What is the message of a terrorist attack that fails to deliver a message? Threats and warnings are being exchanged by India and Pakistan about the attack on Mumbai, carried out by presumed Muslim extremists. But acting to what purpose, and under whose instructions?

The attacks are presumed by the Indians to have to do with the Kashmiri Muslims fighting to force India to withdraw from their part of the disputed region in the north of the Indian subcontinent, bordering the two countries and also Tibet and China. Its Hindu ruler chose in 1947 to deliver its Muslim population to India during the frantic days of British India’s partition. The U.N. ordered a referendum among the Muslims (believed today to favor independence). India has never accepted.

If Kashmir was the motive for the Mumbai attacks, why were the targets hotels and restaurants frequented by Western tourists, but also by residents of Mumbai and other prosperous Indians, and a Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish center — an outpost of mainly American and Israeli Jews? None of them have anything to do with Kashmir.

This makes the message seem a Middle Eastern message, having to do with Iraq and Palestine. But the terrorist who was captured said he was a Pakistani, and the evidence thus far is that the terrorist party embarked in Pakistan.

Could Samuel Huntington be right after all, and it is now indiscriminate war between civilizations? But we know as a fact that the modern conflict between Muslims and the Europeans and Americans began with the Europeans’ post-1918 partition and colonization of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab possessions, and a quarter-century later, by Israel’s European-supported installation in Palestine.

After that, there was the Suez attack, a fiasco for Britain and France, when Washington supported Egypt. A quarter-century after that, the Americans and the Muslim Pakistanis, together with the Saudi Arabians, organized the successful Muslim Mujahideen resistance to the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

In 1980, there was a terrible war between Muslim Iraqis and Muslim Iranians. Desert Storm followed that, caused by the invasion of Muslim Kuwait by Muslim Iraq, resisted by Muslim as well as European armies under American leadership. After that came the American refusal to remove the military bases it had built in Saudi Arabia, which was the grievance that inspired Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attack on New York and Washington.

The Asian Muslim countries, including Indonesia, where more Muslims live than anywhere else, had nothing to do with any of this. So what actually is it all about? Certainly not Huntington’s fantasy of a war of civilizations, despite the American political and journalistic habit of forgetting the past and pinning everything that happens today on the Muslims, plus the well-publicized and self-serving obsession of Osama bin Laden and his acolytes that they are leading a mighty jihad that soon will conquer Spain, France, Britain and Germany, and besiege the United States — which is still more dangerous nonsense.

There is wide concern today that India will retaliate against Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks, even though there is no conclusive proof of official Pakistani responsibility. That the attack was by a militant offshoot of the Kashmir clash is more plausible.

It would be deeply illogical for the new Pakistani civilian government to be involved with an action that embroiled it in further conflict with India, when it simultaneously has extremely difficult relations with the United States over American attacks on supposed Taliban and al-Qaida centers inside the Pakistani frontier tribal zones, and while intense American and NATO pressure is on Pakistan to do more against the Taliban.

Der Spiegel Online carried an article on Nov. 27 entitled “Terror in India — Obama’s First Test.” Why a test for Obama? Even if he were already president of the U.S., what would he be expected to do about it? It would be closer to the truth to suggest that this might have been influenced by conflicts in which the United States has directly or indirectly taken an irresponsible hand in the past, without positive results for the United States and with tragic results for others. But the U.S. has never had anything to do with Kashmir.

The mind-set expressed in the Spiegel headline, that anything unpleasant that happens in the world is either the result of American actions or something for which the United States must take responsibility, is widespread, and the result of an American policy of global interventionism that Barack Obama and his new national security team seem ready to continue. If they do so, they are likely to regret it.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2008 Tribune Media Services Inc.

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