अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

November 25, 2010

Drones, Aerial and Otherwise

[This was meant to be a comment in reply to an article on the ZNet by Pervez Hoodbhoy about aerial drones and what he calls ‘human drones’.]

I feel very strange, in fact disturbed, to have to make this comment, as this comment is critical of the ideas of someone with whom I have a lot in common, whereas I have almost nothing in common with those he proposes should be killed by any means possible. The strangeness also comes from the fact that the author not only recognizes but has actually been writing about the grounds on which I will put forward my criticism.

I am not sure whether Pervez Hoodbhoy is one or not, but I am an unapologetic atheist and have almost the worst possible opinion about religious fundamentalism of any kind, especially when it is of the organised kind or has organisational support. I also have no hesitation in stating that there IS something that can be called Islamic Fascism and it should be called by its proper name. But I also recognize that often things get mixed up and we can have a resistance movement that is also a Fascist movement. That makes it difficult to analyze them, let alone judge them. We can, however, still analyze and judge specific facts and events and be mostly right about them if we have sufficient evidence and we make sure that we keep our intellectual integrity intact.

Thus, for example, the people who are being targeted by the American drones (excluding those caught in the ‘collateral damage’) have been doing things which no sensible human being can support. These include the horrible terrorist acts, but more importantly (as the author rightly points out) they include their atrocities on their own people: women, protesters of any kind, ‘blasphemers’ etc. I can very well see what would happen to me if I were living in that kind of society.

I also share most of what the author has been saying. The trouble is that, he also makes some leaps of logic or conclusions which seem patently wrong to me and I think I have to register my disagreement with them, because they are far too important to be ignored.

I could, perhaps, write a longer article about it, but for now I will try to say a few things which matter more to me.

The first problem is that the author mixes up the literal and the metaphorical and this logical error leads him to atrocious conclusions. We can surely talk about ‘human drones’ where we are using the word drone metaphorically and the usage is justified as he has eloquently explained by comparing them with the non-human aerial drones. But the comparison itself is metaphorical. And the justification does not remain valid when he goes on to establish a straightforward literal equivalence. The ‘human drones’ might be brutal, unthinking, destructive, (metaphorical) killing machines and so on. They might be, in a sense, inhuman or anti-human, but they still are not non-human. They do have bodies, minds and thoughts. To say otherwise is to abandon one’s thinking in a fit of rage. What they deserve or not may be a matter of debate, but it has to be based on a vision that does not ignore the fact that they still are human beings, however detestable and dangerous they may be.

I am sure the author is aware of some of the history of the world which seems to indicate that there were a lot other people – and still are – who might also be justifiably called ‘human drones’ and who might be considered as bad as the ones he is talking about. That definitely can’t justify their actions, but it has a bearing on what those taking up the task of judging them should think and do.

If you agree with my contention here, then the analysis will lead to different directions. What those directions exactly should be, I won’t go into, because I don’t claim to have the answers, but they would lead to conclusions different from those of the author.

Even the metaphorical comparison here has some problems, which can, as I said, be guessed from what the author himself has been writing. There are some similarities, but there are also many differences. The ‘human drones’ still come from a certain society and they are part of it. The aerial drones are just machines, they don’t come from any society. The ‘human drones’ come from societies which have seen destruction of the worst kind for ages, whereas the aerial drones are (literally) remote controlled by those who played the primary role in bringing about this destruction, as the author himself has written and said elsewhere. If you ignore these facts, you will again be lead to very risky (and I would say immoral and unfair) conclusions.

With just a little dilution of the metaphor, haven’t most of the weapon laden humans (soldiers, commandos etc.) been kinds of ‘human drones’? The ones author talks about may be deadlier, but the situation is more drastic too. On the one hand you have an empire that is more powerful than any in history and on the other you have an almost primitive society that thinks it is defending itself, just as the empire says it is defending itself. Will it be improper to ask who has got more people killed? What about the ‘human drones’ of the empire: thinking of, say Iraq?

As far as I can see, the use of aerial drones to kill people, whoever they may be, is simply indefensible. Because if their use is justified on the grounds of the monstrosities of the Taliban ideologues and operators, what about chemicals? If some people were to form an anti-Taliban group and they were to infiltrate the ‘affected’ villages and towns and if they were to use poisoning of the water supply or something similar to kill people in the areas where these monsters are suspected to be, would that be justifiable? The aerial drones are, after all, just a technological device. There can be other such technologies and devices.

