|October 30, 2010
Throughout my conscious years, I have witnessed with disbelief and increasing hopelessness the limitless human capacity for cruelty and barbarism- quite often comfortably cloaked in terms of righteousness and piety. A vast number of instances of this ongoing blot upon the soul of humanity are readily attributable to the audacity of power, and the ability of the human animal to compartmentalize, commit the most inhuman acts, and go on living unperturbed to see another day.
Long before arriving in the United States, I had followed with the greatest admiration the principle of ahimsa, non-violence, as the highest principle that elevated the human being above all other living species. Of course, in our own time, Gandhi showed the world how ahimsa could be effectively used as a mighty weapon that could transform the most beastly and merciless of adversaries. And Gandhi’s great Indian contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, spoke tirelessly about the need for awakening the universal bonds of beauty and humanity that unites all human beings, while celebrating their various differences of skin tones, languages, arts, cuisines and cultures (including religious beliefs or disbeliefs) and places of origin.
Of course, illuminated souls such as Tagore and Gandhi were obviously well aware of the idealistic dimensions and hence the practical limitations of their thoughts. Tagore especially was much more pragmatic about the reality of human frailties and dark proclivities throughout history. He spoke eloquently about these relentless human demons in his poem Prithibi (Ode to the Earth).
The first glaring instance of witnessing the abject brutality and arrogance of power occurred for me in 1977, when, a hitherto-no-name army general, appointed to high rank by the eminent Pakistani political leader and long-time Prime Minister of that country, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), imprisoned and then sentenced to death (via a kangaroo court) in a completely trumped-up case, his former benefactor. This is of course commonly the way of crude ideologues and heartless zealots, and Zia-ul Haq fit those characteristics admirably. Despite some of his faults, I had known Bhutto as a leader of our neighboring country, and compared with many of the ill-informed, non-intellectual, guts-driven ignoramuses of today (a great many of which we find in this country), ZAB came across as well-educated, statesman-like, erudite and highly personable. I was in my third year at India’s I.I.T., and had recently witnessed (1971) the creation of Bangladesh out of the erstwhile East Pakistan, and remembered ZAB’s having first imprisoned, and at the end of the tumultuous 1971 war with India, releasing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to his newly-independent people. I remembered him from the Simla accord with Mrs. Indira Gandhi (with daughter Benazir by his side). As such, politics and our painful history of the imperially machinated partition aside, I held ZAB with some regard, and even more so as a civilian leader in a country perpetually in the grips of military dictators. Therefore, the news of a death sentence handed to this long-standing world leader on what amounted to nothing more than a calculated vendetta, shocked me greatly. In reality, perhaps out of naiveté, I truly thought that this was all a show- they could definitely never carry out this act of extreme barbarity. I was reminded, however, of the many acts of ghastly barbarity that history was full of in the annals of power struggle, including royal ascensions. Who would ever forget what Aurangzeb had done to his brothers, including Dara Shikoh, arguably the noblest Mughal heir of all? But in the late 20th Century? Surely the human race had evolved enough to be past such monstrous acts, of retribution, of the contemptible power grab?
Then, too, several leading voices (the Pope, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Nobel Laureates) around the world pleaded with the general in the “God Cloak” (note that there is a long tradition of putting on the holy cloak in these matters, from the infamous Spanish Inquisition down to the savage executioner from Texas in this country- holy men all, all Born Again spokespeople for a bloodthirsty ephemeral entity) – please spare ZAB’s life; he had served Pakistan well over many years. Ultimately, however, nothing worked, and the “God obsessed” general fulfilled his godly mission. ZAB’s voice was stilled by society’s ultimate barbarity, the savage death penalty. There are times I still feel benumbed by recollections of this ghastly act. Who will ever judge the acts of murderous crimes committed by the godly general? Who will ever judge the crimes of the victor in the ongoing history of mankind?
