The Global Anti-incumbency Revolt

Only a few weeks ago, much of the global commentariat still saw the rise of right-wing populism as the defining trend of our times, but recent elections upend that notion. This month an old-fashioned socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, scored unexpectedly well in Britain. On Sunday, the new-school centrist Emmanuel Macron won a parliamentary majority in France. And conservative, Wall Street-friendly reformers are gaining momentum in, of all places, Latin America.
If there is a common factor driving voters worldwide, it is less a particular ideology than a deep but amorphous desire for change. Seated leaders normally have a huge advantage in name recognition alone, but these aren’t normal times. In the world’s 50 most populous democracies, the ruling party won just 40% of the national elections in 2016. It was one of the poorest showings for incumbents since 2002, when the global economy was emerging from recession and roiling crises were driving established parties from power in the emerging world.
This year, in five major national elections, the incumbent party suffered humiliating defeats in France and South Korea, will barely hang on to power in Britain and the Netherlands, and survived with a diminished mandate in Ecuador.
The voters’ anger stems from the wide and persistent slowdown that has taken root since the global financial crisis of 2008. The growth rate of the global economy has slumped to around 2.5% this decade, from 4% in the decades before 2008, undermined by weakening growth in both population and productivity. No major region of the world is growing as fast now as it was before the crisis. Among the 50 most populous democracies, only nine have dodged the global growth slowdown, and among this group – with a few exceptions, like Germany – most have relatively small economies.
Worse, the disappointing recovery has been accompanied by anaemic wage growth and rising income inequality. Dashed economic expectations are undermining popular support for leaders across the ideological spectrum.
Based on polls in the 20 large countries for which long-term poll data is available, the median approval rating for national leaders is now 35%, down from 54% a decade ago, when the global economy was still booming. In recent years, approval ratings in countries like Taiwan and Brazil have fallen into single digits – lows i can’t recall seeing before in any country.
Voters are casting their lot with whoever offers something new. In the United States and Britain, where millennials have little experience of socialism or personal memory of the Soviet era, many young voters are inclined to see socialism as something new and positive. That may help explain the striking level of youth support for aging left wingers like Bernie Sanders and Corbyn, who both won clear majorities among voters under age 34.
In many Latin American countries, however, leftist governments were in office until recently, and these economies stumbled when commodity prices went bust earlier this decade. Voters turned to centre-right reformers like Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peru and Mauricio Macri of Argentina. In Chile, conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera leads the race for president this year.
But the right is not rising uniformly across Latin America. In Mexico, approval ratings for centre-right president, Enrique Pena Nieto, have sunk 20%, and leftist firebrand Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador leads in the polls for presidential election next year.
In France, the socialist government of Francois Hollande was seen as a dismal failure, and parties of the centre and centre-right rose up to take more than 460 of 577 seats in the National Assembly – perhaps the most resounding victory for pro-market forces since the dawn of the Fifth Republic in 1958. The big winner was Macron, a centrist who plans to push France to the right and downsize the welfare state.
Right-wing reformers are rising where left-wingers ruled, progressives are rising where conservatives ruled, and unconventional populists are gaining where the traditional parties are especially weak. It is hard to recall a time when politics was more ideologically scrambled, or more polarised in big democracies from the United States to India.
While the global economy has picked up momentum recently, the forces driving the post-crisis run deep, making it hard to see what could slow the anti-incumbent wave. If anything, the honeymoon period may be shrinking; several new leaders have already seen a decline in popularity, including Justin Trudeau of Canada, Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, Kuczynski in Peru, and even Donald Trump.
Of course, there are exceptions. After more than 15 years in power, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey both retain high approval ratings. But it is hard to trust polls in these illiberal nations.
In genuine democracies, a few leaders remain popular, including Angela Merkel of Germany. Under Merkel, Germany has enjoyed the highest per capita income growth of any major developed country, so her ratings are easy to understand.
Exceptions aside, given how often incumbent leaders are losing re-election campaigns, and how many suffer from record-low approval ratings, the confusing pattern of recent election results seems best explained not by the rise of any one ideology but by a sentiment now common to voters all over the world: When in doubt, just throw the bums out.

WannaCry? You may as well laugh!

Life is getting interesting by the week. Celebrations may prove to be trivial, and accidents may be to someone’s benefit. Truly, it has always been like that. A coin has two sides, a Rubik cube has six surfaces, but they can be aligned. Now, what’s so special about a bitcoin. Does it spin eternally when given a twist while putting it to stand? Or does it make the ransomed one do the same when demanded in multiples of thousands!
The vulnerability of our digital world to manipulation is well understood by the system it is based – the Binary System. It actually has only two alphabets. Null or “0” and “1”. By alternating and serializing, you make the first nine numbers. The rest follows. Have as many trillions as you want. Paste “profit”, “credit” or “loss” on the entity, depending on the backup data you have, or what is politically correct to report. You may withdraw and replace the next day, and that is only the beginning of the game.
May 12th, and the world woke-up or slept on the “WannaCry” malware which, with added intentions could also be called “ransomware”, unless the malfunction caused in the first place, was a punishment for not having paid a ransom.
Some may find the story straight out of a Hollywood script. The US National Security Agency (NSA)had released the Eternal Blue exploit, around two months ago. Accordingly, a critical patch was issued by Microsoft on March 14th, 2017 (incidentally Einstein’s B’day), to remove the underlying vulnerability of Microsoft systems. Those who were using older systems as XP, or 2003 were naturally at risk, along with those who had missed upgrading.
The “micro-worm” was to encrypt all your files, remove, or even spread them all over your network connections. Microsoft was quick in providing antidotes to curtail further spread, but fortunately, a web security worker who blogs as “Malware Tech” could identify a “kill switch”, that prevented this from being the “mother-in-law” of all worms.
By 19th May, the epidemic seems to have died down by kill, or self- induced anoxia.
There has been notorious malware in the past, beginning with what else but “Trojan”, this present one is described by experts at cyber protection companies Kaspersky and Symantec as close to the Lazarus group that attacked Sony Pictures and a Bangladesh bank in 2016. North Korea was allegedly the player.
WannaCry has been more active on the British Health Services(NHS), though there is no clarity on the safety of crucial health records, though Windows (not the hospitals) are being upgraded.
Other victims are FedEx, Deutsche Bahn, Telefonica, but hospitals in East Asia are prominent victims. Region-wise, the countries affected are Ukraine, Russia, India, and Taiwan. There are those who have paid ransom to the tune of $ 300-400, in bitcoins, but the money seems to have fallen in IP-less pits.
Usually limited, even government approved tapping or hacking goes on over “people of interest”, or for security interests, as a form of random tapping. Not entirely honourable, but something like the inevitable instinct of putting one’s ear snug to the neighbour’s wall. The old saying may now be spelt as, “walls may have ears attached to them”!
Every mishap does not need to be dissected unless of course, one has the innocent urge to sort most situations. The deductive analysis comes naturally to some professions. The challenge embedded in one’s training is often to make a diagnosis before the MRI. The WannaCry certainly was not to bump-up the Microsoft share value or to sneak into another country’s secrets.
It could well be a crafted /designed test to check if digital transactions can use a different currency as “bitcoins”, in the process making it universal, immune to fluctuating currency rates, further cutting and saving from processing and conversion charges, and finally allowing a one- time conversion into the desired currency. The exercise would be like buying the counters at the casino, making that a common currency, allowing the player to convert back to normal currency once he wants to check out.
Currency fluctuations have been a big stumbling block to a uniform world trade. As time stretches with speed (remember Einstein’s B’day), economists know it well that money shrinks when the time to manufacture or deliver increases.
For online, digital trade, bitcoins could be your casino counters, and good merchants can at least have a choice when to exit from a transaction, or continue to float and collect later for a longer game!
There is another aspect. Trade deficits become painful hurdles that abut into political deals. By holding bitcoins, a country can settle such trade imbalances, by paying back through other products and services, that the trading partner needs.
For the moment let’s think of the positive aspects alone.
To draw a parallel with existing trade practices, with India just joining in, it is like the GST followed by most of the trading world.
With the flight of thought that this analysis has come out to be, it is perhaps not a blame game, but a strategic test with the wise consensus of the countries that matter.
It is a different matter, that a phrase that is taking shape in popular media is, “Whenever in doubt, blame N Korea”!
It has become mandatory now, for me to state that views expressed herein are entirely my own!

Art, Literature & Democracy

With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to question the value of telling stories or making sculptures.
Why are we here? Why was I created? What’s the purpose of this thing called life?
To artists, whose essential purpose is creation, these grand questions are felt profoundly — the human condition is our stock in trade, even if it’s incredibly privileged to ponder it as one’s profession. As millions struggle to make enough money to eat, we struggle to make art. This is why every serious artist, at some point, questions: is what I do useful, or relevant to everyone — or is it simply luxurious?
Beauty, identity, discourse, documentation, exaltation, or even just exposing a stink does indeed benefit humanity. But when the climate is changing alarmingly, and millions displaced by war are unwelcome in most places, and our leaders increasingly justify abusive power, it’s easy to question the value of telling stories or building sculpture. After all, what does a painting give to the populace? How can a writer take on a president?
Uncovering larger truths
The answers, perhaps, are found in art itself. One success proves the potential of all the rest.
If you remember in 2003, when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was to deliver to the United Nations a declaration of war against Iraq, the tapestry depicting Pablo Picasso’s Guernica was covered up. It was said that the image of the fascist bombardment of civilians was too shameful to face. How could we discuss an unprompted war in front of one of history’s greatest rebukes to warfare?
The details, however, were apparently more mundane. Camera crews had simply worried about the cluttered background the cubist tapestry would present behind speaking officials. And the number of journalists attending the press conference had swelled, requiring a more capacious venue down the hall.
Those facts, it is said, were behind why Guernica was censored (so to speak). Yet the covering of it, for whatever reason, uncovered a larger truth that resonated around the world. The implicit irony became explicit commentary. Picasso had unveiled the image in 1937, yet 66 years later, and 36 years after his death, the painter was still speaking to us.
A matter of words
At New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi, where I am a professor of literature and creative writing, one of my courses examines books that sought to accomplish what Guernica did. In “Novels That Changed the World,” my students wrestle with the few fictions that stretched beyond personal or literary influence and launched revolutions, addressed colonial abuse, improved public policy, forged cultural identity, or challenged repressive dogma. The 10 books span nearly a century and a half, by writers from around the world, yet, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Satanic Verses, each shares a vital characteristic.
In 1896, the Filipino national hero Jose Rizal was tried for rebellion, sedition, and conspiracy, for satirizing the abuses of the colonial Spanish friars in a saga that started with his novel, Noli Me Tangere.
We all know how that turned out — he was executed by firing squad on the eve of the revolution that ousted Spain but was later hijacked by America.
In the early 1930s, Erich Maria Remarque’s honest condemnation of war, All Quiet on the Western Front, resonated around the world — so much so that a club-footed, insecure little man named Joseph Goebbels orchestrated mobs to attack the screenings of the film-adaptation. It was one of the first displays of Nazi thuggery. Thousands angrily set upon cinemas across Germany and Austria, which led to a ban on the film and the novel’s burning. Goebbels dubbed such attacks as a “cleansing of the German spirit.” Remarque’s citizenship was eventually revoked and he fled his own country, while the regime pursued its lethal attacks on “non-people.”
We all know how that turned out — millions were killed systematically as a continent was devastated by war.
In 1989, Salman Rushdie published a novel that, he said, criticized “a powerful tribe of clerics” who had “taken over Islam” — the religion of his upbringing. “These are the contemporary Thought Police,” Rushdie wrote even before a fatwa was declared by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who was irritated at having his past exile satirized — portrayed in the book as an exiled imam aspiring to power. Khomeini condemned the book as a tool of the “world devourers” with the “entire Zionism and arrogance behind it”— a “calculated” plot on behalf of “colonialism.” Rushdie went into hiding, and those associated with the publication suffered murders, stabbings, shootings, arson, and bombs. This was, according to Khomeini, “so that no one will dare to insult the Islamic sanctity.”
We all know how that turned out — with many people now convinced that “free speech is responsible speech,” despite the fact that what is supposedly “responsible” will always be dictated by the powerful.
Each novel speaks against the injustices of its time, and in doing so highlighted the injustices of today. We found in every book a stubborn insistence on speaking out.
Everybody raise their hand
Silence, it is said, implies consent. But that’s only half the story. Silence also confirms oppression, because the ability to speak out is too often a luxury of the privileged.
The aggressive populism we see today seems to be a testament to people refusing to be silent — and rightly so. Our societies have largely failed to provide equally for all, and technology now gives us new avenues through which to to be heard, and with which to rebel against repressive ideas and structures. New leaders have latched onto that and now seek to speak for us, even though many of them are rallying us crudely around fear and mistrust.
But there is hope where there is life, even such as it is now. Because it reveals potential. This is where, counterintuitively, literature and creative writing come in.
In 1969, Lee Kuan Yew, the president of Singapore, famously said: “Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford. What is important for pupils is not literature, but a philosophy for life.” In this, the founding father of that impressive small nation was wrong. A philosophy for life is precisely what literature teaches us.
You need only open a book, from oldest scripture to contemporary novels. Moses refused to be enslaved, Odysseus spoke truth to power, Atticus Finch did not compromise justice, and Hermione Granger showed us how things are done. Plato imagined a just nation, Thomas Paine proved the importance of universal human rights, and John Stuart Mill empowered the individual and revealed the necessity of freedom of expression.
It’s all there on paper and in the ether. The self and society, tragedy and triumph, right and wrong, values and ideals — Lee Kuan Yew’s philosophies for life are easily accessible through bookshops, libraries, and the internet.
Yet while it’s conventional that wisdom exists in literature, creative writing has always been seen as more rarified or intimidating. It has been celebrated as personally palliative, yes, but it’s never been considered a method to increase participation in society. After all, what good is composing poetry and writing stories when you need a job, or a nation must be founded, or a war has to be won, or cancer is ravaging the bodies both human and politic?
But creative writing can be anyone’s best training for speaking out — and if you’ve ever read novels, heard scripture, watched movies or TV, listened to songs, or learned folklore, then you’ve been studying your entire life how storytelling works. By applying your hand at creating it, you are not just attempting art, you are learning vital skills and life lessons.
Fiction teaches us about characters and empathy, plot and consequences, and the value of nuance to truth. Poetry teaches us how to distill language, value silence, and understand metaphor. Non-fiction (which certainly includes journalism) teaches us accountability to facts, critical thinking about the systems in society, and the importance of getting out into the world to listen to others. These are but a few of the skills one learns from writing creatively.
Are those life lessons not vital to democracy? To have a voice is to have a vote. To have a vote is to be represented in society. To represent ourselves clearly and confidently empowers us citizens to air our own concerns and our community’s grievances, to be accountable for ourselves, and to demand the accountability of our leaders. If we are not trained to articulate our arguments properly, we will never be heard legitimately, and we can be ignored too conveniently.
Speaking of democracy
My own philosophy for life comes from the art of storytelling. I persevere in participating publicly in a hostile world by knowing that good always outweighs evil. This seemingly naive notion is proven by the stories every despot or mass murderer must tell of themselves.
Adolf Hitler, for example, was convinced of his righteousness; he loved his dog Blondi, was proud of his country, and thought noble ends justified his violent means. Similarly, the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, did so for a glory they believed was far greater than themselves; they must have thought they were heroically righting a historic wrong. The notion of good always prevails, even in warped minds that are objectively proven to be evil.
What’s perilous, however, is when such corrupted stories are believed by others. In the Philippines, where I am from, a subtle war is taking place — one of narrative; righteousness is its abiding theme.
The dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who stole billions of dollars and denied democracy for more than a decade, is having his story posthumously recast by his children and their allies who benefit from his undemocratic legacy. Fake news sites and online propagandists are being recruited by the powers that be to undermine human rights, due process, and the checks and balances required for democracy — that system that still remains our best course towards equality and the only method to ensure the bloodless removal of leaders who may turn abusive.
History, it’s said, is written by the victors, and in so being it all but guarantees that they remain the victors. This is why it’s estimated that some 80% of our higher elected offices in the Philippines remain in the hands of dynasties — which are family businesses that will always present a conflict of interest between kin and country. The story is theirs to tell.
This is why I write for newspapers, write novels, and teach creative writing. I see it as the long game — a dialogue with the subsequent generations who will hopefully learn from our mistakes of the past. Yet sometimes it feels that our leaders are so entrenched that an artist’s only recourse is to have the last word — to be brutally honest and mocking in judgment in works that we hope will outlive even the bronze statues these leaders erect to themselves. But there’s defeat in even that; in the Philippines we’d call that konswelo de bobo — the consolation of the stupid. The last word may be consolingly and powerfully final, but it’s still retroactive.
What would be proactive is helping others develop strong voices so that we citizens are no longer just arguing fallaciously on Facebook and Twitter over the daily outrage, while unsatisfactory leaders ride our division towards the next election.
The antidote to impunity is accountability. We all know that. But accountability can only be demanded if our voices have consequence. A lone voice, or the voices of the educated elite, cannot legitimately speak for the voiceless, and so cannot be truly consequential. If a voice is a vote, then they must be raised, as a majority, in demanding truer representation and better leadership.
So there is clearly work to be done. Not all art must be inclusive, but no art should be exclusive. Neither literature nor creative writing must ever be privileged as a luxury, for our story will be too easily controlled that way. And while art itself might not change the world, it’s abundantly clear that it can empower those who will

War on social media, and outside

What is it about social media that turns even the best of people into rough streetfighters? This was a question that agitated me last week upon witnessing the ungainly exchange between a venerable retired civil servant and his baiters. The lack of decorum of some (often anonymous) individuals who equate democratic empowerment, that social media undoubtedly confers, with insolence, rudeness, wilful annoyance and even profane language is understandable. However, when people who ought to know better respond with dollops of intellectual arrogance and social condescension — such as suggesting that people from the Hindi heartland are incapable of understanding English — then the larger battle for civility in public life is lost.
Is it fair to blame the medium for this loss of inhibitions? From a young age most of us were taught that it is not prudent to always let on what you really feel and that it is possible to be harsh or even blunt without being rude. Most evolved languages have space for irony and sarcasm — indispensable weapons in the battle of ideas. The English language has even crafted an entire civic culture centred on understatement.
Of course, as English has increasingly also become an Indian language, understatement has come to be replaced by hyperbole. This casual use of the language has also become a feature of the media. Thus, people don’t lose elections, they are either ‘thrashed’ or ‘routed’. Election speeches don’t merely ask voters to ensure a victory but to see that the opponent forfeits his security deposit. In Twitter, people don’t applaud a powerful riposte, they see it as a ‘tight slap’. To this language of extra-combativeness, add the awkwardness with an alien language and the associated limitations of vocabulary, and it is easy to understand why some exchanges in the social media often resemble a no-holds-barred catfight.
This may explain the interventions of abusive trolls — both from the Right and the Left — but it can hardly explain why even ‘educated’ people abandon everyday social courtesies when engaging. Earlier this summer an otherwise jolly retired bureaucrat was understandably incensed that his predictions for the Uttar Pradesh assembly election turned out to be wishful fantasy. However, this disappointment turned to rage after Yogi Adityanath became the BJP’s choice for chief minister. He proclaimed on Facebook that anyone who was at peace with the appointment need not bother to be his friend. In this case, indignation turned to fanaticism.
The real problem, it would seem, is therefore not with the medium but in the absence of intellectual modesty. All of us love to be right and the biggest bores are those who gloat over some accurate prediction, be it in cricket or elections. There are others who are blinded by their partisan preferences to want to even acknowledge that there could be another side. However, the league of intolerance is invariably headed by the so-called educated who twin dogmatic certitudes with disdain for other points of view.
In recent years, the social science and liberal arts departments of universities have been infected by ideological regimentation. A wave of intolerance, masquerading as political correctness, has gripped the campuses and reduced academia to echo chambers. What began as a social corrective to racism and gender discrimination has acquired bizarre connotations. The New York Times reported last week that two magazine editors lost their jobs for contesting the strictures against, of all things, ‘cultural appropriation’ — a whacko idea that fosters cultural ghettoisation.
In India, the turbulence in social media isn’t so abstruse. What we are experiencing is a quasi-political war with cultural and class overtones. On the one hand are representatives of an old liberal establishment, with global connections, that hitherto had unchallenged control over the intellectual establishment, including the media. Confronting, and even trolling them, is a more brash and newly empowered group of supporters of Prime Minister Modi who are disinclined to accept their positions on secularism, nationalism and the elusive ‘idea of India’. The liberals think that the ‘bhakts’ are crude, insular and too Hindu for their tastes, while the other side spits venom on the ‘libtards’ for their sense of entitlement and rootlessness.
The social media war is an extension of the larger political battles being waged in the outside world. Arun Shourie — a renegade bhakt — recently suggested that there is no scope for ‘neutrality’ in this battle. This is because it is ultimately a battle over political power and social authority. But even conflict requires a modicum of civility, not unending outrage.

Modi-Trump Bear-hug: A Net Win For India

World leaders who pride themselves on having shaken up their respective systems by taking on the “liberal elite” and “draining the swamp”, US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Modi have more in common than many of their counterparts. As many compared the two for their propensity towards populist politics, distaste for critique, and disregard of the free press and civil society, and speculated on possible outcomes of the meeting between them in Washington yesterday, the leaders of the world’s oldest democracy and largest democracy came together on the one thing they can, without argument – the threat of terrorism.
Undoubtedly, America’s decision to designate Syed Salahuddin – the leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen who has stoked terror in the Kashmir Valley from his base in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir since 1989, is a big win for India. In its statement, the US said Salahuddin had vowed to block a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict and turn the Valley into a “graveyard for Indian forces.” As fresh waves of militancy claim a record number of lives, especially of security personnel in Kashmir, the announcement, coming just as the two leaders sat down for the first time to create that personal rapport every India-US analyst was looking for, set the tone for the visit, and allayed some concerns over uncertainty and unpredictability that had crept into the India-US canvas since Trump was elected. Over the last six months, since he entered the White House, America’s South Asia policy has been seemingly restricted to Afghanistan – anything east of the Durand Line, a concern in so far as it impacts Af-Pak and the Western world’s security. If India’s challenge ahead of this visit was to draw some of the attention from Afghanistan to its own specific security concerns, vis-a-vis Pakistan, China and the all-weather China-Pakistan nexus, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
Since 9/11, India-US ties from the Bush Administration through the Obama years saw significant expansion in defense, counter-terrorism and trade cooperation. While Salahuddin’s designation is an indication of the continuing relationship that diplomats and national security managers have worked hard to steer, the other issues seem somewhat trickier. Over Iran, for example, Delhi has so far found itself in a spot – not wanting to upset Washington (Iran is one of the six countries under the travel ban), and not wanting to disturb a hard- fought stability with Tehran that could impact the energy trade. But the Ayatollah’s statements raking up Kashmir for the first time in seven years, as Modi and Trump met, could give Delhi the excuse it needs to signal support of America’s position on Iran.
On the defense front, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cleared the way for the United States to sell India non-weaponized Guardian drones for surveillance purposes – the first non-NATO country to be offered these. But India, looking for possible weaponized systems is still shopping around, perhaps even from Israel where the PM travels next week, is yet to commit to a purchase from America. The $2 billion deal could go a long way in boosting jobs in the US and certainly ties in with Trump’s “America First” policy, but might be less attractive to India than it appears at first glance.
The bear hugs that PM Modi offered Trump, as a glorious Melania looked on, were great optics and good diplomacy, but, as an article in The New York Times suggests, the dynamic between India and America today is far more complex, especially when it comes to China, on which the two sides have common cause for different reasons. For all his hospitality towards Xi Jinping earlier this year, Trump is furious about China’s lack of interest in imposing pressure on North Korea for its brinkmanship over its nuclear programme. PM Modi, having joined the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization this month, has been unequivocal about concerns over Chinese expansionism in the region via the Belt and Road Initiative. But Trump has shown far less interest than his predecessors so far in the need for a balance of power in Asia, or in developing and strengthening security alliances in region, even though Modi and Trump called themselves “responsible stewards” in the Indo-Pacific region in the joint statement issued after the meeting.
Since taking over office, President Trump’s pointed messages have been against the threat of Islamic terror, and protecting America’s security and economy. The declaration on Salahuddin came as the US Supreme Court cleared the way for Trump’s controversial travel ban of 90 days on people from six Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. India has maintained a diplomatic silence on the travel ban so far, even though it has resulted in rising xenophobia and Islamophobia within the US. In fact, an Indian – Srinivas Kuchibhotla – was the first person to be killed in a hate crime that was blamed on the ban. Trump took six days to condemn the killing in the US, while PM Modi at home also stands out for his silence on Islamophobic vigilantism in India, targeting Muslims.
The two leaders have also used the threat of terror to deflect attention from other issues – for PM Modi it is flagging economy, an agrarian crisis and loud silence as the number of incidents of communal violence rise. For President Trump, it’s the challenge of one controversy after another provoked by tactless tweets, accusations of having colluded with Russia to rig election results in his favour, and his repeated, personal attacks against those who question him. His lack of respect for traditional levers and institutions of diplomacy, leaving much instead to forging personal equations with individual leaders often leave foreign policy decision-makers confounded as they deal with a policy pendulum that swings from autopilot to dramatic shifts.
Given this backdrop, for skeptics concerned with the unpredictability Trump brought in to Washington and how that could impact Indo-US ties, this meeting certainly goes well beyond simply maintaining the status quo, and is a net win for India. Two leaders with so much in common clearly seem to have hit it off, and Indian diplomats can take a bow for striking the right notes in Washington. However, while Trump may praise Modi on tax reform and fighting corruption, and the admiration may be mutual on tackling terror, all said and done, foreign policy is also a function of domestic success, and both domestic economies must prosper to reap the benefits of today’s meeting. “Make in India” and “America First” haven’t found that meeting ground yet, and it is unclear what, if any, progress could be made on easing the new restrictions on H1-B visas. Defense deals are up for offer and not yet taken.
It’s time now to roll up some sleeves and get down to brass tacks to ensure India-US ties stay the course reaffirmed at today’s meeting, without the whim of individual leaders coming in the way. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

