THE AGE OF TRAVEL, TERROR
“IN THE LAST SIXTY YEARS OUR WORLD HAS CHANGED MORE RADICALLY CREATIVELY THAN IN THE PAST 6000 YEARS WHEN, WE’RE TOLD, CIVILISATION SERIOUSLY BEGAN.” “We, small and big nations, must ensure the Pacific remains peaceful—peace is the most precious gift we c
The eminent Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, born in 1917, wrote a number of historical tomes with almost seven ages of civilization: among the notables are The Age of Revolution, The Age of
Capital, The Age of Empire, and the Age of Extremes. His autobiography is titled Interesting Times in the Chinese sense of a curse rather than a blessing. It’s a tour through ‘the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history’.
He died in 2012, aged 95, having lived the Shakespearean Seven Ages of man. He could have added the Age of Travel
and the Age of Terror; not that he didn’t know the terrible terror of Stalin and Mao but historians often find excuses for their heroes, no matter how vicious. We often talk of the evils of race and religion, ideology and colour, but I think history is often more malevolent.
Growing up in the age of travel
I grew up in the age of travel. True, my grandparents had come to the South Seas via the port of Calcutta to the Fijian archipelago, after having survived for millennia with their ancestors in the hinterland of that vast Indian subcontinent. In the island of Viti Levu they built their bures and created a home.
But no-one from my Fiji family had travelled outside even of Viti Levu. Today many Fijian families have someone outside the islands. This has happened in the past sixty years on an unimaginable scale and magnitude. I grew up next to the airport, grazing my one holy cow and two rather wild bullocks on the grassy patches where now the airport is so splendidly situated. Nadi airport is one of the world’s most scenic and safe airports: the blue-dark seas, the blue-hazed mountains and in between the rippling green sugar-cane fields among rain-trees and swaying palm siblings. The airport may have subliminally embedded the wanderlust in me. We gazed at every plane that landed very close above our heads across the pineapple farms. We often ran in the shadows of the landing aircraft. Life since my teenage days has been journeys of one kind or another.
First journey outside Fiji
From Nadi to New Delhi is a book I’ve just completed. It narrates my first journey outside Fiji; until then I’d gone only once to Suva, stayed the night in the mosquitoinfested Matanisiga Hall, attended my scholarship interview at the Indian High Commission then in Nina St, and returned the following day to my village home by the Pacific Transport bus. Then to suddenly get the scholarship and travel to New Delhi via Sydney and thence by a P&O liner to Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle, Colombo and finally to Bombay. And from Bombay by train to New Delhi railway station was the longest journey I was to make. It lasted almost three weeks. Many students of my generation fell by the wayside—there were few secondary schools and fewer colleges to further one’s education. Today we’ve three universities in Fiji and to think this has been achieved in my life-time is a wondrous development, opening endless horizons.
In the last sixty years our world has changed more radically creatively than in the past 6000 years when, we’re told, civilisation seriously began.
I think it’s extraordinarily wonderful that our people can travel: and we’re lucky that the world we are close to are washed and enriched by the largest Ocean. Australasia, which includes New Zealand and the South Pacific, is perhaps the most peaceful region strategically distant from present global troubles and tensions.
Admittedly, the coups in Fiji, the troubles in a few other islands, nuclear testing, climatic upheavals, have touched our lives in subterranean ways.
‘The unholy trinity’
Last week the Chilcot Report on the beginnings of the Iraq War was published. It does not do credit to any of the three democratic leaders: Bush, Blair and Howard. This unholy trinity belonged to the three finest democracies. But they didn’t listen to the voices of the millions marching on the streets of London, Washington and Sydney. They thought they had the monopoly of truth and incontrovertible evidence on the Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD.
Besides hundreds of soldiers killed, and thousands of civilians bombed, a million refugees on the march, the real casualty is the public trust in their leaders. And that is not a good omen for some of the challenges democratic governments will face this century. Terrorism is the most lethal one. Few, if any, mourn the defeat of Sadam Hussein. But what is most meaningful to us is that the leaders who gave pre-eminence to law, defied international law and went against the wishes of the vast majority of their people and the UN. WMD turned out to be the result of flawed intelligence reports. The price many soldiers and civilian are paying is now spread across the Middle East with the fanatical ferocity of desert storms and the suicidal force of numerous jihadists. And there’s no let up. The tragedy of Iraq has been going on for 13 years. The statistics of death and trillions of dollars spent is mindboggling. All this has relevance to the Hague Judgment on the territorial claims of China in the South China Sea. For us in our region this is most urgent. It’s easy to protect your borders from asylum seekers—after all, their weapon is only self -harm or selfimmolation.
