When nations go to war, democracy is under stress - Hindustan Times

When nations go to war, democracy is under stress

Oct 30, 2023 12:36 PM IST

Tragedy in West Asia is aiding those who seek to split the world along sectarian lines

The Israel-Hamas conflict may have an India connection. According to United States (US) President Joe Biden, Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7 to sabotage the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC) project. Biden said, “Just my instinct tells me.” He does not have proof of this, but it is assumed that the American president does not speak on assumption.

Smoke rising from the Gaza Strip due to Israeli bombardment on October 29. (AFP Photo) PREMIUM
Smoke rising from the Gaza Strip due to Israeli bombardment on October 29. (AFP Photo)

Will there be any new revelation in this regard in the coming days? Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled this ambitious project on September 9 during the G20 summit in New Delhi. It has the potential to change the face of Asia and Europe through the building of transport and communication links via rail, road, and the sea. Along with the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union, Italy, France, and Germany have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on this project. The initiative sparked outrage in Beijing, though. Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) many years ago, but his grandiose vision faces many impediments.

IMEEC will take time to materialise. But the barbarous desire for bloodshed between Israel and its neighbours has reminded us of a time when war hogged the headlines. Wars between Iran and Iraq, the US and Iraq, Russia and Afghanistan, and the US and Afghanistan destroyed the hopes of millions.

Coming back to the present crisis, Hamas’s heinous acts are obviously condemnable, but why are western countries supporting Israel? Do they believe they can serve their interests by exploiting the conflict between Israel and Hamas? Israel believes that with the assistance of powerful countries the world over, it can bring the battle to a close. This experiment has the potential to spread revenge and retribution across the planet. Israeli missiles are not exclusively targeting Gaza. They have also claimed lives and destroyed property in Lebanon and Syria. Other bordering countries, such as Jordan and Egypt, are also on the boil.

The US has troops stationed in Syria and other Arab countries. This is why Biden opposed Israel’s special troops setting foot on Gaza’s soil. This may heighten fears of suicide strikes on American soldiers. But enraged Israel is not in the mood to consider any restraint. Its tanks are actively transforming Gaza into a massive cemetery.

It’s possible that the Israeli leadership seeks to capitalise on the contradictions in the Arab countries. They’ve been doing it for a while, but things have changed. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot do what David Ben Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of the country, did during his tenure.

As the Israeli army’s actions become more violent, hatred towards it is growing among the Arabs. The voice of the common man may not be heard on international platforms, but it has a psychological impact on a country’s leadership. This is why, besides Iran, countries such as Saudi Arabia have begun to push for an immediate ceasefire. In the UN, they received support from nearly 120 countries. Will we not return to the stormy days of 1914, when the killing of a prince drove the world into the fires of World War I, if Israel continues to ignore them?

World War II arose from the womb of the first. Britain was renowned as an empire on which the Sun never set, while America had emerged as a major power. In the last 250 years, the Industrial Revolution had changed the face of the world, yet people such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin sowed the poison of ultra-nationalism. Germany was on the lookout for another Reich. England needed to keep its hegemony. America, in turn, wanted to strengthen its economic position further. The 123rd Emperor of Japan, Yoshihito, similarly intended to impose Japan’s writ on neighbouring countries. Consider the current situation in the context of those days.

Russia attacked and occupied Crimea in 2014, and then has attempted to occupy Ukraine in 2022. Ukraine responded similarly. These countries are still fighting a devastating war. Even in the economic realm, the same turmoil that existed before World War II persists. America was pursuing its economic hegemony at the time. Today, China is challenging it. China has also caused turmoil on India’s borders. Pakistan, too, is at odds with India. Despite four defeats, its “shadow war” persists.

The tragedy in West Asia is aiding those who seek to split the world along sectarian lines. Are we on the verge of a war of cultures? It might not happen, but one thing is guaranteed: Democracy was founded in the previous century, and it is now being put to the litmus test in this century.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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