Culture Impacts Our Evolution

Is there an evolutionary explanation for humanity’s greatest successes – technology, science, and the arts – with roots that can be traced back to animal behavior? I first asked this question 30 years ago, and have been working to answer it ever since.
Plenty of animals use tools, emit signals, imitate one another, and possess memories of past events. Some even develop learned traditions that entail consuming particular foods or singing a particular kind of song – acts that, to some extent, resemble human culture.
But human mental ability stands far apart. We live in complex societies organized around linguistically coded rules, morals, and social institutions, with a massive reliance on technology. We have devised machines that fly, microchips, and vaccines. We have written stories, songs, and sonnets. We have danced in Swan Lake.
Developmental psychologists have established that when it comes to dealing with the physical world (for example, spatial memory and tool use), human toddlers’ cognitive skills are already comparable to those of adult chimpanzees and orangutans. In terms of social cognition (such as imitating others or understanding intentions), toddlers’ minds are far more sophisticated.
The same gap is observed in both communication and cooperation. Vaunted claims that apes produce language do not stand up to scrutiny: animals can learn the meanings of signs and string together simple word combinations, but they cannot master syntax. And experiments show that apes cooperate far less readily than humans.
Thanks to advances in comparative cognition, scientists are now confident that other animals do not possess hidden reasoning powers and cognitive complexity, and that the gap between human and animal intelligence is genuine. So how could something as extraordinary and unique as the human mind evolve?
A major interdisciplinary effort has recently solved this longstanding evolutionary puzzle. The answer is surprising. It turns out that our species’ most extraordinary characteristics – our intelligence, language, cooperation, and technology – did not evolve as adaptive responses to external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making, with minds that were built not just for culture, but by culture. In other words, culture transformed the evolutionary process.
Key insights came from studies on animal behavior, which showed that, although social learning (copying) is widespread in nature, animals are highly selective about what and whom they copy. Copying confers an evolutionary advantage only when it is accurate and efficient. Natural selection should therefore favor structures and capabilities in the brain that enhance the accuracy and efficiency of social learning.
Consistent with this prediction, research reveals strong associations between behavioral complexity and brain size. Big-brained primates invent new behaviors, copy the innovations of others, and use tools more than small-brained primates do. Selection for high intelligence almost certainly derives from multiple sources, but recent studies imply that selection for the intelligence to cope with complex social environments in monkeys and apes was followed by more restricted selection for cultural intelligence in the great apes, capuchins, and macaques.
Why, then, haven’t gorillas invented Facebook, or capuchins built spacecraft? To achieve such high levels of cognitive functioning requires not just cultural intelligence, but also cumulative culture, in which modifications accumulate over time. That demands transmission of information with a degree of accuracy of which only humans are capable. Indeed, small increases in the accuracy of social transmission lead to big increases in the diversity and longevity of culture, as well as to fads, fashions, and conformity.
Our ancestors were able to achieve such high-fidelity information transmission not just because of language, but also because of teaching – a practice that is rare in nature, but universal among humans (once the subtle forms it takes are recognized). Mathematical analyses reveal that, while it is generally difficult for teaching to evolve, cumulative culture promotes teaching. This implies that teaching and cumulative culture co-evolved, producing a species that taught relatives across a broad range of circumstances.
It is in this context that language appeared. Evidence suggests that language originally evolved to reduce the costs, increase the accuracy, and expand the domains of teaching. That explanation accounts for many properties of language, including its uniqueness, power of generalization, and the fact that it is learned.
All of the elements that have underpinned the development of human cognitive abilities – encephalization (the evolutionary increase in the size of the brain), tool use, teaching, and language – have one key characteristic in common: the conditions that favored their evolution were created by cultural activities, through selective feedback. As theoretical, anthropological, and genetic studies all attest, a co-evolutionary dynamic – in which socially transmitted skills guided the natural selection that shaped human anatomy and cognition – has underpinned our evolution for at least 2.5 million years.
Our potent capacity for imitation, teaching, and language also encouraged unprecedented levels of cooperation among individuals, creating conditions that not only promoted longstanding cooperative mechanisms such as reciprocity and mutualism, but also generated new mechanisms. In the process, gene-culture co-evolution created a psychology – a motivation to teach, speak, imitate, emulate, and connect – that is entirely different from that of other animals.
Evolutionary analysis has shed light on the rise of the arts, too. Recent studies of the development of dance, for example, explain how humans move in time to music, synchronize their actions with others, and learn long sequences of movements.
Human culture sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Grasping its scientific basis enriches our understanding of our history – and why we became the species we are

 

The Intricate Web of Indo-US Ties

Some medical jokes are a bit cruel. Like this one we used on an upstart respiratory specialist: “He put the chest piece, and asked the patient to “inspire”. The patient inspired. He then asked him to expire the patient ex………!”
To inhale, and then to exhale is a binary process, that signifies breathing, the most essential sign that a being is alive. It is not entirely capricious, that what one exhales is not the same as what one inhales. The body extracts the necessary amount of oxygen and throws out carbon dioxide and other trace gases, which if retained, can be toxic.
Diplomatic ties, no matter what be the intensity or distance, run on the same principles. Herein comes a different form of breathing, worked over centuries that popularly is being sworn as beneficial for the body.
In science, diplomacy not ignored, (they are not mutually exclusive) one has not understood why inhaling from one nostril, and exhaling from the other, further using abdominal muscles, somehow changes the metabolic pattern to attain the said benefits of the practice of “Aalom-Vilom”.
Indo-US ties, have been like two people agreeing to stay in a room for a while. Even without doing much in terms of paperwork, the process of inhalation-exhalation goes on. You get your oxygen in in an oxygen rich room. You exhale back something which the other has agreed to accept.
Naturally, the one who arranges the room decides the timings and tenure. In case you have consumed more than what was in the inventory, you are sent a bill! But this is as per rules.
Firstly, there is publicity that you were invited. Lastly, there is a joint statement photo-ops that there is a wider understanding on world order, a rethinking on removing certain trade blocks, and a decided commitment towards a better peace and greenery all around.
Actually, that is the way the world runs. No country is obliged to do good to another against its own advantage. No country shall, as per the master-book of diplomacy shun or castigate another, because it has business to do with the other one too.
What, comes in to play is circumstance and providence, if the term is real and acceptable. Time and tide make countries look in the same direction. That a particular country has gained worth, that the other needs to cash on, are the real meeting points. In the end, every such meeting is declared a “success”, or at the least success in the making.
Coming to the adaptability between PM Modi and President Trump. They have a lot in common. Mr Modi has the exposure and has sharpened his skills in having gone round the world three times in three years.
Even the present trip has been designed with a touchdown in Netherlands and Portugal, where he savoured a special Gujarati meal. True, Portugal supplies us, though with a rider, the “most wanted” on our list—from Mr Abu Salem, Mr lalit Modi, Mr Mallya. I presume there is some business to be settled, which need not be the concern of the common man.
Governments have a certain right to their hanky-panky! What the press has not highlighted much, besides his ground level popularity, is that he enjoys the confidence of India Inc. That today is a trump card in bargaining! Despite the inadvertent domestic flak!
President Trump, to hold one of the largest real estate Empires, and then to go for the White House, is a very sharp learner. To show a disposition towards indecision, and commensurate ignorance, is actually his “Trump” card. This particular meeting was announced two months ago, when he was perhaps three months into his President ship!
Red carpets, grand meals, cocktails shall be there, but both PM Modi and President Trump are power tea/coffee—sandwich men. They somewhere share the same software, and shall be trying to cut the same cake!
Don’t expect everything on your wish list. I mean your dreams about visas, education. It may not be all music.
The issues shall be more on trade (Indian assembled iphones are here, Ford chooses India as its base, japan joining in making F-16s, which may become passenger planes by then).
Healthcare issues shall be on high bargain, a second attempt to repeal and float the healthcare bill, not finding enough water to swim. This time they are cutting on Medicaid, still maintaining high tax-cuts for the rich. India may have to pick up responsibility with its low-cost yet efficient pharma, and healthcare manpower from nursing to the super-specialists.
Any defence ties? Not the brunt of this article.
So, back to the relevance of Aalom-Vilom, and political manoeuvring for PM Modi? I have often thought of a physiological reason why inhaling from one nostril, and exhaling from another should make any difference to the total oxygen received by the body.
Can’t reveal the actual science behind this. But imagine, during an interaction, if the guy opposite closes his eyes and goes into such a hissing trance, he immediately gets a psychological upper hand!
There are no winners or losers in Aalom-Vilom. It balances as diplomacy does. The only precaution, is that if you continue doing it one way, you may end up with one-nostril bigger than the other! The same rules apply for diplomacy!
Baba Ramdevji, the only super model after the indefatigable Bacchan Saheb, may kindly send me a couple of “Dantkantis”. Teeth in this country are mostly used to get a bigger bite.
Teeth maintaining products are made and sold on bigger barks!
Many are the advantages of an in-form PM, meeting an emerging unconventional head of a superpower—–who admirably stoops to confuse!
“Once the Xerox copier was invented, diplomacy died.”
– Andrew Young

Bond between Chinese & American Women over Ages

Apparently belonging to different words, there has been a close connection, a feminine bonding, between women living in China and in the USA. It was on a clear morning in May 1865, Adele Fielde landed in the British colony of Hong Kong after a stormy 149-day voyage on a tea ship from New York. A friend had squeezed Fielde, suffering from a high fever, into her wedding gown, and now she waited on deck for her fiancé, a Baptist missionary from New York named Cyrus Chilcott. The pair had gotten engaged in America, planned to reconnect in Hong Kong, marry, and then head to Bangkok to preach to Chinese migrants there.
A rowboat approached, but Chilcott was not on board. Fielde learned from the boatman that typhoid fever had struck down her fiancé several months earlier while she was in the middle of the Pacific. So Fielde now found herself, as she would write later, “in appalling desolation alone on the shores of Asia.” The ship’s captain advised her to return to the United States. She set out for Bangkok instead as one of the first single women to work as a missionary in Asia.
After several years in Bangkok, Fielde moved to a Baptist mission in Shantou, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) up the coast from Hong Kong. There she founded a school, The Path of Brightness, which constituted the first formal literacy program for women in modern Chinese history. She led a wave of American women who traveled to China as conveyors of values, builders of institutions, and symbols in a changing China. Calling her students “Bible women,” Fielde broadened the curriculum to include hygiene, child care, basic medical skills, and geography so that her missionary work began to resemble less an evangelical enterprise than an early version of the Peace Corps.
A farmer’s daughter, born in 1839 in upstate New York, Fielde grew up in a time when the great social and feminist issues of the 19th century were rousing a generation. Women in the North had battled slavery, and after the Civil War, they demanded opportunities. Women’s colleges opened. By the time Fielde was 25, she herself was the principal of a girls’ school. Because of Fielde and pioneers like her, the American missionary endeavor in Asia and particularly in China became a profoundly feminine one. Women, especially single women, would soon make up the largest share of American missionaries overseas.
Freedom and opportunity in China
Fielde’s story illustrates the powerful ties that continue to bind Chinese and American women to this day. To Fielde and other pioneers like her, China offered freedom and opportunity at a time when educated American women faced limited career options at home. American women were surgeons in China when they were denied entry into operating rooms in America. They chaired university departments when only a few of them were teaching at the college level in the United States. They ran Christian missions with scores of employees when few of them could get management positions in the United States.
Elizabeth Reifsynder was an American surgeon. This image depicts her removing a massive cyst from a patient in China at a time when few American women were allowed into the operating room back home.
Fielde and her American sisters also started a tradition of spearheading the extraordinary advances made by women in China. Fielde’s generation helped unchain Chinese women from the home and attacked foot binding, contributing to the single biggest human rights advance in modern Chinese history. American missionaries took the lead in educating Chinese girls and in providing them with role models for a new kind of life. Fielde and her American sisters fought female infanticide, setting out baskets beside lakes with a note that read: “Place your babies here. Do not throw them into the pond.”
American women missionaries also showed Chinese women that there was more to life than having babies. Although American female missionaries were supposed to be priming their Chinese charges for a life of marital bliss with a Christian husband, the message became muddled because so many of the Americans, like Fielde, remained single themselves. As such, their Chinese sisters modeled themselves on what their American teachers, doctors, and adoptive mothers did, not what they said. In 1919, the entire inaugural graduating class of Jinling Women’s College of Arts and Sciences, an American-funded missionary school in Nanjing and the first university in China to grant bachelor’s degrees to women, took an oath not to marry. “I loved to be alone, it was in general the attitude of the woman of our time,” wrote Xu Yizhen 徐亦蓁, a member of that first class.
To be sure, women from other countries vied for influence in China: anarchists from Russia, revolutionaries from France. But none could match the Americans in number or influence. Americans defined what it meant to be a “new woman” on the cusp of a new century. Americans barged into China’s classrooms, hospitals, kitchens, and bedrooms to fashion what Baptist missionary leader Lucy Waterbury Peabody called “a new woman abroad.”
Returning to the U.S. on vacation in the 1870s and 1880s, Adele Fielde was a huge hit in churches nationwide. Her open letters to American churches were so popular that they were collected in a book called Pagoda Shadows, published in 1884. The first edition sold out in a week, and it went through six printings. In it, Fielde described Chinese dress, weddings, festivals, funerals, and medicine. She referred repeatedly to the low regard in which Chinese society held its women; the torture of foot binding; how Chinese women became property when they married; and how they obtained power in the family only by bearing sons. Fielde surveyed 160 of her Bible women and found that they had personally killed 158 unwanted baby girls — and not a single boy.
A third-edition print ofPagoda Shadows, the collection of Adele Fielde’s open letters to American churches from China.
There was nothing either obvious or inevitable about America’s abiding fascination with the Middle Kingdom, but American women were entranced by Fielde’s China, with its rich tableau of exotica and its universal humanity. Fielde had succeeded in her goal: to create a bond between American and Chinese women.
Of course, influence has never flown in only one direction. Chinese women moved their American sisters as well. In the 1910s, heated debates raged in the dormitories of Smith College and other American women’s universities over who was the greatest living woman: the social worker Jane Addams or the medical missionary Shi Meiyu 石美玉, known throughout the United States at the time as Mary Stone. Today, Mary Stone’s name has been all but forgotten, but for decades she moved seamlessly back and forth between the two countries, fundraising in America for her hospitals in China. Hundreds of Americans followed Stone to China to devote themselves to China’s cause.
China style — too hot for China
China’s appeal was expressed in other ways, too. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Chinese-American actress and laundryman’s daughter, Anna May Wong 黄柳霜, epitomized the style of the era. In 1934, the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York named Wong the “world’s best-dressed woman.” She was the first star to sport bangs. Four years later, Look magazine called her the “world’s most beautiful Chinese girl.” Rumors of prodigious liaisons littered the gossip columns, but her most serious affair ran aground on a California law that prohibited whites and Asians from marrying. Nonetheless, in fertile U.S. soil, Anna May Wong planted a commanding image of a sexy, alluring, and powerful Asian woman.
In the country of her ancestors, Anna May Wong ignited conflicting emotions. When she visited China for the first time in February 1936, thousands flocked to the Shanghai docks and crowded along the Huangpu River to catch a glimpse of the American star. A month later in Hong Kong, a mob shouted, “Down with Anna May Wong, the stooge that disgraces China!”
Wong was too hot for the Confucianist prudes and the equally prissy Chinese left. Her star power defied traditional Chinese notions of propriety even as her beauty, talent, and charisma stirred her fans. Wong embodied the enticing mix of threat and appeal that America has always represented to the Chinese. Faced with a freewheeling American sex symbol, and an ethnically Chinese one at that, Chinese critics reacted with profound unease.
“One of the outstanding women of all the Earth”
That mixture of glamor, sex appeal, and smarts found its ultimate embodiment in Soong Mayling 宋美龄, the wife of China’s leader Chiang Kai-shek. Soong Mayling defined China for generations of Americans. On February 18, 1943, at the height of the Second World War, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, as she was known, became the first private citizen and the first woman to address Congress. In the House, Texas congressman Sam Rayburn introduced her as “one of the outstanding women of all the Earth.” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt told her diary that as she watched Mayling come down the aisle in the Senate, escorted by tall white politicians, she “could not help a great feeling of pride in her as a woman.” It was a deep illustration of the warp and woof that bound the U.S. to China: a Chinese woman, raised in Shanghai, educated in the Deep South and New England, then steeled in wartime Chongqing, returning to the United States to inspire American women. As Time magazine observed, “Tough guys melted.” One congressman said, “Goddam it…I never saw anything like it, Madame Chiang had me on the verge of bursting Into tears.”
Holding up half the sky
In the modern era, the cross-pollination between Chinese and American women has never stopped. In the 1960s, the American feminists drew inspiration from Chairman Mao Zedong’s aphorism that women “hold up half the sky” (妇女能顶半边天 fùnǚ néng dǐng bànbiāntiān) and modeled their consciousness-raising exercises on the “speak bitterness” campaigns used during China’s land reform movement in the 1950s. Once the two countries reopened communication in the 1970s, China continued to serve as a stage for American women. For years in the 1980s, Virginia Kamsky’s highly successful Beijing-based consulting firm hired mostly women. In 1995, Hillary Clinton’s speech to the UN International Women’s Conference resuscitated her political career. Clinton’s speech got a huge response from the delegates in Beijing. Women lined up for her to autograph copies of the address. A New York Times editorial declared that it “may have been her finest moment in public life.” Once again, China was the place where American women could accomplish things they could not at home.
Clinton’s speech resumed the tradition of mutual inspiration between American and Chinese women. One of the delegates at the International Women’s Conference was Guo Jianmei 郭建梅, who had been sent to cover Clinton’s speech for the All-China Women’s Federation. She looked at it as a task. But when she heard Clinton declare that “women’s rights are human rights,” she thought, “I have found a soul mate.” Clinton, Guo later told a Chinese interviewer, “shines with the light of wisdom, self-reliance, and self-confidence.” If Mother Teresa symbolizes “love,” Guo said, Hillary stood for “wisdom.” Inspired by the conference, Guo became a pioneering feminist and opened a legal-aid center for women in Beijing.
Of course, Clinton was not working alone. In the 1990s, Americans helped to resuscitate the women’s movement in China. Led by the Ford Foundation, Americans poured millions of dollars into projects for Chinese women. They bankrolled independent women’s organizations, a hotline for advice on sexual discrimination, a magazine for rural women, a sex-ed center for youth, and a women’s law center. Ford funded the translation into Chinese of the 1970s classic Our Bodies, Ourselves along with other feminist tomes.
The Feminist Five
Chinese women have also continued to stir their American counterparts. In March 2015, Chinese security officials expanded their assault on China’s nascent civil society to the women’s movement, detaining five women in three cities on suspicion of “picking quarrels.” The women, known as the Feminist Five, had planned to distribute leaflets and stickers on March 8, International Women’s Day, to protest groping on public transport, a widespread problem in China’s packed subways and buses. The Feminist Five represented a young, creative approach to women’s issues. All of them had studied how American feminists had organized campaigns in the U.S. And now, across America, thousands signed petitions calling for their release.

 

Clash of Nationalisms: Inclusionary and Exclusionary versions

It may not be the Cold War redux. But a war of world views is in full swing. It isn’t communism versus capitalism; it isn’t old-style fascism versus liberalism. It is an escalating global war between rising forces of nationalist populism and the idea of liberal democracy.
The Brexit vote last year approving Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union was an initial shot fired by an inward looking, England-first majority of voters. Then came the shocker of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. Open-minded, tolerant people gasped, wondering whether the liberal democratic world order would soon disintegrate.
This week came a breather. Liberal democracy won the battle for Holland. The white Christian nationalist Geert Wilders, who many thought had a chance of winning and becoming prime minister, lost decisively. Over 80% of the electorate voted and the populist right got just 13.1% of the vote. But the genie of intolerance is out, in Holland and the rest of Europe.
Its baleful influence, aggravated by the Syrian refugee crisis but unleashed earlier by the opportunistic stoking of nativist fears of a white Christian Europe being swamped by a brown-black tide, continues to haunt the continent. We await the outcomes of elections coming up in France and Germany that will critically affect the future course of nationalist populism.
Elsewhere – in Erdogan’s Turkey, Duterte’s Philippines, and Putin’s Russia – liberal democracy, which can only thrive in a climate of tolerance, is under assault. In the world’s largest two democracies, India and the US, populism has gained the upper hand and proponents of tolerant liberalism struggle to retain popular appeal. The contest is on.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi consolidated his populist style of leadership with resounding electoral victories in UP and Uttarakhand. BJP didn’t quite win those states as a political party; it was Modi who crafted the victories with his brand of personalised politics. His style combines a can-do personal image framed within a Hindutva-defined national identity. It has worked electorally so far in a large swath of the country. However, the exceptional structure of a linguistically and ethnically diverse India, coupled with myriad streams within Hinduism, is unlikely to allow the imposition of a singular national-religious identity, outside perhaps a cricket stadium.
In the US, the battle over what is the idea of America intensifies by the day. Meanwhile, not only have hate crimes risen sharply in frequency since the election of President Trump, but what were nativist dog-whistles during the election campaign have become clarions blown openly by far right ideologues who play key roles in the administration and in the legislative arena.
Thus when Republican congressman Steve King, who has a history of bigoted statements, endorses white nationalism by tweeting “We can’t restore our civilisation by somebody else’s babies”, after expressing admiration for Geert Wilders, he is openly lauded by David Duke, grand wizard of the racist Ku Klux Klan. Trump’s close adviser Steve Bannon, who many see as the brain behind a planned deconstruction and remaking of the United States, has said often he is a fan of a 1970s French novel, ‘The Camp of the Saints’, which is an outright racist tract about an invasion of the white world by dark skinned people. Conspiracy theories fanning fears about the survival of the white nation abound in an atmosphere in which facts are seen as overrated.
Nationalism as an ideology is inevitable, even necessary, in a world that began to be organised into nation-states a little over three centuries ago. It is a primary adhesive sentiment in an age in which nations have become the dominant global vehicle of group identity.
But there seem to be two distinct nationalisms: inclusionary and exclusionary. One symbolises loyalty to a nation that is tolerant, accommodative and open to evolving cultures and mores. The other advocates a nation which must resist diversity and construct an exclusive ethno-religious identity that must be defended against any dilution the Other might bring into society.
The first kind is the default option for large, diverse nations like India and the United States. I think the second kind, while more suited to small ethnically homogenous nations, won’t survive long amidst the hurricane of change, technological and civilisational, that is buffeting the globe.

The paradox of progress : Time to rethink the meaning of work

The value of your work should not be determined by your paycheck. A great deal has been written in recent years about the perils of automation. With predicted mass unemployment, declining wages, and increasing inequality, clearly we should all be afraid.
By now it’s no longer just the Silicon Valley trend watchers and technoprophets who are apprehensive. In a study that has already racked up several hundred citations, scholars at Oxford University have estimated that no less than 47% of all American jobs and 54% of those in Europe are at a high risk of being usurped by machines. And not in a hundred years or so, but in the next 20. “The only real difference between enthusiasts and skeptics is a time frame,” notes a New York University professor. “But a century from now, nobody will much care about how long it took, only what happened next.”
I admit, we’ve heard it all before. Employees have been worrying about the rising tide of automation for 200 years now, and for 200 years employers have been assuring them that new jobs will naturally materialize to take their place. After all, if you look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment. In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes was predicting that we’d all be working just 15-hour weeks by the year 2030. Yet, since the 1980s, work has only been taking up more of our time, bringing waves of burnouts and stress in its wake.
Meanwhile, the crux of the issue isn’t even being discussed. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: what actually constitutes “work” in this day and age?
What is “work” anyway?
In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless.
They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.
Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect.
So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”
The paradox of progress
It starts with an age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Most people would say the meaning of life is to make the world a little more beautiful, or nicer, or more interesting. But how? These days, our main answer to that is: through work.
Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless?
That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.
The irony is that technological progress is only exacerbating this crisis. Historically, society has been able to afford more bullshit jobs precisely because our robots kept getting better. As our farms and factories grew more efficient, they accounted for a shrinking share of our economy. And the more productive agriculture and manufacturing became, the fewer people they employed. Call it the paradox of progress: the richer we become, the more room we have to waste our time. It’s like Brad Pitt says in Fight Club: too often, we’re “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
The time has come to stop sidestepping the debate and home in on the real issue: what would our economy look like if we were to radically redefine the meaning of “work”? I firmly believe that a universal basic income is the most effective answer to the dilemma of advancing robotization. Not because robots will take over all the purposeful jobs, but because a basic income would give everybody the chance to do work that is meaningful.
I believe in a future where the value of your work is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give. I believe in a future where the point of education is not to prepare you for another useless job, but for a life well lived. I believe in a future where “jobs are for robots and life is for people.”
And if basic income sounds Utopian to you, then I’d like to remind you that every milestone of civilization – from the end of slavery to democracy to equal rights for men and women – was once a Utopian fantasy too. Or, as Oscar Wilde wrote long ago: “Progress is the realization of Utopias.”

