अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

December 25, 2010

Property Rights on Tragedies

Looking into a hypothetical future, let us suppose the (to be) richer countries of Africa were, like the richer countries of Europe, form a union as powerful and influential in World Politics as the present EU. While, as seems likely, India still retains caste based structure of its society. In this world, some politician in India professing to represent the lower castes makes a statement to the effect that India’s higher caste dominated parties discriminate against the lower castes, quite like the white colonialists in Africa against the black skinned people.

Should one expect the African Union to react sharply against this? Whether one should or not, one might have to, if one goes by yet another bizarre event in a world that once again seems to going totally mad.

There has been a strange tussle going on between a certain senior politician of the Congress party in India and the right wing Hindu conglomerate that goes by the name of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Union) or the RSS. The Congress politician in question is as good or bad as politicians with a relatively better reputations go in India. The RSS is an organization directly connected to the party (BJP) that was in power at the central government a few years ago and still is in many states of India. The RSS has been the subject of numerous studies by scholars (Indian as well as Foreign) and everyone who knows something about it knows that the right wing conglomerate has always had more than a soft spot for Hitler, Mussolini and the Nazis. Therefore, it is quite common in India to find one of its critics (and that of its various offshoots) mentioning the Nazi connection. It might be that sometimes it is overdone, but there is no doubt that in order to understand the nature of the ideology and the politics of this massive but amorphous organization, whose history goes back to a time long before independence, you have to know and understand their admiration for the Nazis and the Fascists generally.

The tussle that I mentioned involves the death of one of the police officers during the Mumbai terror attacks (26/11, as they call it). The accusation made by the said politician is that some Hindu terrorist outfits (relatively new kids on the block as far shooting and bombing kind of terrorism by non-state actors is concerned) were responsible for the death of this officer.

This tussle has been going on for some time now. But what concerns us here is that during this tussle came a statement from the Congress politician that BJP kills Muslims in the name of nationalism, like the Nazis. And that their hatred towards the Muslims is comparable to that of the Nazis towards the Jews. On strictly objective grounds you might say that this is not hundred percent accurate. However, notice that the word used is ‘comparable’, not ‘equivalent’. But, if you want, you can also verify for yourself that there is a significant amount of truth in this statement. Again note that I mean the comparison with the Nazis, not the death of the police officer, about which I can’t say anything.

You can also verify for yourself that during the last two decades (at least) the ideological difference between the Congress party and the BJP (or its earlier avatar) has narrowed down so much that sometimes it is hard to make out which is which. Still, since they are the two major parties and they have to fight elections with each other, they have to criticize each other too, sometimes quite severely. Therefore, it is very normal to see such tussles between the two parties or their leaders, though usually they don’t involve something as spectacular as a multi-day televised terror attack. No one takes much notice as this is a part of the electoral routine, except those whose profession requires them to.

But what do you know. Once you have resigned yourself to the idea that strange things happen, you are made to find out that stranger things happen. Thus it is that we find that soon after the most recent Nazi-BJP/RSS comparison, the Israeli government has taken offence at the ‘invocation of the Holocaust’ by the Congress leader to hit out at the Hindutva (i.e., RSS) organizations. To quote:

The Israeli Embassy reacted to this on Monday through a terse, one-sentence statement that it didn’t approve of the massacres of the Jews being used for political sabre-rattling. “In response to the enquiries from the press, the Embassy wishes to stress without entering the political debate that no comparison can be made with the Nazi Holocaust in which six million Jews were massacred solely because they were Jews,” the statement said.

There are several things that one can note here. One is that the Holocaust as a single event was not mentioned. Another is that even if it had been mentioned, there were other victims: the Gypsies (who are in the news as victims again in 2010), the communists, the homosexuals, the handicapped, the Catholics and even German dissenters. Then there were the members of the conquered ‘inferior’ and not so inferior races, killed in huge numbers (even excluding those killed in battles). Yet another is that comparison is not equivalence and that comparison can, should, and has been used since the beginning of civilization to warn (or caution) against the repeat of the equivalent.

