Monday, November 28, 2005
ooooh, touchy touchy...
Finally, I feel like this blog is being read! This comment (from someone called neoleftychick) in response to my Isaiah Berlin post (which, as you will recall, went on to talk about Palestine and the Spanish Civil War). I have the inclination, but not the time, to respond to this - so if someone else wants to in my comments section, please feel free. Abuse will not be tolerated, so keep the discussion civil please.
Are you people serious? I can't believe that you would accept the hopelessly ignorant and serial liar Edward Said as an authority on these matters! It really saddens me that so many people, particularly western middle-class university types who treat "Orientalism" as though it were unassailable holy scripture, the second law of thermodynamics or DNA code! Said was a crank and an intellectual crook. True historians see him for what he was: a lying opportunistic whinger who simply could not admit that the Arab muslim world started to die in the 15th century, and that they haven't had the balls to admit ever since. Enough already! What is wrong with these people? If it's not the Mongols, the Turks, the Persians, it's the British, the French, the Americans and "the Jews". Time for them to grow up, shut up, and stop boring the shit out of the rest of us. I hope this helps. Toodles.
Actually, the funniest part of this comment is the 'I hope this helps' at the end. Erm...no actually it doesnt, if you don't...you know...argue. I mean some evidence, reasons for your vitriol would be good.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
LoC update; eye on Pakistan
Kashmiris themselves are upset about being kept out of recent Indo-Pakistan diplomacy. Some clarity in this piece about things I didn't know earlier:
- Mirwaiz Omar Farooq (Hurriyat) proposes a 'united states of Kashmir' (presumably a 'federal' Kashmir whose different units are administered by India and Pakistan?)
- Amanullah Khan (JKLF) seeks independence from both India and Pakistan for a reunited Kashmir.
- Then there are the more pro-Pakistan actors such as the PoK politicians quoted here (and perhaps Lord Nazir from the tone of his statements here), who see Kashmir's best bet as staying with Pakistan.
Pakistan seems to have had a good session at the recent Commonwealth summit at Malta - it escaped censure for its shaky democratic credentials because everyone was preoccupied with 'global political concerns' (and Pakistan's pivotal role in them). (To be fair everyone may also have thought Pakistan had more immediate crises to deal with at the present time.) And as India, South Africa, Brazil (occasionally in coordination with China) position themselves as the major counter-hegemonic coalition of the day, Pakistan and Nigeria seem to be pulling closer together. A counter-counter-hegemonic alliance?
Saturday, November 26, 2005
1. The politics of giving: what is the current funding situation and why is it so dire?
2: The politics of doing:
(a) activity of jehadi groups
(b) involvement of India and prospects for improvement of Indo-Pakistan relations.
I'm posting some not-particularly-current but interesting things that I've come across.
On the involvement of jehadi groups, pieces from:
- openDemocracy (which, among other things, tells the disturbing story of a boy being rescued by Lashkar volunteers, who then took him away to their madrasa, claiming him as 'theirs' because his parents were dead);
- Newsweek (which also mentions Lashkar and the United Jihad Council);
- Guardian (which details the structure of some of these groups: Jamaat ud-Dawa as humanitarian organisation, but also fundraising and recruiting front for Lashkar; senior members of Lashkar 'have been linked to' al-Qaeda - what is the closest legal analogy to this sort of structure? franchising? or the setting up of 'offshore' subsidiaries, whilst trying to disguise links with holding company? I need a vocabulary to describe this that people will be familiar with.)
The last piece also quotes interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao as describing the work of Jamaat and other Islamic groups as 'the lifeline of our rescue and relief work'. Given the pressing - and unmet - relief needs (which I will be outlining under heading 1), should one (and the Government of Pakistan specifically) be particular about who is providing the relief? And if these groups are seen as stepping into a governmental vacuum, what will this mean for the stability and legitimacy of state structures in Pakistan? Should the GoP be welcoming, or concerned by, the activities of these groups?
