“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

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Satendra Nan­dan Satendra Nan­dan is Fiji’s lead­ing writer. His fourth book of es­says, Dis­patches From Dis­tant Shores, will be pub­lished this year. Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­

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.

Pow­er­ful China

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.

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