There must have been some very solid reasons why the whole world agreed to ban the use of chemical and biological weapons after the first world war and stuck to that ban (with a few universally condemned exceptions), though they were very effective and the Nazis were very evil.

The other big problem I have with the author’s opinions on this matter is that he suggests that the American aerial drones are one of the unsavoury weapons we should use against the fundamentalist Islamic militants. This is a logical error as well as a moral one. The logical error is that ‘we’ are not using the weapons at all, the empire is using them. And it is the same empire that created the problem in the first place, once again as the author himself has said. We have no control over how these drones are or will be used and who they will be used against in the future. Can’t they, some day in the future, be used against ‘us’? Why not? Perhaps the empire won’t use them directly, but it can always outsource their use: think again of Iraq. Iraq of the past and Iraq of the present. The author, in fact, knows very well the other examples that I could give.

To put it in Orwell’s words, make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists.

The use of aerial drones, they being just a technological device, might perhaps be justifiable for certain purposes, for example in managing relief work during large scale natural disasters, e.g. the wild fires in Russia or the frequent floods in India and China (but not as just a cover for their more sinister use). Their use for killing humans is, however, of a completely different nature.

The moral error is that the author’s conclusions unambiguously imply that ends justify the means. As long as these monsters producing (or becoming) ‘human drones’ are killed, it doesn’t matter whether the weapons are, to use the author’s word, unsavory. It also doesn’t matter that they are being used by an empire ‘we’ are opposed to and which started the mess. (Actually, the mess was started long ago by another empire, but then we could say there were even older empires who played a role in creating this mess, so let’s not go into that).

I even sort of agree with the author’s idea that recommending the standard left meta-technique of “mobilizing” people (actually, it is not just leftists who use such techniques) may not be very practical under the conditions prevalent in this case. But, as I said, though I understand the severity of the problems, I don’t have the solutions. I only want to say that the kind of errors that the author makes can lead us to a worse situation. We should not forget (I am sure the author knows this too) that it is not just a case of some bad apples. Even if these were to be removed by using ‘unsavory’ forces and weapons, the problems are not going to be solved so easily. Because there is not just one clearcut problem but many problems which are all meshed together and the meshing is too complex and barely visible.

At the risk of making an unpalatable statement, I would say that if any party in conflicts like this has to be excused for using unsavory weapons or tactics, it will have to be the much weaker party, not the strongest party in history. But I don’t think I would include suicide bombing among those weapons or tactics. And I also realize the limits to which I can be entitled to sit in judgement over people living under such conditions.

The author need not offer me (business class or mere economy) tickets to Waziristan. I am scared to even go to places in India.

One more problem that I have with the author’s writings is that he seems to have assigned blame to most parties involved in the conflict: the Army, the militants, the Taliban, the Americans etc., but has he (I haven’t read everything written by him) considered, equally critically, the role of the Pakistani elite (not just the leftists) and the somewhat ‘secular’ middle class? He seems to have hinted at their role, but it seems to me that their role was, is and will be far more critical in determining what is happening and what will happen. After all, the rise (if we can call it that) of the Taliban closely parallels the Islamisation of the Pakistani society in general. How did the Pakistani elite (intellectual, feudal and official) help in this and what can they do to solve this problem?

That, it seems to me, is the crucial question to ask (though it won’t lead to a quick fix), apart from what people around the world can do about those controlling the aerial drones, towards whom, as the author earlier wrote, “we still dare not point a finger at”. After going on to point a finger at them, the author seems to have now moved to the position of accepting their support in terms of killings by the aerial drones in order to contain the ‘human drones’, which (to be a bit harsh) doesn’t make sense to me.

Related to this is another question: does the natural antipathy of the Pakistani elite towards these ‘primitive’ tribal communities has something to do with the position that the author has taken and which he says many others (‘educated people’) share?

There are, of course, other actors. The author has mentioned Saudi Arab, but Iran has a role. Even India has (or at least wants to have) a role.

But I want to end on a positive note. It’s heartening to see that the ZNet allows this kind of a dissenting view to be presented on its platform. That should be a good sign for the discussion.

[Unfortunately, I have to end on a slightly negative note. As I was going to add the comment to the article, I realized that I have to be a ‘sustainer’ even to post a comment. And I have not been able to become a sustainer for reasons I won’t go into here. Hence I post it here.]

