The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 15, 2002

“Pierced, mutilated” & burnt by war
Pardeep Dhull

Letters Against the War
by Tiziano Terzani. India Research Press, New Delhi. Pages 139.

Letters Against the WarTHE book under review is a collection of letters written by famous war correspondent Tiziano Terzani. Born in Florence, Italy, in 1938, he worked with the German magazine Der Spiegel as reporter from Asia for 30 years, after which he moved to India in 1994 with his writer/wife, Angela Staude. A keen student of the Asian continent, he has authored several books based on experience he gained during wartime as well as peace. His works—A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East and In Asia—have been well received by both critics and readers across the world.

Terzani, who travelled extensively during his long career, formally ended his working relationship with Der Spiegel on September 14, 2001, the day he celebrated his sixty-third birthday. But the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon moved him deeply, shaking his conscience. After the attacks, instead of going to the magazine with long articles, he decided to vent his pain and agony through letters, which appeared in Italy’s largest newspaper Corriere della Sera. Later he collected these letters in the form of a book titled Letters Against the War.


During his long career, Terzani had plenty of opportunity to write on the myriad aspects of life. However, his passion lay in writing letters. Though journalism enabled him to do something similar, it always had a limitation of space and required a particular style. After his "retirement," he was free to let his pen follow its natural course. His first letter from Orisgna, Italy, which was on the 9/11 "Pearl Harbor," titled "An opportunity," appeared on 16 September, beginning his crusade for peace. He had written all he wanted to: the motive of terrorists, the Muslims world’s dramatic confrontation with modernity, the role of Islam at the global level, the need for the West to avoid a war of religion, and finally a possible way to come out of such a tenacious situation through non-violence.

The next letter, which he addressed to one Oriana Fallaci, a journalist, who had replied to him through the Corriere, demanding punitive action against the perpetrators of terror, advocates non-violence. A firm believer in Gandhian philosophy, he argues that violence is not the best way to defeat violence, as no war has ever been able to put an end to war. Speaking against the weapons of mass destruction and the possible threat of their use, he says, "we should ask those of us who possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, chief among whom is the United States, to give their solemn pledge that they will never be first to use them, rather than ominously reminding us of their existence." He has openly criticised the USA for its involvement in West Asia. He claims that the root of all problems of the West, especially America’s, lies in the region, "as it is the West’s obsessive concern to ensure the region’s oil reserves remain in the hands of regimes which are ‘friendly.’"

In a letter from Peshawar, Terzani narrates his visit to border villages in Pakistan, which are largely inhabited by Pashtuns who are known as the most feared warriors in Afghanistan. In the company of two university students well acquainted with the region, Terzani chances upon a world of fanatic jihadis whom he calls the product of madrasas. He recalls his meeting with a paranoid fanatic who truly believed that "miraculous hands would appear in the sky at just the right moment to prevent the American bombs from falling." Here he hears speeches full of fanaticism, superstition and certainties based on ignorance.

However, a visit to Kabul, which he describes in a letter, leaves his heart "pierced, mutilated and burnt." The city, of which a poet once wrote, "My home? here is my home: a drop of dew amid the petals of a rose," had been reduced to a pile of rubble. The pathetic look of gutted houses, mausoleums, domes and temples told the tale of how this paradise was lost. By bringing out the true picture of the war, Terzani tries to highlight the destruction and devastation it can cause. Apart from discussing reconstruction and development works in Afghanistan, he has tried to present the "real" role of "peace forces" during operation "Enduring Freedom."

In a letter from Delhi titled "Hei Ram," Terzani takes up the current India-Pakistan situation. Expressing his disappointment over India mobilising troops against Pakistan, he reminds India of its own strong, deep-rooted spiritual culture. He suggests that instead of waging a war, it should go to its roots to rediscover the ancient language of non-violence. He wants both the countries to work towards greater integration to make the subcontinent burden-free.

A staunch follower of Gandhi, Terzani in his letters has successfully shown in total sincerity the other face of the war. His message is clear: sooner or later man will have to change course and renounce violence. Take your time reading this thought-provoking book.