Islamic finance Explained

In April, Saudi Arabia issued its largest ever Sharia-compliant bond on the Irish Stock Exchange. The $9 billion Islamic bond, or Sukuk, was wildly oversubscribed, attracting more than $33 billion in orders.
But just what is Islamic finance, what is a Sukuk and why are they proving so attractive to investors outside the Islamic world?
What is it?
The most obvious difference when compared with Western banks is that Islamic finance is forbidden to charge interest.Under Sharia law, money is only a way of defining the value of something and has no value in itself. Therefore, money isn’t allowed to generate more money by being put into a bank account or lent to someone else.
Instead, banks make their money by sharing the risk of their investments with investors, operating on a profit-loss basis.
⦁ So rather than making money by offering loans or mortgages and charging an interest rate on them, a sharia-compliant bank would use its depositors’ money to acquire assets, and then share any profits made on those assets with the depositors.
Because the bank is sharing the risk of investments with its depositors, high degrees of uncertainty – known as ghara – are not allowed. All possible risks must be identified to investors, and all relevant information disclosed.
Another condition of Islamic finance is that these investments must be made in things that exist in the real world, such as properties or businesses – although the businesses must not be associated with gambling, alcohol or tobacco.
These investments must be made on an ownership basis, to avoid the risk of future unavailability.
What is a Sukuk?
A Sukuk is a sharia-compliant bond. Whereas Western bonds offer to pay bondholders a rate of interest over a set period of time, Sukuks offer a fixed rate of profit.
Saudi Arabia’s record-breaking Sukuk was split into two tranches: a five-year bond paying investors 2.89%, and a 10-year bond paying a profit rate of 3.63%.
Sukuks come in a variety of forms, with Al-Ijara being one of the most common structures.
The Al-ljara structure is essentially Islamic finance’s version of a lease. Under an Al-ljara Sukuk, ownership of the asset is transferred to the bondholder and the asset is leased back to the issuer, with the bondholder charging a “rent” for use of the asset during the time period of the bond. At the end of the time-period, when the bond reaches maturity, ownership of the asset transfers back to the issuer.
It was the Al-ljara structure of Sukuk that the UK government chose to use when it became the first government of a country outside of the Islamic world to issue a Sharia-compliant sovereign bond in 2014.
The £200 million Sukuk was underpinned by three UK government properties.
During the five-year period of the bond, bondholders effectively take ownership of the properties and charge the UK government rent for using the properties. This rent translates into a 2.036% fixed rate of profit for bondholders.
When the bond matures in 2019, ownership of the properties will pass back to the UK government.
Why are they so popular?
Despite being sized at just £200 million, the UK government Sukuk in 2014 attracted orders totalling £2.3 billion.
In part this popularity forms part of a wider trend across the capital markets, where investors unsure of global growth have flocked to the relative stability of bond investments. Sovereign bonds are proving particularly popular, with a German bond auction in 2016 attracting so much demand that it paid a negative yield. Investors were willing to lose money, to pay for the privilege of German stability in an uncertain world.
The growth in Sukuks’ popularity can also be traced back to the global financial crisis in 2008.
Kamal Munir, associate professor of strategy and policy at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, writes that Islamic finance’s emphasis on equity and investment in the real economy provides “a stable and productive banking sector”.
“Rather than providing a lucrative financial alternative to investing in the real economy, Islamic banking complements and strengthens the latter,” Munir says. “It ensures that financial capital does not lead to artificially bloated asset prices. Instead, it is made to work in the real economy, on real projects.”
With so much damage caused by highly complex and risky financial structures untethered to assets, it is hardly surprising that more and more investors are attracted to Islamic finance’s emphasis on real assets and greater certainty.