December 18, 2009

Everything You Always Wanted To Say But Were Afraid To

This must be surely on the minds of many ‘highly educated professionals’, but one of them has actually come out and said all this. And not even under the cover of anonymity…

I think that there should be planned elimination of those groups of people who are seen to create problems to the “vision” of India as an good advanced superpower democracy. These irritating problem creators talk nonsense and bring down the image of India by talking about poverty, hunger, human rights etc and counter the good work that the highly educated middle class Indians working in MNCs and abroad do,to propagate the very nice image of India as a posh country with great malls, technology and being generally great.

They should be eliminated as part of an elimination policy and which groups should be eliminated can be determined by polling and asking the good indians who work in the US, the MNCs and other good posh middle class professionals and we are sure to get many nominations of groups that should be completely eliminated .These groups should include the “intelligentsia” who are useless irritants and spoil the name and image of India and of no use compared to the highly educated professionals working in the US and in the MNCs who everyone should listen to because they are the intelligent and good people.

The only slight drawback of this policy is that it can lead to situation where the country will be significantly depopulated and we will be left with noone but the good educated middle class. There would not many people of the lower classes left to admire the goodness and the greatness of India and the highly educated professionals. One way of circumventing this problem is to have along with the program of elimination a program for brainwashing,using mind control techniques etc including psychosurgery so that some people who are the problem can be made to change their opinion of India and the educated middle class indians that they are good , that India is a wonderful country etc.

We should all admire the brave stand. The forthrightness is really like a breath of fresh air.

So when is the pogrom, I mean program, starting? May be it’s already on.

I wonder which category do I fall in.

July 13, 2008

Anonymous Abuse – 1

Internet is giving rise to some brand new genres and giving life to some others. The genre I am going to refer to in this post has definitely been revived with extraordinary vigour (vigor for the dominant party), if it is not a new genre.

This genre is called Anonymous Abuse. It’s quite like terrorism, but it involves much less risk. You can be as dastardly cowardly as it is possible for a human being to be, which is saying quite a lot. In fact, there are no risks involved.

There is a particular elite variety of this genre which involves a person in a very safe position at the abusing end and a person in a not very safe position at the receiving end. Naturally, this is even more dastardly cowardly, just like the worst kind of terrorism, minus any risk again.

Even if you surf the net randomly you are likely to find whole sites full of such abuse. But if you go to places like certain kinds of ‘forums’, you will get more on one forum than you would probably have the stomach to read. Forums of news magazines are one such example, especially those which are not moderated much or at all.

So, from now on, I will, once in a while, present gems of this genre. I can do this freely as the person, by choosing to remain anonymous, has implicitly given me the right to reproduce his (or her) stuff. The anarchist in me likes this.

Here is the first gem I found on the Outlook magazine website. One reason I have selected it is that it is probably written by someone on the campus, but more importantly (for me) it might just be the first ‘creative’ spoof that someone has taken the trouble to write that is possibly (even if very very remotely and, of course, mistakenly) connected to either me or what I have been doing and writing.

So here it goes. Verbatim.

Daily Letters | 4 Jun, 2008 07:08:31AM (IST)

It was a great Himalayan assault by the Congress Party that has put Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary to shame. It was the conquering of the Supreme Court and planting a Scheduled Caste judge as the CJI making it a Scheduled Court or Scheduled Caste court, as you like, for all future quota purposes. The political class rejoiced. Everything has been going as per the plan. With no unity or integrity left in the people except their quota greed to preserve nothing could now stop the Congress to cobble a measly majority of “like-minded” parties when the LS polls are over next year.

As the hunchbacked HRD evil Sherpa Tenzing Hillary sat with his Congress cronies giving finishing touches to his another magnificient Himalayan assault plan of SCHEDULEFYING the Indian Army post 2009 they heard a jarring noise. “What was it?” asked the Sherpa hunchback. An aide whispered. It was the Gujjars who were burning Delhi in support of their Rajasthan brothers. The strange noise was unsettling to Tenzing Hillary as even during the doctors stir in Delhi the noise was at low decibel with police slaves handling it firmly and nicely. As his nerves jingled, a courier came: Sir, you are wanted at the durbar of Empress Sonia. You are being called to explain leaking of the Congress secret of Rahul becoming the next prime minister.

As the evil hunchbacked Sherpa limped his way to the sanctum sanctorum of Her Majesty Empress Sonia he was quietly ushered into Her august presence as she sat flanked by her confidantes Jayanti and Renuka.

The kow-towing came very naturally to this born evil owing to his congenital deformity. A durbar attendant finally managed to steady the boulder from kow-towing to his death.