Sunday, November 20, 2005
earthquake funding update
Long-term reconstruction fund is doing better, at least as far as pledges are concerned - $5.8 billion pledged (World Bank and ADB pledge $1 billion each, and Saudi Arabia(!) is the biggest contributing country at $573 million.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Michael Ignatieff, 'Isaiah Berlin: A Life'
Words of advice to Isaiah from friend Stephen Spender, who relentlessly sought to bring home to Berlin and his circle the realities of interwar European politics (p. 53, my edition, from the chapter entitled 'Oxford, 1928-32):
...if our world is a world of violence, of rawness, then [when] one leaves Oxford one is bound to have to deal with it, so it is best to accept the real conditions of contemporary life as soon as possible. One has got to put up with them for better or worse, and the only hope of changing them is in facing them, not in living in a dream of the old world. But I am tired of saying what is so obvious to me. The point is that if philosophy withdraws to the seclusion of Oxford and is studied by people who see nothing outside of Oxford, it will create a remote idealistic world which is quite as cloistered as the Church ever was, but which provides a trap for people with brains, which the Church no longer does (pace T. S. Eliot).
I'm not sure Berlin would ever have agreed with the Oxford v. real world tone of the letter, but the sentiment must surely have resonated with him and can perhaps be seen in his own move away from the clean bright lines of logical positivism to the fuzziness of the history of ideas. People, places, history, context - all these things mattered to him. In any case, Berlin did do things outside of Oxford (I'm only halfway through, so I don't know what all), but he seems to have been the FO's eyes and ears in the United States during the crucial war years, gauging the mood of American opinion and advising Whitehall on how best it might draw the US into the war. As things turned out, the Japanese solved the problem for them.
But back to Berlin and Oxford. There are so many casual references to intellectual giants strolling about in Christ Church meadow or on Addison's Walk that I am looking out from my bedroom window at cobbled lamplit Merton Street with a new reverence. Here, for example, is this account of a dinner at New College (p. 65) -
It was to Elizabeth Bowen that he wrote in November 1933, after he met Virginia Woolf at dinner at the Fishers' [Warden's lodgings] in New College Lodge. Woolf had the fine-boned beauty he was to find attractive in women and he was fascinated by her way of speaking. Warden Fisher asked her whether she liked walking, and she replied that she did, because she liked coming upon goats. 'They look so ecclesiastical,' she said. [thariel: Personally, I think a tutorial run by Virginia Woolf would have been an absolute nightmare. Can you imagine her running off at tangents and saying the most random things that came to her mind?] After dinner, Isaiah retired into a corner with the Magdalen don C. S. Lewis. They talked unctuously about 'God, Shakespeare and the charade of life', until Isaiah overheard Virginia, nearby, mention Elizabeth Bowen. He stepped forward and said that she was in America. A halting conversation then ensued about literature, before she turned away to talk to other guests. While Isaiah felt he had been rewarded with a few moments in the Elysian Fields, Mrs. Woolf's reaction was considerably more caustic: 'I should think there were one hundred promising undergraduates in after dinner; and I shook hands with all, and tried to think what to say, but oh dear what a farce! One might as well go to a school treat and hand out penny buns [thariel: so this is what VIPs are thinking when they come to play chief guest, duh!]. There was the great Isaiah Berlin, a Portuguese Jew by the look of him [thariel: Virginia could be quite an anti-Semite, apparently, especially when she was mad], Oxford's leading light; a communist, I think, a fire-eater - but at Herbert's [Fisher] everyone minces and mouths and you wouldn't guess to talk to them that they had a spark.
Oh, and I can't resist this (as you've probably figured by now, I have a way of quoting the most irrelevant things) (p. 59):
The passage from an undergraduate to a don's life proved a highly disagreeable shock. The senior common room at New College was mortally dull. 'Everyone talked about automobiles and by-passes.' Jasper Ridley, a brilliant philosophy undergraduate at Balliol, put his head round the door of the New College senior common room, took one look and whispered, 'Who are these gargoyles?' Now Isaiah was one of the gargoyles. The realisation made him miserable. The first time he dined at high table he was so utterly mute that Crossman [thariel: some character] hissed at him across the table, 'Be bright, Berlin, be bright. If you aren't, they won't take to you, you know.'