Bhutan Coped With Two Of The World’s Largest Armies At Its Doorstep

During the long weeks soldiers from two of the world’s largest armies camped on their doorstep, officials in the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan maintained a meditative silence.
Government leaders resolutely declined to comment and even the Bhutanese media largely refrained from covering the stand-off, which began in mid-June when Indian troops crossed into a remote plateau claimed by Bhutan and confronted Chinese soldiers prepping to build a road there.
When the respective armies began withdrawing from the Doklam area Monday, the Himalayan nation of just under 800,000 finally exhaled, and analysts said that its temperance had helped defuse tension between the two nuclear-armed powers.
For years, Bhutan — a landlocked nation squeezed between the Tibet plateau to its north and India to its east, south and west — has trod a delicate balancing act between China and its great patron, India, which trains its soldiers, buys its hydroelectric power and is now giving it $578 million a year in aid.
In the country’s capital of Thimphu, India’s influence can be seen everywhere — from the army officers jogging on its streets to the laborers on Indian projects for mountain roads.
“Bhutan is really caught between two sides and the confrontation at Doklam has brought everything to the surface,” said Nirupama Menon Rao, India’s former foreign secretary and ambassador to China. “Bhutan has played this game of survival for a long, long time. Nobody does it better than them.”
But the dispute caused many in Bhutan to call for the country to re-evaluate its close — some say suffocating — relationship with its southern neighbor.
“If India’s border closed tomorrow we would run out of rice and a lot of other essentials in a few days, that is how vulnerable we are,” said Needrup Zangpo, the executive director of the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan. “Many Bhutanese resent this.”
The country — with stunning mountain passes, rippling Buddhist prayer flags and ancient temples — was until recently a monarchy, its villages isolated from much of the world for most of the last century. Television arrived only in 1999, and even now only about 60,000 tourists from outside the region visit each year, paying a hefty $250-a-day visa fee in high season.
Its beloved and progressive fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, set the country on the path to democracy in 2008 and popularized the “Gross National Happiness” indicator, which rates quality of life, preservation of culture and environmental protection over economic output. In a 2015 study more than 90 percent of residents said they experienced some level of happiness.
Bhutan’s long ties with India, by far its largest trading partner, were cemented in 1958, when India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, traveled through the mountains on a yak. The two countries had already agreed, in a 1949 treaty, that India would guide its foreign policy; the terms were softened and modified in 2007.
Bhutan has an ongoing border dispute and no official diplomatic ties with China, and India has frowned upon any change in this status quo. India cut off a cooking gas subsidy in 2013 because, some analysts charge, it feared Bhutan’s then-government was growing closer to its northern neighbor. India has long seen Bhutan as an important ally against Chinese expansionism in the region.
Thimphu is a still-quiet valley town, dotted with traditionally painted homes and apartments, that has modernized rapidly in the last 10 years, and recently began having traffic jams.
Many of its younger, educated residents — who followed the China-India conflict on their mobile phones, via social media — said that the weeks-long standoff had raised questions about Bhutan’s place in the world, and if the country was being well-served by maintaining such a close relationship with India while holding China at arm’s length.
Many of the tenants of Thimphu TechPark, a government owned business park opened in 2011 as a symbol of the country’s aspirations, took a pragmatic view of China — seeing it as a potential marketplace for fledgling Bhutanese entrepreneurs. Bhutan has long looked inward, they said, and now needs to start looking outward.
“I think because we are in a global community now, we should have good relations with both China and India,” said Jigme Tenzin, the young chief executive of, an online real estate portal. Unlike some of his peers, he cheerfully wears his gho, the robe-like garment that is the country’s national dress, including to international conferences, saying it helps set him apart from other Asian entrepreneurs.
The TechPark itself opened in 2011, and initially did not do well. But today, it has more than 700 Bhutanese employees, offices for several foreign companies and an incubation center for start-ups. One of the companies is trying to create a children’s cartoon in Bhutan’s national language, Dzongkha, to compete with the Hindi cartoons broadcast from India.
Launching a real estate startup in a country where only about 37 percent of people are on the Internet has been a challenge, Jigme Tenzin says, as the needs of millennial generation apartment seekers don’t always match up with the offerings of older property owners, most of whom are still not online. He and his small band of employees ended up having to go door to door with brochures trying to educate people.
“We’re in the middle of one foot in the future and one foot in the past,” he said with a laugh. “This transition is killing me.”