As the Empress stared at the hunchbacked evil incomprehensibly like a Sphinx sitting on the hot sands of Egypt, the jarring Gujjar noise grew louder and louder to an ear-splitting cacophony. The Evil Sherpa muttered helplessly that could be barely heard by the Empress. It sounded something like “FOR WHOM THE EIGHT BELLS TOLL? Jayanti understood it a shade faster as she spat: “It tolls for thee!” Renuka furious that Jayanti had beaten her to the draw by a micro second hit back with venom. And for once in her life spoke the truth: “C’mon Jayanti, you think you know everything. It tolls for us”

As the evil boulder was being slowly dragged limping away after a mild warning to his morbid cabin he wondered if he and his comrade-in-arm Chidambaram had done enough to keep the throne of his Empress secure from shaking.


You don’t get it? What’s the matter? Don’t you like the way the abuser shows contempt for the Dalits as well as the Gujjars (not to mention the Supreme Court or Victor Hugo or Tenzing or Hillary or John Donne or Hemingway or even the Sphinx, for God’s, I mean, Abuse’s sake)? Can’t you appreciate his humor (humour for the non-dominant party) at the expense of the physically deformed? Don’t you see the wonderful ‘Tenzing Hillary’ part? So blatantly racist. How lovely. In this age when people have found extremely innovative ways of hiding their racist and other such tendencies, doesn’t this blatancy come as a breath of fresh air? And the sexism. Good old stuff. But it may be a bit mild for some. What about xenophobia against the Nepalis? Isn’t that impressive?

Some people have a Muse. Some others have an Abuse.

You would have to know a lot of Indian history if you want to make anything of the reference to ‘doctors’ stir’ and the ‘police slaves’ in this particular context. Believe me, I know a whole lot about this. I could write ten books about this, but I won’t. I won’t survive.

No points for guessing that the abuser is a high caste elite professional. You will have to give it to him that he can at least string together more or less grammatical sentences. This is not a characteristic that is very common among the Anonymous Abusers. Because those who can, use their talent (and here I mean for Anonymous Abuse) in a manner that pays.

So what if the abuser doesn’t make any sense? So what if the abuser might make even Congress party haters and right wing ‘democrats’ and ‘liberals’ flinch? So what if even Narendra Modi or Praveen Togadia won’t dare to openly support this abuser.

Make no mistake. This is coming from what is called India’s Best. India’s Crème de la Crème. India’s Very Meritorious Class.

To be frank, I don’t like any of the individuals mentioned (by name) in the above abuse, except perhaps Tenzing and Hillary who climbed the Everest for the first time. And I would hate to see the Congress in power again. (Yes, I would hate to see the BJP in power even more).

But I like this stuff, though not for the above reason.

I am happy to post it here. I hope there is more.

As Ali G. would say, Respect!

June 3, 2008

The Fine Art of L.K. Advani et al.

L.K. Advani is one of those people who turn hypocrisy into a fine art. One of the prerequisites of this art is having at least somewhat charismatic personality. The ability to project a decent middle class ‘measured’ persona helps too.

His party, after the retirement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is now making the most of Advani’s abilities, as it is of Modi’s. And Modi himself is now suggesting that we fight inflation with fasting, as once advised by India’s former Gandhian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

From Advani to Jaswant Singh. Add the charms of being a former Maharaja.

As we all know, Nepal has finally got rid of the monarchy (lock, stock and non-smoking barrel, unlike Britain). Moreover, that country will now also be a ‘secular republic’, like India. This is our (possibly) future Prime Minister’s ‘measured’ take on these developments:

As for abolition of monarchy, Mr. Singh said, “It is for the people of Nepal to decide not to have a monarchy.”Was the BJP happy about Nepal becoming a secular state? He said: “As an Indian and a believer in ‘sanatan dharma’ [Hinduism], I feel diminished. … There are four ‘dhams’ [pilgrimage centres] in India and the fifth, Pashupati Nath, is in Nepal. There is nothing more secular than ‘sanatan dharma’. … This is a negative development [in Nepal].”

If there is nothing more secular than ‘sanatan dharma’, why does he feel diminished about Nepal becoming a secular state?

Don’t be insane. Be measured. It’s not good to ask such questions.

And here is the not-so-measured take of his party president Rajnath Singh on the words ‘secular’ and ‘dharmanirpeksh’.

Nice combination.

Winning Combination.

Where do I find the words for Modi?

