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“If you see an Indian and a cobra, strangle the Indian first,” the saying goes in Indo-China. Javanese peasants say, “When you meet a snake and a slit-eye [Chinese], first kill the slit-eye, then the snake.” Among Punjabis the proverb is, “If you spy a serpent and a Sindhi, get the Sindhi first.”

VARIATIONS of this ugly axiom are heard the length of Asia and are as universal as the antagonisms they express. The continent’s greatest single cause of turmoil is not the struggle for food or political power but simple—and not so simple—hatred among peoples, classes, races. The U.S. is deeply and rightly troubled by its own problems of racial discrimination. They are mild compared with Asia’s endemic and murderous grudges, and America’s problems are subject to a system of social and legal redress that, tragically, most of Asia lacks. The Asian paradox is haunting: on the one hand the brooding, jewel-eyed idols from which flows a spirit of contemplation and moral nobility, and on the other hand swirling violence and blind prejudice. These are some of the passions that years ago were described by André Malraux as “troubled shapes which in the evening swarm up from the rice fields and hide behind the roofs of the pagodas.”

Such passions are not unknown elsewhere, from Cyprus to the Arab-Israeli frontier to the Congo. But in intensity and in the numbers of people they embroil, Asia’s hostilities are the world’s most serious and in many ways most troubling to the U.S., which now must consider Asia its foremost foreign-policy problem. These quarrels sadly refute the Gandhian view that Asian spiritualism is superior to the rationalism of the West. Gandhi liked to call for spiritual tranquillity. “Virtue,” he preached, “lies in being absorbed in one’s prayers in the presence of din and noise.” Spirituality has proved powerless to return rioting mobs to their prayers, while Western rationalism in Asia has been equally unable to mute the “din and noise” of communal clashes.

Geography of Enmity

∙VIET NAM, LAOS AND CAMBODIA, the former states of Indo-China, would be locked in a vicious cycle of nationalistic enmity even if Communist aggression disappeared overnight. Vietnamese armies have harried Laos for centuries, earning the Laotians’ hate and dread. North and South Vietnamese alike look down on Cambodia, which they helped France rule. Cambodia’s dyspeptic Prince Sihanouk snubs Laos, hates neighboring Thailand (a Thai premier once called him publicly “a pig”), and gibes disdainfully that “all Vietnamese are married to women with black teeth.”

∙INDIA AND PAKISTAN are rent by the ancient hatred between Hindus and Moslems. In 1947, after the British withdrew, 750,000 members of both faiths slaughtered one another. India’s Moslem minority and Pakistan’s remaining Hindus still lead fear-filled lives, saved only by the knowledge that each side holds hostages from the other; each regards the other as a more immediate menace than Red China. In riots last year 4,000 from both groups were killed after a holy hair from the prophet Mohammed’s head was stolen from a Kashmir mosque. The two nations’ conflicting claims to Kashmir have created a diplomatic impasse that may outlast the East-West stalemate on Berlin.

∙MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA are locked in an equally ominous enmity. Even without open war, both may come apart at the seams. Indonesia’s Sukarno, whose own regime has been plagued by revolts among distant islanders, wages guerrilla war against British-backed little Malaysia (one-tenth Indonesia’s size). Malaysia itself, a precarious geographical creation, is sapped by hatred between its Malay and Chinese population (each 40% of the total). Easygoing Moslem Malays claim that the Chinese, who dominate Malaysia’s economy, reek of money, while Singapore’s Chinese Premier says, “The Malay does not respond to the profit motive.” In last year’s Singapore riots, Chinese and Malays murdered one another with daggers and rice-wine bottles.

∙JAPAN, though Asia’s most modern nation, has two despised minorities. Members of the pariah Eta caste are scorned because their impoverished ancestors were forced to perform the most degrading tasks—including the clearing of corpses from samurai battlefields. Etas perennially try to “pass” into respectable society, often commit suicide if caught. The 600,000 Koreans in Japan are called “senjin,” the Nipponese equivalent of nigger. Japanese look down on them because Japan ruled Korea as a slave state for 35 years. In Author Kobo Abe’s celebrated novel, Woman in the Dunes, one character, a socialist, notes “that he liked a Korean’s soul but couldn’t stand his smell.”

∙CHINA has imposed more central control than most Asian nations on its peoples. Yet southern Cantonese still sneer at “barbarians” from North China who speak a different tongue. Friction arises when Chinese from different regions are forced to work together. All Chinese consider themselves vastly superior to minority groups within their borders, such as the newly enslaved Tibetans and the Moslem Uighurs in the west. Formosans, themselves ethnic Chinese, dislike the Nationalist mainland refugees who have made them prosperous, and some hire thugs to prevent mésalliances between mainlanders and Formosan girls.

