I never liked his snake oil stuff mentality, but I take an exception to his recent interview and agree with almost everything.
‘The Mumbai attacks were directed at the US too’
There is plenty of anger out there for his comments on CNN’s Larry King Live. Dr Chopra stressed the importance of looking at Islamic terrorism in a wider context, and suggested that the Mumbai terror attacks [Images] have to be seen in the context of American support for Saudi Arabia and that petro-dollars go from Saudi Arabia to Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One of the first attacks on Dr Chopra came on the television program The View where the ultra-conservative Elisabeth Hasselbeck called him ‘Glitter Glasses Whatshisface,’ and then, dismissed his comments, muttering ‘Go light a bowl of incense.’
Dr Chopra spoke to rediff India Abroad’s Arthur J Pais at length about his recent views, commenting not only on the conservative American critics, but also a group of Hindus who have taken strong objection to his comments about the killings in Gujarat several years ago.
Do you watch The View?
I don’t. And I did not see the attack on me. When people mentioned it, I did not give it importance. I dismissed Hasselbeck’s views.
Why was that?
I had read that she had been traveling with (Republican vice-presidential candidate) Sarah Palin [Images] during the presidential campaign and that they were friends. I had also heard that she had political ambitions.
What happened then?
I started getting calls and mail from many people across the world. They were upset over her comments. And I also heard that ABC, which broadcasts the show, had asked her to apologise. So in the middle of the programme, she suddenly apologised to the viewers.
What did you make of it?
Well, she did not apologise to me. But that is not important. I believe the harm comments like hers do is that they take away the importance of the issues connected to the Mumbai attacks and in general the consequences of American foreign policy and the American involvements abroad.
What is that upsets you most about the American media?
A part of the media has become a circus. It makes things dramatic and melodramatic to attract ratings and readers. What I said on Larry King was taken out of the context by this section of the media.
In what way?
What I was trying to say was that the terrorist attacks on Mumbai are more complicated than we think. The attacks were directed not only against India but also at many other targets, including America, Britain and Israel. The fact that these guys had planned and executed the attacks before the Indian elections, the fact that the attackers were also looking for foreigners with American and British passports, the fact that they were attacking a Jewish establishment, and that the fact that they came from Pakistan… all these things are very important.
They were telling the Americans, ‘We are looking for you guys.’ They were also making a statement to Israel. And they were making a statement to India. They were also making a statement to their own government in Pakistan against making friendly gestures towards India. In that sense, the Mumbai attacks became an international event.
And the attacks and mayhem got unprecedented coverage in the Western media, especially on CNN.
Of course. You notice that the Western media gave the latest attacks much more coverage than the many recent terrorist attacks in India. This year alone there have been attacks against many cities, including Bangalore, New Delhi [Images] and Jaipur [Images]. The latest attacks got wide attention because there were Westerners among the dead, though their number is very small compared to the overall number of victims.
The attacks were also targeted at Western businesses that were doing business with India, telling the guests at the Taj and Oberoi hotels — and then businesspeople at large — that they are not safe in India.
So what I was trying to tell on CNN is that America is involved, intentionally or unintentionally, in these incidents.
So the talk of you attacking America…
I was not attacking America. I was trying to place the things in a context. I was getting everyone to reflect on the state of the affairs in the world, and urging people to look at the root cause of terrorism.
You have also talked about the rage against America in the Islamic world and how that could have had a role in the Mumbai attacks.
True, there is a tremendous resentment for a number of reasons. America supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. But once the Soviet Union came down, America abandoned Afghanistan. The war against Iraq which has killed over 600,000 Iraqis has led to tremendous resentment against America. Also, the treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. The Muslim world is indeed enraged and humiliated.
Muslims know that once upon a time Saddam Hussein [Images] was funded by the Americans, and the atrocities he committed then were overlooked by America. But whatever I said on CNN was taken out of context and made sensational, particularly the headline in The Wall Street Journal, which said, Chopra Blames America.
What was the immediate reaction to these attacks?
Many people were angry; they were jokes against me on many radio stations, not only here, but also in England [Images]. They were also mimicking what Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote in The Wall Street Journal (‘How the ebullient Dr Chopra had come to be chosen as an authority on terror remains something of a mystery’). I got plenty of hate mail.