April 2, 2008

At Around is Absolutely Alright

I sometimes read the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ column of The Hindu. I don’t know why. I don’t really believe in prescriptivism, nor do I want complete linguistic anarchy. Probably just to find out the current state of linguistic legality and linguistic morality, from the point of the view of the editors as well as the grammatically sensitive readers (this adjective I didn’t want to use, but I couldn’t find better).

A couple of days ago I again read this column. It is written by the Readers’ Editor (RE) of the paper. In this particular edition (is that the right word?) of the column, a list of different kinds of errors made by journalists is given.

At one point the, the RE says:

There are some favourite expressions of journalists that keep recurring despite their absurdity.

And one of the examples given is ‘at around 4 p.m.’, which the RE says is:

a contradiction — at is specific, around is approximate

As it happens, I use this expression quite often.

So, according to the LAPD (Linguistic Abuse Police Department), I am guilty of Using Favourite Expressions Despite their Absurdity.

But I don’t think it’s a contradiction. I don’t really know what the real Linguists have to say about this, but here is my case:

  1. When you want to mention a time (say, 4 p.m.) for some purpose (such as making an appointment), you can mean either 4 p.m. sharp or you can mean approximately 4 p.m., give or take 5 (or 10 or 15) minutes.
  2. In the first (sharp) case, you would say ‘at 4 p.m.’, with ‘sharp’ added optionally, depending on various things such as your and the other person’s habits and the equation between the two etc.
  3. The question is, what will you say in the second (approximate) case? Would you say ‘meet me around 4 p.m.’? To me, it sounds very awkward.
  4. Even when you do say ‘at 4 p.m.’, you cannot really mean exactly 4 p.m. because it is just not possible physically. This is actually mentioned in some Linguistics literature, though I don’t remember where.
  5. Quite often when you say ‘at 4 p.m.’, you actually mean approximately at 4 p.m. Then what is the need of using ‘at around 4 p.m.’ if ‘at 4 p.m.’ can mean approximately at 4 p.m.? To make the approximate nature explicit.
  6. In that case, why not use ‘approximately at 4 p.m.’ instead of ‘at around 4 p.m.’? Because the latter sounds better (and shorter and more informal) than the former.
  7. My question: Is ‘around’ used at all for specifying time, excluding the cases where it starts a sentence or a clause? Since I am not a ‘native speaker’ of English, however many tons of pages of good English I may have read and however many thousands of publishable and published pages of English I may have written, my linguistic intuition about the Global Language may be questionable.
  8. Therefore, I can only resort to empirical evidence. So I searched for the term ‘around 4 p.m.’ on the Web. What I find is that ‘around 4 p.m.’ is used quite often. However, almost all of this usage is in fragments, not in complete sentences (again excluding the cases where it starts a sentence or a clause).
  9. In almost all complete sentences, the usage is ‘at around 4 p.m.’.
  10. So, it seems that hardly anyone uses ‘around 4 p.m.’ to specify an approximate time. Most people use ‘at around 4 p.m.’.
  11. Which makes perfect sense to me, because it doesn’t sound awkward to me and everyone understands perfectly what I mean. In fact, it even sounds more musical to me than just saying ‘around 4 p.m.’. Excluding the cases mentioned earlier.
  12. In linguistic terms, it can be explained by saying that ‘at’ in this case is the preposition, whereas ‘around’ is not a preposition. They are serving different syntactic and semantic purposes. ‘Around’ is modifying ‘4 p.m.’ to convert it, so to say, from an instant to an interval. ‘At’, on the other hand is doing what prepositions do. Connecting constituents and specifying the relationships among them.
  13. It might be said that ‘at’ can only occur with an instant, not with an interval. In that case, it can also be argued that in reality there is no such thing as an instant (a point on the time scale with zero ‘width’). There are only intervals (points do have some non-zero ‘width’) and ‘around’ is just increasing the size of this interval.
  14. If you do insist that there are instants and ‘at’ can come only with instants, then it can be explained thus. ‘At’ is indeed coming with an instant but that instant is not exactly at ‘4 p.m.’ but somewhere near ‘4 p.m.’ (3:55 p.m. or 4:05 p.m.). ‘Around’ is being used to express this uncertainty.

Thus, as far as I can see, ‘at around 4 p.m.’ is absolutely alright. There is nothing absurd about it. Perhaps the law to which the LAPD is referring is absurd. That seems very likely. After all, every law book has more than enough absurd laws.

