When Bill Clinton declared Indian Army as Hindu Militants

In his Introduction to Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright?s book ?The Mighty and the Almighty, Bill Clinton writes that “Hindu militants” are responsible for the massacre of 38 Sikhs at Pathribal, Chithisinghpora (in South Kashmir) in March 2000. Only last week Indian Army has closed the Pathribal fake encounter case saying that the evidence recorded could not establish prime facie charges against any of the accused persons. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is Federal/Central investigating agency functioning under the Central Government had in 2006 indicted five Indian Army personnel for staging the fake encounter while giving a clean chit to state police. 

Introduction to The Mighty and the Almighty

by William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton, 42nd President of the United States

During the time she was secretary of state, the world learned what I already knew: Madeleine Albright is unafraid to take on hard issues or to speak her mind. In The Mighty and the Almighty, she writes with uncommon frankness and good sense about America’s international role, religion, ethics, and the current divided and anxious state of the world. To my knowledge, no former secretary of state has written anything similar. It is an unexpected book, drafted against the advice of friends who worried that these topics could not be discussed without stepping on toes. In my experience, the only way to avoid stepping on toes is to stand still. Madeleine Albright is the embodiment of forward movement.

After our initial conversation about this project, I called Madeleine to discuss it further, not knowing at the time where she was. It turned out that she was in Gd?nsk, Poland, commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Solidarity, the democracy movement that ended the cold war and brought freedom to Central and East Europe. When I rang, Madeleine was standing in a crowd that included the former Czech president V?clav Havel and the current presidents of Ukraine and Poland. She passed the phone around, and I had an unforeseen but welcome chance to catch up with some old friends. Meanwhile, Madeleine placed a bouquet of flowers as a memorial to Solidarity and attended a threehour open-air mass in celebration of freedom. I had caught her at a moment and in a place where God and democracy were together at center stage. One theme of this book, and a source of continuing controversy in public life, concerns the relationship between the two.

“The core of democracy,” wrote Walt Whitman, “is the religious element. All the religions, old and new, are there.” I expect we have all come across people who would embrace the first of Whitman’s sentences while ignoring the second, rendering both without meaning. At their best, religion and democracy each respect the equality and value of every human being: all of us stamped with the Creator’s image, each endowed with certain inalienable rights. These doctrines sit next to one another comfortably; they are unifying and inclusive. Problems arise when we try to place our own interpretation ahead of Whitman’s, arguing that those sharing our particular understanding of the universe are more worthy than others. To have faith is to believe in the existence of absolute truth. It is quite another thing to assert that imperfect human beings can be in full possession of this truth, or that we have a political ideology that is fully true and allows us to penalize, coerce, or abuse those who believe differently.

The Constitution of the United States created something truly new: a system of government in which the highest trust is placed not in the top officials, who are hemmed in by an ingenious system of checks and balances, but in the people as a whole. Among the limitations our founders placed on those in government was that they could not establish an official state religion, or abridge the right of anyone to worship freely. The founders understood from history that the concentration of political and religious authority in the same hands could be toxic.

We know, of course, that the power of faith is often exploited by those seeking to enhance their own power at the expense of others. In the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic talked much about defending Christian Europe, but his real interest was in using religion and extreme divisiveness to fortify his hold on power. Osama bin Laden poses as a defender of Islam, but his willingness to murder innocents, including other Muslims, is not a fair reading of the Quran and is disloyal to the tenets of that faith. In the wrong hands, religion becomes a lever used to pry one group of people away from another not because of some profound spiritual insight, but because it helps whoever is doing the prying.

Does this mean that policy-makers should try to keep religion walled off from public life? As Madeleine Albright argues, the answer to that question is a resounding no. Not only shouldn’t we do that; we couldn’t succeed if we tried. Religious convictions, if they are convictions, can’t be pulled on and off like a pair of boots. We walk with them wherever we go, the skeptics and atheists side by side with the devout. A president or secretary of state must make decisions with regard both to his or her own religious convictions and to the impact of those decisions on people of different faiths. However, as Madeleine points out, assessing that impact is no easy task.

During my visit to India in 2000, some Hindu militants decided to vent their outrage by murdering thirty-eight Sikhs in cold blood. If I hadn’t made the trip, the victims would probably still be alive. If I hadn’t made the trip because I feared what religious extremists might do, I couldn’t have done my job as president of the United States. The nature of America is such that many people define themselves—or a part of themselves—in relation to it, for or against. This is part of the reality in which our leaders must operate.

When radical imams try to subvert the thinking of alienated, disaffected young people, not all of whom are poor or lacking in education, by offering a supposed quick trip to paradise in return for the believers’ willingness to kill civilians by blowing themselves up, how should we respond? We can try to kill and capture them, but we can’t get them all. We can try to persuade them to abandon violence, but if our arguments have no basis in their own experience, we can’t fully succeed. Our best chance is to work cooperatively with those in the Muslim world who are trying to reach the same minds as the radicals by preaching a more complete Islam, not a distorted, jagged shard.

I truly believe that this can be done, not by diluting spiritual beliefs but by probing their depths. The three Abrahamic faiths have more similarities than differences. Each calls for reverence, charity, humility, and love. None is fully revealed. The challenge for our leaders is to use what we have in common as a basis for defeating the most extreme elements and draining support for terror. Once people acknowledge their common humanity, it becomes more difficult for them to demonize and destroy each other. It is far easier to find principled compromise with one of “us” than with one of “them.” Our religious convictions can help us erase the age-old dividing line. No job is more important, but as this book by Madeleine Albright makes clear, it is a job that—four and a half years after 9/11—we have barely begun.

—New York, February 2006


Print Version