 

Model states

Rogue, terrorist, or evil states: there are so many states which have poor track records internally or externally. But are there states that can be held up as role models?
First we must establish a set of criteria for identifying model states. Some admire wealthy states; others technologically advanced states and some those with militarily might. For me, model states must be economically successful, and invest in their people. They should also be democratic and excel on social indicators and human rights standards. They must behave responsibly regionally and globally and lead in the establishment of an equitable global order. So which states score high?
One must start with the world’s economic, technological and military leader the US, surely in a class of its own on these dimensions. But once we judge it on social and political issues, it falls atrociously short. The quality of its democracy has been falling for decades as the role of big money in politics has increased. Its social indicators, eg poverty, divorce, and crime, are amongst the worst among developed states.
It does not take climate change seriously. It has an appalling human rights record from Vietnam to Latin America. It is the biggest block in the way of the emergence of a just global economic and political order. All this was true even before Trump made things much worse.
But if the US suffers from all these problems, its main enemies have their own sets of issues. Russia, China and Iran are its biggest adversaries, not in terms of standing against the US for a more just world order but to make the order more amenable to their own interests. Additionally, all three also have terrible domestic human rights records, unlike the US. Thus, their adversity with the US carries little promise of progressive change globally.
Which state can set a good example? Tariq Ali’s Latin American Axis of Hope states (Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela) deserve credit for challenging US hegemony boldly and aiming for egalitarian societies. But the lack of democracy in Cuba and its undermining in Venezuela as well as their economic woes make it difficult to project them as model states.
My love for democracy exceeds my antipathy towards capitalism. So, if I have to choose between a state which is anti-capitalist but also undemocratic and a state which is capitalist but democratic, I will generally choose the latter. The ideal of course would be a state which is both democratic and non-capitalist. But such a state does not exist yet.
Many developed states in Europe and East Asia, eg Japan and Germany, do better overall than the US on these dimensions. But among developed states, I would rank Scandinavian states the highest. They rival the US on many non-size-related economic indicators, e.g., competitiveness and innovation, and have far superior social indicators. They have taken greater strides than others to set up egalitarian, environmentally sustainable societies. They do not have the atrocious human rights record globally that the US, Russia etc. hold and are among the most generous donors for poor states.
The one area where one should critique them is about not being more vocal against the unfair global order that the US leads and in fact they indirectly do benefit from it given the complex nature of global economy. Still, it is difficult to think of states which do better than the Scandinavian states on the criteria I mentioned earlier.
It is impossible to identify developing states that do very well on all those criteria. But there are some which have done better than other developing states in avoiding internal and regional conflicts or high crime; maintaining acceptable levels of democracy; attaining some economic stability and investing in their populations.
While most of sub-Saharan Africa has seen conflict, poverty and autocracy, Botswana has established itself as stable democracy and economy, at peace internally and regionally. Its natural resources and ethnic homogeneity have helped. Mauritius is another state which has done well even without these two factors. In Asia, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have done better than others on all these dimensions though both have mistreated ethnic minorities. In the Americas, Costa Rica and parts of the Caribbean do well. But all these are small states. Among larger states, Brazil and Indonesia do better than others..

 

Thirsty Till Advent of Rains

I am not a superstitious person and have no faith in Zodiac signs. One cannot divide billions of people into 12 silly categories, their lives determined by gemstones and colours to wear or avoid. In fact, the way the dice are loaded since at least three years for Indians, for every person of reason born on a given day there would be two or more gaurakshaks (cow protectors) arriving bang on that very moment.
T.S. Eliot and Arundhati Roy gave us two months of the calendar year — April and May — to ponder in their own disarmingly languorous ways, however. “April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.” Eliot published The Waste Land in 1922, and, at the risk of double guessing his intent I would see it as a melancholic attempt to address the apparent loss of cultural identity after the First World War.
Roy wrote her heart-tugging fiction — The God of Small Things — 20 years ago. Her next novel is due for worldwide release on June 6. I am privileged to have read it, as were (or should be) a clutch of Delhi-based journalists, all given a proof of the book but only after signing a bond of confidentiality. We are told William Shakespeare made up for the lack of a similar legal instrument in his time by not writing a full play in a single volume but by assigning specific scenes and dialogues to each actor separately. All I can say without revealing much is that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a treat to read again and again, and I’ll give you the compelling reasons when allowed to.
Meanwhile, let’s go back to the description of the particular month that Roy began her first book with, one which has inescapable shades of Eliot. It also has a happy and tragic universality about it. “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dust-green trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.”
The absurd life of Roy’s bluebottles is underscored by their fatal and inevitable missteps. Or do bluebottles suffer from an unadvertised death wish? Elsewhere in May — May 21, 1991 — a female suicide bomber, later to be identified as a Tamil Tiger from Sri Lanka, was carrying out a final rehearsal for the meticulously planned rendezvous with Rajiv Gandhi later that night, a precision moment she is thought to have practised several times over.
The massive blast was not an aggrieved Tamil versus a wily Indian kind of rage. An opposite variant was equally sinister. Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana de Silva, an unbridled Sinhalese chauvinist, was a Sri Lankan sailor before he became an astrologer. It was he as a navy cadet who assaulted Rajiv Gandhi with a rifle butt at a military guard of honour. Heads, a Sinhalese; tails, a Tamil. Choose. Two years after Gandhi’s murder, a bicycle bomb blew up Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-first president Premadasa. That was on May 1, 1993.
May must be etched in many minds for a few other reasons than for the fact that in Ayemenem, during the month, “the nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation”. The sullen nuclear tests by India, one in 1974 and two in 1998 — were carried out in May. Pakistan responded with its own two in the Chagai hills of Balochistan within days. Just as the nights are clear in Kottayam, Roy’s turf, the days are equally clear in northern India.
Occasionally, the clarity offers support to some dark intent, for instance, to verify a technology that would bring all strife and debate, love and hatred, religion and the questioning spirit, the rich and the poor jostling for advantage against each other to “stun themselves to death against clear windowpanes.”
On another insanely hot day this month, three years ago, millions of Indians elected the bluebottle way of fruity life for themselves. They chose Narendra Modi as prime minister on May 14, 2014. Neighbours showed up for his coronation with hopes of a share in the peace pie. Since 20 million Indians were promised jobs, and each family was promised Indian Rs1.5m from the loot to be retrieved from Swiss and other banks — on both counts a false claim — the neighbours too would rejoice in India’s discovery of its soul. The swearing-in happened exactly a day before the nation usually remembered its first prime minister with an admixture of love and doubt, on his death anniversary on May 27.
This May should also be remembered for its cornucopia of outlandish riches — $900 billion in China’s save-the-world-from-poverty investment, a $350bn envelope to President Trump to help Muslims defeat each other, and a $250bn Indian plan to turn its traders into manufacturers of sophisticated weapons.
Given the impact the searing heat can have on one’s ability to reason, I should wait for the pre-monsoon showers due next month to usher Roy’s book before commenting on some hothead actor’s call (May 21) to harm her in unspeakable ways. The actor, a BJP MP from Gujarat, has evidently fallen on bad times and needs a moment of cheer from friendly TV channels. It is of course irrelevant that Paresh Rawal was born on May 30.

The Changing Face of Chinese Overseas Investment

Two Chinese initiatives – “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) and “International Production Cooperation” – encapsulate President Xi Jinping’s views on overseas investment. Both slogans are supported by development approaches (the former in Eurasia, the latter globally) that signal China’s desire to forge a new model of globalization built on mutual cooperation.
Chinese enterprises are already taking these investment cues seriously. By 2020, China’s overseas assets are forecast to triple, to $20 trillion, from $6.4 trillion today. But moving quickly to invest in overseas projects, while appealing to many, carries great risks – and could mean high debt – if not managed properly. If Chinese companies, both state- and privately-owned, are to benefit from the leadership’s new vision, they must learn from past failures, and adapt their priorities for the long term.
One key area where China is trying to refashion its outward investment strategy is in Latin America. In recent years, China has vigorously sought to recast its bilateral diplomatic and economic ties to the region. The publication in November 2016 of the second Sino-Latin American and Caribbean policy document (which followed Xi’s visit to Latin America the same month) has created a unique opportunity to deepen bilateral investment, by placing it in a more cooperative framework. Previous approaches, often backed by risky loans that in some cases turned bad, hurt Chinese investors.
The new policy explicitly encourages Chinese enterprises to work with local businesses in sectors like logistics, electricity, and information systems, and it promotes interaction among business, community, and government leaders. Equally important, the policy also expands the availability of Chinese funding, credits, and insurance to investors. Taken together, this holistic approach is something new for China.
Despite considerable political uncertainty in a number of countries in Latin America, governments the region appear keen to meet China’s reform efforts with changes of their own.
For example, Brazil’s government has promoted an “Investment Partnerships Program” to coordinate investments in the finance and transportation infrastructure sectors. In Argentina, President Mauricio Macri’s government has introduced investor-friendly policies to restore confidence after years of political and economic isolation for the country. And in Mexico, structural reforms to increase competition in the telecommunications and electricity sectors, alongside other policies, have curbed inflation and boosted resilience to external shocks, and are expected to help return the country to a primary budget surplus.
With so many country-specific reforms underway, Latin America can serve as a testing ground for China’s new approach to overseas investment. But policy documents and bilateral agreements are just two components of China’s new “going out” strategy. Chinese businesses must change how they think about and act upon foreign investment opportunities.
The traditional Chinese investment model – mergers and acquisitions – is no longer appropriate, because concentrated M&A activity entails tremendous risk. And, unfortunately, that risk has multiplied in recent years. China’s overseas M&As jumped from 5% of the global total in 2011 to 20% in the first half of 2016, reaching some $13 billion in value. According to data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce, non-financial outward direct investment exceeded $170 billion in 2016, a 44.1% increase from 2015.
This trend has been unprecedented for China, which overtook Japan for the first time last year to become the world’s second-largest overseas investor, behind only the United States. But it has also been poorly thought out. The biggest problem is that such concentrated acquisitions have increased leverage, and a higher debt-equity ratio carries a greater risk of downgrading. Historically, roughly 25% of all enterprises are downgraded after an M&A. Such a scenario would be particularly painful for Chinese firms, given their lack of experience with the significant integration and management challenges that M&As pose for any business.
Given these risks, the most important priority for Chinese firms as they interpret the government’s new vision for overseas investment – whether in Latin America or elsewhere – is to stick to the principle of sustainability. Indeed, “long term” must be the strategic starting point.
The OBOR and International Production Cooperation strategies have a commitment to long-term partnerships at their core, and investments that presuppose many years of engagement will complement both frameworks. Only if the financial base is solid, growth prospects sustainable, and multi-year collaboration in place will an investment support the government’s strategy.
Another priority in considering new overseas investment is to consider fully the goals of “international production cooperation.” The aim here is to encourage the transfer of production capacity to other countries, in order to strengthen the “global industrial chain” in mutually beneficial ways. It is imperative to avoid using direct Chinese investment for the short-term export of production capacity, which would not be in China’s interest – and often not in the recipient’s interest, either.
For most equity investors, the value of any project depends to a large extent on effective post-investment management. Clear rights and obligations must therefore be carefully worked out at the start of an investment, something that has been all but absent previously. After all, an M&A is only the first step on a long road.
As Chinese firms invest overseas – as mine does currently in Latin America – they have a responsibility not only to invest wisely and sustainably for the sake of their companies, but also to integrate their strategies with China’s national investment priorities. Those are not mutually exclusive goals, especially if business leaders adhere to the newly articulated principles of sustainable investment and long-term engagement.

Christian Theology & Immigration

What does the Bible say about immigration? What do Church doctors and theologians say? Above all, what does the greatest of doctors, Saint Thomas Aquinas, say about immigration? Does his opinion offer some insights to the burning issues now shaking the nation and blurring the national borders? Looking at the debate over immigration, it is almost automatically assumed that the Church’s position is one of unconditional charity toward those who enter the nation, legally or illegally.
Immigration is a modern problem and so some might think that the medieval Saint Thomas would have no opinion about the problem. And yet, he does. One has only to look in his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, in the first part of the second part, question 105, article 3 (I-II, Q. 105, Art. 3). There one finds his analysis based on biblical insights that can add to the national debate. They are entirely applicable to the present.
Saint Thomas: “Man’s relations with foreigners are twofold: peaceful, and hostile: and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts.”
Commentary: In making this affirmation, Saint Thomas affirms that not all immigrants are equal. Every nation has the right to decide which immigrants are beneficial, that is, “peaceful,” to the common good. As a matter of self-defense, the State can reject those criminal elements, traitors, enemies and others who it deems harmful or “hostile” to its citizens.
The second thing he affirms is that the manner of dealing with immigration is determined by law in the cases of both beneficial and “hostile” immigration. The State has the right and duty to apply its law.
Saint Thomas: “For the Jews were offered three opportunities of peaceful relations with foreigners. First, when foreigners passed through their land as travelers. Secondly, when they came to dwell in their land as newcomers. And in both these respects the Law made kind provision in its precepts: for it is written (Exodus 22:21): ’Thou shalt not molest a stranger [advenam]’; and again (Exodus 22:9): ’Thou shalt not molest a stranger [peregrino].’”
Commentary: Here Saint Thomas acknowledges the fact that others will want to come to visit or even stay in the land for some time. Such foreigners deserved to be treated with charity, respect and courtesy, which is due to any human of good will. In these cases, the law can and should protect foreigners from being badly treated or molested.
Saint Thomas: “Thirdly, when any foreigners wished to be admitted entirely to their fellowship and mode of worship. With regard to these a certain order was observed. For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher says (Polit. iii, 1).”
Commentary: Saint Thomas recognizes that there will be those who will want to stay and become citizens of the lands they visit. However, he sets as the first condition for acceptance a desire to integrate fully into what would today be considered the culture and life of the nation.
A second condition is that the granting of citizenship would not be immediate. The integration process takes time. People need to adapt themselves to the nation. He quotes the philosopher Aristotle as saying this process was once deemed to take two or three generations. Saint Thomas himself does not give a time frame for this integration, but he does admit that it can take a long time.
Saint Thomas: “The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.”
Commentary: The common sense of Saint Thomas is certainly not politically correct but it is logical. The theologian notes that living in a nation is a complex thing. It takes time to know the issues affecting the nation. Those familiar with the long history of their nation are in the best position to make the long-term decisions about its future. It is harmful and unjust to put the future of a place in the hands of those recently arrived, who, although through no fault of their own, have little idea of what is happening or has happened in the nation. Such a policy could lead to the destruction of the nation.
As an illustration of this point, Saint Thomas later notes that the Jewish people did not treat all nations equally since those nations closer to them were more quickly integrated into the population than those who were not as close. Some hostile peoples were not to be admitted at all into full fellowship due to their enmity toward the Jewish people.
Saint Thomas: “Nevertheless it was possible by dispensation for a man to be admitted to citizenship on account of some act of virtue: thus it is related (Judith 14:6) that Achior, the captain of the children of Ammon, ‘was joined to the people of Israel, with all the succession of his kindred.’”
Commentary: That is to say, the rules were not rigid. There were exceptions that were granted based on the circumstances. However, such exceptions were not arbitrary but always had in mind the common good. The example of Achior describes the citizenship bestowed upon the captain and his children for the good services rendered to the nation.
These are some of the thoughts of Saint Thomas Aquinas on the matter of immigration based on biblical principles. It is clear that immigration must have two things in mind: the first is the nation’s unity; and the second is the common good.
Immigration should have as its goal integration, not disintegration or segregation. The immigrant should not only desire to assume the benefits but the responsibilities of joining into the full fellowship of the nation. By becoming a citizen, a person becomes part of a broad family over the long term and not a shareholder in a joint stock company seeking only short-term self-interest.
Secondly, Saint Thomas teaches that immigration must have in mind the common good; it cannot destroy or overwhelm a nation.
This explains why so many Americans experience uneasiness caused by massive and disproportional immigration. Such policy artificially introduces a situation that destroys common points of unity and overwhelms the ability of a society to absorb new elements organically into a unified culture. The common good is no longer considered.
A proportional immigration has always been a healthy development in a society since injects new life and qualities into a social body. But when it loses that proportion and undermines the purpose of the State, it threatens the well-being of the nation. When this happens, the nation would do well to follow the advice of Saint Thomas Aquinas and biblical principles. And that is what is happening now. The nation must practice justice and charity towards all, including foreigners, but it must above all safeguard the common good and its unity, without which no country can long endure.

 

Modi, Trump, and an East-of-Suez Epiphany

Amidst the low expectations surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first face-to-face encounter with President Donald Trump next week in Washington, there is one likely area of convergence the two leaders could explore. It is the prospect of America supporting a larger Indian role in securing the Subcontinent and the Indian Ocean.The shared interest in a Eurasian balance of power and a complementarity between an America shedding its global burdens under domestic pressure and a rising India taking larger responsibilities is not difficult to see. But here is the problem. The Washington establishment bristles at the idea of retrenchment and in Delhi, the strategic community wrings its hands at the thought of going beyond the Subcontinent. But Trump’s policies might compel both to think differently.
The effort to construct an India-US strategic partnership in the last two decades was based on the assumption that the American unipolar moment will endure. America looked at partnering a rising India to sustain US primacy in the Indo-Pacific. Delhi acknowledged American primacy, but was afraid of becoming a “junior” partner. It was concerned that US strategic indulgence towards Pakistan and China — the two main sources of India’s security challenges —may make Washington an unreliable partner.
As a result, the hype about India-US security cooperation never really lived upto its potential. As Trump challenges the traditional assumptions about America’s global role, there is an opportunity, slim though it might be, for Modi to explore a new framework for strategic cooperation with the United States. If Trump believes that an exhausted America must step back from being the first responder to Eurasian crises, Modi has talked up the idea of India as a leading power that must take greater regional and international responsibilities.
During his recent visit to Europe, Modi strongly committed India to the 2015 Paris accord on climate mitigation, after Trump walked out, claiming it imposes too many costs on the US economy. In Washington, though, the PM is unlikely to touch on climate change and other global issues. For “globalism” is a pejorative word in Trump’s lexicon.
But Modi can, and must, explore with Trump the theme of redistributing international security burdens. Trump thinks the US does too much, and Modi thinks India could do a lot more. Trump does not think that America is forever obliged to defend its friends at any cost. He wants the allies to spend more on building their own national defence capabilities or financially compensate America for its heavy lifting. Making it worse, from Trump’s perspective, is the proposition that while riding free on security cover, allies like Germany and Japan have run major trade surpluses with the United States.
For Trump, at least, this present arrangement is unacceptable. Trump may not have the political strength to radically alter the post-war arrangements amidst the intense hostility in Washington. But he may have unleashed a process that could lead to a major restructuring of US alliance burdens in Eurasia in the medium term.
While Trump’s personal style has put off many of America’s allies, they have begun to get the message. Both the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Europe and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Pacific have recently talked of the need to take charge of their destiny, and not rely only on America. Some are not waiting. Saudi Arabia, for example, has begun to act on its own in the Gulf and the Middle East.
Where does that leave Delhi? Until now, India has been hesitant to take on a regional security role beyond the Subcontinent. Its talk of “a net security provider” in the Indian Ocean had a nice ring to it; but not enough operational substance, thanks to the deep political and institutional resistance in the Indian establishment.
Twice before when the world beckoned India to take on a larger regional role, Delhi refused. In the aftermath of independence, there was the opportunity of India working with Britain for a regional order under the rubric of the Commonwealth. Although Pandit Nehru accepted the responsibilities of the Raj for the Subcontinent’s security, he was unwilling to back a Commonwealth military framework.
Two decades later, when Britain ended its security commitments “east of the Suez”, the post-Nehru India had neither
the political will, nor the material resources to consider regional security leadership. Its preference was to indulge in vacuous collective security rhetoric. As the Indian Ocean went through multiple convulsions from the 1970s, India has remained a mere bystander.
The US, which replaced Britain as the dominant power in the Indian Ocean in the 1970s, may now be headed to its own “east of Suez” moment, thanks to Trump. This retrenchment is unlikely to be orderly or brief. As America’s domestic politics becomes volatile and its international orientation unpredictable, the transition will be chaotic and extended. For the PM, this might be a good time to begin a conversation on whether and how America might reinforce a larger role for Delhi in the Indian Ocean littoral.

Of cattle and climate

“The time has come, as the Walrus said, to talk of many things,
Of ships and shoes and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings,
Of why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings” -Lewis Carrol
No one would have thought, that the time would come when the world would be seriously debating over aircraft carriers, the (North China) sea, of decimating a kingly empire (Brexit), of GM technology for farm produce (cabbages), and finally cattle (pigs or cows having wings), and the climate (boiling seas).
Not to mention that the level of dialogue and negotiations would seek the level of what Alice had at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The “queen of hearts” and the way she played her game, no longer appears a piece of imagination. It’s pretty close to the way the world runs!
Take cattle, the cow in particular. Election rhetoric and promises win majorities, but everyone who has come to power knows the next step is to descend to a level where winds are less stormy, and finally touchdown in what is termed as a soft landing.
That cows are respectable is a part of a culture, and indeed they provide milk and every other milk product. Wars have been fought for horses, and families still mourn the demise of a pet dog.
The cow over multiple eras assumed a holy status. It draws respect by a culture, as though it was a crucial family member. That instinct of protection perhaps is more deeply rooted in and sincerely followed that of the trendy PETA. One has to allow similar instincts of animals considered to be devilish, even unmentionable by other faiths and cultures.
The prohibitive instincts of consuming the flesh of either animal are equally enforced though one be a sin due to the commission, and the other a sin due to non-omission.
So, as civilizations moved on, livestock and its protection through belief, took deep roots in mindsets.
There have been periodic agitations, protests and skirmishes spurned out of reported instances of cow slaughter, to theft to supply to the leather industry. This indeed was allowed through actual instances or unbaked rumours that were to be divisive for the existing faiths.
Probably, no government found it worth to interfere, as division and deprivation, disrespect for another’s belief gave one an instant serving of the biggest chunk of the political cake.
Taking the present turmoil after enactment by the present government in a northern state, election fever settling down, it now becomes a matter of mature regulation. There may be penalties attached to cow stealing, or such arbitration that puts an end to the matter right away, with less abrasion as is possible. The matter also concerns hygienic storage and retailing of animal meat. Token of respect for each other may be established. The common man is running for other promises for his survival.
The next is a regulation for an animal that has become unproductive. A mechanism has to be made, where they are sent to “old age homes” for nurture as well as rehabilitation. It is here, that under approved laws the animal may be put to rest, to provide leather, meat whatever. It may be done in barricaded areas, so as not to excite public sensitivities. Think for a moment, is that not the end of all human flesh, except that human skin is not durable in the form of a package, nor does it have value as “fur”, in as much it is no longer fashionable to keep the patchy growths menfolk unless of course it is on the face!
Climate: Is Paris burning? Or is it just warming up? Who else but Donald Trump, president of the US, has the powers to suddenly withdraw and ask for a US re-negotiation of the Climate Treaty. This is just the inverted image of President Obama’s great stress to conclude the Heidelberg Summit.
It was a world event, with riders, where most of the developing countries asked for concessions to burn their fossil reserves to achieve a level of sustainability, to be able to afford less polluting refined fuel.
Taking a different point of view, it is just as well that India (lowest per-capita, but a higher total capita emissions), Europe and China should carry on the mantle. The world would be better with rotating responsibilities. India has stated 40% non- fossil energy by 2020. It’s a challenge, and perhaps time has come for the country to meet all global parameters on its own. Solar and nuclear energy would be the mainstay. Hydro may catch -up, but has a long gestation period.
The climate statement drew more resistance from US industry, its green lobbies, including ex Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore, than it drew from the rest of the world. It may not be binding for the moment, but it defines a larger US policy to dilute its involvement from matters that are becoming burdensome for its economy. It probably is banking on the wisdom of involving other countries in playing their role in global affairs.
Donald Trump has the instincts of a businessman—quick to dispose-off any loss- making venture, and yet keep the group’s share value high!
Quite certainly, we are in the midst of an era, that is about to set its record straight. I remember having seen “The Lion King” at Broadway.
So well done, but the message I carried was, Elton john’s “Circle of Life”. So simply explained to Simba, “The deer eats the grass, the wild goat eats the deer, the lion eats the goat, and finally the lion dies, and new grass grows from the spot where the lion fell!
But subtler message comes from Disney’s production of Kipling’s “Jungle Book”. Baloo the bear is so convinced, and therefore carefree about, “The simple bare necessities of life”! while Sher Khan is obsessed with controlling the whole jungle, which probably he never would!
Sher Khan notwithstanding, the peace in the jungle came from Baloo’s song!
I have a firm belief that “the cows shall come home” with well thought regulations, that respect sensitivities and the government would be working on this.
As for the “Climate” – “Wherever you go, take the weather with you”!
I think, I’ll take Aesop’s Fables sometime later

Vacancy: Free World Leader

The free world seeks a statesperson to fill a recently created leadership vacuum. The ideal candidate will have at least some experience of international diplomacy and be head of a democratically elected government.
As leader of the free world, you will be expected to speak up for human rights, democracy, and international cooperation. Consistent censure of repressive regimes and a perfect human-rights record of your own will be less important than the ability to judiciously use foreign aid, trade relationships, military force, and if necessary, covert ops, blackmail, and bribery to make the world a better place. Close but not overtly friendly relationships with brutal dictators are a core part of the job. Membership of NATO is a plus.
Requirements:
– Respect for, or at least lip-service to, human rights, press freedom, and the rule of law
– Willingness to look tyrants in the eye
– Belief in one’s own exceptionalism
– Ability to speak in complete sentences
– Army and economy massive enough to deter criticism of your own country’s human-rights record
Salary and benefits: This is an unpaid position, but the incumbent will be rewarded with a high horse, large international profile, and frequent accusations of hypocrisy. Performance-based perks include Nobel prizes, chapters in history books, and eye-watering speaking fees.
To apply, please send a clip of yourself taking an inconvenient stance against a well-known leader with widely-recognized autocratic bona fides.
Principal candidates
Name: Angela Merkel
Position: Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Let’s face it—the German chancellor is the most obvious choice. She brings 12 years’ experience running the world’s fourth-largest economy and is the de facto leader of its biggest trade bloc: the European Union. She’s hated totalitarianism ever since her upbringing in communist East Germany, has shown her warm-hearted credentials in accepting a million refugees—and isn’t one to back down from a fight. Case in point: This week, she publicly pressed Russia’s Vladimir Putin on issues including the torture and murder of LGBT men (paywall) in Chechnya. Days later, Putin said he would look into the matter (link in Russian).
Before you get carried away, though, note that she doesn’t come without her downsides. Never one to court the limelight, her gruff speaking style isn’t going to catch the world’s cameras when she dresses down nasty dictators. What’s more, there’s a good chance she could be out of office by year’s end. Oh, and after World War Two, the country she runs really isn’t keen on having another stab at world leadership; hence it doesn’t have nukes or much of a military, and wasn’t allowed a UN Security Council seat. Plus, she’s kind-of got her hands full keeping the EU together.