By the way, I also searched in the BNC corpus and the only sentence returned for ‘around 4 p.m.’ was this:

George Mayo was last seen at around 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

I think it is not surprising at all, I mean the fact that there are so many absurd laws and rules. If you are the law maker or the law enforcer (or both) and you only make reasonable laws and/or enforce only reasonable laws, you are, in the South Park language, a pussy. Because if you are not, you would be able to make absurd laws and rules and get them enforced.

That’s what having power means. Doesn’t it?

Any, well, pussy, can make and enforce reasonable laws and rules.

March 28, 2008

Chomsky at His Best

I have read quite a lot of Chomsky. And here I mean his non-Linguistic writings. But today I found the transcript of an answer that he gave after a lecture on 5th November 2001 in Delhi. It’s Chomsky at his best.

Within one answer to a question about the idea of Clash of Civilizations, he has compressed almost everything that one needs to know to understand how the world works. Even though I am very much familiar with his ideas, it was a treat to read this transcript.

I can’t resist the temptation to just quote him wholesale in this post. It’s not a very long article, so it can be read quite quickly. If you think something that he is saying is wrong, you can go ahead and verify it. He has written about the details elsewhere.

As there is no need for me to add or explain, I will just quote. I hope I am not infringing on anyone’s IPR. If I am, I will withdraw the quote. But I would hate to do that.

Here he is:

Remember the context of Huntington’s thesis, the context in which it was put forth. This was after the end of the Cold War. For fifty years, both the US and the Soviet Union had used the pretext of the Cold War as a justification for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out. So if the Russians wanted to send tanks to East Berlin, that was because of the Cold War. And if the US wanted to invade South Vietnam and wipe out Indo-China, that was because of the Cold War. If you look over the history of this period, the pretext had nothing to do with the reasons. The reasons for the atrocities were based in domestic power interests, but the Cold War gave an excuse. Whatever the atrocity carried out, you could say it’s defence against the other side.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pretext is gone. The policies remain the same, with slight changes in tactics, but you need a new pretext. And in fact there’s been a search for pretexts for quite a long time. Actually, it started twenty years ago. When the Reagan Administration came in, it was already pretty clear that appeal to the pretext of the Russian threat was not going to work for very long. So they came into office saying that the focus of their foreign policy would be to combat the plague of international terrorism.

That was twenty years ago. There’s nothing new about this. We have to defend ourselves from other terrorists. And they proceeded to react to that plague by creating the most extraordinary international terrorist network in the world, which carried out massive terror in Central America and Southern Africa and all over the place. In fact, it was so extreme that its actions were even condemned by the World Court and Security Council. With 1989 coming, you needed some new pretexts. This was very explicit. Remember, one of the tasks of intellectuals, the solemn task, is to prevent people from understanding what’s going on. And in order to fulfil that task, you have to ignore the government documentation, for example, which tells you exactly what’s going on. This is a case in point.

Just to give you one illustration. Every year the White House presents to Congress a statement of why we need a huge military budget. Every year it used to be the same: the Russians are coming. The Russians are coming, so we need this monstrous military budget. The question that anyone who is interested in international affairs should have been asking himself or herself is, what are they going to say in March 1990? That was the first presentation to Congress after the Russians clearly weren’t coming – they were not around any more. So that was a very important and extremely interesting document. And of course, it is not mentioned anywhere, because it’s much too interesting. That was March 1990, the first Bush Administration giving its presentation to Congress.

It was exactly the same as every year. We need a huge military budget. We need massive intervention forces, mostly poised at the Middle East. We have to protect what’s called the ‘defence industrial base’ – that’s a euphemism that means high-tech industry. We have to ensure that the public pays the costs of high-tech industry by funnelling it through the military system under the pretext of defence.

So it was exactly the same as before. The only difference was the reasons. It turned out that the reasons we needed all this was not because the Russians were coming, but – I’m quoting – because of the ‘technological sophistication of Third World powers.’ That’s why we need the huge military budget. The massive military forces aimed at the Middle East still have to be aimed there, and here comes an interesting phrase. It says, they have to be aimed at the Middle East where ‘the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’ In other words, sorry, I’ve been lying to you for fifty years, but now the Kremlin isn’t around any more so I’ve got to tell you the truth: ‘The threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’

Remember, it couldn’t be laid at Iraq’s door either, because at that time Saddam Hussein was a great friend and ally of the United States. He had already carried out his worst atrocities, like gassing Kurds and everything else, but he remained a fine guy, who hadn’t disobeyed orders yet – the one crime that matters. So nothing could be laid at Iraq’s door, or at the Kremlin’s door.

