Children of Abraham at War: Clash of Messianic Militarisms, by Talmiz Ahmad Delhi, Aakar Books, 2010, 475 pp., Rs 1250, ISBN 978-93-5002-080-7
Talmiz Ahmad is an Indian Foreign Service officer who has had extensive service in
It is apparent his long stint there gave him an opportunity to observe, learn
and reflect. The book is an outcome. His thesis is that there has been
considerable influence of historical and cultural factors in their interplay on
the contemporary situation in West Asia, explained
best by his choice of title for his book.
He attributes the term ‘messianic militarism’ to Ralph Nadar’s description of the Bush presidency. It is a measure of balance in perspective of the author that he uses the term to also describe the motivating spirit of the three principal actors implicated in violence in
West Asia and beyond. At the very
outset he defines the concept denoted by the three terms interchangeably used –
Apocalypticism, Millennialism and Messianism. The allusion is to the belief of
deliverance after a period of darkness, a triumph over evil. This is both
religious, having origin in semitic religions, and, interestingly, also
secular, such as the the author’s concept of secular messianism. The latter is
exemplified by Communism, Fascism and Nazism.
He avers that some contemporary conflicts, namely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Islamist jihad and its counter in the ‘global war on terror’ as being influenced by religious imaginings, themselves a product of messianism. His conclusion is that a reinterpretation of history and moving to tolerance and acceptance can help resolve the conflicts.
The author cites well regarded works along the way to embellish his argument. He explains that this is to enable access of readers to the literature. The book therefore serves as a useful introduction to the scope of the subject. This facet is enhanced by it carrying an extensive glossary, bibliography, index of subjects and names. The index is marred by some confusion in its pagination and repetition of one index, detracting from the quality of production.
The argument he makes is that competitive radicalism have brought about the instability in
Asia. He establishes this by taking a look at the political
influence and action of the religious lobbies in the US,
Israel and of Islamists in West Asia. He notes the power of the Zionist lobby in the
in alliance with the Christian Right. In US is the disproportionate
power of the religious parties and of a small group of settlers not averse to
violence. The attention received by Islamists over past decade has accorded
them well deserved notoriety. Yet the author reserves four chapters covering
Resort to violence by all three with the rationale of ‘god’ being on their side and that violence is inescapable in unseating the ‘other’, has had unfortunate human consequences and instability in the region. The information war surrounding the violence has obfuscated the reality. Exposure and delegitimisation of the strategy of force has yet to take place. The book is a useful step in this direction.
However, what the book misses is the secular reasons reasons for the conflict, particular of state actors. While non-state actors as the Al Qaeda can have messianism as ideology, this is not sufficient as motivator for state actors involved, specifically the
US and . The author could have
capitalized on his background in the ministry of petroleum and natural gas and
his earlier work on energy security to bring out the secular motivations of the
in particular. While the alliance of neo-cons with the Christian Right is well
taken, this has served to conceal the great power game of security energy
resources in perpetuity. Gaining such control helps deny these to putative
rivals and increases the dependence of allies and prospective partners on
stability of the world order to be provisioned by the hegemon. US
The author does mention this in passing, but without detail the criticality of this angle is liable to be missed. The
therefore is let off crucial scrutiny with the neo-cons carrying the can. This
is insufficient as accounting nor does it help analytically since the ‘root’
cause of the conflict in neo-imperialism is missed. Privileging this helps
bring out that the ‘Arab rage’ is less on account of messianism as is made out
to be in media disseminated western discourse but due to secular angst at their
helplessness against US backed authoritarian regimes. That their counter
discourse draws on religion further points to the power asymmetry that they
need to bridge through relying on motivating ideologies in order to make a
political dent on the energy security compliant system in West Asia. US
While there is no justification for terror, understanding it must involve reckoning with its causes. In this the author rightly brings to attention the Palestinian conflict and the manner
actions have aggravated its own security. The author is right in bringing out
that arraigning Israel
does not imply anti-Semitism. Likewise, US perpetrated violence deletimises the
as a provider of collective goods. Its citizens who profit and its allies who
have been complicit cannot be absolved. Voting out Bush and Blair is simply not
enough. Justice needs to catch up with them, as indeed it must with the
popularly acknowledged terrorists. US
The book could do with a chapter in its next edition on the current uprisings in
which has shown clientalist regimes that, at a minimum, demography will usher
in democracy eventually. Orientalist lies stand exposed. That the author is a
serving diplomat is the only way to account for the silences that accompany his
argument. Also, a missing chapter is also on what does this imply for the South
The usual format followed by policy oriented writers, particularly in the
, is to have a final chapter on
the implications for the administration. Since the author has not dissected the
impact on US South Asia of his subject, there is
understandably no reason for him to serve a policy prescription for his government.
That the same is implicit in his work is conceded.
Nevertheless, it bears reminding here that India would do well to be wary of the extent of its nascent, if deep, partnerships forged with the US and Israel. Even as it extracts its strategic dividend, it would do well to preserve its autonomy and distinct voice and position on events and issues in
Too close an embrace is to attract unwanted Islamist attention and to increase
the messianisms that lurk within its polity.
That such affiliations will not develop is not a ‘given’ in light of the close technological linkages
India is forging with Israel
and strategic ones with the .
It is arguable the Indian government does not have the institutional strength
and its society the political resilience necessary to withstand such an embrace
without having its integrity compromised. On this count the book is a valuable
and timely addition, but needs to also be read between the lines. US