Taken country by country, Asia’s manifold enmities seem hopelessly complex, but certain patterns repeat themselves. Essentially, the hatreds flow from a few major causes: religion, language, race, and the accumulated grudges of history—an underscored by the failings of today’s Asian leaders.

Religious Feuds

Religious antagonism is caused by friction between South Asia’s three great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Though all three have undergone schisms and changes, they have nonetheless escaped the equivalent of the Reformation, which split the less flexible Christian faith but also moved it into the modern era. Relatively unharried by reformers and modernizers, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism reached the 20th century with their ancient, fossilized social doctrines nearly intact. Hinduism’s caste system, Buddhism’s ambiguous attitude toward worldly institutions, Islam’s hatred of infidels—all perpetuate intermittent communal discord.

Theoretically tolerant, Buddhist bonzes make immense mischief when they meddle in politics (TIME cover, Dec. 11). Troublesome Islamic minorities chafe in China, Thailand, the Philippines, as well as India. A leading Bombay Moslem complains: “Hindu customers never allow me in their offices at lunchtime because they feel my presence would pollute their food. How can we ever live as brothers?” Hindus return hate for hate. Nehru himself once remarked that Hindu communalism was “the Indian version of fascism.” Social, let alone sexual intercourse between young people of the two religions has been known to lead to murder.

In theory, Indian law has done away with the caste system, but higher-caste Hindus still abuse the country’s near 65 million Untouchables. Custom still requires them to live in the shabbiest quarter of each village and perform the most menial tasks, like gathering night soil for the fields. In many areas their womenfolk are forbidden to wear jewelry or pretty clothes of any kind. While a Moslem theater in New Delhi not long ago staged a local version of Shaw’s Pygmalion, the original My Fair Lady, modern-minded Indians point out bitterly that a Hindu version would be unthinkable: as the daughter of a dustman, Eliza Doolittle would be an Untouchable. Hence Brahmin Henry Higgins’ housekeeper would never let her use the same plates and bedding as the rest of the household. And if the high-caste guests at the famous tea party guessed they were socializing with an Untouchable, they would drop their teacups and rush to a temple to purify themselves.

The fate of India’s Untouchables is special—and yet it is also typical. It is almost a metaphor for the condition of all minorities in Asia, for to some degree each Asian country has its Untouchables.

Language & Race

Linguistic enmities hamper understanding and cause bloodshed among Asians, who speak more than 3,000 languages and dialects. The most recent linguistic flare-up came in February, after New Delhi tried to establish Hindi as the official tongue, although it is understood by less than 45% of India’s population. Scores of pro-Hindi partisans were beaten, stabbed or trampled to death in protest riots by South Indians, who fear losing government jobs to Hindi speakers.

Racial hatreds plague all Asian nations, which present a vast, graduated racial spectrum, from the blonde ethnic Russians of bleak Sinkiang through the anthracite Tamils of India and Ceylon, whose daughters were of such black velvety loveliness that in World War II lonely American servicemen were wont to sigh, “I’d walk a mile for a Tamil.” Now a new G.I. generation is entranced by Saigon’s graceful Cochinchinoises but is surprised to find Asian girls just as sensitive to racial nuances as the snobbiest New Orleans debutante.

Asians save their sharpest prejudices for their own minorities, including Burma’s harried Indians, Japan’s Koreans and —throughout Southeast Asia—the overseas Chinese. Sixteen million Chinese live outside China, and everywhere their prosperity, diligence and clannishness arouse jealousy. Often they are accused of disloyalty to their host countries. Indonesians have stripped rich “slit-eyes” of their holdings, and Chinese in Laos are scornfully called “Mao Tse-tung.” International airlines make sure that no Chinese stewardesses work on their flights to India.

Many Asian countries have not yet absorbed backward peoples in their midst. Marauding tribesmen inspire almost psychotic fear in Pakistani officers; India has been plagued with demands for self-determination by her half-civilized Nagas. Aboriginal tribes like Viet Nam’s montagnards have virtually no voice in their central governments, occasionally take up arms in protest; they are now more loyal to the newly arrived American Special Forces advisers, who arm and pay them, than to the Saigon regime.

