BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
6th June 2002
My wife was to attend a conference in India last week, but we decided that this was no time for a woman with an American passport to be wandering around Mumbai. And, yesterday the Foreign Office urged British Nationals to leave India immediately. Even so, most of us cannot imagine that India and Pakistan would be so foolish as to start a war with such terrifying potential for escalation. But, in the sub-continent, there are too many people who see it as an inevitable, even beneficial, outcome.
It’s sobering to note that when Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the first test of an atomic bomb, he quoted the voice of God recorded in the Bhagavad-gita at Kurukshetra, just a few hundred miles from Kashmir: “I am Time, destroyer of the worlds.”
This week’s invective at the Asian summit showed both sides trying to justify their stand-off to the world. They certainly need outside help to pull back from the brink. And it’s great that there are offers of mediation from several quarters. But, can we be effective mediators if there are questions about our agenda, impartiality or the consistency of our own behaviour?
We may lament that nuclear proliferation has provided India and Pakistan with the Bomb, it is surely the natural result of our own commitment to nuclear arms for strategic defence. The recent treaty between the USA and Russia is welcome, but it seeks only to store rather than destroy part of their arsenals. This will hardly dissuade developing nations from wanting to join the club.
And consider the relevant ease of conscience with which the West has bombed and invaded Afghanistan in the search for justice following September 11th. Whether or not it was right, successful or good, it stands as an example of behaviour for other flash-points around the world.
There is a story of a mother who begged Mahatma Gandhi to convince her diabetic child not to eat sugar. Gandhi told them to come back after one week. When they returned, he asked the child to refrain from sugar. The mother was delighted but asked the Mahatma why he had delayed giving this advice. He replied, “because last week I was eating sugar.”
As the Gita says, “Whatever action is performed by great leaders, common people follow in their footsteps. And whatever standards they set by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” Considering the world as one family of nations, it is our duty to support brothers and cousins in resolving their quarrels. But, if we really want to make a difference in these intractable disputes, we cannot rely on the slogan of “Do as I say, not as I do”. We need to walk the talk.© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.