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The International Writers Magazine

Al Qaeda & Gunga Din
James Skinner

‘I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old when my father introduced me to Rudyard Kipling. I recall a framed poem he had hanging on the wall of his personal library room – called ‘If’ which he would often take down and recite from as a ‘goodnight’ story before I closed my eyes and slumped into the wonderful world of dreams of an innocent young child. To this day I still remember the initial verses:
‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Profound words written over more than a century ago by one of Britain’s illustrious intellectuals.

But Kipling was not only a poet, he was also a journalist and war correspondent. Born and partly raised in India during the colonial days, he was an expert on the trials and tribulations of the British army in one of Britain’s most treasured possessions, hence a great deal of his work was based on his experiences living and writing amongst the Rajahs and army sergeants. Another one of his poems, reflecting his adventures at the time, also thrust upon my young self at bedtime, still remains vivid in my mind to this very day. I refer to the famous story of ‘Gunga Din’. Herewith is a quote of its final verse:
‘You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you
By the livin ‘Gawd that made you
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’

But, what does the above mean? Who could have uttered such profound words of sorrow and regret? Who was Gunga Din anyway? The whole essence of the poem might have slipped into oblivion had it not been for good old Hollywood who turned a simple story of an Indian water bearer for the army who loses his life saving a British soldier, into an act of heroism involving the whole British army fighting against an evil bunch of assassins roaming around the Indian subcontinent back in the XIX century. The film itself (made in 1939 and featuring Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks and Victor Mclaglen) is good clean fun. Three disobedient sergeants and Gunga Din, in pursuit of a temple of gold fall into the hands of the hierarchy of a bunch of creeps known as the Thuggee Cult and are held hostage awaiting the arrival of the rescuing army. A trap is set, but good old Gunga, who learned to play the bugle, begins to blow the whistle just before the soldiers enter the ‘valley of death’. Gunga gets shot and dies in the attempt but saves the army, hence the famous ending paragraphs by the Commanding Officer as they bury the ‘coolie’ that saved the day. Although the screen version had nothing to do with the original poem, the movie did however open the history books to reveal a strange group of evildoers that actually existed.

The Thuggee Cult where a weird group of Indians scattered all over the country, who murdered and stole in the name of the Goddess Kali (mentioned in the movie) between the XVII and XIX century. They considered their acts of evil as a religious duty. The group was eventually suppressed by the British thanks to Lord William Bentinck, Governor of India between 1828 and 1870 who made sure that they were totally eradicated, never to rise again. These nutcases were not only featured in the Gunga Din film but were the ‘bad guys’ in Spielberg’s movie ‘Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom’ as well as the supposed abductors of Shirley McClaine in ‘Around the world in eighty days’. According the Guinness Book of Records, they were responsible for over 2 million human deaths. By the way, the word ‘Thug’ (meaning villain) stems from the name of the cult.

Don’t both of Kipling’s poems ring a bell in today’s world?
Let’s start with Al Qaeda, the Islamic fundamentalist terror group that has and is now acting all over the globe. Their system is very similar to the Thuggee’s but spread further afield and across several continents. They are killing, maiming, kidnapping and supposedly looting innocent human lives spreading panic and chaos in the name of their own version of religious duty. The latest attacks on Glasgow airport, the Spanish army contingent in Lebanon and the tourists in Yemen, not to mention the ongoing slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan are but a few examples of their fiendish acts. Although the tactics were similar, kidnapping and slitting of throats, their victims were different. The ‘Thugs’ were after money, basically from innocent travellers whilst Al Qaeda has got it in for the West and those moderate Muslims who disagree with them and whose only desire is peace based on human rights and a sort of watered down democracy. But lets backtrack a bit.

Didn’t coalition forces way back in 2003 go charging into Iraq similar to the British army in the Gunga Din film? Only this time there was no water bearer to head them off before the slaughter that has continued for more than 4 years. And what about Kipling’s poem ‘If’? How different the scenario would be today if the so called trio of leaders, Bush, Blair and Aznar had read the first verses that are quoted above, and continued to pursue through diplomatic means rather than violence in order to stop the Sadam Hussein reign. Instead, they went charging in with a blind eye based on a handful of wrong information about weapons of mass destruction and the objective of instituting a supposed Western style democracy. Sure, the Middle East situation is a real mess at the moment and it probably would have been no different had the coalition forces not invaded Iraq. But at least it would not have been caused by the West and billions of dollars would not have been and would not continue to be spent on military support nor would many of today’s lives be lost.

Hold it! Does that mean that atrocities against our society may have been averted? I doubt it! The Al Qaeda problem originated decades ago. Problem is that the West in general, never woke up to the fact up until now. Could it have been quashed years ago? Depends. Trouble is that it is too late and we must face up to today’s situation based on what is now known as a major terrorist threat. What’s the solution?

Because of the continued threats to our very existence we are still in time for the Western powers to recap and come to terms with reality, group together, similar to Lord Bentinck and eradicate the evildoing. It can only be done if the world unites as one global force. The existing coalition needs help, fast! It needs to rally the UN, Russia, China (the whole of the Far East for that matter!) as well as all the moderate Muslim states. The ultimate question is how. A final quote from ‘If’ perhaps?
‘If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And –which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

As per Rudyard Kipling, back to the drawing board and start afresh! There is no other way.
© James Skinner. July 11th 2007.

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