Name: Theresa May
Position: Prime minister of Great Britain & Northern Ireland
Theresa May, unlike Merkel, is very happy taking center-stage. She refers to herself as a “bloody difficult woman,” and proved that she isn’t afraid to look like one when she publicly pushed Donald Trump to give his backing to NATO. Her country is also oh-so-desperate to return to the glory days of empire (when it actually mattered), and has clung on to a few rusting nukes and a UN Security Council seat, giving May much more heft than an island that size ought to have. She’s also built up a fair few years of experience herself, and won the respect of European counterparts as Britain’s home secretary.
However, that goodwill hasn’t lasted long—and a country longing for international leadership isn’t necessarily a good thing. Britons’ yearning for times gone by has pushed them into isolationism, meaning May will be dealing with (increasingly hostile) Brexit talks and their outcomes for years. One of those outcomes might be a much smaller country. It’s also not clear how much she buys into the job; she doesn’t believe in “citizens of the world” and has a disquieting fondness for mass surveillance.
Name: Justin Trudeau
Position: Prime Minister of Canada
Isn’t Justin a darling? Good-looking, with a great nose for PR, he charmed the socks off us in his Skype interview. He’s made a name for himself as probably the world’s most prominent liberal, and doesn’t look like he’ll have too many domestic problems for the time being. Canada’s economy is fairly robust, and doing things that every other country seems to hate these days (like welcoming refugees or condemning Islamophobia) seems to only make him more popular at home.
The problem? Well… Canada, basically. Not exactly a world power, is it. Doesn’t have much of a military, no nukes, little sway at the UN. That lack of clout became awkwardly clear when Trudeau made a rousing promise to stand up to Trump for Canadian interests, but had no seeming impact on lumber tariffs. If all it takes to really hit your economy is some lumber tariffs, you might not be in a strong enough position for this job. (Also, whisper it quietly, but Justin hasn’t always proven as warm and fuzzy: Check out his record on the environment.)
Name: Emmanuel Macron
Position: President of France
Another young, good-looking crowd-pleaser, this French political upstart speaks fluent English and likes showing it off. As with Britain, he will—assuming those leaked emails don’t sink his chances and he’s elected on May 7—lead a country aching to reclaim its lost glory days as a world power. Again, nuclear weapons and that ever-handy Security Council seat will give him leverage. He got some human-rights credibility, as well as plenty of grief at home, for calling France’s colonial history in Algeria a “crime against humanity”—brave of him. And while some people will say he’s a lightweight, never underestimate someone who upended his country’s decades-old two-party system before the age of 40.
On the other hand, most of his pluses can also be seen as minuses. Do you really want an ex-colonial power yearning for greatness to be great again? Do you really want someone who doesn’t even have a political party, and so will probably struggle to govern at home, trying to lead the way abroad? Do you want someone whose chief achievement as economy minister was forcing through widely-despised labor reforms to be a beacon of human rights? And his sensitivity about France’s colonial history could, paradoxically, make him reluctant to lecture other countries—”let he who is without sin among you,” and so on. Might be a tall order.

Name: Tsai Ing-wen
Position: President of Taiwan
This might seem an odd suggestion, but bear with us. Taiwan is small but feisty, and so is president Tsai. She’s a vocal champion of democracy and freedom who is a pioneer in civic participation in government. Taiwan has the highest press freedom ranking in all of Asia and could be the first place in the region to make same-sex marriage legal. Tsai herself isn’t afraid to stand up to China, which considers Taiwan its province; she cheerfully took a phone call from Trump that upended decades of US-China protocol and has urged Communist Party to think differently and embrace “goodwill.”
The downsides are pretty obvious, though. Taiwan isn’t recognized as a country by most governments, so it has very little global influence. It’s upping its military spending, but that’s after years of decline. And Tsai can only afford to push China so far. She’d be more of a symbolic choice than a practical one, maybe.
Name: Narendra Modi
Position: Prime minister of India
We include Modi largely because he does, after all, oversee the world’s largest democracy. Also, its fastest-growing major economy, as China slows down. He’s a charismatic, popular speaker with a flair for the dramatic. Loves foreign travel, which is handy if you’re going around laying down international law. And those outfits! He would be sartorial leader of the free world, if nothing else.
You may, however, consider someone who takes criticism of his government in very bad grace to not be the best pick for criticizing others. More seriously, he’s setting a bad example by moving India towards religious nationalism and failing to stop attacks on minorities. The accusations that, as chief minister of Gujarat, he allowed anti-Muslim riots that killed over 1,000 people aren’t going away. And demonetization was a disaster for poor Indians, which makes us wonder whether Modi is really someone who can be relied on to look out for the little guy.
Name: Xi Jinping
Position: President of China
Don’t be too quick to dismiss Xi. It’s a topsy-turvy world these days, and he has many things in his favor. Leading the planet’s second-largest economy, with a growing global web of investments and alliances, he has more than enough heft to make other countries fall into line. Unlike some superpower presidents we could mention, he’s a deliberate, thoughtful diplomat. And what about that speech at Davos in January, where he positioned himself as the new champion of globalization? Xi has a clear interest in preventing the world order from sliding into isolationist intolerance.
However, we do have to acknowledge that appointing the world’s biggest (in population terms) autocrat as leader of the free world is not a good look. Especially as he’s currently consolidating his power further, cracking down on free speech (even in Hong Kong, where it’s guaranteed), jailing human-rights lawyers and political opponents, and letting state firms rip off investors. Plus, if he’s already leader of the not-free world, does he really need to be leader of the free one too?
Name: Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein
Current position: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Now this man is ideal in almost all respects. He’s been a UN peacekeeper; he played an important role in setting up the International Criminal Court. If you’re looking for a champion of human rights, well, that’s his entire job. He seems to be happy to criticize anyone who falls short on that score, including Arab governments—including his own country’s government, even though he’s the cousin of the king.
Drawbacks: Being beholden to no-one cuts both ways. It’s a little bit awkward that he wasn’t democratically elected; it’s a lot awkward that he doesn’t run a country, an army, or anything other than a UN bureaucracy. Still, given the alternatives, maybe worth a shot?
Name: Donald Trump
Position: President of the United States of America
This man of course created the vacancy you’re trying to fill by spurning the job of leader of the free world in the first place. We include him here for the sake of completeness. He controls the world’s biggest economy, military, and bully pulpit; has the world’s biggest ego; and won election by the biggest margin of any US president in 30 years, if you believe what he says.
So much for the pluses. On the minus side, he’s been rather a fan of people like Vladimir Putin (though that relationship seems to be cooling) and Rodrigo Duterte, whom he invited to the White House in a “very friendly” phone call—we wonder if his childrens’ business in the Philippines has anything to do with it? Appointing your daughter and son-in-law to be your closest advisers is also not something people aspiring to this role typically do, and Trump wants less press freedom, not more.
Still, he makes a virtue of being unpredictable, so who’s to say he won’t do a 180? Just a word of advice—if you need him to bomb anyone, make sure there’s somebody around to check the map first.

Terror of the witches’ prophecy

In a phenomenally wired world like ours, we should ideally be more enlightened and connected. The reality is the opposite, bordering on the occult. There seems to be more focus on the witches’ prophecy to divine the truth, in a manner of speaking, than on Macbeth’s lurking ambitions.
As revealed with damning proof by Messrs Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, people are being steadily shepherded towards the opaque, to become more bereft of rational reasoning than was their lot earlier.
Consider the readily advocated logic of more pervasive security — as opposed to an honest appraisal of the malaise, say, in the aftermath of the Manchester slaughter. Take any other devastating moment in any other part of the world — the attack on Christians in a bus in Egypt, on the heels of the Manchester carnage. It is not difficult for our frayed minds to grasp the link between the two tragedies.
Stretch the logic further though, and one feels a stubborn lack of comprehension, an inability to see the connection between the drowning of three-year old Alan Kurdi in the Mediterranean Sea on a bad day and the death of Saffie-Rose Roussos, the angelic eight-year-old who died in a Manchester music hall with 21 other mostly young beautiful people.
Jeremy Corbyn saw the link but Theresa May shouted him down. It’s useful to recall what he said just three days after the attack on one of Britain’s most cosmopolitan cities: “Many experts including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed out the connections between wars that we have been involved in, or supported or fought in other countries such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.”
That’s exactly what Bernie Sanders and Noam Chomsky have been saying too. Corbyn added, to be sure, that his “assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those that attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions”.
Traditionally, jumbling fair with foul is associated with witchcraft. There are no witches, of course, only humans playing their roles while blaming it on the supernatural. Professor Bradley likened the witches’ prophecy in Macbeth to “equivocation of the fiend”, which is a reasonably familiar human trait, is it not? It’s commonly called double-speak.
There are no witches, of course, only humans playing their roles while blaming it on the supernatural.. Three apparitions on the heath brought happy tidings to Macbeth, which are said to have contained the seeds of the hero’s doom, never mind his own lurking ambitions. Shakespeare’s use of the occult (or Bimal Roy’s for that matter) did not preclude rational thinking.
Cassius (like Corbyn in Manchester), we can recall, was quick to identify the material explanation for Brutus’s quandary. It was not the stars up there but human frailties within that nursed many of the world’s failures. The words from Julius Caesar were cushioned in dialectical reasoning, a rare commodity today.
It is difficult to see the Manchester tragedy without reference to Tony Blair and David Cameron who both took turns in stirring the witches’ brew. Ms May was a member of the Conservative establishment that hunted down Muammar Qadhafi, reportedly with the help of those that struck Manchester the other day. Both the former prime ministers equivocated through their teeth to adverse outcomes for their country and the wider world.
The Chilcot inquiry report hasn’t left a fig leaf for Blair to hide his complicity in the destruction of a secular Iraq, a country that could have saved many tragedies, possibly including the cold-hearted attack on the music halls in Manchester and Paris. And no inquiry is needed to determine Britain’s complicity in the ongoing dismantling of a secular Syria. The problem it seems is that all three — Syria, Libya and Iraq — were Cold War allies of Moscow.
History is replete with a range of compelling explanations for Manchester-like calamities. One could go back to Colonel T.E. Lawrence without disturbing the logic of cause and effect to explain the unending terror attacks stalking men, women and children. Without Lawrence setting up a kingdom of the most puritan sect of Muslims the story would be quite different.
My personal starting point to explain Manchester would be in Fez 1981. Often known for witchcraft and sorcery, the Moroccan resort was the venue of an Arab summit — two summits in fact, one failed and the other had to be revived.
When Salman Abedi blew himself up at the concert hall the president of the United States had just won billions of dollars of arms contract in Riyadh, which he followed up by a round of frolicking and sword dance with the Saudi royalty. Moments later, he was meeting his friend Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel when the Manchester terrorists struck. He called the attackers “losers” without saying who the winners were, if any.
Israel and Saudi Arabia were the topic at the Fez summit, but Saddam Hussein, Qadhafi and Hafez al-Assad boycotted it. Representing them instead were their deputies, Tariq Aziz, Abdusselam Jalloud, who later defected against his Libyan boss, and Abdul Halim Khaddam, Assad’s vice president.
The Saudi proposal was carried by crown prince Fahd. He sought a hurried Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist in return for a Palestinian state. Because of the Cold War or out of stubbornness by the big three, Fahd’s plan was thrown into the dustbin. The Shia-Sunni, Iran-Saudi narrative promoted by Riyadh was an afterthought. Remember that Riyadh’s first quarries, in collusion with Britain, were the Sunni PLO, the Sunni-ruled Iraq and the Sunni-ruled Libya.
An alternative way to understand the pain and suffering set off by mindless killers could require us to accept the witches’ mumbo jumbo: “Double, double toil and trouble;/ Fire burn and caldron bubble./ Cool it with a baboon’s blood, / Then the charm is firm and good.”
Taking the witches’ war dance in Macbeth seriously, as some of us can be lulled into doing, would require us to be looking for a baboon, a fall guy, but where? In Iran? China? Or perhaps in Moscow?

Dichotomy of Indian Complex About being White

The three main male deities worshiped by the multitudes in India are Shiva, Rama and Krishna. They all are dark-complexioned gods. But a growing number of dark-skinned (north) Indians want to be white and are looking for ways to have even their babies white and strong, in some cases ‘like the Germans’.
Movie idol Shahrukh Khan has made his pile promoting a whitening cream, whatever it may be, for men. Now a medical NGO reportedly linked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is advocating a method by which it claims to help short and coloured parents to produce tall, white children, all in the national cause.
Kundan Lal Sehgal sang his heart out for the inconsolable gopi who pined for Krishna, the dark one. How she struggled with the fact that Krishna’s consort Radha had an unfair advantage over her love for the much-loved deity. Suno suno hey Krishan kaala. Only Sehgal could sing it with such feeling, an all-time favourite of the gramophone generation.
Or take the raag-based song composed by Sitar guru Ravi Shankar for the movie Anuradha: Sa’nvarey sa’nvarey, kaahey mohsey karo jora jori, also about the black Krishna’s flirting with a fair village belle. There are countless thumris and bhajans that revel in Krishna the dark one and his prowess with the flute. In Dhrupad compositions, Shiva’s ash-powdered face is depicted as a symbol of asceticism. He is, in fact, so dark that they conjure him in old miniatures and new calendar art in Prussian blue.
How was Tulsidas to ever know that one day avid champions of Rama would have a foolish complex about being dark-skinned?
In the imagination of the Avadhi poet Tulsidas, who composed the legend of Rama in verse during the Mughal period, the protagonist is of a dark complexion. A passage describes the exile of the trio — Rama, his consort Sita, and his half-brother Lakshman — from their kingdom of Ayodhya. Village women lining the way to the forest where they were headed wonder which of Sita’s male companions was her husband. “Sa’anvaro so pritam, gaur so devarva,” she replies demurely. The dark one was her sweetheart and the fair-skinned fellow was her husband’s brother. That’s Sita description of the differently coloured Rama and Lakshman in the Avadhi poem.
D.V. Paluskar has sung the Tulsidas stanzas in an evocative bhajan, possibly in Raag Jhinjhoti. Would the RSS-linked NGO Arogya Bharati’s mission amuse Rama, Krishna or Shiva or would it annoy them? Rama’s massive popularity with Indians (centuries before the advent of the word ‘Hindu’) has spurred post-colonial India’s right-wingers to exploit his reach in a racist project to turn the country into a nation of supremacists with a cultivated mistrust of other national cultures.
How was Goswami Tulsidas to ever know that one day avid champions of Rama would have a foolish complex about being dark-skinned?
Recently, Sunday Express thus quoted the NGO’s prescription for dark complexioned parents desirous of a white child: “Three months of shuddhikaran (purification) for parents, intercourse at a time decided by planetary configurations, complete abstinence after the baby is conceived, and procedural and dietary regulations.”
According to the Garbh Vigyan Sanskar (Scientific Protocol for the Womb) project promoted by the RSS’s health wing, quoted by the Express, the prescription would help a woman deliver an “uttam santati” — a perfect, ‘customised child’.
We are told that the programme was launched in Gujarat over a decade ago and was taken up at the national level in 2015. “Our main objective is to make a samarth Bharat (strong India) through uttam santati. Our target is to have thousands of such babies by 2020,” Dr Karishma Mohandas Narwani, national convener of the project, said.
The NGO believes that Germany had “resurrected itself by having such signature children through Ayurvedic practices within two decades after World War II”. The objective is not in doubt. “The parents may have lower IQ, with a poor educational background, but their baby can be extremely bright. If the proper procedure is followed, babies of dark-skinned parents with lesser height can have fair complexion and grow taller.”
The strange Indian obsession with fair colour — or white skin — was captured vividly by the late journalist Vinod Mehta after he returned from London in the 1970s. The title of his piece, published in The Illustrated Weekly of India, if I remember right, was quaint: ‘Two transistors, one wife’. It was the story of Indian men (forbears of today’s non-resident Indians) returning home with a European wife and two transistor radios that were allowed by the customs to shore up Indira Gandhi’s ‘transistor revolution’.
The malaise, however, is more widespread. The syndrome could be a reflection of a low self-esteem that marks Indian men (mostly) who wish they were fair-skinned. But it belittles others too. Mahatma Gandhi was not immune to it. How he pleaded with the British in South Africa to make an extra door at the post office for Indians so that they didn’t have to share it with the ‘kaafirs’, a term used for black Africans.
It is of course not necessary that people desirous of white babies support the frequent racist run-ins with African students that Indians in Delhi have. The culture has roped in even Lord Krishna as professing a complex about the colour of his skin. “Radha kyun gori, maen kyun kala?” So goes the very popular bhajan. Little Krishna is worried, virtually like the harried visitors to the RSS NGO, why Radha was fair and he black. Would Krishna really care?
Another seemingly harmless song lip-synced by movie comedian Mehmood was immensely popular. “Hum kaaley hain to kya hua, dilwaaley hain.” We may be black but we are large-hearted. The ‘but’ defines a lingering prejudice that most Indians cannot perceive. For that matter every other truck on the arterial highways of India carries the hex: you of the evil eye, may your face be black. Arogya Bharati looks set to break the jinx.

Missing the larger picture

Having escaped mass casualty attacks for 12 years, the United Kingdom suffered three in quick succession in 72 days, suggesting the authorities are not able to stop low-tech, improvised assaults carried out by individuals or small groups. These pose a difficult choice for the so-called ‘free societies’: do more to contain the resurgent jihadist violence or risk political backlash by putting ‘draconian’ limits on civil rights and liberties. The answers are not easy to find and knee-jerk, reactive approaches are simply not working, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Kashmir, Yemen, Turkey or Pakistan.
In two out of three recent attacks in the UK, the perpetrators were known to the intelligence agencies but not thought to be dangerous enough to warrant a close watch. This points to the difficulty of the intelligence apparatus in determining whom to monitor.
The attacks also pose a policy conundrum for governments that uphold the values of liberty and free expression: how should they take the fight to an “amorphous battlefield”? Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, has monitored 20,000 extremists in the recent past. Keeping tabs on so many people is a struggle even for the most sophisticated security agencies anywhere.
Following these attacks, there have been fervent calls for international regulators to stop extremists from using cyberspace to win supporters. “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed; yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide,” lamented British Prime Minister Theresa May. The question is whether more curbs on the web would be able to stop the spread of radicalism.
An ‘intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness’ seem to be driving extremism. Ms May has called for a “battle of ideas” against the radical version of Islam — in other words, “to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom”. This would involve “difficult and often embarrassing conversations” with the Muslim community. This is where she as a politician, thinking of an electoral outcome in a tense post-Brexit era, is treading a path of outlining a new counterterrorism strategy that puts ideology and integration at the forefront.
I fear that if the attacks continue, so will political pressure for measures such as large-scale preventive detentions, intrusive police surveillance and a panic-driven reactive counterterrorism strategy that would amount to following the failed militaristic approach of dealing with violent extremism as enunciated by Pankaj Mishra in his latest book Age of Anger.
The militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the recent bloodbath in the UK which also shows why governments must target the threat at its root and identify the causes that churn out militants, terrorists and insurgents in this age of rage. Mishra believes the West-versus-the-rest thinking since 9/11 explains “why our age of anger has provoked some absurdly extreme fear and bewilderment” that has produced intellectual robots who “cannot ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigour, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of [IS]”.
One must analyse the mindset of the educated young men and some women who are rushing to fight for soul-stirring but poorly understood causes, and often cutting their lives short. Mishra calls them “wandering outlaws of their own dark minds wanting to surrender completely to elusive dreams of eternal bliss after death”.
IS seems to pose even more perplexing questions than Al Qaeda did. Mishra wonders “why, for instance, has Tunisia, the originator of the Arab Spring and the most Westernised among Muslim societies, sent the largest contingent among 90 countries of foreign jihadis to Iraq and Syria? Why have dozens of British women, including high-achieving schoolgirls, joined up, despite the fact that men from [IS] have enslaved and raped girls as young as 10 years old?”
In Notes from Underground, referred to by Mishra, Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man says: “I’m convinced that man will never renounce real suffering, that is, destruction and chaos.” Mishra claims: “Dreaming constantly of revenge against his social superiors, this creature of the netherworld luxuriates in his feeling of impotence, and projects blame for his plight outward.” Even Nietzsche derived his understanding of ‘resentment’ and its malign potential as a “particularly noxious form of aggression by the weak against an aloof and inaccessible elite”.
My worry is that we are not seeing the big picture and seem to be, as the theologian Niebuhr would say, “suspended in a hell of global insecurity”. There is an overlap of religion and politics in this era of violent extremism. It is easy to blame an ideology without understanding the complexities of the chain of causality in acts of terrorism. There are social, cultural, economic and political factors that are stoking conflicts and radicalising vast sections of marginalised and disaffected strata of society. The result is, as political theorist Arendt feared, a “tremendous increase in mutual hatred and a somewhat universal irritability of everybody against everybody else”, and according to Mishra an existential resentment “caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness”.
Mishra concludes that “the old West-dominated world order is giving way to an apparent global disorder. Anglo-America no longer confidently produces, as it did for two centuries, the surplus of global history; and the people it once dominated now chafe against the norms and valuations produced by that history”.
Meanwhile, people in Pakistan, like the blind men in the fable who try to describe an elephant by feeling different parts of its body, cannot make out the challenges of extremism in all their dimensions, leaving it to the ‘barrel vision’ of an enormous regulatory or deep state, a government within the government, that calls the shots. Nations become strong on the legacy of trust — the kind that depends on institutions that foster collective decisions in response to existential threats. Lasting nationhood is based on a social contract between the state and individual in which each is accountable to the other. We need to address this trust deficit.

When Utter Nonsense is Sold as Science

In 1996, mathematician and physicist Alan Sokal slipped in a nonsense paper, Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, past the editors of the ‘postmodern cultural studies’ journal, Social Text. He later revealed the hoax much to the glee of fellow scientists.
A year later, along with physicist Jean Bricmont, Sokal published Fashionable Nonsense. In the book, they attacked the ‘postmodern cultural elite’ for their ‘hollowness’, inability to grasp everyday scientific concepts and gross misinterpretation of scientific ideas. Twenty years later, the boot is on the other foot.
Last week, science journal Nature published an investigation conducted by researchers of the University of Wroc³aw, Poland, that found 48 academic journals offering their editorship to a non-existing individual cooked up by the sting operators (‘Predatory journals recruit fake editor’).
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Gross scientific misconduct, fake data, plagiarism, retractions and faulty experimental designs have become an inseparable part of research publication.
The level of research is shocking
Suddenly, the hallowed portals of scientific magazines look suspect. There are thousands of ‘scientific’ journals that do not care much about quality research. They merely exist to extract fees from ‘unsuspecting’ authors. Why these authors choose to publish in these ‘predatory’ journals is another question. The journals use the worst possible marketing schemes to publish research, often without scientific rigor or transparency.
The scientific community knew this for years. In 1978-79, professors at Yale and Harvard were at the centre of research fraud that rocked the very ethos of scientific inquiry. In 1989, the US came up with regulations that defined scientific misconduct and laid out a legal procedure to address such allegations. In their research, they found peer review was ineffective against misconduct. But now it looks that even those regulations were not enough.
In his 1942 essay, The Normative Structure of Science, sociologist Robert K Merton analysed the ethos of science. “Four sets of institutional imperatives — universalism, communism, disinterestedness, organised scepticism — are taken together as the ethos of modern science,” wrote Merton. While describing ‘disinterestedness’, he wrote “passion for knowledge, idle curiosity, altruistic concern with the benefit to humanity, and a host of other special motives have been attributed to the scientist.
The quest for distinctive motives appears to have been misdirected.” So, ascientist demonstrates the “willingness to work to extend knowledge, apart from personal benefit”.
Merton defined ‘communism’ as the free sharing of one’s discoveries with others. What makes such ‘altruism possible’ is the “reward system of science”. This ‘reward’ comprises a host of things: “honour, position, power and money go to those who make discoveries first — and who claim priority by promptly publishing their findings.”
It seems with the growth of aggressive consumerism and the opening up of digital frontiers, only parts of Metron’s ‘reward system for science’ has been the prime focus for many scientists.
In this mad rush to publish for ‘honour, power, position and money’, ‘disinterestedness’ has been given a quiet burial. In fact, predatory journals extend a helping hand to those who care to get on rooftops to shout about a discovery often backed by an invisible industry.
Commercialisation of scientific research has its own issues, as is reflected by ‘code of conduct and best practices guidelines for journal editors’ of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Under the guidelines for ‘commercial considerations’, COPE states, “Journals should have policies and systems in place to ensure that commercial considerations do not affect editorial decisions (e.g. advertising departments should operate independently from editorial departments).”
While it is not easy to identify fake data or plagiarism, over the years, organisations such as COPE have developed mechanisms to weed out suspicious submissions. The latest revelations unveiled how deep the malaise is.
In the early 2000s, when the ‘no peer review’ journals saw a mushrooming growth, the number of reported cases of scientific misconduct began to grow. Most of these journals only have an electronic avatar, their reach and appeal are deep. Visibility, reach and speed of publication make them an attractive proposition to researchers looking for a place in the sun.
There were watchdogs who kept an eye on them. In January, one of them, a blog that listed “potential, possible, or probable predatory” publishers and journals disappeared. Started in 2010 by University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall, at its prime, the blog evoked fear and controversy in the science publishing community. Its disappearance has dealt a body blow to science misconduct-watchers.
The belief within the community is that science will get rid of these bugs. Let’s hope it’s right.