The Israeli statement seems to suggest that through some mysterious legal logic, Israeli state now holds copyright over the Holocaust. Not just that, the statement even seems to suggest that Israel holds the rights even over the Nazis, that is, if you want to compare some ideology or some atrocity to those of the Nazis, you have to first check with the Israeli government.

If only we could be sure that this is just an extremely unusual incident of idiocy. One can objectively try to understand this as an example of a process of mythology creation through which a real event has been appropriated by an institution (a religion, or more accurately, a government claiming to represent a religion) and has been entered in some sacred text so that it now comes exclusively in the domain of that institution’s rites and rituals and theology. But there is not much comfort in such an explanation.

There is another explanation, but it has been put forward previously and I will leave it to others or to the reader.

What next? India holding a copyright on the partition massacres? We will have to share it with Pakistan (and Bangladesh too). The EU holding a copyright on the Black Plague? American Indians on ethnic cleansing? Africans on slavery and racism? The EU again on chemical warfare?

It is said that the whole population of the city of Delhi was wiped out several times: as part of what is called Qatl-e-Aam (Universal Murder or Murder at Large). One of those supposed to have ordered a Qatl-e-Aam in Delhi was Nadirshah, one of the so many to invade India. There must be some exaggeration here, that is, there must have been survivors, just as there were in the Holocaust, but it is an historical fact there were general massacres in Delhi ordered by some invaders. Even the language (Hindi-Urdu) carries the residues in the form of expressions like Qatl-e-Aam itself and ‘Nadirshahi hukm’ (Nadirshah’s order).

So perhaps Delhi should get the rights over Universal Murders. Of course, the rights will have to be negotiated with other claimants. They will have to be narrowed down to Universal Murders in a Single City or something like that.

To be fair, on closer reading, the quotation given above says that “In response to the enquiries from the press, the Embassy wishes to stress…” In other words, it is ‘the press’ (presumably Indian – and right-leaning) that seems to have extracted the statement from the Israeli government. Were they playing their own role in invoking the Holocaust for political sabre-rattling on behalf of the party compared to the Nazis? The Israelis were ready to oblige though.

Be that as it may. What I know for sure from my personal – first hand – experience is that if certain people (and they are very large in number) were able to do as they badly want to do, there would be massacres in India on a scale the world has never seen before. And I am not talking about those who are formally known as the ‘terrorists’.

This is just a statement of fact which I make here, typing on this keyboard, without much feeling at this moment.

And I have realized (in the following moment) that it is now (Merry) Christmas.

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.]

July 5, 2010

The (Not So) Secret Logo of India Inc.

The (Not So) Secret Logo India Inc.

A Trophy of the Operation Green Hunt

August 30, 2008

Security Alert – 1

The Marx Brothers were two brothers.

The younger of them was Karl Marx.

The older, well, we don’t remember his name.

But he was called the Crouching Tiger.

That’s why some people call their movies Croucho Marx movies.

It doesn’t matter.

He wasn’t like the younger one.

At least he wasn’t as bad as the younger.

But they did work together.

And since the younger didn’t earn any money from his movies, the elder kept providing financial support to his brother till his death.

He also tried to get those movies shown at exhibitions.

And introduced the younger to other subversive movie makers in Paris.

They even started a movement called Insurrectionism.

Anyway, this younger one, Karl, was a communist.

We think he was a Maoist.

A Naxalite, you know.

A dangerous criminal.

A terrorist.

But he was hunted down by the security forces of the free world in…

… We think it was in the forests of Argentina.

In his later years, he had gone underground.

That’s why he was also known by the alias Hidden Dragon.

The Marx Brotherhood was also known to attack their victims with swords.

They called it fencing.

They also dabbled in making movies.

In our country hardly anyone knew about their subversive movies.

The Marx Brothers movies.

But now it seems some troublemakers are trying to use the Internet to see those movies.

Right here in our country.

Where we are fighting the Great Threat of Naxalism.

Which our honourable (former) President as well as our honourable Prime Minister have labeled at various times as the single greatest threat facing our country.

 

Never mind poverty, hunger, fascism, casteism, inequity, corporate crimes, social injustice etc.

 

(Honorable for the dominant party).

This is why we are now forced to ban the websites from which such dangerous movies can be procured.