Burdens of History

To Asia’s burden of religious, linguistic and racial antagonism is added the weight of history. New grievances as well as old goad Asians to seek what Calcutta Philosopher Abu Sayeed Ayub calls “the appeasement of the ghosts of our ancestors by slaughtering members of another community.” Conquerors have come and gone across Asia, sowing rancor as they marched. For generations after the Burmese raped Siam, Thai women wore crewcuts to avoid being hauled off by the hair. During World War II, brutality by the Japanese earned them loathing throughout Asia; until recently, any Japanese who toured the Philippines risked getting a balisong (switchblade) between his ribs.

Unfortunately, in the past the Western colonial powers often used communal hatreds to rule, by playing nationalities and races against one another. Says Professor Theodore Hsi-En Chen of the University of Southern California, “From China to Indonesia, nationalism in Asia is totally negative; it expresses deep-seated hatred of anything resembling foreign control.” This applies to control by other Asians as well. While such antagonism would exist even without Communism, the Reds exploit it. The small Communist organizations in Cambodia and Thailand are recruited mainly from long-suffering minority Vietnamese. The Malayan Communist Party, which fought a twelve-year guerrilla war before the British finally beat it down, was composed almost entirely of dissident Chinese. On the other hand, ethnic antagonisms sometimes work against the Communists. Hanoi seems loath to call in Chinese help against America’s stepped-up war effort because most Vietnamese hate the Chinese, remembering that China ruled Viet Nam for over 1,000 years.

It would take a generation of Asian Ataturks to knit unified nations out of what are all too often simply shreds of geographic motley. Today’s Asia, however, is short on Ataturks. Since Nehru’s death, most leaders of Asia’s developing countries fall into one of two categories: those too weak to overcome hatred as such and those who try to exploit it to build up their personal power.

To the first category belongs India’s Shastri, who tries to mediate between antagonists rather than strike at the roots of their antagonism. Malaysia’s jovial Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, also finds it hard to be a true national leader because the bulk of his support comes from his anti-Chinese fellow Malays—even though he warns them, “You can’t throw all of the Chinese into the sea.”

Of the second, demagogic, category of Asian leaders, the worst is Indonesia’s Sukarno, whose campaign to “crush Malaysia” as a “neocolonialist” plot furnishes Indonesia with a phony national purpose and distracts attention from his own disastrous misrule. Even Sandhurst-educated President Ayub Khan of Pakistan plays up “the Indian menace” to strengthen his political hand, warns darkly: “India wants to settle every dispute with force and aggression.”

Lack of Identity

Obviously none of these antagonisms are unique to Asia. For centuries, the West’s highly advanced nations have fought the world’s most disastrous wars, even before the Bomb, and any sense of European superiority must be badly shaken by the memory of Buchenwald. Yet since World War II, the peoples of Europe, for all their lingering animosities, have begun to develop more of a common loyalty to the whole region and idea of Europe. Moreover, adds Harvard Sinologist Professor Benjamin Schwartz, “The West has achieved the modern secular state, and its machinery does tend to control internal strife. But most Asian countries are not yet modern nations in this sense.”

Ironically, the fading of the “imperialist” enemy, a menace that the Communists try so hard to keep alive, aggravates the crisis. Making common cause against colonial masters often gave Asian countries—and groups within countries—a solidarity they are now losing. But there are some encouraging signs. Interracial schooling, notably in Thailand and Malaysia, is binding young overseas Chinese closer to their host nations. Officers and men of different races serve happily together in units of the Indian and Malaysian armed forces, where the military-command structure replaces communal loyalties. Above all, as industrialization spreads in Asia, traditional cleavages, based on almost exclusively agricultural ways of life, may tend to blur. In the short run, industrialization and economic competition may bring further strains, but in the long run, the machine does homogenize people. And a better life—even the mere prospect of a better life—can establish a sense of community.

What the countries of Asia need to develop is a far stronger sense of national identity. Ultimately, only a common patriotism can subdue the internal enmities between classes and races; and a strong, self-reliant patriotism should eventually exist without having to be artificially whipped up through hatred of other countries. That kind of patriotism may offer the only real resistance in Asia to Communism and its ready-made formulas for “emerging nations.”

The growth of such national feelings will also require the growth of individualism, for a sense of nationhood can probably be achieved only by people who respect themselves and their own worth. A generation ago, the great leader of India’s Untouchables, B. R. Ambedkar, asked Gandhi: “How can I call this land my own homeland wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink?” Yet gradually, very gradually, Untouchables have begun to speak of India as their nation. And so it must be for all the other “untouchables” of Asia, if the great Asian peoples are to acquire a real sense of loyalty to nation and eventually to the ideal of order.

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