Populism Remixed: Modi’s Political Style & Challenges Resembles Indira’s

As many observers have noticed, the way Narendra Modi’s BJP swept the polls in Uttar Pradesh calls to mind the establishment of the Congress’s hegemony under Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s. But the comparison goes beyond common features which are usually emphasised: Both leaders have been responsible for the rise of their parties because their styles are very similar — they epitomise two variants of populism.
First, they attempt to equate themselves with the Indian nation. There has been political genius in inventing new ways to relate to voters and saturate the public space with new slogans. Mrs Gandhi’s supporters claimed, “India is Indira and Indira is India”, whereas Modi’s slogans evoke the notion, “I am new India”. This is typical of populist rhetoric which relies on empty signifiers, as one theoretician of populism, Ernesto Laclau, has shown.
This discourse has allowed both leaders to relate directly to the people. This un-mediated connection was made possible by mass meetings and the radio. Indira’s broadcast in December 1970, while she announced the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, needs to be revisited: “Millions who demand food, shelter and jobs are pressing for action. Power in a democracy resides in the people. That is why we have decided to go to the people and seek a fresh mandate.” Modi still uses the radio today— via his monthly programme “Mann Ki Baat” — but such means of communication are supplemented by TV, social media and holograms.
Both leaders relate to the people in the name of high ideals. While Indira Gandhi wanted to eradicate poverty, Narendra Modi resorted to demonetisation to eradicate corruption. This decision could strike a moral chord among voters because of the extent to which they suffer from the curse of corruption. Its emotional impact was all the more significant as PM Modi congratulated Indian citizens for their national sacrifice, while they were suffering from his efforts to “clean” the country.
Nationalism is, of course, the sentiment populists instrumentalise the most: Since they embody the people’s will, they are equated with the nation too. Indira cashed in on her 1971 victory against Pakistan; Hindu nationalism is the core ideology of Modi. The nationalist rhetoric goes with a rejection of pluralism and alternative power centres — since the populist is the nation, any opposition is necessarily illegitimate. The judiciary is seen as an obstacle to the expression of the people’s will. Students, academics, NGOs who protest in the street — like in Bihar and Gujarat in 1973 or JNU and DU today — can be disqualified as “anti national”. Similarly, some opposition parties are not only adversaries, but enemies who divide the nation. Hence, Indira’s de-legitimisation of the 1971 “reactionary” Grand Alliance, and the BJP’s objective of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”.
But to reform their party along the lines they have enunciated is quite a task for these leaders. Indira could not transform the Congress from a party of notables into a cadre-based party to use for social transformation. As early as 1972, she had to turn to Congress (O) politicians who had no interest in social reform, but whom she needed to contest state elections. Similarly, in spite of his anti-corruption speeches, Modi has not been able to clean the BJP (has he tried?). According to the Association for Democratic Reform, among the 312 BJP MLAs who have been returned in UP, 83 declared criminal cases against them. These 27 per cent do not compare favourably to the figures Milan Vaishnav presented in his recent masterpiece When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics — 24 per cent of BJP candidates to the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2014 declared pending criminal cases, more than in any other party. Like Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s, Narendra Modi has selected the president and the chief ministers of his party since 2014, including Yogi Adityanath, the first religious title-holding figure heading a state government in the history of India. In most of the newly BJP-ruled states, the party has fought elections without projecting any candidate for chief minister. The main campaigner has been the PM himself.
But in spite of clear affinities, there are important differences between Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi. First, her Congress (R) had representatives from every religious community. In contrast, the BJP did not nominate a single Muslim candidate in UP and has appointed a notoriously anti-minority Hindutva leader as CM. Secondly, under Indira Gandhi, the over-representation of upper castes among MPs and MLAs continued to erode, whereas their percentage has tended to rise in states the BJP has won since 2014. In UP, this development has taken a dramatic turn: According to information compiled by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, the new assembly has 44 per cent upper caste MLAs, 12 per cent more than in 2012, and the highest share since 1980.
This data suggest that India’s new populism is the vehicle of a section of the elite’s revenge (after years of the plebeianisation of public life) and relies on an ethno-religious definition of the nation. The BJP is indeed taking the country on the path of an “ethnic democracy” model. This model was formulated by Israeli social scientist Sammy Smooha on the basis of his country’s trajectory: While the regime remains in tune with its democratic Constitution (elections remain rather fair, the judiciary retains some independence, etc.), in practice, minorities are marginalised.
The comparison between Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi suggests that the populist repertoire prevailing in India today is not entirely unprecedented; it also shows that populism being a political style rather than an ideology, it can be on the left or on the right.
There are two things that we cannot fully compare yet. First, the performances of the leaders in terms of public policies. Usually, populists speak a lot but do not act much. In contrast to the achievements of Nehru, who built the institutions of India’s democracy, Indira did not implement many reforms in the early 1970s, although she abolished the princes’ privileges and nationalised banks. Narendra Modi has not initiated massive reforms either — but he may yet do so.
Last, with the transition from Congress (R) to Congress (I), the personalisation of power resulted in the centralisation of decision-making and the suspension of internal democracy — which emptied the party’s governing bodies: Indira’s authoritarianism resulted in the promotion of yes-men in the Congress. Paradoxically, the Indira era of Congress hegemony made the party more vulnerable after. It is too early to say whether the BJP, which is more a cadre-based party with a strong RSS architecture, will follow the same trajectory.

In Praise of Vice

The little transgressions protect a people from the power of big ideologies. Go ahead, get wasted.
In 2004, when the worst thing that had happened to the world was George Bush, when Indians wondered about the hidden motives behind Sonia Gandhi’s great tyaag rather than the then prime minister’s mann ki baat,all some of us cared about was getting wasted. The mythical source for the substances we desired was not shady drug dealers or bars, it was temples.
Two in particular were urban legends, at least in south Delhi. The first was a small Kali temple tucked away in a slum behind a very posh part of the city. After walking through some brambly bushes, and past stray dogs from Baskerville, a man, always topless and with half his torso bearing scars of fights long past, would hand you a puria (pouch) of the most rancid weed (or so, I am bound to say, reliable sources tell me) in the city. But it was still better than what you get in Bombay.
The first hit for many a young man and (given the ridiculous world we live in) some women, has been in his company — for Rs 50, with an invocation to Bhole Nath more sincere than at any family puja.
Then there was the booze temple. Dedicated to Shiv, the prasad at this house of worship was alcohol. From bottles of Black Label to quarters of Bag Sniper (a poisonous knock-off of Bagpiper) — anything could be your offering. The key to getting good and wasted was to go there with a quarter (once again, I must, for reasons of propriety, insist this is hearsay), chat up the priest and hope he shares the offerings of the devout with you as they ascend through the earthly vessel of his body to the parched throats of the gods.
Now of course, things are different. Religion might well have been the opium of the masses in the past, but fused with nationalism and political piety, it’s more like cocaine. It no longer seems to permit the little vices and adventures it used to, the diversities of transgressions that make life a little more tolerable.
We live in a puritanical, quasi-religious proto-utopia, where the life of a bovine is more valuable than the life of a person, where prohibition is a contagious moral project and if you want to let go in Goa, you better do it before 10 pm. In Gujarat, total vegetarianism has been declared a goal — the saattvic route to salvation is now a state project. The most basic things are to be brought under profane virtuosity of the state. A walk with a paramour in a park will make you a target for law enforcement, overeating at a restaurant could soon be a no-no and before you watch the next Housefull movie, you need to prove your love for the nation.
At such a time, it’s hard to figure out where, or how, to find yourself outside the oppressiveness of family, bosses and governments. George Orwell, when he wrote The Lion and the Unicorn in 1941, faced a similar problem. So many Englishmen thought that fascism was good for the nation, that order and discipline were more important than democracy and dissidence. But what saved the English, according to Orwell, were the little joys. The nation of shopkeepers was also a nation of hobbyists — stamp collectors and gardeners; builders of model trains and designers of miniature aeroplanes. The little joys protect a people from the power of the big, overwhelming identities, say, for example, Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan.
I am luckier than Orwell. To rescue individuality and Indian-ness in the face of everyone and everything trying to control me, all I have to do is get high. And I recommend it now, as a patriotic act. A way to express that you are not part of the project that wants to make you, and your identities, a boring platter cooked by celibate men with limited palates. In its very origins, my hunt for vice was religious. It is easy for us here, to break the law while being pious.
Take Holi, where substance use induces a revelry and camaraderie otherwise impossible. There are villages in Uttar Pradesh where women, otherwise confined and oppressed, would use this day to beat the men of their community, chasing them around the hamlet. Festivals, after all, have been the only place where the separation and rigidity that marks regular life is relaxed. Basically, a bunch of people come together, get high (and maybe get even), and then go back to their lives. They are a cheat code within religion, so that you can have fun without the disapproval and consequences it would otherwise invite. The bravest anti-Romeo squads dare not disrupt a dandiya, and the intense hooking up that accompanies it.
Transgression, rebellion and, yes, a little bit of drinking, are good for you. It lets boring MBAs party in Goa, let go and have a good time before going back to being the backbone of the economy. It makes you move outside yourself, and keep diversity alive. It keeps you from being boring. My best friend from school, a Jain who ate his first boti kabab with me (yes, beef) years back, actually boasts to his kid about it. It was, for him, an adventure greater than all the temple visits for the rest of us.
It is, of course, possible to experience ecstasy, and break out of the oppressiveness of the virtuous state through the saattvic route. The traditional way is to leave society (even then, there are many varieties of renouncers, and not all of them are “pure”) and become a sanyasi. But for a more temporary way to feel the high of a festival without the guilt of rebellion, there is another model.
Two years ago, I attended the concert of a rockstar-godman in Haryana. Hundreds of people were drawn into a mosh-pit of bad dancing and caste-less jostling. Not one of them was drunk, and most were likely vegetarian. They were led, in toto, by their guru on stage. Rather than lose themselves to a substance, they would do it for a great leader. No government will have a problem with that these days — follow the leader is the most nationalist high you can be on.

Trump & Churchill

In France, everything has been written about the new U.S president, as long as it could relay the most negative image possible. In a country sometimes bathed in an anti-Americanism inherited from Gaullism and communism, major political religions of the post-war era, exacerbated by the Bush years — it experienced a noticeable lull at the arrival of former President Barack Obama. The election of Donald Trump has the effect of an avalanche.
For many, America had foundered, would never recover and the archetypal image of the uneducated, violent cowboy, fed on hamburgers, would now finally stick to this uncouth country — too powerful, too capitalist and actually distressed by injustice and inequality.
But beyond the systematic and cleverly orchestrated detestation that the new American president engenders, it is clear that after eight years of the soft and partisan management of Obama (one will remember his hallucinatory Cairo speech, his bow of allegiance to the King of Saudi Arabia, and especially his passivity to the atrocities committed by Iran, Syria and their proxies) powerful America is back at the front of the stage.
The U.S. is no longer simply the paralyzed observer of a rise in violence, as in those terrifying scenes in movies where zombies multiply without anyone knowing how to contain, counter or stop them. Since the sheriff is back in town fighting the zombies, the zombies are fighting back.
As soon as President Trump arrived in the White House, in fact, he rolled up his sleeves to try to find solutions to the increasing threats to world peace, based on a sound principle appreciated by great leaders such as Churchill: Si vis pacem para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.
To no one’s surprise, and possibly for many reasons, the Nobelized pacifist, Obama, asked to have a bust of Winston Churchill removed from the White House on day one; Trump asked for it back on day one.
In 1938, while Chamberlain and Daladier, with their pallid complexions and sad smiles, congratulated themselves on having abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s hands in exchange for a promise of peace that rapidly turned out to be just the prelude to the deadliest war in history, Churchill summed up the situation with the scathing phrase: “They had to choose between dishonor and war. They have chosen dishonor and they will have war.”
One can only wonder how Churchill would have judged Obama.
Iran was on the brink of capitulating. It had already been listed by the U.S. Department of State as the world’s leading promoter of terrorism, and one with nuclear, hegemonic and genocidal ambitions. History will undoubtedly remember that it was Obama (of the Iraqi debacle; of the cowardly abandonment of his ambassador, tortured to death in Benghazi; of threats never followed up when Assad crossed the U.S. president’s own “red line” and gassed his own people, and of lying repeatedly to his own people about matters from healthcare choices to videos supposedly having caused the Benghazi attack, to name a few) that allowed the Ayatollahs to consolidate their imperialist aggression against a backdrop of terrorism and the denial of human rights.
This soft and non-interventionist philosophy, also adopted by former President Jimmy Carter, had already enabled Muslim extremists to overthrow the Shah of Iran. President Bill Clinton was fooled by North Korea in 1994 into negotiating economic aid in exchange for a promise to respect the non-proliferation treaty signed in 1985; the North Koreans simply took the money and used it to finance the nuclear program it had been given them to stop.
This political blindness, deliberate or not, also allowed President Obama to celebrate his diplomatic “victory” of ostensibly bringing in Iran from the cold, when it was clear all along that all Iran wanted to get was colder. Iran continues its imperialist expansion, its financing of terrorists, and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and, of course its long-range missile development program.
President Trump, however, in just four months, seems to have learned the lesson of Churchill. Take, for example, three of the new president’s actions.
First there was the massive bombing of the Al-Sha’ayrate air base, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had ordered the Syrian army to massacre part of the population of Khan Sheikhoun with sarin gas.
Unlike Obama, Trump had promised — probably foolishly: the promise seems to have been interpreted as a green light to murder — not to intervene in Syria. If the new U.S. president changed his mind, it is all to his honor, for this reversal was born of a vision of horror: children and babies suffocating, gassed.
The second action was born at the same time, when 59 Tomahawk missiles sent a clear message to the rest of the world through the destruction of the air base from which the gas-carrying planes had taken off, President Trump dined in Mar-a-Lago with his Chinese counterpart. “By the way,” he announced to Xi Jinping while dessert was served, “we have just bombed Syria.” With the arrival of the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake,” years of failed diplomacy were undone.
Finally, President Trump should be recognized for inducing China even symbolically to loosen its ties to its North Korean ally by slowdowns of “tourist” flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, and by blocking shipments of coal, and other mild promises, at least until the U.S. looks the other way.
In addition, NATO countries, protected by the American umbrella, recently seem to have felt inspired to pay America their 2%, thus honoring their agreements, and have also begun to develop a section for fighting terrorism — a program evidently long forbidden.
In addition, a new strand of American foreign policy is now opening up. Recently, Israel celebrated the 69th anniversary of its independence, and this week Israel will mark 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem, liberated in 1967 from its illegal capture by Jordan in 1948, followed by Jordan’s ethnic cleaning of Jews and the illegal confiscation of their property. The White House announced the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, provided that it ceases to finance and incite terrorism by making its child-killers national heroes and wage-earners funded by the West
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will no longer be able to continue to pretend to prepare his people for peace while at the same time calling for murder. About 10% of the Palestinian budget is spent on the salaries of terrorists imprisoned in Israel, and the prisoners’ families. Abbas evidently omitted this “detail” in his statements to the press during his recent visit to the White House.
Trump has apparently decided that on his visit to Israel this week, he will not announce the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — a move that will only make him look less strong to Arab leaders. They may not like all promises that are kept, but they do deeply respect and trust those who keep them. If promises are not kept to a friend, the thinking goes, why would they be kept to us? They will therefore be less happy with any promises to counter Shiite threats — considerably more important to them than the location of an embassy. As Plato, Churchill and even Osama bin Laden understood, people respect only a strong horse, especially when one’s adversaries can only survive by creating conflicts to distract their citizens from unaccountable governance. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observed:
“Israel has clearly stated its position to the US and to the world multiple times. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem won’t harm the peace process. The opposite is true. It will correct a historic injustice by advancing the [peace process] and shattering a Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem isn’t Israel’s capital.”
By recognizing the rights of Jerusalem’s historical occupants of 3,000 years — despite the lies of UNESCO and other UN organizations engulfed by the Arabs’ automatic majority — Trump could well demonstrate a new force that would elevate him to the same stature as Churchill, who said he regarded Islamism as the “greatest retrograde force of all time.” No wonder Obama did not want his bust.

China to get its first vertical forest

They could be the breath of fresh air that pollution-choked cities desperately need. Vertical forests – high-rise buildings covered with trees and plants – absorb carbon dioxide, filter dust from pollution and produce oxygen. They’re also an ingenious way of planting more trees and creating habitats for wildlife in cities that are squeezed for space.

 

China, a nation experiencing rocketing urban growth and an air pollution crisis, is set to get its first vertical forest. The project in the eastern city of Nanjing is the brainchild of the Italian architect Stefano Boeri and his team, who built Milan’s Bosco Verticale (vertical forest), consisting of two residential high-rises at 110 and 76 meters with around 900 trees and over 20,000 smaller plants and shrubs.

The Nanjing vertical forest will be higher than its Milanese predecessor, with two neighbouring towers at 200 and 108 meters tall. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the complex will house a 247-room luxury hotel, offices, shops, restaurants, a food market, conference and exhibition spaces, a museum, a rooftop club and even a green architecture school.

The skyscrapers will hold 1100 trees from 23 local species and 2500 cascading plants and shrubs, which the architects say will provide 25 tons of CO2 absorption each year and produce about 60 kg of oxygen a day.

From vertical forests to forest cities?

To put things in perspective, saving 25 tons of Co2 would be equivalent to taking five cars off the road for a year. Chinese cities have some of the most polluted air in the world. In December, air quality got so bad that 24 cities across north-east China were put on “red alert”. Schools were temporarily closed, flights were cancelled, vehicles ordered off the roads and residents urged to stay indoors until the smog eased.

Boeri told The Guardian that while his vertical forest will only make a tiny difference in Nanjing, he hopes it will act as a catalyst for more green architecture projects.

“Two towers in a huge urban environment [such as Nanjing] is so, so small a contribution – but it is an example. We hope that this model of green architecture can be repeated and copied and replicated,” he said.

His firm, which has offices in Shanghai, has even bigger plans afoot – forest cities. It has come up with a concept for the northern industrial hub of Shijiazhuang, one of China’s most polluted cities, which envisions a compact and green mini-city for 100,000 people with buildings of different sizes covered in trees and plants.

Today around 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas – a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050, with most of the growth concentrated in Africa and Asia.

As more people move to cities, urban sprawl encroaches further into surrounding green space. Boeri conceived his vertical forests as a way of “giving back to nature the space we are taking from it”.

And the idea appears to be catching on. New examples of vertical greenery are springing up around the world, from Singapore’s “Supertrees” to Sydney’s One Central Park

Sweden: A Qatari Protectorate

Qatar has been in news recent;y. Bit its overt and covert acts of promoting terrorism is nothing new.  April 28 was a day of rude awakening for the Swedish. They were rubbing their eye in fear and unbelief. Were they living in Qatar or in democratic, secular Sweden? It was on April 28, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs of the State of Qatar opened the Umm Al-Mu’minin Khadijah Mosque in Malmö, Sweden. Qatar — the epicenter of Muslim Brotherhood and the base of its proselytizing megaphone, Al Jazeera — paid more than 3 million euros to build the mosque, which is almost 2,000 square meters and accommodates up to 2,000 people, making it the largest mosque in Scandinavia.
One astonishing fact about this new mega-mosque is that, according to Swedish mainstream media, the opening never happened. Not a single Swedish news outlet mentioned the opening. Swedish authorities were also completely silent on the topic. On her Facebook and Twitter accounts, Malmö’s Mayor, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, wrote about the opening of a new office for army recruits in Malmö and the Swedish coast guard moving its activities to Malmö harbor, but failed to mention the opening of the largest mosque in Scandinavia. The website of Malmö municipality was also silent on the topic.
For information on what goes on in Sweden, therefore, one has to turn to Qatar News Agency, which reported: “Director of the Islamic Affairs Department at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Khalid Shaheen Al Ghanim said that the mosque was built and furnished by the State of Qatar at a cost of over 3 million euros, under the supervision of the Ministry of Awqaf and in collaboration with the Wakf of Scandinavia in Malmo, Sweden
“He added that the Umm Al-Mu’minin Khadijah Mosque is the largest mosque in Scandinavia and is located on the first and second floors of the four-story building of the Wakf of Scandinavia in Sweden. The mosque is equipped with facilities for people with special needs to perform prayers and others for children and women.
“The opening ceremony was attended by representatives of Swedish local authorities, representatives of Islamic institutions in Sweden and Denmark, as well as a number of businessmen.”
The organization in Sweden behind the mega-mosque is the Swedish Wakf, better known as the Islamic Community of Malmö. In its statutes, the Swedish Wakf describes itself as a “religious and cultural community, registered as an ideal institution”, and “politically independent”.
The neighbors of the mega-mosque, which was never supposed to be a mosque, according to the Wakf’s own application for building permits, but merely a “cultural center” (the application talks about “an activity center for youth and families in Malmö with a focus on Rosengård”), protested when they learned of the plans in 2010. The Malmö municipality brushed them off. “It is like any congregational activity, and I find it hard to see that there should be anything to worry about”, said Dick Johansson, representing Malmö municipality, at the time.
As it turns out, there is a great deal to worry about.
Several of the Swedish Wakf’s members come from the Swedish Islamic Cultural Association, whose spokesman and front figure, Ammar Daoud, was described by Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan in an article from 2006, as the “apprentice” of the Danish imam Abu Laban. Laban, who died in 2007, was known for his jihadist connections and for instigating riots in the Muslim world against Denmark after the 2005 publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten. He led his own Danish Wakf — Danish Islamic community — in Copenhagen.
Laban declared Sayid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief ideologue, to be his role model, and was a frequent guest preacher at one of the basement mosques of the Swedish Cultural Association in Rosengård (a crime-ridden, infamous no-go zone in Malmö).
Already in 2006, Abu Laban told the daily Sydsvenskan that he wanted to “help” his Swedish Muslim friends establish a new mosque. Abu Laban and Ammar Daoud were unhappy with the existing mosque in Malmö, Islamic Center Mosque, which Abu Laban derisively labelled “Islam-light”.
In 2010, Khaled Assi, head of the Swedish Wakf (a position he still holds today), told a Swedish journalist that he was “inspired” by Abu Laban and his Wakf in Denmark. When the journalist asked Khaled Assi whether his organization was in fact building a mosque, he told her that “there already is a mosque in Malmö” and that the “cultural center” would just contain a “small prayer room”. Asked about the financing of the project, Assi said that the Wakf was “unassociated with any organization” and that all financial contributors were “individuals from Malmö and Skåne”, although they would also approach “individuals” abroad.
At the opening of the mega-mosque of the Wakf on April 28, Malmö City Councilor Frida Trollmyr gave a speech in which she continued to use the term “cultural center”, never using the word “mosque”, as if — Soviet style — the use of certain words could alter reality:
“In many ways, this cultural center is unique but at the same time it is one of many meeting places that has contributed to the diversity that has made Malmö into the city it is today. We Malmöites know what this diversity entails and all its strength — it is that which has made Malmö into the city it is today.”
Trollmyr’s speech will go down in history as the moment Malmö municipality finally submitted completely to Islam.
When the Swedish independent news site, Samtiden, tried to reach Trollmyr for comment on how the new gender-separated mosque corresponds to Swedish values about gender equality, about Trollmyr’s views on the financing of mega-mosques by foreign dictatorships, and what this entails for Malmö with regards to radicalization, Trollmyr’s secretary informed Samtiden that the politician did not have time to answer the questions.In the former democracy of Sweden, politicians are no longer answerable to the citizens, and can apparently cover up whatever topics they choose, no matter how detrimental to the people who elected them. The mainstream media willingly collude with the authorities by uniformly ignoring the issue.
One would have thought, however, that at least one mainstream Swedish journalist would be interested in uncovering the cover-up of the Swedish authorities. Here are some of the many unanswered questions:
How did a project that the Malmö municipality approved as a “cultural center” end up as the largest mosque in Scandinavia?
How did an organization, the Swedish Wakf, which is supposed to be “politically independent”, and which said it was collecting its financing from local Muslims, end up having its mosque bought and paid for by Qatar, the primary exporter — along with Saudi Arabia — of Wahhabism in the world?
When did Sweden become a province of the dictatorship of Qatar, where the presence of Qatari government officials at the opening of a Qatari-funded mosque in a major Swedish city does not elicit the slightest media attention, let alone criticism, as if this kind of occurrence were the most routine order of the day? Instead, the only Swedish reaction is an embarrassingly sycophantic speech by a representative of the Malmö municipality.
In short, when did the Swedish population vote to become a Qatari protectorate?