We are issuing a security alert to all institutions and recommending that they ban all such websites.

This is a serious matter.

We will be following up this matter closely.

Severe action will be taken against those who violate the security regulations.

Karl Marx was a terrorist and his movies shouldn’t be allowed to create a security threat to the citizens of this country.

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.

VEDAM
HYDERABAD INDIA

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!

May 29, 2008

All Around Us (1)

On May 13th, more than 60 people died in Jaipur in a series of bomb blasts. There were nine blasts and at least one bomb was defused. The blasts were earlier said to be of low intensity, but were then said to be of high intensity. They occurred in crowded localities of the old city (the Pink City) and I have been to each of those localities numerous times. The blasts (some of them, at least) were carried out using bicycles. And I have been to each of those localities on foot as well as on bicycle. Mostly years ago, but the last time was one and half years ago.

In almost all the reports about the blasts, the names of these localities were given wrongly. Badi Choupad was being called Badi Choupal, Choti Choupad was being called Choti Choupal, Chand Pole was being called Chandi Pole etc. Does it matter? Only if you believe that getting the details right is important if you not only want to find out the truth, but also want to punish those responsible for these acts of terror. Note that all these localities are Big landmarks in Jaipur. So much that every Jaipurvasi knows where they are. And how to pronounce them. And I am not talking about the foreign media. Nor am I talking about the South Indian media. I am talking about reporters from New Delhi, which is only a little over 250 km from Jaipur and is home to a lot of Jaipurvasis.

Soon after the blasts, as usual, we were being told who might be responsible. The same familiar names were cropping up. The same chants were being repeated. The same red alerts were issued, about which we (Indians) have been hearing for the last quarter of a century, if not more. The same kind of statements were issued.

There was one difference. As I was watching one short video on the Net (I don’t have access to TV, which is why I came to know about the blasts later than many others), there was one person who was answering questions about the implications of the blasts and what was being done to ensure security in the coming days. Then he was asked some questions, which, along with the answers given to them, baffled me completely. I finally realized (Tubelight! Tubelight!) that the man was not an official of the Home Ministry, nor was he a high ranking police officer, nor was he a politician (in the conventional sense). He was someone connected with the IPL, the new 20-20 cricket match league. I couldn’t make out exactly in what capacity. He was being asked a lot of questions by all the mediamen gathered around him, and he was answering quite confidently and with a great deal of, shall we say, responsibility.

Anyway, apart from such indications of the changes that have happened in the world during the last quarter of a century, the same records are being replayed:

  • Condemnation, dastardly, cowardly, despicable etc.
  • Appeals to maintain calm
  • Nationwide red alerts issued
  • Crackdown on ‘Bangladeshis staying illegally in India’
  • The opposition’s talk about the government’s ‘recurring failure to combat terror’
  • Demand for harsher laws to combat terrorism, to bring back the dreaded POTA, as if it had, at any point. succeeded in stopping terrorists from doing what they wanted to do
  • Demands to strengthen intelligence agencies

So on and so on. All of it is so predictable that you could almost write a program to do all these things every time a terror attack occurred.

Sure, there were some articles in newspapers like The Hindu, saying that we should try to deal with the causes of terrorism, rather than repeating the same old knee-jerk reactions. But one can be sure that they would remain unheard amidst the shouts for revenge and bouts of witch hunting.

Which brings us to another demand: Hang Afzal Guru. Supposedly it would magically reduce the incidents of terrorism. Many have pointed out that there seems to be something seriously wrong about the whole investigation carried out in the strange case of the attack on the Indian parliament building, and indeed with the attack itself. The person who was in charge of the investigation, the infamous encounter specialist Rajbir Singh, is now dead. Conveniently?

You can also read some of the ‘Readers’s Opinions’ about the blasts here. This is one good thing about the Internet. What was earlier said in private, is now often said in public. On the Net, it is quite possible and very easy (under the cover of anonymity) to make statements like ‘hang all these Muslims’ or ‘sack the Prime Minister & shoot every one suspected’. Even to say an absurdly amusing thing like ‘where ever in india a blast is done the route is from hyderaabd’. Or like ‘Root out this nuisence of hate and terrorism from Rajasthan, as Modi has done in Gujrat’.

