The clash of definitions

Daily: The Nation
Date: 31.03.04

On March 21, Hamid Mir, while covering an ongoing operation in Wana for the Geo T.V.
News at 06:00 p.m., as a correspondent, said that certain Mujahideens were fighting
against Pakistan Army. On the very next moment he elaborated that those Mujahideens
were called ‘Foreign Terrorists’. Subsequently, he also showed belongings of a Chechen,
rifles, suicide-bomb making material etc. In short, he became able to present viewpoint of
both schools of thoughts and pulled himself out of any future trouble.

It is said that involuntary utterances keep us near the truth. The more we go far from truth,
the more confuse we become. Moreover, it is also said that repetitive telling of a lie makes it
tantamount to a truth. For that matter, twenty first century has taught the world how to
envelop an old reality in a new definition followed by its repetition.

In the pre-1991 era, the word mujahid was a known one. However, in the post-1991 era, the
word terrorist emerged in its place to define the same person. The impetus to flourish this
surrogate was the tragic event of 9/11. In the wake of which, more than ever, it seems that
the world is less facing a problem of the ‘clash of civilizations’ but more of the ‘clash of
definitions’. A mujahid in one phase of time has been declared a terrorist in the next frame
of time. This is how events affect definitions.  

If one imagines a horizontal bar at the one end of which is a word ‘cause’ while at its other
end a word ‘crime’ is placed, it depends, now, where does one place a word ‘devotee’, if
one is supposed to do so. If ‘devotee’ is put near ‘cause’, it means Mujahid. However, if
‘devotee’ is located near ‘crime’, it indicates Terrorist. Hence is the importance of ‘cause’
and ‘crime’.

Within the same context, in order to find a middle ground, if one places ‘devotee’ in middle
of the bar, the resultant product is called Mujahid-cum-Terrorist: the Hybrid.
The critics cannot be kept silent even at this type of amalgam. One can argue to turn about
it as Terrorist-cum-Mujahid—again the Hybrid, however. Hence, a problem of direction of
reading begins. It means the people are not only divided on the location of the word
‘devotee’ on the bar but also on the direction of reading of the hybrid, if created.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, places ‘devotee’ near ‘crime’ and orders to eliminate
the resultant artifact: Terrorist. While the Palestinian consider ‘devotee’ near ‘cause’ and
agitate on afflicting any atrocity on the end product: Mujahid. The recent firing of missiles
on Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen by the Israeli forces and his resultant death is reflection of the
former mindset. While agitation of the Palestinian in special and the Muslims in general is a
reflection of the latter outlook. The same is the predicament with ‘devotee’ of Kashmir and
Chechnya, in their respective perspective.

How far the propounded ‘clash of civilizations’ is geared up to shape the history of the world
is still to be seen. However, it is increasingly becoming evident that the ‘clash of definitions’
is surely poised to affect the world. If one argues that the latter clash is implied in the former
clash, that argument deserves to be taken seriously. Moreover, if one argues that the
‘clash of definitions’ is a confrontational front of the ‘clash of civilizations’, that argument
also carries weight.

It seems that the world’s history is getting ready to witness turbulence wherever there
appears a conflict on the ‘clash of definitions’. A very near example is the operation in
Wana in tribal belt of Pakistan.  Within the country the opinion is divided to call Uzbek and
Chechens, taking refuge in the belt, either Mujahideens or foreign terrorists. One can
argue that Jihad is over, so now onward any militant activity will fall in the ambit of terrorism.
However, when one questions the legitimacy of presence of foreign troops in Iraq and the
replication of the same in Afghanistan, one finds a plausible answer in a reactionary militant
activity: Jihad.

A common word to describe the situation in Kashmir, Chechnya, and Palestine is
oppression. Furthermore, a common word to describe the condition in Afghanistan and Iraq
is meddling—regime change—according to one’s will and interests as well as keeping all
norms of legitimacy aside. In all the five aforementioned areas, the common sufferers are
the Muslim masses. In this modern age, no one is ready to pay any heed to them. There is
left only one option with them, that is, to raise guns and make the world listen to them. For
that matter, if some of them migrate from their native land and start residing in a new land,
this cannot be considered their fault and a reason of their further suppression.

In the backdrop of the recent bloodshed in Gaza and the ensuing togetherness of the pro-
Hamas Palestinians as well as pro-Palestinian Arabs and Muslims, it is likely that Palestinian-
Israel conflict will become the epicenter of the future ‘clash of definitions’. The way the US
has avoided condemnation of the bloodshed in Gaza, it will not be a great surprise if a sub-
epicenter of the same appears in Iraq. The fuel will definitely be added to the existing fire if
Israel is committed to make Yasser Arafat its next target.

On March 23, before the 9/11 Commission, the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld’s
statement that the 9/11 event was inevitable irrespective of the fact whether or not Osama
had been found, dead or alive, implies that the ‘target killing’ does not fetch any
advantageous results. The former Secretary of Defence, William Cohen emphasized on
restoration of dignity and honour of the Palestinians, besides engaging them diplomatically.
Taking both the statements together, these necessitate the removal of the underlying
cause rather than killing people here and there. That is why, perhaps, Bush has said that
Israel should understand the consequences of its actions.  

There seem three solutions of the dilemma. First, there should be no ‘devotee’, at the first
place. Second, even if ‘devotee’ is there, there should be no one to read the bar. The third
is an elimination of both ‘devotee’ and ‘reader’—one after another or together.
Nevertheless, if an effort is carried out to find a middle ground, the direction of the reading
of the hybrid will emerge.

The recent events in the world indicate that the world has begun acting on the solutions.
The contemporary strategy is: to eliminate ‘devotee’ and ask ‘reader’ to be either with us or
not? That is, place ‘devotee’ where we want to place it on the bar, otherwise get ready for
the consequences. That is why ‘reader’ stumbles at his words and changes his stance
immediately. However, the unintentional remarks keep reminding the very existence of the
hard core where resides the old reality—a reality impervious to time and space.  

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