Hybrid Warfare – New Face of Warfare

The term hybrid warfare – where a “wide range of overt and covert military, paramilitary, and civilian measures are employed in a highly integrated design” – seems to be popping up all over the place, all the more so in the wake of the US elections and Russia’s alleged involvement in influencing the result.
This new form of warfare has at times been described as an existential threat, and at others as nothing more than an elusive, catch-all term for something that has existed for a long time. What exactly does it mean, and is any of the alarm justified?
New terms for old concepts
When strategic concepts such as hybrid warfare suddenly come into vogue, there’s a risk that they’re given more coherence and a greater range of potential applications than warranted.
Two decades ago the term “asymmetric warfare” began to be used to describe the means by which weak states, along with insurgents and terrorists, might counter the superior conventional military capabilities of the West.
Essentially this meant using irregular forces more than regular, relying on guerrilla tactics and ambushes more than frontal assaults, and blurring the boundaries between the civil and military spheres. The concept was seen to be validated by the attacks of 9/11. Yet, as was soon pointed out, all warfare is to a degree asymmetric, because states rarely have identical capabilities or strategies. Efforts to give the concept a precise definition struggled because it was possible to describe any capability as asymmetric.
The same is now likely to happen with hybrid warfare. The term can have both a general definition, which could if pushed encompass most forms of warfare, or else a specific definition, which points towards some of the current practices being adopted by Russia. Because one part of the mix – information operations – has been assumed to be successful in recent years, this has been the aspect that has acquired the most attention.
It is time to take a critical look at this concept of hybrid warfare and question whether it has worked as well for Russia as is commonly supposed.
The origins of the term
The term gained currency after Israel was caught out during the 2006 Lebanon War by the combination of guerrilla and conventional tactics adopted by Hezbollah. It came to refer to an approach drawing on a wide range of instruments, including terrorism, insurgency, criminality and conventional operations, along with the extensive use of information operations.
It gained credibility as a definition of a new age of warfare as described by General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff. Much of Gerasimov’s vision was similar to that found at senior levels in the US focusing on how conventional warfare can now be conducted with weapons that can be operated over long ranges at great accuracy against many types of targets simultaneously.
But he also showed interest in how irregular forms of warfare might begin without an evident state of war, the potential use of armed civilians, plus the importance of indirect methods and information. Operations in Ukraine appeared to show hybrid warfare in action, especially with the formation of the separatist militias in the Donbas, the role of Special Forces and the attention paid to the information aspects of the campaign. Here, unlike Syria, Russia sought to keep its role covert.
Not so new
The concept of hybrid warfare starts with distinct types of military or military-related activity and then looks to how these can be combined in ways that will complicate enemy responses. Put this way, there is little new in the concept. After all, in past wars a range of capabilities have been employed, including economic blockades and propaganda. Surprise attacks have normally depended on a degree of deception, and with drawn-out attritional wars, anything that might eat away at the enemy is considered worth trying.
Commanders have combined classical forms of conventional warfare with partisan campaigns on the one hand and forms of civilian destruction (such as air raids) on the other for a century. Past experience explains why these campaigns are not simple. Without a competent and extensive command structure, it can be difficult to pull together the different strands of activity so that they reinforce rather than contradict each other.
More seriously, it is vital to distinguish between capabilities that are necessary to achieve the objectives of war – which normally means reasonably disciplined and substantial forces able to take and hold contested territory – and supporting capabilities that can disorient and demoralize an opponent and erode the ability to sustain a conflict over time (such as economic measures) but do not by themselves provide for political control.
This is particularly important when considering information warfare, which for many commentators appears to be the key ingredient in contemporary hybrid warfare.
Western interest in this area, at least during the counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, was more about a positive image, helping to win over “hearts and minds”, and for that reason there has been much discussion about how to construct a narrative that will convince doubters about good intentions and readiness to stay the course.
Russian efforts, which involve considerable resources, often seem to mean “disinformation warfare”. It involves using social media to spread false messages and create misleading impressions to weaken opponents, especially among their own public.
The EU now talks about “hybrid threats” because it sees this as a form of activity that can help undermine security even at times of comparative peace. The confirmed Russian efforts during the US Presidential election and evidence of comparable attempts to influence the upcoming German elections reflect this concern.
Not as effective as you might think
But a degree of caution is necessary here. First, the means by which humans receive and process information, as individuals or in groups, are complex and not so easy to manipulate. The idea that an enemy can lob precision-guided thoughts into the collective mind of a population is far too simple. While this can be done using proxies and subtle forms of propaganda, in the end the sources and their messages have to be credible. The information being supplied to Wikileaks in 2016 came from hacking, so was not simply made up and, to the extent that it had an effect, fitted in with other portrayals of Hillary Clinton.
When information campaigns rely more on deception and lying they tend to be less successful.
In Ukraine, Russian efforts at deception were by and large ineffectual, as they became progressively transparent. The controversy surrounding the shooting down of MH-17 in the summer of 2014 was allowed to drag on far longer than would otherwise have been the case because of the persistent refusal of Moscow to accept any responsibility, despite the evidence against them. One possible success was in projecting a more menacing image than Russia’s actual strength warranted, which served to deter the West from escalating the conflict. In the end the safest assessment may be that information operations (still better described as propaganda) can reinforce a positive position but are unlikely to be of much help in reversing a negative one.
Neither surprising nor unusual
All this argues against considering hybrid warfare as anything highly unusual, surprising or difficult to deal with. If anything it is a lesser form of warfare when compared to the more focused traditional forms, in which major powers sought to achieve victory simply through a succession of battles until the enemy could fight no more.
The possibilities of popular resistance and, possibly more important, the risk of escalation to nuclear war have made it increasingly hard to rely solely on conventional armed forces. This has encouraged alternative means to weaken an opponent, for example by addressing their enemies’ sources of social and political support.
It is, however, doubtful that these efforts can do much unless the target’s social and political support is already weak or if the military situation on the ground is already parlous and forces are stretched. Those engaged in conflict will use whatever comes to hand. A title such as “hybrid war” suggests that what is often no more than a set of ad hoc and improvised arrangements is more planned, coordinated and effective than is actually the case.

OBOR – the Chinese ashwamedha? How China’s Mythology Influences its Politics

As Western hegemony wanes in the global village, China envisions the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project. India withdraws from it. What makes cultures do what they do? The answer perhaps lies in their mythologies, which map the culture’s mind.
At the heart of Chinese mythology is a belief in the Mandate of Heaven. The Emperor of China has been given the divine authority to mirror heavenly order on earth. If the emperor fails to do so, he can be replaced. A successful revolution marks the shifting of this mandate from one king to another.
Although communism sees itself as rational, and so anti-religion and anti-mythology, the communist revolution under Mao Zedong effectively marked the shift in the Mandate of Heaven from the old order to the new. The rise of China into an economic powerhouse under Deng Xiaoping also indicates yet another shift in the Mandate of Heaven. The current leadership in China is now expanding its Pax Sinica.
Geography plays a key role in Chinese mythology. At the centre is the Forbidden City (Beijing) around which is China and around which is the peripheral nations who look towards China for guidance to create heavenly order on earth. Beyond are the lands of chaos, whose people are best kept out using projects such as the Great Wall of China.
By contrast, time (kala) plays a key role in Hindu mythology. Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism speak of the world that has no beginning (anadi), no end (ananta) and is always impermanent (anitya). Indian mythologies speak of great universal emperors (chakra-varti) but these are more conceptual than historical. India thrives in dynamic diversity, with multiple kingdoms that rise and fall from Mauryas to Guptas to Vakatakas to Rashtrakutas to Kadambas to Gangas to Pallavas to Pandyas to Cholas to Nayakas to Mughals to British.
There is no Beijing equivalent in Hindu mythology, though Delhi is often projected as such in post-Independence textbooks. India, known in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu texts as Jambu-dvipa or Bharata-varsha or Arya-varta, is bound not by politics but by religion; it has been united not by empires but by pilgrim routes, an idea that perplexes modern historians who try very hard to prove India is a creation of the British.
In Chinese mythology, there is authority and bureaucracy in heaven too. The gods enable the living to be successful, and successful mortals such as emperors, military commanders and noblemen take the position of immortal gods. The highly formal, hierarchical and socially-responsible Confucianism, with its great regard for authority, is balanced by the more mystical and occult Taoism, that speaks of harmony and flow.
Essentially, the tone is highly materialistic and worldly in contrast to the otherworldly nature of Indian mythologies, where the psychological matters more than the physical. Jain, Buddhist and Hindu mythologies place great value on yoga, the un-crumpling of the mind crumpled by hunger and fear.
In Chinese worldview, India is seen in two ways. Firstly, it embodies luan, chaos. This chaos threatens the Chinese sense of order. This makes India a perpetual threat. It makes the Chinese leadership nervous. Secondly, India is Sukhavati, the Western Paradise in Chinese Buddhism, source of great spiritual wisdom. It speaks about transcending materialism to be free of suffering, an idea that invalidates the promise of the material philosophies, be it communism or capitalism.
Until the arrival of the Europeans, Buddhism was the only foreign idea that has had a dramatic impact on Chinese history. Since then, China watches with trepidation the rising tide of Christian evangelism in South Korea and Singapore, and Islam on its Western borders, and the hurricane of technology coming from the West. The Chinese way is eroding, unless the Emperor takes charge. Hence, OBOR.
Is OBOR the Chinese equivalent of the ashwamedha, the Vedic ritual by which a king established his authority and sovereignty? Is India reacting like the insecure Indra, king of the sky? Or are we choosing the hermit’s isolation over the householder’s pragmatism? Is maya (delusion) at play as we indulge our inflated sense of importance?
The Chinese classic, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, is about winning while Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita is about union with the divine. Very different goals. Something we need to meditate on.

 

Trump’s Climate Change Stance Makes Sense

He seems to have finally got it right. Kept at least one of his campaign promises that has gone down well with a majority of the American people. Let’s examine the hows and the whys of Trump’s decision to pull out of Paris.
– Climate action: Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on clean-energy technologies and evangelisation during the last decade, but climate action on the part of consumers in the US and India has been next to nil. In Germany, sure, consumer solar has taken off, but with the government now withdrawing subsidies, it has started taking a deep dive.
– Climate hypocrisy: Consider two champions of climate action: Barack Obama and Narendra Modi. As US president, Obama used to land up anywhere with at least two Air Force Ones and about ten Zil-style Beast limousines in tow. The Pope showed up at his door in a petite Fiat to tell him to practice what he preached, but all he got in return was the famous Obama smirk.
Since demitting office, Obama has been on the high seas for months with billionaires and celebrities, enjoying the lifestyle of the ultra-rich and the ultra-famous on almost mile-long yachts. How much energy has that consumed?
Narendra Modi loves to paint himself green, but he too has ordered a brand-new fleet of supersonic jets for himself.
– Climate enjoyment: Trump became infamous by asking US government employees to list which climate conferences they had attended. Let’s see where these have taken place recently: Cancun, Copenhagen, Doha, Paris, all exotic locales. The upcoming one: in pretty little Bonn.
Ever wonder why they are not held in polluted urban sprawls such as Mexico City, Delhi, or Beijing. Is it because these cities are too hazardous to spend a few days in?
And then when the climate glitterati descends on a place, they live it up in style, drinking gobs of champagne and munching mounds of caviar, all paid for by someone else of course. Can you image the amount of emissions, carbon and otherwise, these conferences cost the planet. Trump is darn right in trying to figure out where his people are going on what junket.
– Climate money: A hundred billion dollars to be transferred from the developed world to countries like China and India. But, hey, isn’t China developed already. Only about ten percent of its people live in abysmal poverty. That’s about the same figure as in the US.
The argument goes that the West denuded the planet coking coal, and now must compensate China and India, also to coke coal. But there are holes in this argument. First, on this basis, the UK must compensate India for colonization, and Central Asia India for sending rapacious marauders.
Second, China has enormous reserves of natural gas (shale gas), which has become the preferred power fuel of choice (because it’s half as polluting as coal) in much of the world, but it’s not tapping that resource. Instead, it keeps gorging on coal. Granted India doesn’t have much natural gas, but it too seems hell-bent on coal, all with a smokescreen of highly-ambitious renewable energy goals.
India needs to import natural gas: from the US as liquefied natural gas (LNG) by ship, and through overland pipelines such as IPI and TAPI. IPI got stuck because of constant Indo-Pak tension, but mainly because India didn’t want to trade with Iran and offend the US. In the meantime, the US has cozied up to Iran, with India still unable to figure out where its bread is buttered.
And what about TAPI: The Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India hose. The I in there stands for India, not Iran, but one doesn’t hear much about it anymore. Can India and Pakistan just stop shooting themselves in the foot and get real for a change.
– Climate disbelief: Pew Research continuously puts out studies stating that over 60 percent of Americans believe in climate change. But there is a hidden Trump voter in there. Let me explain: Pew calls you, you know it makes you look stupid to say that you don’t believe in climate change, so you say yes.
In the same way that the polls got it so horribly wrong over Trump: when Trump supporters were polled, they knew that it was politically incorrect to say Trump, so said otherwise, but voted otherwise.
– Climate damage: Americans are infamous for the their conspicuous consumption. But are India’s chatterati far behind, cruising around in their Mercedeses and Audis, while airing their houses with split air-cons and now even central air.
Why hasn’t Toyota introduced its simple Prius hybrid in India, instead of just pushing gas-guzzlers? Perhaps they understand Indian sentiments well. Indians crave status. A Mercedes gives you that. A Prius not necessarily. It might be a curiosity at best. Who really cares about pollution?
– Pollution: Which brings me to my last point. The US is one of the cleanest countries in the world, and has been so for a long time. Smokestack as well as tailpipe emissions are carefully controlled. No new coal power plants are coming up.
India and China are among the most polluted countries in the world. Smokestack and tailpipe emissions are not regulated effectively. Even by burning the amount of coal that they are, they could clean up much of their mess by regulating emissions.
Trump wants to renegotiate the Paris deal. What’s wrong with that? Angela Merkel won’t let him. What’s right with that? Merkel believes that she is the conscience-keeper of the world. But she’s not. Ask the British. They wanted more leeway on Brexit, but she vetoed them.
She forbid nuclear generation in Germany after Fukushima, and instead started importing energy from France, whose energy is mainly nuclear. Let the French deal with any disaster, I must have my cake and eat it too. Is that hypocrisy or not?

Comey’s Evidence Vindicates Trump

Comey’s much-awaited evidence was a cropper. A dispassionate speech, it failed to make Trump appear guilty of any crime. If revenge is a dish best served cold, former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony was a true Beltway feast. Comey delivered the most dispassionate and devastating delivery possible in portraying President Trump as the new Richard Nixon – just a lot less likable. Despite the effort of GOP members to undermine Comey’s credibility, he retained his signature Eagle Scout image in expressing his unease with a series of alleged and grossly inappropriate comments from the president.
The testimony unleashed a torrent of Watergate analogies, and even Watergate-era figures like Carl Bernstein and John Dean were called forth to complete the analogy. Yet, if anything, the testimony showed how fanciful these analogies have become.
First and foremost, I am perfectly willing to accept Comey’s account in this hearing. However, even accepting those representations as true, they did not describe a crime or an impeachable offense. Comey confirmed that Trump actually agreed that it would be a good idea for the Russian investigation to go forward and not be terminated artificially.
Comey also confirmed that Trump only expressed a “hope” that the Flynn investigation would end – a statement that Trump made repeatedly publicly. He also confirmed that Trump was primarily asking him to make public what he had already told Congress – that he was not under personal investigation.
Obviously, Trump does not come over well in this account (an account that he had denied). Comey testified that he immediately began the practice of writing down notes from meetings with Trump after the election because of “the nature of the person. I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” Again, however, having a duplicitous or dishonest nature is not an impeachable offense. Indeed, if that standard were applied in Washington generally, it would be a ghost town.
The saturation of Watergate analogies in the media, however, seems wildly detached from either the actual testimony or history. If Watergate was a cancer growing on the presidency, this is still little more than a canker sore – not great to look at but hardly life threatening. It could get worse but what Comey described in his testimony was boorish and even brutish but not necessarily an indictable or impeachable offense. Article I is not a book of etiquette for presidents. If Trump said these things to Comey, they are incredibly improper and ill-advised. Yet, the Nixon comparison works in favor of the position of Trump more than it does Comey.
Comey recounted his discomfort over allegedly being told that Trump wanted assurances of his loyalty and repeatedly asked him to scuttle the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. However, Comey confirmed that he did in fact assure Trump that the president was not under investigation not once but three times. That is significant on two levels. First, if it was grossly inappropriate for Trump to ask the question (and it was), it was equally inappropriate for Comey to answer it (three times). Second, whatever Trump asked of Comey was done in the knowledge that he himself was not viewed as a target for investigation.
Comey also confirmed that Trump asked for him to end the investigation of Flynn, not the Russian investigation as a whole. Flynn had just been fired the day before and Trump could argue that he was expressing sympathy for an aide who had been put through a great deal and was still only accused of relatively minor criminal conduct like violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
I tend to view these things through the lens of a criminal defense counsel and there are a myriad of possible interpretations other than obstruction. The same can be said of the loyalty discussion. Trump’s young administration was being ripped apart by leaks from national security and law enforcement sources. Comey was widely viewed with suspicion by many in the administration. The comment could be viewed in that context rather than some grand Watergate-esque conspiracy.
That brings us back to Watergate. On CNN, Jeffrey Toobin pointed to John Dean sitting next to him to reaffirm that this was now a strong case of obstruction. Toobin stated that Dean (who agreed that the evidence supports a charge of obstruction) knew what he was talking about because he went to jail for obstruction during Watergate. However, the Dean comparison only highlights the overhyped analogy. Dean pled guilty to giving hush money to the Watergate burglars to keep them quiet. That is obstruction. Telling an FBI director that a recently resigned aide is a good guy (something Comey agreed with) and he hoped that he could be now left alone is hardly analogous.
A comparison to the first article of impeachment for Nixon is equally illustrative. The much-touted article accused Nixon of not expressing his desire for the termination of one (but not all investigations) or the suggestion that he might not retain a director for a lack of loyalty. It details extensive criminal conduct on the part of Nixon “to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.”
What followed that statement was a list of nine specific allegations including false and misleading statement to investigators, withholding evidence, procuring false testimony of others, interfering with federal and congressional proceedings, the payment of hush money to witnesses and targets, misuse of the CIA to obstruct the investigation, passing along investigative information to criminal suspects to assist their efforts to evade prosecution, making false information to the public to conceal criminal conduct, and rewarding possible witnesses for their silence of false testimony. Virtually all of those listed items are crimes in their own right.
Of course, one of the most striking differences is that James Comey is no John Dean. Dean went to Nixon to confront him on the cancer growing on the presidency. Comey said nothing to Trump about his misgivings in meeting alone or his comments. He wrote a memo to file. While he did (to his credit) raise the issue with his staff, Comey admits that he did not raise the impropriety of Trump’s questions or conduct with the president.
Comey’s testimony is more illustrative of his view of the nature of Donald Trump than the nature of any alleged crime. A criminal defense counsel would have a field day on these facts if a charge was ever brought. Every factual assertion can be either menacing or mundane, depending on your assumptions about Trump and his motivations. In comparison to the first article of impeachment of Nixon, it is the difference between high crimes and high anxiety.

Myth of Pakistan being Peace Loving, Frontline State Against Terrorism’

Many Pakistani anchors, commentators, and talking heads have gone apeshit over what they see as the twin insults delivered to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia and the United States, both one-time (and to a less degree even now) patrons of this malefic, recidivist state.
According to Pakistani media accompanying and tracking Sharif’s Riyadh visit for the so-called US-Arab Nato summit convened by the US and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan expected the pride of place next only to Saudi Arabia at the summit. Why? Because it is the only Islamic Nuclear Power possessing the “Atom bum.” Besides, Pakistan’s military is placed at the disposal of the House of Saud for its security (essentially a rentier army as security guards, but that’s not how Pakistan sees it) and its leaders (Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf among them) are treated as family guests by the House of Saud (essentially shelter for the homeless exiled, but that’s not how Pakistan sees it).
Ergo, Sharif was all chuffed as he headed out from Islamabad to Riyadh. According to Salim Bokhari – a perpetually sour and embittered Pakistan anchor always ready to go to war with “enemy” India – who was on the Prime Ministerial plane, Sharif even PRACTISED his speech delivery for two and half hours on the flight.
Sharif’s team promised to provide the media a text of the speech where he was expected to make a grand case of how Pakistan was in the forefront in the war on terrorism after becoming one of its biggest victims. Doubtless, the “Kashmir issue” was to be slipped into the speech at some point.
What happened next is best heard from Bokhari himself in an anguished spot report so full of despair that you fear he will shoot himself in the head on live television. Here it is for your benefit.
“Not just Nawaz Sharif, but the Pakistani nation itself was humiliated,” wailed Mr Sourface hysterically, relating how Sharif was not given a chance to speak, was relegated to the back ranks, and was generally treated shoddily. Barely able to contain himself, Bokhari says he is full of anger and despair at the Saudi betrayal of its ummah birather. Worse, Donald Trump in his speech not only identified India as a victim of terrorism, but made no mention of Pakistan or its “suffering.”
Pakistan’s anchor-pack has since picked up Bokhari’s live reporting and the collective caterwauling that has emerged from the country’s tv studios is a sight and sound to behold. All the usual tropes and grievances are being wheeled out, from recollections of its help to US during the Cold War to the services it has rendered to the sheikhs.
With the Trump administration subsequently announcing that it will further cut aid to Pakistan and turn grants into loans, the venom and vitriol is at fever pitch. “US-Saudi Nexus of Evil,” reads the headline for an OpEd in the Nation newspaper, where one Pakistani analysts has discovered that “as far as Pakistan is concerned, its focus should be on stabilising Afghanistan, where China, Russia, Central Asian states and Iran are our natural partners.”
Of course, the US and Saudi Arabia can – and probably will – quell all this disquiet by sweeping a few crumbs off the table to be picked up by this beggar nation. But till that happens, expect more caterwauling sponsored by the 1800-strong ISI media cell tasked with manipulating the press, including planting bogus reports like yesterday’s story in the Pakistan that Indian troops had fired at UN observers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The UN has rubbished the allegation this morning saying there was no such shooting, but you can trust there will be many more such reports. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to whitewash the admission made by a retired Pakistani general Amjad Shoaib that Pakistan had kidnapped Kulbhushan Yadav from Iran (“Humne usko Iran se utha kar le aaya”) and he was not captured inside Pakistan as reported.
Shoaib is not the first dumb Pakistani jernail to be thus busted (remember Musharraf the Mouth and his Kargil Tapes?) but the lies and deceit never stop, leading me to coin YET ANOTHER name for Al-Bakistan: Bullshitistan. This messed-up country has now invented so many lies, it can barely distinguish truth from fiction now, and the b.s is peddled incessantly in their mostly-compliant media. Some anchors like Bokhari (and a whole lot of mohtarmas whose names I forget) don’t even make a pretense of sobriety; I worry constantly that they will storm out of the studios and head straight for the border (where they should be met by some of our anchor heroes).
Of course, there are many well-grounded anchors and commentators who call out the b.s., most notably the brilliant Hassan Nisar and the thoughtful Pervez Hoodbuoy. Two other talking heads who have won my admiration in recent weeks with their unvarnished candor and bold stand are Rauf Klasra and Amir Mateen.
In some ways, you have to admire the courage of Pakistani journalists and intellectuals even more than that of their Indian counterparts because they are in a lot more danger. At least, the establishment is not bumping people off in India – not just yet.
Anyway, this is as good a time as any to bust some of the mythologies that Pakistan has constructed so some its more toxic anchors and commentators, especially its jihadi jarnails, can sip from the fount of facts
Myth #1: Pakistan is a peace-loving country
No, it is not. Every war waged against India has been ignited by Pakistan. This is broadly recorded by every neutral observer and historian except in the doctored textbooks and accounts in Pakistan. Check it out sometime and come to the realization: India is a status quo power that does not covet anything Pakistan has (and there is nothing to covet). Pakistan is a unsettled, unstable, insecure, and in its mind incomplete state, and therefore a revisionist nation which tries to change the status quo. In other words, a war monger.
Myth #2: Pakistan is a frontline state in war on terror
No, it is not. On the contrary it is a terrorist state and a net exporter of terror. Its terrorists have been caught all over the world including in India, US, UK, Europe, Australia, etc. Most of the world’s most wanted terrorists, from Osama bin Laden to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed lived in Pakistan and were caught or killed in Pakistan. Pakistan therefore has a well-earned reputation as Terroristan. In the guise of fighting terrorism, Pakistan military kills Pakistanis for reward money and military aid.
Myth #3: Pakistan is a well-respected leader of the Muslim Ummah because of its “bum”
Well, the Saudi fiasco put that one to rest. No one gives a shit about Pakistan, least of all its Muslim birathers. The Saudis treat the Pak fauj as a rentier army, and the US of course buys its services whenever it needs with a few pieces of silver or a few hundred million in guns and butter. Bangladesh has more respect and recognition now in the world on account of its superior socio-economic metrics.
Myth #4: Pakistan desires, and has friendly relations with all its neighbors, except India
Pakistan has now antagonized both Iran and Afghanistan in addition to India. In fact, except for milking CPEC for its ends and find a short cut to the warm waters of Arabian Sea, even China has reservations about the toxic policies of the Islamic Republic that includes exporting terror. Ask what’s happening in Xinjiang, where Chinese Muslims are not allowed sport beard or hijab and not allowed to name their children Mohammed. Of course, China will buy the Islamic Republic’s shameful silence on the matter with CPEC investments. Any wonder why the rest of the Muslim ummah does not respect Pakistan.
Myth #5: Pakistan has suffered most in war on terror.
Ever heard of “as you sow, so you reap”? It may be true that Pakistan has lost many soldiers and civilians in terror attacks, but when your government and your civil society (barring the Hassan Nisars and Rauf Klasras) is compliant in engendering extremism and the jihadi mindset, no one is going to feel for you. Yes, precious innocent lives have been lost – YOU caused it yourself. And in any case, most of the death toll consists of innocent Pashtuns, Baloch, Mohajir and other minorities your fauj has killed in a blood sport. It’s no use cooking up fiction about Kulbhushan Yadav, etc. You nurtured al-Qaeda and Taliban, and they started killing you long before Indian spies/agents/saboteurs, etc were even tying their shoelaces.
There are many more myths that can be busted another time, but digest this for now. There’s still time to change course and adopt a more peaceful and reasonable approach towards India, as the firm of Klasra and Mateen has suggested as a panacea to Pakistan’s troubles. But for that to happen, the Salim Bokharis and Amjad Shoaibs have to be retired and that’s not going to happen any time soon. Pakistan will remain al-jihadistan in near future. Just deal with it.