For many years, I have also been educated on the comfortable alliance the United States has historically forged with dictators and zealots, in nation after nation. Often times, it has done so by the unseating using any number of means (including assassinations) legitimately elected public officials in other countries, and supplanting them with ruthless bandits of their choice. The list of these is a veritable who’s who of contemporary history. Hence, it is really no surprise that the religious zealot/strongman, Zia-ul Haq, became a very close American ally for more than a decade, thereby enabling the breeding of more than a generation of fundamentalist assassins (the jihadis and mujahideens that American Right-Wingers now view with such contempt, and strange words they now spout with such relish) with American dollars. Sadly, this has been the American (read that as Wall Street) modus operandi all over the world, and not only in Pakistan. Keep the wheels of American Prosperity turning at any cost, by any means- killing, carpet bombing, annihilating as many of the third world darkies as needed to achieve the American dream.
In the late 1980s, I had recoiled at the spectacle of the mighty Goliath from the North swooping down upon the minuscule nation of Panama, and right before the eyes of the world, “arresting” the ruler of that country (Manuel Noriega), and bringing him for “trial” to the golden shores of the LandofthefreeHomeoftheBrave. Ironic, indeed! It is well known that Noriega was previously on the CIA’s payroll, and likely a useful pal of the elder Bush patriarch. I assume he had somehow outlived his usefulness for the Goliath, as did Saddam Hussein a few years later. The sheer audacity of the United States in invading sovereign nations, with impunity, decade after decade, looting or plundering their wealth, and handling their leaders worse than slavemasters (something the U.S. certainly has a centuries-long tradition and training in) treated their slaves- simply boggles the mind. These are, plain and simple, international crimes of the highest magnitude. But the Goliath has had his victories, and to the Victors go the spoils of war (or, the case of the U.S., war crimes).
The above, and several other spectacles of the audacity and tyranny of the mighty upon the weak, have pained me deeply for as long as I can remember. To the extent that I have watched with horror the lowliest and most barbaric act of his captors handing Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein over to his worst enemies, knowing full well what fate would befall him as a consequence. This is as contrary to my concept of civilization as I can imagine. In this context, I always cite the example of Alexander the Great speaking with the utmost dignity to the Indian King Puru (more than 2300 years ago) after the latter was defeated in battle, and later releasing him back to his people with full honors. In instance after instance, the American example falls far short of the civilizational standard established by Alexander. The savage sadism of a society that can take pleasure in displaying the bullet-riddled bodies of their so-called enemies (Saddam Hussein’s two sons) all over the internet simply tells me such a society has not evolved much along Darwin’s ladder. America displays the characteristics of a soulless, corporate-driven society that gladly displays the humiliation of its victims (I will label any person captured via illegal war crimes a “victim” of the lawless invader) for the entertainment of its consumerist, and increasingly soulless public.
The unprovoked, unjustified, criminal invasion of Iraq (and other nations around the world over the past 100+ years), and the blood of millions of innocents are upon America’s conscience, and the conscience of its immoral leaders. The crimes of Henry Kissinger and George W. Bush (and a host of other individuals walking around free, giving speeches and enjoying the American way like nothing is the matter) are grievous by far than anything the arrogant victors append upon their victims. Yet, the ways of the mighty are strange, indeed! The very tyrants and war criminals behind some of the most ghastly mass killings committed by human beings, thereafter sit in judgment of their victims- in complete disregard for humanity and civilization. This is surreal, this is unreal, this is truly an upside-down world. This is, plain and simple, the way of imperialism and tyranny.
It is in this context that I must register here and now my horror and revulsion upon learning of the “sentence” handed down to Iraq’s ex-deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. It is benumbing in its arrogance and barbarity. Iraq is a country in tatters, millions of its people who were living their lives (as is the fundamental right of all creatures created upon this planet) prior to 2003 mercilessly murdered by the criminal American/British invasion, innumerable of its children dead on account of savage dictates by the mighty imposing sanctions that denied these innocents even basic medicines, violence of the worst kind a daily scene in that country that was once an oasis of secularism (even if by no means perfect) in a fundamentalist, tyrannical middle-east. Yet, the architects of such criminal offenses and their planted minions have the audacity to sit in judgment of, and proclaim moral verdicts upon their victims!