Erm...whatever. As with all narratives dealing with this time, there are references to the Spanish Civil War and what people thought about what was going on there. The thing that strikes me about the civil war is that everyone who was remotely politically engaged had an opinion on the civil war and on which side they would have been on (I ran a workshop on the Iraq war on Saturday and was struck by the number of self-avowedly leftwing activisty types who said they were unsure about their feelings re: the invasion of Iraq because they simply weren't sure who to believe. Fair enough, but the singular thing about the Spanish civil war (and possibly WW2 - so it can't be singular) was the absolute sense of conviction - people knew which side they were on and many acted on those convictions. You don't get that now. (p. 72)
Like most of his friends on the left, Berlin supported the republican side in Spain. As he told Sheila Grant Duff, the Spanish cause was the litmus test which told you, infallibly, where your friends stood politically. But he added that it was about the only political issue that was clear-cut: 'on all other issues (e.g. Palestine) no clear proposition can be uttered which is not in some degree unjust to someone'.
That's funny, Mr. Berlin, because Palestine is exactly the issue that I would have chosen as the litmus test for today. Why today? Even in 1948, as an Indian, I would have been dumbfounded to hear talk of a 'land without people for a people without land'. I would have thought that by then, the language of terra nullius (with its often racist implications in practice) would have been discredited beyond all doubt. I would also have been struck by the unfairness of a partition plan that gave 56% of the country to 31% of the population, at a time when they owned 7% of the land [thariel: Khalidi] and, frankly, I too would have rejected such a plan. I would have been horrified by the Holocaust, but I would not have seen why I should have to give up my home for a people who had been wronged by Fascist (and to a lesser extent, Liberal) European Christendom. In any case, the Berlin quote above is from a letter that he wrote to Sheila Grant Duff in August 1936, well before the events that we now refer to as 'the Holocaust' had even begun. In 1936, Palestine was very much more clear-cut and Berlin had no business being as ethically ambivalent about it as he was (particularly because as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who fully endorsed the separation of church and state, he should have been pooh-poohing scriptural claims to land). But of course I am reacting to all of this as an Indian, and Isaiah - I think it is fair to say - reacted as a Jew. That makes his position on Palestine understandable, but a dead disappointment. (Edward Said concurs, btw, but I'm too tired to quote - see 'Isaiah Berlin: An Afterthought', in The End of the Peace Process.)
Palestine is simply not the centre of our intellectual and ethical maps in the way that the Spanish Civil War was. In part this is because the Israelis are a much tougher opponent to be morally up against than the Fascists (and, ironically enough for this discussion, because of the Fascists). Their history of oppression gives them a moral high ground that is difficult to assail without earning the oft-hurled epithet 'anti-Semite'. Further, the entire Oslo peace process has given the conflict the unfortunate and inaccurate appearance of having been solved, as a result of which the world finds it easy to look away. There is the semblance of Palestinian self-rule, but none of the hard issues have been resolved (sovereignty, statehood, borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water). Meanwhile the settler population has more than doubled, Israeli bypass roads connecting settlements and the dreadful 'Separation Barrier' have reduced Palestinian areas to an archipelago of moth-eaten bantustans. The upshot of all this is that Israel retains control of the OTs, with no responsibility for governance or the actual life-conditions of Palestinians.
This post wasn't meant to be about Palestine, but I simply can't understand - given the situation there - why it doesn't function as the Spanish Civil War of our time. If we cannot oppose the nearest surviving approximation to colonialism and apartheid, what the hell else can serve as a litmus test?