The real threat, as always, was that the region might take control of its own destiny, including its own resources. And that can’t be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia and others, to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil (it’s not so much the oil as the profits from oil) flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on. So that’s why we need a huge military budget. Other than that, the story is the same.

What does this have to do with Huntington? Well, he’s a respected intellectual. He can’t say this. He can’t say, look, the method by which the rich run the world is exactly the same as before, and the major confrontation remains what it has always been: small concentrated sectors of wealth and power versus everybody else. You can’t say that. And in fact if you look at those passages on the clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds. So let’s put that out of our minds. You can’t think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can’t be the conflict. It’s got to be something else. So it will be the ‘clash of civilizations’ – the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism.

Well, you can test that. It’s a strange idea, but you can test it. For example, you can test it by asking how the United States, the leader of the western civilization, has reacted to Islamic fundamentalists. Well, the answer is, it’s been their leading supporter. For instance, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state in the world at that time was Saudi Arabia. Maybe it has been succeeded by the Taliban, but that’s an offshoot of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia has been a client of the United States since its origins. And the reason is that it plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. And as long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, and they’re just fine. That’s the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world.

What is the biggest Muslim state in the world? Indonesia. And what’s the relation between the United States and Indonesia? Well, actually the United States was hostile to Indonesia until 1965. That’s because Indonesia was part of the nonaligned movement. The United States hated Nehru, despised him in fact, for exactly the same reason. So they despised Indonesia. It was independent. Furthermore, it was a dangerous country because it had one mass-based political party, the PKI, which was a party of the poor, a party of peasants, basically. And it was gaining power through the open democratic system, therefore it had to be stopped.

The US tried to stop it in 1958 by supporting a rebellion. That failed. They then started supporting the Indonesian Army, and in 1965 the army carried out a coup, led by General Suharto. They carried out a huge massacre of hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people (mostly landless peasants), and wiped out the only mass-based party. This led to unrestrained euphoria in the West. The United States, Britain, Australia – it was such a glorious event that they couldn’t control themselves.

The headlines were, ‘A gleam of light in Asia’, ‘A hope where there once was none’, ‘The Indonesian moderates have carried out a boiling bloodbath’. I mean, they didn’t conceal what happened – ‘Staggering mass slaughter’, ‘The greatest event in history’. The CIA compared it to the massacres of Stalin and Hitler, and that was wonderful. And ever since that time, Indonesia became a favoured ally of the United States.

It continued to have one of the bloodiest records in the late twentieth century (mass murder in East Timor, hideous tortures of dissidents, and so on), but it was fine. It was the biggest Islamic state in the world, but it was just fine. Suharto was ‘our kind of guy’, the way Clinton described him when he visited in the mid-nineties. And he stayed a friend of the United States until he made a mistake. He made a mistake by dragging his feet over IMF orders.

After the Asian crash, the IMF imposed very harsh orders, and Suharto didn’t go along the way he was supposed to. And he also lost control of the society. That’s also a mistake. So at that point the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, gave him a telephone call, and said literally, ‘We think it’s time for a democratic transition.’ Merely by accident, four hours later he abdicated, but Indonesia remained a US favourite.

These are two of the main Islamic states. What about the extreme Islamic fundamentalist non-state actors, let’s say the Al Qaeda network. Who formed them? They’re the creation of the CIA, British intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, Egypt and so on. They brought the most extreme radical fundamentalists they could find anywhere, in North Africa or the Middle East, and trained them, armed them, nurtured them to harass the Russians – not to help the Afghans. These guys were carrying out terrorism from the beginning. They assassinated President Saddat twenty years ago. But they were the main groups supported by the US. So, where is the clash of civilizations?

Let’s move a little further. During the 1980s, the United States carried out a major war in Central America. A couple of hundred thousand people were killed, four countries almost destroyed, I mean it was a vast war. Who was the target of that war? Well, one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. The decade of the 1980s began with the assassination of an archbishop. It ended with the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals, including the rector of the main university. They were killed by basically the same people – terrorist forces, organized and armed and trained by the United States.

During that period, plenty of church people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of peasants and poor people also died, as usual, but one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. Why? Well, the Catholic Church had committed a grievous sin in Latin America. For hundreds of years, it had been the church of the rich. That was fine. But in the 1960s, the Latin American bishops adopted what they called a ‘preferential option for the poor.’ At that point they became like this mass-based political party in Indonesia, which was a party of the poor and the peasants and naturally it had to be wiped out. So the Catholic Church had to be smashed.