Or like:

ITS enough yaar…..i just request our POLICE to catch those terrorists and hang them till death…

Or like:

As long as we have sikh Prime Minister and foreigner (Sonia Gandhi) is holding the power ,these thing will be very common in near future.

Or a gem like this:

If god gives me one wish to fulfill in my life I will ask all these terrorist together to come face to face to me. These all enuch animals one side and I am the other and i swear I will surely clean 100% of them and i dont want this poloticians to be arround there they are worthless. I am very sure most of indians would agree with me KILL them. This is challenge to all those terrorist who r killing innocent people if they have guts and if they are not enuchs then come out you cowards and face the real MEN.

On this particular site (Times of India) alone, there are 67 pages of such comments from ordinary peace loving innocent civilian Indians who are educated and privileged and ‘developed’ enough to have access to the Net. The citizens of India Shining. A lot of them must be members of the IT industry, which has ‘done India proud’.

All of the above are Hindus, of course.

But there was a comment from one Omer Khan, NY, which went like this:

Let Indians also feel the taste of tragic killings. Read the sceanrio of Kashmir. If 80 People of jaipur are killed whole india is schocked ,what about 25000 Muslims of kashmir who are still missing in Custody & what about those 1500 People found in Mass graves. I really condemn killings but it is good medicine for those who mutiliate the facts of killings in kashmir.

On the other hand, there was a comment by one Rizwan Rafat, Karachi, Pakistan:

i am very sad to see the comment by Omar from NY. Those who died in the blast are innocent civilians who have nothing to do with kashmir. also to add to the knowledge of mr Omar, Kashmir issue has reached this point due to the Indian political mistakes, and also due to vested interest of Pakistani Army who see no gain in solving the kashmir problem and is eating the country. I am behind the people of Jaipur, may god give them patience. also i urge Pakistani government to help India in tracing these coward terrorist if there is any Pakistani connection. hindus, muslims whoever should be ruthlessly crushed to bring peace for everyone.

I looked through many pages to find one reasonable comment by a person with a Hindu name, but I couldn’t. Of course, almost all the people who have written articles I referred to, who will remain unheard, are Hindus. Is there some pattern in all this? Something from which we can learn something?

And one comment was not very clear to me:

please do not now hear talks like 1. excercise maximum restraint 2. Let the law take its own course 3. Jail the terrorists etc etc let the politicians like yada get killed – maybe we will then act?

The social subconscious spills over into the public domain. And is hard to make sense of.

While this may have been the dominant story in the last two weeks, there have been many other events which might merit some of our attention.

On 15th May, militants killed 11 persons in Assam in two separate incidents. Among the 11, there were train drivers, truck drivers and helpers. There have been a series of such attacks in recent days.

Binayak Sen, a highly respected doctor serving in the villages of Chhatisgarh (one of India’s richest states in terms of resources, but one of the poorest in terms of the well being of inhabitants, a lot of them being tribals), who is also associated with the human rights organization People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has been arrested for being a ‘messenger’ for Naxalites, the Maoist revolutionary ‘terrorists’. He was arrested after he actively criticized the state sponsored terrorism of an organization called Salwa Judum, which consists of tribals who have been given arms by the state to fight the Naxalites (in Chhatisgarh), whose cadres also are made up of tribals. So tribals fight tribals while other tribals are forcibly (by the government) holed up in camps under conditions which you can easily imagine if you are an Indian and keep your eyes and ears open.

Binayak Sen has been refused bail even after appeals by a lot of intellectuals and activists. Even the alumni of the medical college where he had studied have come out in his support and a campaign has been launched to get him free.

On May 10th, a teenager Raj Kumar was lynched to death for picking ‘four luscious shahi litchis without permission’. His body was then thrown into a pond.

On May 11th, ‘in yet another case of honour killing, a retired army jawan has allegedly hacked his 20-year-old daughter to death for marrying against his wishes’.