What were some of the comments in them?
Some said I should go back to India. Some talked about the money I had made in America, implying that I had no right to criticise America.
What would you tell some of these critics?
I am an American citizen and I have as much a right — even a duty — to discuss what I see are the shortcomings in my country. I have my own radio programme, and I have been commenting on politics for a long time. I have had in recent days as my guest former defence secretary William Cohen. I have had Peter Bergen, the best-selling writer and expert on terrorism.
What upset you a lot about the comments by right-wing television host Sean Hannity?
I was on his show along with Bill Cohen. Both of us said similar things about terrorism. But he went after me. I sent him a letter in response to his comments following my show, and his misrepresentation of what I said on his show regarding the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I did not receive any response from him. So last week I read it aloud on my Sirius-XM radio programme.
What was he complaining about?
He said I was blaming America for the attacks in Mumbai and he also said, ‘Wait a minute. You’ve done so well in America. Why are you blaming us? We protect 100 per cent of the world’s population. We’re 4 percent of it.’
What did you write to him?
I told him I was really disappointed in him. I also said that Cohen had made the same point I did about America’s policy toward the jihadists: Cohen quoted from an internal memo by Donald Rumsfeld that asked, ‘Are we creating more terrorists than killing them?’ I also said: ‘I was hoping to come back on your show and have a reflective, intelligent dialogue, but perhaps the attack mode is the only way you know to make a living. The best excuse for your dishonest accusations against me is that you don’t believe what you’re saying. The far right has deflated, so you are there to pump it up with hot air. If you stop blowing, you’ll be out of a job. I empathise.’
Weren’t you asked to appear on the very conservative Bill O’Reilly show?
(Chuckles). I said I would do so if he does not raise his voice, and does not interrupt. I also said I also won’t interrupt him. (chuckles some more) I did not hear from him.
You have also talked about Pakistan making serious gestures toward India in combating terrorism.
This topic has come up for discussion on my radio shows. But people have pointed out, particularly the terrorism expert Peter Bergen, that Pakistan will not hand over the suspects, particularly the leaders of the recent attacks, to India. There will be an outrage and a new war on the government there. Already, Pakistan is a failing State and its survival would be at risk.
The name of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim [Images] is also coming up quite a bit in discussions about the recent attacks on Mumbai…
Experts on Pakistan tell me that it will be difficult to extradite him to India. When he was in India and running his mafia group, he was reportedly beholden to many politicians. Similar situation could be there in Pakistan.
What else do you think the American media hasn’t noticed about the recent attacks?
India has had at least five major terrorist attacks within a year or so. If one such attack had taken place on American soil, there would have been a war. Even if there was no specified enemy, the urge to go to war against any enemy would have been strong. This happened under the previous government. India has shown so far remarkable restraint.
The American media hasn’t paid enough attention how resilient the Indian people are. I am sure in two weeks Mumbai will be its former self and bustling. The vast majority of Indian people are very robust, very resilient and very creative. But there is a distinction should be made between the Indian people and the government.
In what way?
The governments are often corrupt. Some politicians often do anything to get into power. I also feel that in the Mumbai attacks there is a perfect opportunity for politicians with ties to Hindu fundamentalists to take advantage of the situation.
Your comments on Gujarat, while you were talking about various forms of terrorism, has angered many Hindu groups.
What happened in Gujarat was a genocide and there cannot be two ways of looking at it. But I also recognise the sentiment of some people who said that this is not the time — when people are grieving over the recent attacks in Mumbai — to discuss what happened in Gujarat a few years ago.
I am sorry for hurting those sentiments. But my views on fundamentalism will not change. Whether it is Hindu fundamentalism, or Islamic or Christian fundamentalism, I call it an idiotic but divisive force.
Fundamentalism in some cases causes untold problems including wars and terrorist attacks. I have seen all kinds of fundamentalism. My own family and that of my wife have lost members in Partition.
But going back to the recent trouble and destruction in Mumbai, I am surprised and disappointed that there has not been any proper outrage from the Islamic world, except for the sympathy extended by Pakistan. I ask myself, why is that the moderate Islamic community across the world is not coming out against these attacks? Where is the outrage? Where is their condemnation of terrorism?