Back to barracks?

In the immediate aftermath of the Manchester suicide bombing, troops were seen on the streets of a major British city after many years. But the government was quick to assure citizens that the soldiers were under the orders of police officers, and would not operate independently. In Pakistan, it is difficult to imagine circumstances under which even a young army captain would take orders from a senior police officer.
In the US, when a popular general, Stanley McChrystal, denigrated President Obama in an interview, he had to resign. In Pakistan, a major general can send out a controversial tweet, and not face action.
Ruling generals have left behind a bigger mess. I could cite endless examples of generals being kept on a short leash by governments in other countries to highlight the imbalance in the relationship here in Pakistan. Civil-military ties here have been fraught for many years. In most countries, few know the names of their army chiefs; here, periodic meetings of corps commanders are covered on the front pages of national newspapers.
The problem began early on when politicians squabbled for nearly a decade after Partition before they could agree on a constitution in 1956. The reason for the delay was that if the document had incorporated the universal democratic principle of one-man, one-vote, power would have passed to the more populous East Pakistan, something West Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats were not willing to accept.
This, combined with other political turbulence, caused a power vacuum to develop, one soon filled by Gen Ayub Khan in 1958 following a coup that marginalised the entire political class. Following a popular movement, he was replaced in 1969 by Gen Yahya Khan who led Pakistan into a disastrous civil war. He was followed by Gen Zia in 1977 who lasted 11 ruinous years. Then came Gen Musharraf who was in the saddle from 1999 to 2008.
One point to recall is that three of the four wars Pakistan has fought were caused by these generals: the wars of 1965, 1971 and the Kargil fiasco would not have been launched had the military not been in charge.
Most Pakistani students could recite these facts off the top of their heads, so why am I walking down this well-trodden path? Simply to underline the reality of the military’s dominance over the country’s politics for much of its existence.
As we have noted, the ascendancy of the military has taken place due to the perceived incompetence and corruption of the political class. Never mind that once in power, the officer class takes full advantage of its control of the levers of power to feed at the public trough, just as they accuse politicians and bureaucrats of doing.
Direct control and self-censorship in the media prevents the public from being informed of the security establishment’s wrongdoing, so in millions of eyes, the army is seen as a disciplined, honest force compared to our squabbling and venal politicians. Hence the periodic appeals to our generals, often amplified and orchestrated by sections of the media, to intervene.
This is clearly a victory of hope over experience: each time the generals have taken over, they have left a bigger mess behind. And yet, as we have been hearing over the last few years, the cry for the ‘third umpire’ to step in retains its potency.
But beyond catering to the hard-wired beliefs of democrats, does this imbalance of power really matter? Yes, it does. A democratic dispensation permits us to boot a poorly performing elected government out. This option is simply not available under a dictatorship.
Even a flawed democratic system gives people a voice that is not available to them under martial law. Freedom of speech and assembly are basic rights that, again, are denied us under a dictatorship.
But in desperately poor countries like Pakistan, most people are more interested in employment, access to clean water and uninterrupted electricity. These needs trump political freedom and human rights.
Given our long experience of military rule, the army has learned lessons, just as politicians have. Basically, generals have come to realise that they have no magic wand to solve the country’s many problems. After seeing their predecessors forced out in humiliation, and the reputation of their beloved institution sullied, they have decided not to intervene directly again. After all, if they retain their clout, why stage coups?
The lesson politicians have learned is that like it or not, the military is a power they have to cope with. And if they want to reclaim the space the generals have seized over the years, they will have to up their game, and stop squabbling with each other. Good governance will reinforce their legitimacy and right to govern. And over a period of time, it might even send the army back to the barracks.

Robo-economy in the Middle East

Much has been written already about the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the opportunity that the convergence of its new technologies offers in terms of building value into production systems and economies around the world. In one sense, the playing field could be levelled out. Localized production is being made more feasible for many small producers, setting developing communities on a path towards self-sufficiency, while falling costs could enable factories of all sizes to boost their productivity levels.
However, on the opposite side of the equation, news headlines have been dominated by predictions that human workers will be substituted by robots, leading to widespread job losses and heightened societal challenges. Additionally, doubt has been shed on the ability of regions that are less industrialized, or those with fractured economies and infrastructure, to be able to respond to these disruptions and compete effectively in the future.
For the Middle East and North Africa, it’s a critical question. Clearly, the region contains a mixture of countries in very different situations, ranging from those with active conflicts, challenged societal cohesion and decreasing incomes from natural resource reserves, to thriving, inclusive, relatively advanced economies.
However, the collision of some of the region’s characteristic megatrends with the 4IR phenomenon actually positions it to take a leading role in adopting and leveraging new technologies. Here are some examples:
A rapidly growing, young, tech-savvy population and the role of augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) and wearables. More than 40% of people across the Middle East and North Africa are under the age of 25, and population growth is second only to sub-Saharan Africa. This growth is set to continue, with the total population forecast to reach 700 million by 2050. While clearly this indicates an urgent need to create jobs and build new capabilities, a new generation of millennial workers who have grown up with technology at their fingertips are arguably more likely to adapt to the needs of the new production age. For example, companies could use augmented reality to conduct “hyper-training” for employees, resulting in increased engagement, dramatically faster training times and a more capable workforce.
Urbanization, new infrastructure development and the internet of things (IoT). Around 263 million people – or 62% of the region’s population – are city-dwellers, and this urban populace is expected to double by 2040. This means more construction, and more opportunities to embed IoT devices into current and future builds, traffic management, energy management and other smart systems, to help the region take a leap forward. Cities around the world have begun to harness the power of digital connectivity. Barcelona uses smart lamp posts that sense pedestrians to adjust lighting, sample air quality and share information with city agencies and the public. Singapore uses smart bus fleets that identify issues and significantly reduce crowding and wait times. Dubai has installed new traffic signals that spot the movement of pedestrians and automatically modify the signal timing to encourage more people to walk and help reduce accidents.
Economic diversification, productivity and the role of robots. Volatile oil prices have placed strain on the Middle East’s oil-exporting countries, resulting in a redoubled focus on economic diversification. All of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have designed long-term plans to increase their diversification, attract investment, grow the SME sector and private-sector jobs, and increase GDP and exports. Converging new technologies offer an alternative to traditional routes to development, and make it possible for countries to enter new industry sectors with relative ease.
⦁ Examples include “speed factories” that use robots and 3D printing to rapidly produce customized goods, which can help accelerate localization of production. This automation can multiply productivity and enable countries in the region to enter new markets where they could not compete before, such as aerospace-parts manufacturing. Furthermore, the use of automation and autonomy for cargo and passenger movement could increase the region’s competitive advantage.
Of course, there are undoubtedly challenges for the region to overcome as it builds out a new future, all of which will be key in alleviating the foundational reasons of regional security conflicts. Three that are central to unleashing the transformational growth of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are:
Building the right capabilities. Some regions are behind on the path towards industrialization, and it is acknowledged that students and professionals must be better equipped with the relevant skills – not only in STEM subjects, but in the intrinsically human skills that will be in demand more than ever before as automation alters the role for humans in the workplace.
Supportive governance, regulation and policies. This comes down to governments adopting more progressive and inclusive frameworks that encourage demand, stimulate investment, boost enterprise development, reduce corruption and redress the imbalances of historical exclusion in some of its societies.
Pan-regional integration. Finally, in a world where regions are beginning to look inwards, the Middle East and North Africa can stand to gain from improving their regional economic exchanges. Economic integration in the region is among the lowest globally. Increased intra-regional mobility of goods, capital and workforce would enable it to boost economic growth and better cope with the disruptions of 4IR.
I am in no doubt that the Middle East and North Africa stand at the threshold of an enormous opportunity as the digital revolution beckons. I believe that it has the capacity to seize that opportunity, and to continue its path towards a highly productive and more integrated future.

India & Japan Propose Asia-Africa Sea Corridor to Counter OBOR

The two governments hope that the project would be a cheaper option and have a smaller carbon footprint when compared to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the pitch for developing an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), with support from Japan, while addressing the annual general meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Gujarat’s capital of Gandhinagar last Tuesday, May 23.

The next day, both the Indian and Japanese governments presented a “vision document” for the project that is largely meant to propel growth and investment in Africa, by curtailing the ever-increasing presence of the Chinese on the continent. More concrete details on this corridor are expected to emerge when Prime Minister Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe meet later this year.

What is Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)? How will Japan and India contribute to the project?

The AAGC is an attempt to create a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” by rediscovering ancient sea-routes and creating new sea corridors that will link the African continent with India and countries in South-Asia and South-East Asia. The project stakeholders hope the sea corridors will be “low-cost” and have “less carbon footprint” when compared to a land corridor. For instance, under the AAGC, there is a plan to connect ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Eden. Similarly, ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai; Kolkata will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar. India is developing ports under the Sagarmala programme specifically for this purpose. Apart from developing sea corridors , the AAGC also proposes to build robust institutional, industrial and transport infrastructure in growth poles among countries in Asia and Africa. The idea is to enable economies in Asia and Africa to further integrate and collectively emerge as a globally competitive economic bloc.

Japan’s contribution to the project will be its state-of-the-art technology and ability to build quality infrastructure, while India will bring in its expertise of working in Africa. The private sector of both countries are expected to play big role by coming together to form joint-ventures and consortiums, to take up infrastructure, power or agribusiness projects in Africa.

Where did the idea of AAGC originate?

The proposal for an AAGC was first mentioned in the joint declaration issued by prime ministers Modi and Shinzo Abe in November 2016. The declaration included their intention to work jointly and cooperatively with other countries to promote development of industrial corridors and networks in Asia and Africa.

What is the AAGC vision document? Which institutions were behind its creation?

A 30-page booklet, the AAGC vision document was unveiled by the Indian and Japanese government officials at the African Development Bank (AfDB) annual general meeting held at Gandhinagar on May 24. It is just a broad framework for the creation of the project. In the first phase, the corridor attempts to link Africa with India and countries in South-Asia including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, say officials.

After the Modi-Abe meeting in November 2016, work on creating a vision document for AAGC was entrusted to the three think-tanks: the New Delhi-based Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), linked to the Ministry of External Affairs; the Jakarta-based ERIA (Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia) and the Japanese research organisation IDE-JETRO (Institute of Developing Economies-Japan External Trade Organisation).

Apart from the trio, research institutions and individuals from Africa were also invited for detailed consultations at Jakarta on April 21, 2017, at the ERIA headquarters.

Which were the other countries consulted for the Asia Africa Growth Corridor? Was China part of the process?

Apart from India and Japan, South Africa, Mozambique, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia sent representatives for the consultation process. Quizzed about China, Anita Prakash, Director General of ERIA, said her organisation represented the ASEAN region and six other countries including China. Moreover, she added, ERIA also has Chinese scholars working for it on this project.

Is AAGC a counter to OBOR?

Unlike OBOR which entails development of a land corridor, AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia and Oceania. It is being presented as a “distinct initiative” borne out of a consultative process which would be profitable and bankable, unlike the “government-funded model” of OBOR (One Belt One Road) project. “Firstly, we are making this process more consultative, because this was one objection India came up with when OBOR was presented. Secondly, the centrality of people in Africa needs to brought up front, rather than excessive emphasis on trade and economic relations alone. Thirdly, Japan’s ability to deliver quality infrastructure will play a major role in developing this corridor,” says Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General of IRS.

Why is Africa lucrative? What kind of presence do the Chinese have across the continent?

In 2015, the five of the fastest growing economies in Africa were non-resource rich, with Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda leading the pack with GDP growth rates of 10.2 per cent, 8.8 per cent and 7.1 per cent, respectively. Similarly, in 2016, countries like Senegal clocked a growth rate of 7.5 per cent, while Ethiopia (8 per cent), Kenya (6.5 percent) and Tanzania (7 per cent) all recorded impressive growth.

The Chinese influence on the African economy can be gauged from the 2017 African Economic Outlook, released at the AfDB summit, which showed that country was still the major consumer of African goods, accounting for 27 per cent of Africa’s total global exports. China is also a leader in greenfield investment in Africa; in 2015-16, the country invested a whopping USD 38.4 billion (24 per cent of total greenfield investment). In comparison, India during the same year, invested just USD 2.2 billion (1.3 percent of total greenfield investments) across 64 greenfield projects. Japan investments at present are minuscule.

What has been the initial response of African nations to the AAGC vision document?

The African Development Bank has welcomed the AAGC vision document. “Trade corridors have always existed between Africa and Asia and when PM Modi mentioned this we at AFDB welcome it. It is important because infrastructure is costly and you cannot have infrastructure everywhere. There has to be particular zones where you have to build infrastructure. We are already working on growth corridors within Africa,” said AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina.

What is the way forward for AAGC?

More studies will be undertaken to list the current demands and challenges of economic, socio-cultural and political partnership pertaining to AAGC. It will bring out the existing challenges and barriers to this project. It will also spell out the cooperation aspects of sustainable growth and development exchange of best practices. Based on all these aspects, future AAGC studies will make recommendations to the governments of India and Japan and to governments in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania on the way forward for deepening this partnership.-

I presume that further details shall become known either when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Abe on the sidelines of the G20 meet at Hamburg (Germany) in July or when India hosts the Japanese Prime Minister in September

Looking China in the eye

India needs an alternative narrative which contests the inevitability of Chinese hegemony, as seen by the successful conclusion of the Belt and Road Forum (BARF) in Beijing, which India chose to stay away from, has led to a chorus of voices warning that in doing so, India has isolated itself both regionally and globally.
With the exception of Bhutan, all the South Asian neighbours of India participated, as did countries India regards as its partners in resisting the Chinese dominance of Asia; these include the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. Japan and Vietnam are also countries of South East Asia, which, like India, have territorial disputes with China, but they did not consider those disputes reason enough to stay away. It may also be argued that India itself has not let its territorial disputes with China stand in the way of cooperating with it on matters of mutual interest such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) or the BRICS Development Bank (DB).
India’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will also present opportunities for regional cooperation with China and other member countries. These opportunities constituted a rationale for seeking membership in the organisation. So, did India make a wrong call in staying away from the BARF?
One, unlike the AIIB, the DB or the SCO, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) is not a multilateral project: It is a series of current or proposed projects that will be undertaken through bilateral agreements between China and partner countries. There is no multi-national frame here or institutional arrangements through which participating countries can not only link themselves with China but with each other as well. For example, in planning various projects under the CPEC, there is no Afghan or Iranian dimension; the China-Afghan projects or the China-Iran projects are in separate compartments.
So, there is no blueprint of a multi-nation connectivity plan that India is missing out on, though such connectivity, to a limited extent, may emerge as a collateral benefit. It is still open for China to propose and for India to consider, in the light of its own interests, bilateral cooperation to improve connectivity between India and China. India could, and should, use the AIIB and DB to fund domestic and cross-border infrastructure projects which will promote its own economic prospects and improve connectivity with its immediate and extended neighbourhood. Signing on to the OBOR is not a prerequisite.
Secondly, there appears to be a misconception that India is missing out on billions of dollars worth of potential investment in its infrastructure by keeping away from the OBOR. Chinese investment, as distinct from funding through the AIIB or DB, is through loans which carry significant interest and there may be other conditionalities, including the purchase of Chinese equipment and the use of Chinese technology. One of the reasons why the OBOR has been launched is precisely to help China deal with the problem of massive over-capacity it has built up in steel, cement and construction machinery and transportation.
For India, a shortage of capital is not the main constraint but rather, designing and executing economically viable and sustainable projects. Indian companies have used Chinese credits and technology and equipment to build power and telecom projects.
However, these are plagued by problems of inferior quality. There has also been concern that in undertaking such projects, the Chinese bring in their own labour teams which takes away employment from local people. This has also been an issue in other countries where the Chinese have undertaken projects either through the grant of credits or though investment by Chinese companies. The latter are already significant players in the Indian market, whether it is Alibaba in the e-commerce and e-payments space or Huawei and Xiaomi in telecom.
Therefore, as long as India remains one of the most rapidly growing large economies, with an unmatched market potential, fears of missing out on the economic opportunities because of India’s absence from the BARF are not well-founded. If China limits its investment in the Indian economy because of India’s refusal to endorse the OBOR, then the loss will be China’s, not India’s.
Thirdly, India cannot but oppose the CPEC, which violates India’s territorial integrity. Some commentators are of the view that since India has already conceded that it could settle for the Line of Control as an international boundary between India and Pakistan, there is no reason to get exercised about the CPEC: This is a dangerous argument. The LoC as an international boundary may come as an outcome of a negotiated settlement, not as a starting point of such negotiations. The other side does not accept the status quo. Neither can we.
It is the same with the India-China boundary. China’s double standards should be exposed. It opposes any project in Arunachal Pradesh for which funding has been sought from international financial institutions on the ground that this is disputed territory. Of late, it has been opposing even central projects in the state. How then can it claim that its projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir do not affect issues of territorial integrity and national sovereignty?
In addition, the latest revelations of the dimensions of the CPEC in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn make it abundantly clear that, as the newspaper declares, “the plan envisages a deep and broad penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history”. Pakistan is emerging as an economic and military outpost of China on our western flank. This directly and adversely impacts our security interests: These cannot be deflected by the so-called economic prospects of the CPEC. It is another matter that this foreign-inspired nation-building project in Pakistan is as unlikely to succeed as its western versions here and elsewhere.
It is apparent that key assumptions behind India’s China policy, in place over the past decade and a half, are being altered. On the global scale, China is attempting to create a narrative of the inevitability of a Chinese hegemonic order, supplanting the US-led order. The OBOR is an important instrument in building that narrative. Regionally, it is no longer willing to accept Indian primacy in the Subcontinent or in the Indian Ocean. It is determined to build its own primacy. The CPEC is an ominous example of this.
India will, therefore, need a new China strategy. Mere opposition to Chinese moves may not suffice. We need to articulate an alternative narrative which contests the inevitability of Chinese hegemony. We need to rethink our regional strategy which may require far greater focus on securing our immediate neighbourhood than we have now.

Importance of Keeping Secrets

Secrecy is like political capital: The more you use it, the less you keep. Iam reminded of that hot day in June, 217 BC, Marcus Pomponius, senior praetor of the Roman Republic, mounted the speaker’s platform in the Forum in front of a large and agitated crowd and issued an official statement: “We have been defeated in a great battle.”
It’s nearly impossible to prove a negative in anything, but that’s almost certainly one of the few times in recorded history that any government has ever dared tell its people the unvarnished truth in wartime.
Pomponius didn’t have much choice in the matter. His colleagues probably had to shove him out the door of the Temple of Jupiter with a long, forked stick. For two days or so, terrible rumours had been circulating of a military disaster at Lake Trasimene. Earlier that day, a courier had arrived in broad daylight, the Senate had gone into emergency session and panic in the city was rising. Then the survivors started trickling in.
Braced by the frankness of their leaders, the Roman people girded their loins (literally, in those days) and prepared for a fight to the finish against Hannibal. That, at least, was what later generations desperately wanted to believe. But it was no good — their own historians had blown the whistle early on. Polybius and Livy describe scenes of panic going on for about ten days, until the Senate caved and appointed an emergency military dictator, Fabius Maximus.
The Senate had told the truth under a clear and present threat (they might have been lynched if they hadn’t) but the anecdote leads to a pertinent contemporary question: When may — when should — a government withhold the truth from the people it was elected to lead?
It’s almost an inopportune question, given how the politics of truth in the superpower to the immediate south have been sliding into the abyss to an extent we would have not believed possible even a generation ago (Bill Clinton’s cigar is now little more than a quaint metaphor). As the Los Angeles Times noted in early April: “Lies have oozed out of the White House for more than two centuries and out of politicians’ mouths — out of all people’s mouths — likely as long as there has been human speech.” Certainly, ‘never trust the politicians/government’ has been a mantra for as long as I’ve been on the planet. Never has it been quite so shockingly borne out.
Still, there are instances — principally in wartime — when secrets do have to be kept, when the unvarnished truth would do harm. How does a good government deal with them? (And just to be clear, we’re not talking here about President Donald Trump allegedly blabbing classified information to Russian diplomats. That’s a topic for another day.)
A recent CBC News story suggested that the RCAF was delivering less than the unvarnished truth about possible civilian casualties as a result of weapons malfunctions during Operation Impact in Iraq and Syria. The story cited a media statement of November 27, 2015 which essentially masked the facts of the issue (whatever they may have been) under the rubric of ‘operational security’.
The piece quoted yours truly on the likelihood of errant airstrikes, describing me as “quietly skeptical” of claims that no civilian casualties resulted from these malfunctions. Indeed I am — for two reasons.
First, as noted, it’s almost impossible to prove a negative in anything — even more so in the middle of a war where, while there may be non-military sources of information available, they are sporadic, necessarily indirect, possibly fragmentary and not always highly reliable. We are more aware anecdotally of the problem of getting coherent testimony from witnesses in a fairly simple criminal case; getting it out of a city under attack, or occupied by a vicious enemy, is much, much harder. After-action reports are always unreliable, even with modern recording technology. We are not talking about candour here — we’re talking about standards of evidence among a welter of claims without effective jurisdiction.
The second reason is perhaps closer to the CBC’s point: that the adoption of secrecy as a panacea is a bad thing, simply because there are times when governments must keep secrets and, if they’ve used the cone of silence too often, they’ll find their political credit is shot.
The military was probably overreaching by claiming there had been ‘no’ civilian casualties. A simple ‘to the best of our knowledge’ would have sufficed — but there’s a prevailing fetish in society for incontrovertible facts, even where there are none to be had. These twin pressures — to achieve precision on the one hand and to hedge politically dangerous statements on the other — usually turn out to be mutually exclusive. ‘To the best of our knowledge’ probably would not have survived the red pencil either way.
Whatever fashionable term you wish to apply to ‘undeclared conflict’, we’ve been in such conflicts pretty much constantly since 2001. Governments generally have been very reluctant to admit that point — and if you can’t admit that to yourself, you’re going to have a very hard time deciding when you can admit to anyone that things have gotten gritty.
It didn’t help that there was a political transition underway back in Ottawa at the time of the airstrikes. Whether we like it or not, that does affect the way in which a government will respond under pressure, and especially when the actual war policy itself (the airstrikes) is known to be up for reconsideration. When the new political masters are not yet in firm control, where there are doubts about the stance they will take or when they will take it, the inclination is to say as little as possible — and to caveat even that to death, just to be sure.
The point that the CBC story spoke to was less a failure to provide unequivocal answers (which may not have been available) and more the refusal to provide information under the general rubric of ‘operational security’.
There are times and places for operational security. The presence of a very small number of Special Forces in a fluid and hostile environment is one of them. Apart from the strict question of physical force protection, all wars are psychological wars — and it would be irresponsible to telegraph intentions that might be used either operationally or as disinformation.
But in this specific case of malfunctioning munitions, the problem seems to be that the default position of the operational security bar was set too low. Again, there are reasons. Ottawa has been preternaturally uncomfortable about even the hint of civilian casualties since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. (This is a relatively new and by no means universal phenomenon. At a recent lecture at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto, SAS veteran Alan Bell noted that the prevention of civilian casualties was already a concern in the Falklands War of 1982. The civilians in question were British, but governments have not always been so concerned even about their own people.)
Outside the realm of current operational security, there can be other reasons to keep events secret, even long after the event. The first revelations of cannibalism conducted as policy by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War Two began to emerge (to their credit, from Japanese sources) only in the early 1990s. The U.S. had the evidence, but historian Anthony Beevor has suggested that the information was withheld after the war simply because domestic public response (nearly 80,000 American troops went missing in action in the Pacific Theatre) would have been too immediately horrible for any political authority to contemplate.
During both world wars and the Korean conflict, information was subject to rigid control by governments and journalistic standards were, well … different. Reports were censored. Journalists wore uniforms for much of the period and were regarded (and largely regarded themselves) as supporters of the Allied cause. You could get away with some edgy stories about the well-being of the troops, but not a lot beyond that. No face-to-face exclusives with Field Marshal Rommel. No exposés about internments of Canadian citizens, either. Certainly nothing that we would call ‘investigative journalism’.
On April 10 this year, the National Post ran a lovely commemorative piece on the battle for Vimy Ridge, using original Canadian news stories. It’s a work of art — necessarily selective but faithful to its time. What leaps out at today’s reader is that there is nothing underlying the narrative of preparation and battle. The correspondents at the front were calling it as they saw it and the writing is tremendous — but the lens was completely different. Security was chafed at in both world wars but it was accepted as a given — as it was even as late as the Gulf War of 1991.
But in those days, we were at war and we knew it; fundamentally, that’s one of the issues troubling us today. Whatever fashionable term you wish to apply to ‘undeclared conflict’, we’ve been in such conflicts pretty much constantly since 2001. Governments generally have been very reluctant to admit that point — and if you can’t admit that to yourself, you’re going to have a very hard time deciding when you can admit to anyone that things have gotten gritty. At that point, operational security becomes almost the least of your problems.
This isn’t a new thing, even in a declared war under the old rules (we haven’t had a formal declaration of war since 1945). Winston Churchill famously said that “in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” History now knows that Churchill got away with a lot under that heading that was questionable (or worse, in hindsight) but he wasn’t questioned at the time. He also never won an election as prime minister; he was put in power by the Conservative caucus when Neville Chamberlain resigned, the 1940 general election was cancelled (imagine — cancelled!) because of the war, and he lost the next one in 1945. Both of those things — taking him on faith until 1945 and then letting him go — are traditionally cited as indicators of the sound political judgment of the British people, and frankly there’s no good reason to reconsider that verdict now.
Nobody steps into the polling station asking, ‘Which candidate can I really trust to hide the necessary things from me if war breaks out?’ — but war and peace are two of the fundamental functions of a government, so in a sense that question always should be lurking somewhere in the room. The parsing of unvarnished truth versus unified purpose — especially in matters of war and national security — is in the end a social compact continually renegotiated between government and people from generation to generation, crisis to crisis, incident to incident.
We probably know one thing from the Afghanistan experience: Failure to tell the truth about Canadian casualties, and tell it promptly, is beyond the pale. But from there onward, the social compact of the day is far less defined, and the current state of destabilized intolerance in public discourse ends up grossly devaluing any compact; Gresham’s Law operates in politics too.
It’s something the federal government will have to take into account if and when we are dragged back into an Afghan commitment, as NATO (read: the U.S.) is now suggesting could happen, or if we commit to a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa.
The lesson? Governments shouldn’t exhaust their fund of secrecy over 17 stray munitions out of 606 fired. They’ll need that credit when something even more terrible happens. That old chestnut — ‘the first casualty of war is the truth’ — is just an observation. It’s not a directive.