Coming back to the beginning, just where is the clash of civilizations? I mean, there is a clash alright. There is a clash with those who are adopting the preferential option for the poor no matter who they are. They can be Catholics, they can be Communists, they can be anything else. They can be white, black, green, anything. Western terror is totally ecumenical. It’s not really racist – they’ll kill anybody who takes the wrong stand on the major issues.

But if you’re an intellectual, you can’t say that. Because it’s too obviously true. And you can’t let people understand what is obviously true. You have to create deep theories, that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we’re supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense.

Reminder: This is the the transcript of an answer that Chomsky gave after a lecture on 5th November 2001 in Delhi.

February 18, 2008

A Comment on an Influential Article

A colleague has been sending me links to articles by Philip Greenspun. When I got another link today and just finished reading it (a rather long article), I thought I needed to comment on that article. So here it is (I have posted it at his site too):

A great looking intellectual construction, but it is based on some fundamental flaws. So, even though a lot of the things said are correct and sensible, the most important ones are not.

For example, let’s take the practical implications: You first suggest that it is poverty that is increasing the ranks of the suicide bombers. But then you conclude that if we keep these third world incompetent Muslims poor for eternity, we might just save ourselves from terrorism. A dead giveaway I would say.

That’s the trouble with people like you. You ask others to look in the mirror, but you yourself don’t.

What about America’s record in general? I mean active participation in or encouragement of mass murder: Chile, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc.? Could that have something to do with the fact a lot of people around the world ‘hate the US’?

The ‘conventional wisdom’ that you quote (“Nations don’t have friends. They have interests.”) is from a person who is actually a mass murderer and a war criminal. You seem to have no problem with these ideas. And this person happened to be a Jew.

But so is Noam Chomsky. So was Spinoza. So was Einstein. So was Joseph Heller. So is Woody Allen.

Like most ‘Experts’, though in a slightly better way, you have presented a mixture of true facts and unjustified simplifications to come up with a theory that is sufficiently complex to bore most people into accepting it as true. It is coming from an Expert after all. Why should we bother to look deeper into it? In fact, most people will be overawed by just the MIT label.

You look hard enough at everyone else: Muslims, Europeans, Third Worlders, etc. but you are unwilling to look that hard at the deeds of the Americans, i.e., the establishment of the USA. You put the USA and Canada in the same category, but the facts, if you look deep enough, wouldn’t allow you to do this. Canada has hardly any record of imperialism and attempts of dominating the world as an unchangeable policy that can justify even mass murder, assassinations, drug trafficking to fund terrorism against enemies (as in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union) as long as it is hidden and there is scope for plausible denial.

You even refer to decolonization as if it was only a bad thing. I come from a country where more people died at the time of independence and the partition (of India at the time of ‘decolonization’) than did in the Holocaust. There is no way you are going to confuse me into thinking that the independence (decolonization) was the same as (or the cause of) the horrible events that followed. Decolonization was a good thing. A lot of the events that followed were horrible. There are two different things we ought to be talking about. But, of course, you are not interested in that. It might show the flaws in your theorizing. For example, did colonialism have anything to do with the fact that a lot of non-westerners ‘hate’ westerners even if they try their best to get into the western paradise? And the fact that the US now represents what the UK did in an earlier age. The empire that seeks to rule the whole world and won’t be satisfied until it has risen enough and then falls down (perhaps to be replaced by another empire that would also be hated by the rest of the world). At a huge cost to be paid by people other than you.

October 29, 2007

A Tip for the Analytical Writing Section of GRE

Filed under: Analytical Writing,Exams,GRE,Thinking Humans — anileklavya @ 3:50 pm

After the last post, I realized that the mail quoted there could be used for a very practical and profitable purpose. If you are preparing for the GRE exam, then the said mail can be used as very good practice for the Analytical Writing section of the exam.

The second essay asks you to analyze an argument, and there’s no choice of topic. You have 30 minutes (in both test formats) to analyze the passage and evaluate whether it presents a logical argument, whether its reasoning is sound, and whether further evidence may be needed to support the conclusion. This is basically a critique of a reading passage.1

So, if you are preparing for the GRE exam, why not take up the mail in the last post and do what is necessary, according to the quote given above. A PG (i.e., graduate) student should be able to do this.

यह मैं नहीं कहता। गाइड में लिखा है।
I don’t say this. It is written in the Guide.

If there are any good analyses, I would be happy to publish them here.

Anyone willing? Or is the topic too hot to touch?

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