Friday, November 11, 2005
Rashid Khalidi, 'Resurrecting Empire'
First of all, progressive academics - like all good academics - love, and dwell on, complexity so much, that policymakers have no interest in reading them. It isn't just that policymakers have short attention spans, it's also that they read with a view to framing policy - 'so what do we do?' is always a central preoccupation. This is why people like Bernard Lewis who simplify relentlessly, get a much better hearing than anyone who talks about the complexity and construction and politicisation of identity. Khalidi is good because he is trying to offer an equally accessible counterpoint to the likes of Lewis, but obviously from an entirely different political vantagepoint.
The book has pointed me in the direction of reading this - look at the authors and, most importantly, at the date. No further comment.
Then there are juicy historical titbits, one of which I cannot resist sharing. The context is the various plans that different branches of the British government were discussing for the governance of Mesopotamia (now, Iraq) - HMG's left hand often not just out of synch with the right hand, but actually arm-wrestling with it (not too different from the Bush administration today) - (p. 96)
The firmly held view of the British Indian government was that Iraq should be ruled directly by British officials, that no attentioin whatsoever should be given to the wishes of the Arab population, and that the potentially rich territory of Iraq should become a field for Indian business, enterprise, and possibly colonisation by landless Indian peasants [ed. !!!!!]. In effect, some of them wanted Iraq to be a full-blown possession of Britain's colony, India, or as Colonel A. T. Wilson, later senior political officer in Iraq, put it early in the war: 'I should like to see it announced that Mesopotamia was to be annexed to India as a colony of India and Indians.' This was an expression of 'the desire of Indian officials to receive their due, India's due, for sacrifices made in Mesopotamia.' They thus meant Iraq to be a sort of 'reward' for India's sacrifices in World War I, when hundreds of thousands of Indian troops fought and many died (for the greater glory of the British Empire, of course). There was not a little of the traditional attempt to aggrandise the sphere controlled by British officials in India in all of this, talk of rewarding the Indians themselves notwithstanding.
If you're in Bangalore, the next time you walk down Residency Road past St. Patrick's Complex on your right (remember Indiana restaurant?) go look at the war memorial in the traffic triangle between Residency and Brigade roads and you will see a dedication to the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in Mesopotamia and Afghanistan (I think) in the Great War.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Orwell, 'Homage to Catalonia'
Much of the book discusses extensively the internecine struggles within the political left, between Communists, 'Trotskyists' and Anarchists and how this often tended to overshadow the larger(?) struggle (the 'primary contradiction') vis-a-vis the Fascists. Anyone who wants to beef up on this could do no better than to read chapters 5 and 11, which Orwell very sweetly advises readers to avoid if they have no interest in party politics.
There are many touching passages on the experience of actually existing socialism, which Orwell speaks of as a chaotic and occasionally frustrating, but always strangely wonderful experience. Here is Orwell describing conditions within the militia he was fighting with (pp. 27, 28):
The essential point of the system was social equality between officers and men. Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the general commanding the division on the back and ask him for a cigarette, you could do so, and no one thought it curious. In theory at any rate each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy. It was understood that orders had to be obeyed, but it was also understood that when you gave an order you gave it as a comrade to comrade and not as superior to inferior. There were officers and NCOs, but there was no military rank in the ordinary sense; no titles, no badges, no heel-clicking and saluting. They had attempted to reproduce within the militias a sort of temporary working model of the classless society. Of course there was not perfect equality, but there was a nearer approach to it than I had ever seen or than I would have thought conceivable in times of war...In a workers' army discipline is theoretically voluntary. It is based on class-loyalty, whereas the discipline of a bourgeois conscript army is based ultimately on fear...
And even more touchingly, he writes of day to day civilian life in anarchist Civil War Spain (pp. 103-05):
I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it...Many of the normal motives of civilised life - snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. - had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master...However much one cursed at the time, one realised afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word 'comrade' stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving' that Socialism means no more than a planned state capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the 'mystique' of Socialism, is the idea of equality' to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all. And it was here that those few months in the militia were valuable to me...In that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of everything but no privilege and no boot-licking, one got, perhaps, a crude forecast of what the opening stages of Socialism might be like. And, after all, instead of disillusioning me it deeply attracted me.
