By Oren Rawls

Published September 12, 2003, issue of September 12, 2003.
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Subcontinental Philosophy: While Indian Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was being diplomatically correct ahead of Prime Minister Sharon’s watershed visit to New Delhi this week, the country’s paper of record was offering up nothing less than a mea culpa for India’s long-standing pro-Palestinian position.

“As far as India is concerned, our ‘traditional’ support to the Palestinian cause and to the Arab world at large has fetched a most perfunctory quid pro quo,” columnist Dileep Padgaonkar confesses in the September 9 issue of the The Times of India. “We have received no worthwhile backing from them in the resolution of problems we face in our neighborhood, especially on Kashmir. Israel, on the other hand, has not only given us such backing but it has also extended to us its full cooperation to shore up our security and participated actively in our economic resurgence.”

Under the patronage of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, India benefited from warm relations with Arab countries. Remittances from Indian workers in the Persian Gulf helped keep New Delhi’s foreign currency reserves afloat, and Arab oil fueled India’s infamously clogged and smoggy streets.

As Kashmiri separatists have found common cause with Middle East militants during the last decade, however, Delhi has seen more eye to eye with Washington and Jerusalem. But with India’s roughly 125 million Muslims agitating for a less conciliatory stance toward America’s war in Iraq and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Sharon’s visit has Vajpayee weighing domestic electoral concerns against strategic foreign alliances.

To hear The Times of India columnist tell it, the choice is a no-brainer.

“We were willing to back to the hilt tin-pot dictators and sundry sheiks but not a vibrant democracy,” Padgaonkar writes, pulling no punches. “We chose to forego trade opportunities with a country whose annual per capita GNP was higher than that of many of its neighbors. We deprived ourselves of sophisticated technology, including in the field of armaments, and instead played footsie with regimes which could not manufacture a safety pin.

“Regardless of our reservations about… the Israeli PM’s policies and methods, we must summon the grace to say to him loudly and clearly: Shalom! Ariel Sharon.”

* * *

Subcontinental Philosophy II: While Indian journalists were all agog over the Israeli prime minister’s visit, a series of seven successive bombings on Monday in India’s northern neighbor Nepal had the largest English-language Arab daily condemning terrorists — without qualification.

“Terrorists who say that they are sorry for killing innocent bystanders should choke on their words,” the Arab News editorializes in its September 9 issue. “Were that sorrow genuine, they would seek to avoid such slaughter. But of course they will do no such thing.… Plastic explosives and the timed detonator combine to produce the perfect weapon for the moral dwarf.”

The moral dwarfs in this case are Maoist rebels who have been fighting to overthrow the Himalayan kingdom’s constitutional monarchy and install a communist republic since 1996.

“As has become clear from the behavior of terrorists worldwide, from Colombia to Northern Ireland, from Riyadh to Nepal, there comes a point where the cause, whatever it may be, becomes insignificant compared to the day-to-day bloodshed,” Arab News writes of the 7,800 lives lost in the Maoist insurgency. “A terrorist who is clever enough to build a bomb is also bright enough to realize that if it is placed to explode in a public space, it is going to be indiscriminate in the destruction it causes. If the killers feel bad about causing an innocent death, they still have some basic humane instincts which tell them that the misery and death that they are causing is wrong.”

One cannot but ask, though, whether this Arab voice of reason applies equally to the Palestinian terrorists who suicide-bombed Rishon Letzion and Jerusalem on Tuesday.

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