Throughout the late 1980s, until the criminal invasion by the U.S. and its chattels in 2003, most of us were rather familiar with Tariq Aziz- either as Iraq’s foreign minister, or later as deputy Prime Minister of that country. It is definitely not my place to decide the degree of flaws or virtues invested in leaders of other countries, certainly not with the kind of moral certitude that it is commonplace for U.S. leaders to identify good and evil around the world. Regardless, I usually found myself in agreement with some of Aziz’s statements (the few released to the public by the American media), often delivered at the United Nations (an institution, while generally toothless, nevertheless defiled, vilified and routinely manipulated by the U.S.). I felt sympathetic towards Mr. Aziz primarily because he would speak out against imperialism, and the typical Western bullying of the darker nations. Most awakened human beings are well aware of the long-standing exploitation and pauperization of darker nations by the U.S., its ubiquitous partner-in-crime, Great Britain, and world-domination outfits such as NATO, the World Bank and the IMF. Hence, I am reasonably certain that I am not alone in my sympathies for those that vocalize against racist and corporatist thuggery applied against people of former colonies.
Since Iraq, even under the well-trumpeted “evil guy” Saddam Hussein, was essentially secular- its government was a combination of Shias, Sunnis and Christians. This was already an improvement upon the many allies of the U.S. in the region- autocratic, fundamentalist regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and so forth. In this context, I understand that Tariq Aziz was a Christian member of Hussein’s cabinet. Therefore, it is difficult for me to fathom what heinous crimes this Christian cabinet member would engage in with regards to the Shia-Sunni divide prevalent throughout the Middle-East. Like ZAB in Pakistan before him, to me Tariq Aziz came across as cerebral, dedicated and reasonably well-versed in international relations. His problem, I am sure, started when, like Salvador Allende, Mohammed Mossadegh, Manuel Noriega, and so many others earlier his government and nation became trained under the cross-hairs of Empire and its insatiable need for resources. Indeed, heaven help anyone upon whom befalls the wrath of Empire.
The kangaroo court (as most such courts tend to be) that renders such barbaric verdicts, as it is, has little credibility in my view. I generally regard those “rulers” of any sovereign nation that ascend to power by joining hands with their invaders, plunderers, and imperial rapists (the latter metaphor was aptly used in describing invading hordes and war criminals by Susan Block some years ago in the wake of the Iraq invasion in 2003) as among the very lowliest of the human species. The likes of Chalabi, Allawi and Maliki admirably fit into this mold- the slimy reptiles of human society (the degree of reptilian quality might vary somewhat). Sadly, most violated countries have such despicable characters- Karzai in Afghanistan, Mubarak in Egypt, and so forth. As such, when such abject traitors put their own countrymen up for trial in order to gain favors from the tyrants and invaders- to me it is just another murderous act by a cabal of ruthless criminals. The crimes of their victims usually pale by comparison.
I have not noticed thus far much international reaction or scorn with regards to this sentence handed to an honorable former prime minister. I did notice the Pope making a statement asking for clemency. But, as far as I am concerned, this event puts the basic humanity of Barack Obama and the Democrats up for an important morality test. I have my doubts that the non-Republicans will ever show enough courage to stand up to the killing machine of Empire, and stand up for morality and humanity. After all, when it comes to morality and conscience, the Democrats appear to fare only marginally better than the “what is in it for me,” and “kill those others” Republicans. I believe deeply that opposing the barbaric death penalty is one of the utmost moral choices a human being can make. Any society that practices this barbarity is obviously low on the evolutionary ladder. It is unthinkable to me that there are millions that spout “Christianity” (or other faiths that often blind the functioning human mind), and yet see no problem violating a plainly-worded dictum, “Thou shalt not kill.” If the millions understood this dictum, honestly, there would be wars and genocides no longer. My heart goes out to Tariq Aziz and his family, as it does to all victims of violence and barbarity in this world. My sympathies here have nothing to do with condoning brutal acts committed by the Iraqi regime that Mr. Aziz served. It is, foremost, a condemnation of tyrants and invaders whose barbarity in my view exceeds those of the accused/vanquished that they sit in judgment of. And even more, it is a complete and unequivocal condemnation and rejection of the socially-endorsed practice of killing a human being- an immoral and barbaric practice carried over from the dark ages.
Monish R. Chatterjee received the B.Tech. (Hons) degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from I.I.T., Kharagpur, India, in 1979, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Iowa, Iowa