Orwell writes almost blandly about the absolutely momentous events that he is an actor in - in part this may be because one cannot evaluate the momentousness of events contemporaneously. But there's an incredible detachment to the way he describes being hit by a bullet, for example ('The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail.', p. 185) And there is much humour scattered throughout the book, as when he describes Gaudi's Sagrada Familia (possibly Barcelona's most iconic landmark) as (p. 225)
a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution - it was spared because of its 'artistic value', people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance...
And then he returns to (p. 231)
southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way, especially when you are peacefully recovering from sea-sickness with the plush cushions of a boat-train carriage under your bum, to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don't worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday...Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood...all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the road of bombs
Written 1938. But beyond the specifics of what was actually happening in the Spanish Civil War, the book is fascinating for its insights into the nature of war in general (dear Niall Ferguson and Michael Ignatieff, I hope you're reading this, p. 65).
One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting...The people who wrote pamphlets against us and vilified us in the newspapers all remained safe at home, or at worst in the newspaper offices...all the usual war-stuff, from the libels of the inter-party feud, all the usual war-stuff, the tub-thumping, the heroics, the vilification of the enemy - all these were done, as usual, by people who were not fighting and who in many cases would have run a hundred miles sooner than fight.
And after dissing most of the major broadsheets on this score, he notes (dear Tony, I hope you're reading this):
I should like to make an exception of the Manchester Guardian. In connection with this book I have had to go through the files of a good many English papers. Of our larger papers, the Manchester Guardian is the only one that leaves me with an increased respect for its honesty.
And that, dear readers, is why my day always begins the way it does.
It's raining, and very likely to snow shortly, in the earthquake zone. Colder, relief more difficult.
US - Latin America
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
earthquake, earthquake, earthquake
clarification: when I say 'blasted worldwide ummah', what I really mean are the Saudi billionaires funding training camps in Pakistan. Time to fork out for a better cause, sheikhs.
Desis really sans frontieres
Ok, I am not the one setimentalising this: Dawn reports that 'a signboard on the Indian side read: "We have not opened the LoC, we have opened hearts."' Dawn reports that (presumably Pakistani) officials said that civilians 'may be allowed to cross the LoC by November 14' and priority would be given to members of divided families. Later, other people will be allowed to cross, they said, adding that visitors would initially be given permission for seven days but that could be extended. (See what I mean about momentum?) Pakistan has officially called for free movement of Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC.
Jang is less starry-eyed, reporting that 'Humanity took a back seat as material goods were given priority from both sides with none of the bureaucrats from either Islamabad or New Delhi in a position to commit as to when the first Kashmiri would cross the LoC.' (Don't miss the general 'Pakistan-is-lovely, India-is-rubbish' tone of this article).
Monday, November 07, 2005
Desis sans frontieres
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Renuka Rajaratnam on Zadie Smith's On Beauty: 'The novel works well in separate segments but fails as a whole as Smith's Dickensian sort of sweep does not hold in coherence the multitude of notions, characters and situations spread wide across the book. The sinuous narrative, which moves into a density of details and long, stretched-out conversations, is at times downright tiresome. But Smith's verbal energy flows with spirit and she brings off her comedy with an intelligent and an engaging air of neutrality.'
Maradona calls George Bush 'human trash'.
The ultimate pick up lines: 'Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?'
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Author hastens to add that it would be naive to see the Lashkar as motivated primarily by righteous revenge for communal killings and that its objectives are more elemental: jihad for Jammu and Kashmir. That jihad, he writes, is not an instrumental battle for territory, but a part of an irreducible conflict between Islam and unbelief. He may be right, but more needs to be made, I think, of the mutually constitutive dynamic that exists between Hindu and Muslim extremism. And the Hindu right, which claims to have the defence of our national security at heart, needs to be shown up for the way in which it imperils it by providing the recruitment fodder that groups like Lashkar need and want. Familiar story?
Meanwhile, police are hunting for those responsible in Bangalore. 'Bangalore is a soft spot for terrorists', says the head of the Karnataka police force.