Monday 24 October 2011

Floating bodies and floods

“Oh, you have floods every year with millions of refugees.” “In India, dead bodies float in the rivers.” “How can you talk about democracy when your military has massacred Kashmiris every day for the last 70 years.” “You don’t work at all because all you are interested in is the next life.”

We have to hear things like this all the time in France. Well, they are true, aren’t they? That depends on what you mean by truth. If you ask whether these things happen, then the answer is that they do. India has floods, there are often reports of dead bodies in sacred rivers, and of killings, rape, and torture by the armed forces in Kashmir. And rebirth is a part of Hinduism.

However, if truth means anecdotal evidence or representations of some larger truth, then where do these facts fit? Do they explain India? If there is more to a country of 1.1 billion than ugliness and irrationality. (I cannot understand why rebirth is irrational while heaven and hell are sane – but then I’m an atheist.)  Why do Westerners and Arabs go on and on about how backward and ugly India is to Indians who are their equals in every way? Does it never strike them that if all that there was to India was poverty and depravity, the Indians they are talking to couldn’t have existed?

Will a Frenchman believe that all Americans are 7-foot-tall? If not, why does he believe that all girls in India are destroyed in the foetus? More interestingly, what does he get by believing it?

Thursday 5 May 2011

Is it only words?

The questions about Pakistan’s role in Bin Laden’s escaping justice for a decade rises a couple of questions. But before them, a disclaimer. I have no love lost for our neighbors, Pakistan. Perhaps history will decide the terrorists they sent us are freedom fighters, but I’m not too interested in history’s judgment, especially if it may come over my dead body.

Second, while the USA may fare no better in history’s court than India – most probably, it’ll do far worse – many of my family live there. Besides, quite a few are American citizens. And I want my family to be safe far more than I want justice. That ends the disclaimer.

Now, the questions. If the presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan proves that the Pakistanis, especially the Pakistani military, are aiding and abetting terrorists, why didn’t the fact that the 9/11 terrorists plotted and trained in Germany prove that the Germans were taking revenge for the two world wars through Islamic terror, more so because the Jews are common enemies to both Nazis and Islamic terrorists? How are we so sure that it wasn’t intelligence failure and was collusion?

More importantly, if Americans do know that it was the latter, what are they going to do about it? Invade Pakistan? Impose regime change? Bomb them to the Stone Age?

Ok, here’s the second question. Apparently, when India sought America’s help after 26/11, they were told that Americans won’t allow any ‘fishing expedition’ and shown the door. Considering their own fishing expedition cost $ 2,000 billion, lasted 10 years, and yielded (quite probably) a red herring, what was the logic of ‘protecting’ Pakistan then? How does anyone investigate anything without beginning with a fishing expedition?

It’s hard to understand the rationale behind American rhetoric, but is there any rationale behind their rationale?

Monday 7 February 2011

What has wife beating got to do with blowing up people?

The India Daily reports, in a piece titled Cameron says British multiculturalism has failed

British Prime Minister David Cameron believes his country's policy of multiculturalism has 'failed' to prevent the radicalisation of Muslims by hindering their integration into the British society. In his first speech on radicalism and causes of terrorism, the Prime Minister said a "hands-off tolerance" of those who reject Western values had failed to prevent the rise of Islamic extremism in Britain. He said Britain has "even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values", a policy that needs to be revised. Addressing a security conference in Germany, Cameron argued in favour of developing a stronger national and "muscular liberalism". Decrying the long-standing policy of multiculturalism, Cameron also suggested that there should be greater scrutiny of Islamic groups that get public money but do little to tackle extremism. "Let's properly judge these organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism?" he said.

Err… what is he smoking? What are the people who this speech is targeted at smoking? When did westerners living in non-Western lands find the least need to find out anything about non-Western people, leave alone their values? As for accepting anything but their values – the idea is plainly ridiculous, for we all know that non-Western values consist of beating women, raping children and cutting off heads and hands, things unimaginable to Westerners.