And then… Khuda Became Allah

In 1985 a curious thing happened: a prominent Pakistani talk-show host bid her audience farewell with the words Allah Hafiz. It was an awkward substitution. The Urdu word for goodbye was actually Khuda Hafiz (meaning God be with you), using the Persian word for God, Khuda, not the Arabic one, Allah. The new term was pushed on the populace in the midst of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization campaign of the late 1970s and 1980s, the extremes of which Pakistani society had never before witnessed.
Zia overhauled large swathes of the Pakistan Penal Code to resemble Saudi-style justice, leaving human rights activists and religious minorities aghast. Even the national language, revered for its poetry, would not be spared. And yet, though bars and cabarets shut down overnight and women were told to cover up, it would take two decades for the stubborn Khuda to decisively die off, and let Allah reign.
In more recent times, the language wars break out every year during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Before the early 2000s, Pakistanis used a Persianized pronunciation of the word, Ramzan. Slowly, however, the Arabic Ramadan came to take hold – in television commercials and on billboards advertising restaurant deals for the best eateries to break the fast, in magazines and newspapers, in sermons, on talk shows and of course, from the lips of neighbors. Now, Pakistanis were supposed to wish each other Ramadan Kareem instead of Ramzan Mubarak. They no longer performed wuzu, the ablutions required before offering prayer, but wudu. Then, two years ago, the federal minister for religious affairs announced his intentions to make Arabic a compulsory language in school curriculums.
Pakistan has long been torn between its Indo-Persian roots and the cultural imperialism of a much darker strain of Sunni Islam imported from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. Though it was Zia who, with US and Saudi support, set up madrassahs, or Islamic schools, to fund and train puritanical warriors in preparation for a “jihad” against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the cultural ramifications of his policies polarize the society to this day.
Badar Alam, veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s foremost investigative news magazine, The Herald, notes, “As Muslim societies in the post-cold war era are increasingly viewing themselves in terms of very literal interpretations of Muslim history and theology, anything that offers a culturally different point of view is shunned and discarded. Language purification is part of a larger purification. Even in Bangladesh, where pride in the Bangla language is part of the national identity, Allah Hafiz is now a common way of saying goodbye. And Persian, after all, is the language of Shia Iran. In a contest between Shia and Sunni Islam, the Sunnis must prefer Arabic over Persian.”
And of course, Pakistan depends heavily on remittances from Saudi Arabia. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, remittances from the kingdom amounted to $5.9 billion, according to a State Bank of Pakistan report quoted in local newspapers, greater than inflows from any other nation. The UAE followed closely behind at $4.3 billion. What is religion without the money to enforce it?
The intelligentsia, largely, loathe Allah Hafiz. They cling to the vanquished Khuda Hafiz even though it is no longer heard in the streets. They write obituaries for it in the opinion pages. When two such speakers exchange a Khuda Hafiz, an instant understanding is forged: aha, you are also one of the last remaining few. In fact, a proponent of Allah Hafiz once complained in Dawn, the country’s oldest newspaper, “If you dare say “Ramadan Kareem” in front of them, that’s a dead give away to them that you’ve frequented Saudi Arabia a bit too much or you are on [your] way to becoming a “fundo”. They are offended by the “Al” and “Bin” prefixes that we see on the names of roadside [restaurants]…” Take, for example, a roadside juice vendor in Karachi, who runs a stall named “Al-Makkah Juice Center.”
Two years ago, the Arabic obsession took a turn for the ridiculous. On the streets of Lahore, people were noticing vehicles with number plates that read “Al-Bakistan.” And therein lies the absurdity of this linguistic imperialism – the letter P does not even exist in Arabic. (Pepsi Cola, for instance, is spelled “Bebsi” when advertised in the local script in Arab countries.) Later, even the province of Punjab, where Lahore is located, was sacrificed when “Al-Bunjab” number plates reportedly began cropping up. Punjab means “land of the five rivers.” What Bunjab means is anyone’s guess. (Indeed, even Allah Hafiz isn’t properly Arabized – really, it should be Allah Hafidh.) Distinguished Pakistani linguist and academic Tariq Rahman, referencing Pakistan’s founder, commented on the phenomenon, “Plain Mr Jinnah, as he called himself, would be turning in his grave…In fact, I wonder why /p/ and /ch/ are not being abandoned altogether. We may lose our moon (chaand), but we will be better Arabs. Anyone for it?” It is also worth noting that the Pakistani national anthem is written in Farsi. If Pakistan is to truly become a colony of the Arabs, this will have to change.
Yet, in Pakistan’s sad history, none of this is unique. The Arabization of Pakistan is only the latest form of social engineering that it must suffer. In 1947, when Pakistan was born, its leaders inherited an essentially alien land, comprised of a diverse population of ethnic Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtos and Bengalis, each with their own language, customs, culture, and, after Partition, nationalist leanings. Moreover, millions of Mohajirs, or Urdu-speaking migrants from India, spilled into the newly created urban centers, especially in the southern province of Sindh and its capital city, Karachi. Disparate peoples had come together to form a new nation. But while the call for a separate Muslim homeland had been a compelling one before Partition, once realized it proved impossible to govern. Moreover, West and East Pakistan were divided by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Unity had to be forced on the young country, and its various cultures had to be erased to form a governable monoculture.
Thus, in 1947, Urdu was imposed as the sole national language of Pakistan, disenfranchising its ethnically and linguistically varied population. As Pakistan’s founder, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, famously declared, “one nation, one language, one culture.” All state documents such as currency notes, tickets, money order forms and official documents were printed either in English or Urdu. Not surprisingly, the policy provoked extreme discontent, especially amongst Bengalis, who constituted 56% of Pakistan’s population. In the 1950s, language riots, spearheaded by the Bengalis, broke out across Pakistan, demanding that Bengali be recognized as a national language alongside Urdu. The seeds of ethnic discontent had been sown, and culminated in the civil war that led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. As such, not only the fracturing of Pakistani identity (a tenuous concept at best) but the literal fracturing of the country can be linked to language.
Today, Pakistan’s crisis of identity is chronic. A legacy of top-down cultural strangulation has left the national psyche utterly bewildered and deeply scarred. It has also given Pakistanis an inferiority complex – because we are South Asians and not Arabs, we are lesser Muslims. We must compensate. We must try our hardest to become Bakistanis.
Author Mohamed Hanif, in his celebrated debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, says it best: “…All God’s names were slowly deleted from the national memory as if a wind had swept the land and blown them away. Innocuous, intimate names: Persian Khuda which had always been handy for ghazal poets as it rhymed with most of the operative verbs; Rab, which poor people invoked in their hour of distress; Maula, which Sufis shouted in their hashish sessions. Allah had given Himself ninety-nine names. His people had improvised many more. But all these names slowly started to disappear: from official stationary, from Friday sermons, from newspaper editorials, from mothers’ prayers, from greeting cards, from official memos, from the lips of television quiz show hosts, from children’s storybooks, from lovers’ songs, from court orders, from habeas corpus applications, from inter-school debating competitions, from road inauguration speeches, from memorial services, from cricket players’ curses; even from beggars’ begging pleas.”

Religion: Problem or the Solution for Violent Extremism

Religion is widely blamed for much of the violence in our world, both today and in the past. Its defenders say that most so-called conflicts in the name of religion are in fact ethnic, nationalist and territorial, and they exploit religion for their own purposes. But, even if this is so, it still leaves the question of why religion is so easily exploited for violent ends.
All religions declare that peace and reconciliation are their goals, yet all too often they appear to exacerbate conflicts.
Why is this?
There are many reasons, but the work of sociologist Douglas Marshall is particularly helpful. He described religion in terms of belief, behaviour and belonging. My view is that different religions combine different degrees or emphases of these.
It begins with belonging
The abuse of religion has often been related to the first two: belief and behaviour. It cannot be denied that, to religion’s shame, arguments over doctrine and even ritual have led to violent clashes. Even today they are used as a pretext for violence towards those who do not share the same beliefs and practices.
However, when it comes to violence in the name of religion – especially in our modern world – it usually has far more to do with belonging. Identity affirms who we are, and at the same time who we are not. Whether distinctions and differences are viewed positively or negatively depends overwhelmingly on the context in which we find ourselves.
In a context of real or perceived threat, or out of a sense of historical or current injury, we turn to our identities for fortitude and reassurance. But, all too often, this leads to a sense of self-righteousness and a tendency to disparage “the other”.
In seeking to give meaning to who we are, religion is bound up with all the components of human identity. It thus plays a key role in providing a sense of value and purpose, especially where identities are threatened or disparaged. But, in doing so, religion can intensify that self-righteousness. The result is that opponents – or those who are different – are delegitimized and conflict is exacerbated, so betraying religions’ most sublime universal values.
The swamp of alienation
This tendency generates a mindset in which people see themselves as part of a community of the elect in violent conflict with those who do not share their worldview. Such an ideology can be powerfully attractive to those alienated from wider society, especially younger people seeking a sense of self-worth, or even prestige.
While there are clearly times when physical violence must be tackled head on, such a step alone cannot contain the mentality that leads to it. The utmost must be done to drain the “swamp of alienation” – whether political, social or economic – in which violence breeds.
No less critical is to highlight the voices of the overwhelming majority of religious institutions and authorities that repudiate such abuses of religion. Regrettably, the international media has been far more diligent in publicizing the abuses rather than the condemnations.
When religions come together
In particular, we need to highlight where religions show respect for other communities and traditions, and have repudiated the extremist mindset. A notable example was last year’s Marrakech Declaration, rallying support throughout the Muslim world for the historical Charter of Medina, as a commitment to the values of citizenship and the civil rights of other religious communities.
Another example of inter-religious collaboration is the King Abdullah International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) established by Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria, supported by the Holy See, on whose board of directors I am privileged to serve.
KAICIID has brought together major Muslim leaders from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world, with heads of minority communities in those countries – Christian, Kurd, Yazidi, Druze – under the rubric “combating violence in the name of religion”. It has developed networks of collaboration throughout the region, training religious leaders in dialogue and social media skills.
Israel and Palestine
The need to highlight inter-religious cooperation is of the greatest relevance in territorial conflicts that involve identities rooted in religious traditions. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a particular case in point.
Those who have tried to resolve this conflict in the past have avoided religion and its representatives as much as possible. Perhaps this is understandable. But the idea that by avoiding religion one is more able to achieve a resolution is a fallacy.
Failure to engage the peace-seeking religious mainstream only plays into the hands of extremists who wish precisely to transform this territorial conflict into a religious one. If we don’t want religion to be part of the problem, it must become part of the solution – not least by highlighting religious support for peace and inter-religious cooperation that can promote this goal.
But things might be changing.
When the Trump administration’s emissary to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, visited Jerusalem in March, hoping to initiate peace talks between Israel and Palestine, he made a point of seeking out Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders for advice.
Amazingly, Greenblatt is the first personal emissary of any US president to meet the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. The photo of this gathering was worth more than a thousand words, affirming a recognition that religion must be part of the solution to the conflict.
In the words of Lutheran bishop Munib Younan to Greenblatt: “Religious leaders alone are not able to make peace, but it will not be possible to make peace without them.”

Western Fantasy v/s Muslim History: The ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Context

One of the primary reasons Islamic and Western nations are “worlds apart” is because the way they understand the world is worlds apart. Whereas Muslims see the world through the lens of history, the West has jettisoned or rewritten history to suit its ideologies.
This dichotomy of Muslim and Western thinking is evident everywhere. When the Islamic State declared that it will “conquer Rome” and “break its crosses,” few in the West realized that those are the verbatim words and goals of Islam’s founder and his companions as recorded in Muslim sources—words and goals that prompted over a thousand years of jihad on Europe.
Most recently, the Islamic State released a map of the areas it plans on expanding into over the next five years. The map includes European nations such as Portugal, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Armenia, Georgia, Crete, Cyprus, and parts of Russia.
The reason these European nations are included in the Islamic State’s map is simple. According to Islamic law, once a country has been conquered (or “opened,” as it’s called in the euphemistic Arabic), it becomes Islamic in perpetuity.
This, incidentally, is the real reason Muslims despise Israel. It’s not due to sympathy for the Palestinians—if so, neighboring Arab nations would’ve absorbed them long ago (just as they would be absorbing all of today’s Muslim refugees).
No, Israel is hated because the descendants of “apes and pigs”—to use the Koran’s terminology—dare to rule land that was once “opened” by jihad and therefore must be returned to Islam. (Read more about Islam’s “How Dare You?!” phenomenon to understand the source of Islamic rage, especially toward Israel.)
All the aforementioned European nations are also seen as being currently “occupied” by Christian “infidels” and in need of “liberation.” This is why jihadi organizations refer to terrorist attacks on such countries as “defensive jihads.”
One rarely heard about Islamic designs on European nations because they are large and blocked together, altogether distant from the Muslim world. Conversely, tiny Israel is right in the heart of the Islamic world—hence why most jihadi aspirations were traditionally geared toward the Jewish state: it was more of a realistic conquest.
Now, however, that the “caliphate” has been reborn and is expanding before a paralytic West, dreams of reconquering portions of Europe—if not through jihad, then through migration—are becoming more plausible, perhaps even more so than conquering Israel.
Because of their historical experiences with Islam, some central and east European nations are aware of Muslim aspirations. Hungary’s prime minister even cited his nation’s unpleasant past under Islamic rule (in the guise of the Ottoman Empire) as reason to disallow Muslim refugees from entering.
But for more “enlightened” Western nations—that is, for idealistic nations that reject or rewrite history according to their subjective fantasies—Hungary’s reasoning is unjust, unhumanitarian, and racist.
To be sure, most of Europe has experience with Islamic depredations. As late as the seventeenth century, even distant Iceland was being invaded by Muslim slave traders. Roughly 800 years earlier, in 846, Rome was sacked and the Vatican defiled by Muslim raiders.
Some of the Muslims migrating to Italy vow to do the same today, and Pope Francis acknowledges it. Yet, all the same, he suggests that “you can take precautions, and put these people to work.” (We’ve seen this sort of thinking before: the U.S. State Department cites a lack of “job opportunities” as reason for the existence of the Islamic State).
Perhaps because the U.K., Scandinavia, and North America were never conquered and occupied by the sword of Islam—unlike those southeast European nations that are resisting Muslim refugees—they feel free to rewrite history according to their subjective ideals, specifically, that historic Christianity is bad and all other religions and people are good (the darker and/or more foreign the better).
Indeed, countless are the books and courses on the “sins” of Christian Europe, from the Crusades to colonialism. (Most recently, a book traces the rise of Islamic supremacism in Egypt to the disciplining of a rude Muslim girl by a European nun.)
This “new history”—particularly that Muslims are the historic “victims” of “intolerant” Western Christians—has metastasized everywhere, from high school to college and from Hollywood to the news media (which are becoming increasingly harder to distinguish from one another).
When U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama condemned medieval Christians as a way to relativize Islamic State atrocities—or at best to claim that religion, any religion, is never the driving force of violence—he was merely being representative of the mainstream way history is taught in the West.
Even otherwise sound books of history contribute to this distorted thinking. While such works may mention “Ottoman expansion” into Europe, the Islamic element is omitted. Thus Turks are portrayed as just another competitive people, out to carve a niche for themselves in Europe, no differently than rival Christian empires. That the “Ottomans” (or “Saracens,” or “Arabs,” or “Moors,” or “Tatars”) were operating under the distinctly Islamic banner of jihad—just like the Islamic State is today—that connection is never made.
Generations of pseudo history have led the West to think that, far from being suspicious or judgmental of them, Muslims must be accommodated—say, by allowing them to migrate into the West in mass. Perhaps then they’ll “like us”?
Such is progressive wisdom.
Meanwhile, back in the school rooms of much of the Muslim world, children continue to be indoctrinated in glorifying and reminiscing over the jihadi conquests of yore—conquests by the sword and in the name of Allah. While the progressive West demonizes European/Christian history—when I was in elementary school, Christopher Columbus was a hero, when I got into college, he became a villain—Mehmet the Conqueror, whose atrocities against Christian Europeans make the Islamic State look like a bunch of boy scouts, is praised every year in “secular” Turkey on the anniversary of the savage sack Constantinople.
The result of Western fantasies and Islamic history is that Muslims are now entering the West, unfettered, in the guise of refugees who refuse to assimilate with the “infidels” and who form enclaves, or in Islamic terminology, ribats—frontier posts where the jihad is waged on the infidel, one way or the other.
Nor is this mere conjecture. The Islamic State is intentionally driving the refugee phenomenon and has promised to send half a million people—mostly Muslim—into Europe. It claims that 4,000 of these refugees are its own operatives: “Just wait…. It’s our dream that there should be a caliphate not only in Syria but in all the world, and we will have it soon, inshallah [Allah willing].”
It is often said that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. What does one say of those who rewrite history in a way that demonizes their ancestors while whitewashing the crimes of their forebears’ enemies?
The result is before us. History is not repeating itself; sword waving Muslims are not militarily conquering Europe. Rather, they are being allowed to walk right in.
Perhaps a new aphorism needs to be coined for our times: Those who forget or ignore history are destined to be conquered by those who remember and praise it.

Kokoro-the Japanese Word that Could Motivate Scientific Discovery

Researchers are beginning to break down conceptual barriers and explore what artists, writers, mystics, and dreamers of many cultures have long acknowledged: the mysterious tie between heart and mind, a.k.a., kokoro.
In Japanese, there are three words for “heart”: shinzou, which refers to the physical organ, ha-to, which is the Anglicized word for a love heart, and kokoro, which means… well, that’s more difficult to explain.
“Kokoro is well understood in Japanese, but difficult to explain in English,” says Yoshikawa Sakiko, director of Kyoto University’s Kokoro Research Center. Conceptually, it unites the notions of heart, mind, and spirit: It sees these three elements as being indivisible from one other. “For example, if we say, ‘She has a good kokoro,’ it means heart and spirit and soul and mind all together.”
One of the problems of discussing kokoro in English is that by linking words—heart and spirit and mind—with “and,” we imply divisions that simply don’t exist in Japanese. But in this Eastern culture, the three aren’t intrinsically linked as one: They are one.
Researchers are beginning to break down conceptual barriers and explore what artists, writers, mystics, and dreamers of many cultures have long acknowledged: the mysterious tie between heart and mind, a.k.a., kokoro. For example, scientists in Japan consider this concept while working on computer simulations, robotics, primatology, and more; it has allowed Japanese researchers to explore and discuss spiritual matters in a way that’s otherwise impossible in an academic environment.
“Are the familiar Western (and some distinctively English) concepts of mind, heart, spirit, will, consciousness, soul…the best way to describe and divide human experience?” asks Paul Swanson, a professor of humanities at Nanzan University in Japan. “Or is a broader and more inclusive concept useful for understanding how humans think and feel?”
Swanson is a permanent fellow at the Nanzan Institute of Religion and Culture (NIRC), which in 1993 began bringing together experts in religion, philosophy, and the sciences. They aim to break down barriers and connect like-minded areas of knowledge that other academics consider distinct, ultimately attempting to understand the ineffable, the mystery of humanness. “Thoughts, feelings, and desires, or will, are all interrelated aspects of what it means to be human, and we would be wise to take all of them, and their interrelationship, into account in order to understand human experience,” he says.
Here are a few examples of what scientists have been able to contemplate through not believing in a separation of body and mind:
The real difference between man and machine
Testuya Sato, director of the Earth Simulator at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, uses supercomputers to make predictions about natural events like earthquakes and typhoons, as well as global warming. He has thought a lot about kokoro and how it sets human minds apart from computers when it comes to predicting the future of such disasters.
For example, humans use stored memories and various judgment criteria to anticipate what may happen, as compared to methodical, mindless machines. However, people’s predictions are also mired in desires and clouded by expectation—a problem that computers don’t have. But machines also don’t have what people do, an element of chaos or unpredictability that enables us to break patterns and boundaries of all kinds. He explained at a NIRC conference, “The human heart is rich in intuition; it possesses attributes such as illogicality, hunger for novelty, creativity, infinity and openness. Computer simulation is deterministic (closed); it lacks diversity and is an embodiment of dryness. I believe that this is the decisive difference between computers and human beings.”
Giving robots hearts
Hashimoto Suji, director of the Humanoid Robotics Institute at Waseda University, dreams of creating robots with a will to live. He wants them to evolve over generations, reproduce independently, and be able concern themselves with questions of philosophy such as what it means to be, think, and feel—all elements of kokoro. “A robot that will…be able to discuss with us issues such as ‘What is a living being?’ and ‘What is kokoro?’” he said at a NIRC conference.” If in the process a robot rebels and hits me, with my nose bleeding I would probably rejoice in my heart, thinking, ‘Finally, I did it. We’ve almost made it!’ This is because a period of rebellion naturally precedes independence.”
The connection between all primates
Tetsuro Matsuzawa is a primatologist whose work has shown that humans and chimpanzees are genetically very close, with only a 1.3% difference. He has taught chimps to paint and proved that they develop a personal artistic style, which he believes indicates they have a similar spirit to humans. Matsuzawa has compared children and chimp paintings to learn about the origins of drawing in humans, and believes it is possible to study the evolution of the human mind-heart by getting to know chimpanzees’ kokoro.
Buddhist brains
American scientists have also explored the connection between body, mind, and spirit. A 2015 article in The Atlantic, “The Brains of the Buddhists,” highlights the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who studied monk brain activity at the behest of the Dalai Lama. Davidson concluded that compassion activated positive emotion circuitry in the brain and that Buddhist monks were extraordinarily mentally healthy as a result of a cultivated spirit of generosity. “The systems in the brain that support our well-being are intimately connected to different organ systems in our body…compassion is a kind of state that involves the body in a major way,” he said.
But you don’t need to be a specialist to understand the implications of kokoro. In fact, you probably already have a sense of it, even if you had no word for it before. Take a moment to reflect on the interconnectedness of all things, and you’ll feel your heart—the shinzou one—flutter in response.