Hundred years of death, destruction and destiny
THE centre of gravity shifts every few years. The shattered buildings look like real estate displays as if walls and roofs were purposefully stripped off to offer an inside view of property to prospective buyers. But the debris and desolation give away the cover. All of these buildings have been bombed, shelled and bullet-holed either by the terrorists or rebels or government forces or foreign alliance attacks, depending on who targeted whom in that order. The destination changes, while the devastation remains constant.
During the First World War, Ypres in Belgium and Arras in France were amongst the cities reduced to rubble. For many years it was Europe that was the eye of the apocalyptic storm. German cities Berlin and Dresden bore the brunt of destruction during the Second World War when other cities in that continent were also razed to the ground.
The shape-shifting beast moved to Asia next. For nearly two decades, American bombs rained down on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were vapourised with atom bombs earlier, becoming precursors to imminent horror. Saigon, Phnom Penh and Vientiane were pounded from air, land and water. But then those Asian cities were still largely underdeveloped, having more paddy fields and forests than concrete structures.
The theatre of that depravity moved to the Middle East next, when the Arabs vowed to eliminate Israel. The 1970s and 1980s were dominated by the guerrilla war waged by PLO and other Palestinian forces against the Israeli occupation. Bombs, missiles and bullets were hitting West Bank, Gaza and Beirut, the images of hollowed out buildings emerging in its wake.
In the early 1990s, the Battle of Mogadishu convinced many that Africa was going to become the new face of cataclysm. The fierce battle between forces of the United States, supported by UNOSOM II, and Somali militiamen loyal to the self-proclaimed president-to-be Mohamed Farrah Aidid threatened to disrupt the Dark Continent. But it turned out to be a false alarm when the Taliban was hissing in its pit in Afghanistan. Earlier, the Gulf War raised the spectre of confrontation between good and evil.
In 2001, the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon brought yet another diversion. It seemed terror had found a new centre of gravity in the new continent. Al Qaeda emerged on the world scene, Osama bin Laden being its poster boy. The US invasion of Iraq eventually found the monster of its next breeding ground. After Baghdad and Kabul, it went to Syrian cities Damascus and Aleppo until IS took terrorism from retail to wholesale.
Meanwhile, the Muslim militia made incursions in Mali and Central African Union before Boko Haram rattled Nigeria and Al Shabab men targeted Kenya. While these countries are being marinated in the terror juice, Yemeni cities are familiar scenes of death and destruction. As militia men, backed by the airpower of the Saudi-led coalition, fight the Houthi rebels, the bombed and burned buildings and debris-strewn desolate streets of Sana'a and Aden invoke the same old nightmare.
From aggressive Serbian nationalism that sparked the First World War, the elusive hatred of men travelled from place to place. The Second World War rode on the waves of Nazism, an extreme form of German nationalism. Indochina flared up because the United States wanted to resist the spread of communism. The Middle East got slowly sucked into the flames after the Palestinians vowed to recover their homeland from Israeli occupation.
This is where the turning point comes and the centre of gravity shifts from politics to religion. The Taliban was born to resist the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But it was not until the rise of Al-Qaeda that Islamic militancy went global, its offshoots now operating in different names in different countries of the world.
The Islamic State, formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, has taken that militancy to the next level. If the world was nervous before in terms of where the militants were going to strike next, IS has now turned militancy into a form of "pop culture." Parents and governments around the world are worried because young men and women are rushing to its cause.
From cause to cause and from continent to continent, the wasteland has moved in an unvarying motion. Wars, rebellions, assassinations and clashes have left behind a lengthening trail that proved nothing more than the futility of human fate. Human beings are the grievous victims of their own piteous condition.
In the end, all contradictions are existential and all conflicts pertain to survival. Political power, economic emancipation and religious rigours merely define the struggle, but nothing defends mankind against its congenital misfortune. Solutions create problems, peace creates war and compromise creates disagreement. Man and monster live inside each other. The rest of it is mundane.
The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.