And what is universal about those universal human rights? Does Cameroon equate universal with Christian or Western or both? Let's assume that only Westerners and Christians have any concept of human rights, never mind what constitutions of non-Western nations and non-Christian religious texts say. (We all know there is no difference between de jure and de facto in the West [If the West write down a right, they implement it wholly and wholeheartedly. For instance, no Westerner beats his woman.], whereas for the rest of the world, de facto is all that matters.) Now, Christians are less than half the global population; while Whites (I suppose that's what he means when he says Western) are 4 in 25 of humanity. That is a bizarre definition of universal, to say the least.

But let's get away from the facts and ask a simple question: What has subjugation of women got to do with terrorism? Aren't Communist terrorists all for women's equality? Communists are killing for universal human rights, aren't they? As for religious terrorists, if they believe the books they are killing for, they may be all for women's equality. And aren't there are substantial number of women religious terrorists too?

By the way, what are Cameroon & Co doing for the women for whom their hearts bleed? The French have banned the veil and headscarves. How about Arab language helplines, manned by Muslim women police, where those suppressed women can get some aid when their husbands beat them up?

Anyway, muscular liberalism is round the corner. Wonder what sort of muscles it has.

Saturday 15 January 2011

All French are racists...

I land in France. Among the first things I notice is that most French have a lighter complexion than me, though there are black, brown and yellow people too. I decide that the France has distinct races, and are probably racists, that is, they do not interbreed.

It takes me some time to notice that there are significant variations within the seemingly distinct complexions, which undoubtedly result from interbreeding.

My first conclusion owed much to the contrast to my own self that I originally noticed. I saw them as a group, and grouped what I saw. Later, I observed them as individuals, and discerned differences I had, deliberately or inadvertently, glossed over. Most probably, my second conclusion is closer to the truth than the first.

So why can’t a westerner fall into the same trap? Isn’t it possible that a Westerner, when he comes to the East, first notices how easterners are different from him, as a group; it’s only later that he comes to differentiate between easterners. And is it not conceivable that the initial observations, hurried and subjective, can lead the westerner to presume that easterners are homogenous, with ‘collective concepts of self’, a conclusion that would surprise most easterners? For all we know, had easterners would have seen westerners as collectivists too, had they not be trained to think of westerners as individualists!

Of course, it is well-established that easterners and westerners fashion the self differently. But then Aristotelian physics and racist anthropology were well established too. Why can’t loaded questions be asked, uncomfortable facts be ignored, and those who question conventional wisdom be dismissed as ill-informed, radical and silly?

PS: It’s ironical how quickly collectivist tendencies wear off in the east. No sooner than easterners have made a neighborhood in a hamlet, they are at each other’s throats. By the time they reach sub-castes, we have a full-fledged civil war on our hands. In contrast, westerners require evident differences in complexion before they start enslaving and massacring. There are wars between westerners too, but those were fought in pre-history, that is, pre-1945

Friday 14 January 2011

A little imagination, please

The blurb for the article The coffee king of modern India by Amy Kazmin in the Financial Times on 11 January said, “V.G. Siddhartha's Café Coffee Day has caught the mood of the country where changing social rules and rapid economic growth are new opportunities for social mobility.

Inside, the article expanded, “With its slightly suggestive slogan, ‘a lot can happen over coffee,’ the chain has captured the zeitgeist of young, modern India, where conservative social rules are gradually eroding and rapid economic growth is creating new opportunities for social mobility. The cafés are a place where backpack-carrying students, laptop-toting young professionals, amorous couples and affluent sari-clad women all come to conduct meetings, keep romantic assignations or hang out with friends. ‘It’s a comfort zone,’ says Latika Arora, a 21-year-old MBA student and a regular Café Coffee Day patron.”

I have often wondered which cuckoo-land journalists come from. When in living memory were teashops and coffee houses not hangouts for India’s poor and middleclass? Pick up any novel or old movie, and you’ll find the young men, and sometimes, young women, socialising in these places. Alternatively, they and their elders are getting drunk in taverns and bars.

Go to any village, town or city, and you’ll find the picture unchanged. So what does the erosion of conservative social rules have to do with Café Coffee Day’s success?

Anyway, why pick on poor Amy. Starbucks sold the ‘third place’ baloney and we bought it in droves. Yet, these retailers essentially make money by renting space, with the beverage, usually undrinkable, being the billing contrivance. Their business model is identical to the one many cafes and taverns have used for centuries. By now, the story should have been dead: It’s surprising it isn’t.