But the menace of the insidious military power of China is far more worrying for our region. China already dominates the economy of several nations.
If China sneezes, many nations catch fiscal pneumonia. Australia is no exception. Everything you buy, with all the designer names and symbols, have ‘Made in China’ printed in white on black labels. The economic rise of China has changed the world economy for the better. Most academics, commentators, commercial experts, and professionals visit Chinese cities to see the ‘miracles’— but few if any are concerned about the numerous political prisoners, including imprisoned Nobel laureates, journalists, artists and writers, caught in a system only a few kilometers and years away from the tyranny of the Soviet Union, which luckily collapsed in 1989; and the thousands of executions annually. Many of us also forget the tragedy of Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Tanks rolled on the idealistic students asking for a bit more democracy and individual freedom like Oliver Twist asking for more. I was reminded of that horrific moment when I saw pictures of the deadly white truck like White Death ploughing into the celebratory crowd in Nice on Bastille Day. So many killed in the most brutal way—children crushed under the wheels of a huge truck. Imagine it, if you dare.
Terrorism becomes horrorism
When terrorism becomes horrorism, humanity is helpless. There are ways and ways of killing our fellow human beings. Terror has now raised its Hydra-headed spectre in Europe with apocalyptic vengeance. In Indian mythology there is the tenheaded Ravana, the evil king of Lanka. With every drop of his blood he acquired more heads—no-one knew the secret source of his evil power. Finally Rama, with the secret help of the demon’s brother, is able to destroy him. It seems the current barbaric terror has an unfathomable source of sustenance. This tragedy of terrorism has been going on the Indian subcontinent for two generations. The hasty and greedy division of the Middle East after World War 1, followed by the pointless partition of India, were all inspired and managed by the colonial powers, mainly Britain and France. For decades the Indians pleaded that the terrorism perpetuated by its neighbours should be controlled through the resolutions of the UN and the banning of the supply of sophisticated weapons. The biggest traders in the most devastating weapons now in possession of terrorists have become their current victims.
Pakistan, epicenter of terrorism
Tragically Pakistan became not only the first Islamic state in the modern world but the epicenter of terrorism, trained and equipped by its army; the West supplied it with billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunitions, while China was nefariously nibbling parts of the borders with India after having swallowed Tibet.
The great port-city of Karachi, the multicultural of Lahore—indeed the cradle of Indus civilisation descended into the hellhole of some mullahs’ mendacity. Today the nation is haunted by its own Frankensteins. I was in Delhi when the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet to Dharamsala, his present abode in UP. India gave him and his people shelter. Thousands of refugees flooded Delhi streets with their wares and paltry possessions—the Queen’s Way was made into Janpath where we went to buy little knitted garments and shawls from these monks.
This finally led to war with China in 1962. And ultimately to the death of my favourite politician-writer Pandit Nehru.
China’s claim to the so-called historical areas on land and sea must be resisted, legally. The world now has legal opinion with it. The so-called China Sea must remain the global passage ways to all the neighbouring nations. It is their main thoroughfare for trade and commerce, for regional stability, peace and prosperity.
China’s bluff must be called. This may not be done precipitously because the economies of so many nations are now enmeshed with the tentacles of Chinese commercial power. We ignored international law in Iraq— the consequences have been catastrophic. America showed its power of weapons. Now the US and its allies are meeting their match: two super economic powers pitching their military might. Any miscalculations could have incalculably disastrous consequences. If things go wrong in the South China Sea, our world will be caught in a conflagration worse than what some experienced in World War 2. And we, small and big nations, must ensure the Pacific remains peaceful—peace is the most precious gift we can bestow on posterity. It’s also the most priceless existential state of our present being.
Australasia, which includes New Zealand and the South Pacific, is perhaps the most peaceful region strategically distant from present global troubles and tensions. China already dominates the economy of several nations. If China sneezes, many nations catch fiscal pneumonia. When terrorism becomes horrorism, humanity is helpless. There are ways and ways of killing our fellow human beings. Terror has now raised its Hydraheaded spectre in Europe with apocalyptic vengeance.