On May 13th (I am not sure about the date), the car of a cabinet minister in the UP government hit a man in Lucknow (who was riding a bicycle) and left him to die on the road. The bicycle, you might recall, is one of most common modes of transport in India. And road accidents are one of the biggest causes of unnatural deaths in India. More than 100,000 every year. The majority of those who die (who also happen to be innocent civilians) are either pedestrians or those riding a two-wheeler. A bicycle, you might recall, is a two wheeler.

A Kerala godman Amritha Chaithanya, whose real name apparently is Santosh Madhavan has been accused of cheating. He has been arrested, but may go free as ‘the cheating case against him in Dubai may not have legal standing in India.’ You might also recall that the situation in India right now, as indeed at any time in history, is that of godmen galore.

A UN report (World Economic Situation and Prospects) says that ‘about 3 billion people are food insecure‘ and that ‘approximately 18,000 children die daily as a direct or indirect consequence of inadequate nutrition’. The largest number of them are from India. Have been for as long as I can remember.

Around May 19th, at least 68 people died as a result of consuming illicit brew in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Note that 68 is a number higher than of those killed in the Jaipur blasts. Note also that there is something in common between the two incidents of serial deaths. Both occur quite regularly in India and both are followed by the same ritualistic responses. And so it goes on. And on.

On May 11th, there was again firing on the Line of Control (LOC) between the Indian and Pakistan administered parts of Kashmir. This was also a very regular feature and is followed by very predictable responses, but this one is important because there had been a lull for a relatively long time, as India and Pakistan seemed to be heading for a better relationship, whatever be the causes of that. Combine this with the blasts in Jaipur (which is the capital of a state bordering Pakistan), and the prospects of a better relationship don’t seem so bright any more. Let’s hope this is wrong.

On May 21st, ‘forty Bhopal gas leak survivors, including 15 children and 23 women, chained themselves to the railings around the Prime Minister’s residence here on Wednesday afternoon demanding speedy resolution of their demands’. The gas leak, due to which a few thousand people had died and a lot more were left with dysfunctional bodies, had happened in 1984, the same year when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and more than 2000 people were killed during the riots that followed.

Coming back to the Jaipur blasts, there may or may not be a doubt about who was behind this attack and why, but there is no doubt at all about who is going to benefit the most from this. The elections (in Rajasthan, among other states) are coming and India’s party of Fascism-under-the-cover-of-right-wing-nationalism has sensed this and has already started to exploit this incident. If there was any chance of BJP being defeated in the Rajasthan elections, it is now gone.

This is what the terrorists have actually succeeded in doing, whatever they might fool themselves into believing.

April 23, 2008

Network Goons Pay Tribute

Sometime ago I had written about the wireless notwork. Apart from the genuine technical problems, there are network goons out there who make sure that the network becomes the notwork.

The people in charge who implement ridiculous rules and block sites for no apparent reason and take action against people (who get caught) for the smallest and the silliest reason, are apparently powerless against these network goons. If the statement sounds hyperbolic, let me mention just a few facts:

  • The URL www.cs.rochester.edu has remained blocked for around two years now. The only reason (if it can be called that) seems to be that this sub-domain has a page where NLP and Computational Linguistics conferences are listed.
  • So is the India Together site which publishes articles by people like P. Sainath.
  • For some time, even the site of the national newspaper The Hindu was blocked.
  • Many other sites are blocked at one time or another, such as the YouTube.

Just a few days ago I checked the network activity on my system and found that many other systems were connected to my laptop, even though there was no reason for them to be and I had even switched on the Windows firewall. This is not happening after I did some things like blocking connection on the netbios-ssn port etc.

Why am I writing this post instead of talking to the people in charge? Because I don’t really think anything is going to come out of that. This rant was provoked by a particularly bad network notworking day.

Another thing that has happened is that the goons who are forming the private network and thereby causing problems for the others, have named their network with my initials:

Goons on the Wireless Notwork

I take it as a tribute. The people who hate you and create problems for you for no reason (whom you don’t even know) pay tribute in this way. It is one of the best tributes one can have.

Of course, there are the side effects, but, as they say, no free lunches.

Except perhaps for those who already have a lot of purchasing power.

The more, the better.

The more, the free-er.

The more, the more.

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.

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