its multi-faith tolerant society.

President Bush missed the inspiration of visiting Gandhi’s India. However, he, though unintentionally, rightly pointed out the root of the problem in his own policies. His war on terrorism is based on “sharing (intelligence) information” on Arabs and Muslims whom he accuses of an “ideology of hate.” War, secret prisons, torture and sectarian and ethnic conflicts have been the inevitable consequences.

Departing from such hypothesis has permitted all kinds of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. American and European policies are rife with examples. Boycotting the democratically elected Hamas, turning a blind eye on Israeli crimes against Palestinian civilians, and British soldier’s torture of Iraqi youth passing unpunished are all but the top of the iceberg.

As long as an “ideology of hate” is at the core of policies towards Arabs and Muslims, and as long as Western stands have double-standards when it comes to those policies, the world will continue moving down a sliding slope. Gandhi’s soul will not find solace when the likes of President Bush pay their respects.

The chaos and destruction taking place in Iraq and Palestine, and the injustice and conflict prevailing in the world need different vision for different remedies. Wars and covert operations are not the solution. Bush and his European allies need different policies based on principles of justice, peace and dignity for all nations. Visiting Gandhi should make Bush rethink his policies and find inspiration in the life of the great leader who fought violence with peace and dignity. Until then, the American President might want to let Gandhi rest at peace.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is political and media advisor to the Syrian presidency, and the former minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer, and has been a professor at Damascus University since 1985. She received her PhD in English Literature from Warwick University, London. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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