A Tale of Two Songs

Both came from Calcutta. Both became writers of great repute. Both were Brahmins: one orthodox, the other a liberal thinker. And both, in their own way, in their own time, were leading figures of what was known as the Bengal Renaissance.
One was a career officer of the Government of British India, a deputy magistrate and then a deputy collector; a poet, novelist, journalist whose works remain among the finest in Bengali literature, one of the first graduates of the University of Calcutta, a proud Hindu nationalist. The other, home educated; a poet, novelist, music composer, painter; recipient of a knighthood which he renounced in the wake of Jallianwala Bagh; a Nobel Prize winner, friend of the Mahatma and a leading figure in the freedom struggle, an outspoken liberal.
Bankim Chandra wrote Vande Mataram in 1876. Five years later, it appeared in his novel Anandamath and went on to become the song of the freedom struggle. It was actually first sung in a political context by Rabindranath Tagore at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. It finally became so popular as a marching song that the British banned it, making it even more popular. The first two verses of the song were adopted as our national song in October 1937, ten years before Independence, by the Congress Working Committee.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote Jana Gana Mana 30 years later. It was first published in the Adi Brahmo Samaj journal which he then edited. It was publicly sung at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress on 27 December 1911. The power of its words, the inclusiveness it spoke of, and the richness of its music, also composed by Tagore, and the amazing popularity it gained over the years ensured it was adopted by the Constituent Assembly as India’s national anthem on January 24, 1950.
Gandhi loved Vande Mataram. Subhash Bose loved Jana Gana Mana and even got it translated by Mumtaz Hussain, a writer with the Azad Hind Radio and Col Abid Hassan Saffrani of the INA.
When India became free on August 15, 1947 and Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the tricolor on the ramparts of the Red Fort, Captain Ram Singh Thakuri was specially invited to play the tune of Qaumi Tarana of the INA along with members of his orchestra. Contrary to the belief that all Muslims disapprove of it, Maulana Azad was a member of the Congress Working Committee that chose Vande Mataram as the national song.
Today, the two songs are often seen as if in conflict, even though they are both widely loved. Jana Gana Mana is the song sung on all special occasions. We grew up with it. While Vande Mataram has become a rallying point for those who believe Hindutva is the way forward. After all, the song was originally a paean to Goddess Durga. So despite resistance from many Muslims, or perhaps because of it, singing Vande Mataram has become a proof of patriotism.
Tagore’s skepticism about this is well known. He famously said “I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live”. While Bankim Chandra was inspired by the Sanyasi Rebellion of the 18th century when the ascetics rose against the British empire. In that sense, the two songs came from different schools of thought, different perspectives on the freedom struggle by two great thinkers.
A third song exists. Iqbal’s Saare Jahan se Achha which was first published in the weekly journal Ittehad on 16 August 1904, 113 years ago. Though it was written for children, it soon acquired the stature of an anthem opposing the British Raj. Even today, the armed forces march to it, in a version set to music by Ravi Shankar. It is called the Taranah-i-Hindi and the Mahatma is said to have sung it over a hundred times when he was in Yeravada Jail.
Muslims are always ready to sing this. But some are reluctant to sing Jana Gana Mana because it puts the nation before God. Even more are reluctant to sing Vande Mataram because they see it as a paean to a Hindu goddess– and also because they resent it being enforced on them. (Curiously, I think Tagore would have endorsed that point of view as he was against the very idea of enforced patriotism.)
The UP Government’s insistence that all madrassas must celebrate I-Day by singing the national anthem and then send a video as proof of it has made things infinitely worse. So we now have two great songs (actually three if you count Iqbal’s anthem) embroiled in an unnecessary controversy even though the wise men who wisely chose them to inspire future generations had excised them in a way such that everyone can sing them.
But then, as Tagore believed, a free nation must have a free will. As long as people respect the national anthem and stand up for it, does it matter if they actually sing it or not? That could remain a matter of personal choice. No, I am not saying this. The Supreme Court said that while deciding on a case where some students in Kerala were expelled for not singing the national anthem even though they had respectfully stood up for it. And no, they were not Muslims.

The future of the global economy

Institutions, both in the private and public sector, can always reap the public relations benefits of doing good, even while still accomplishing their goals. As resources become scarcer, a major way to enhance social performance is through resource conservation, which is being underutilized.
Although the traditional model of the linear economy has worked forever, and will never be fully replaced, it is essentially wasteful. The circular economy, in comparison, which involves resources and capital goods reentering the system for reuse instead of being discarded, saves on production costs, promotes recycling, decreases waste, and enhances social performance. When CE models are combined with IoT, internet connected devices that gather and relay data to central computers, efficiency skyrockets. As a result of finite resource depletion, the future economy is destined to become more circular. The economic shift toward CE will undoubtedly be hastened by the already ubiquitous presence of IoT, its profitability, and the positive public response it yields.
Unlike the linear economy which is a “take, make, dispose” model, the circular economy is an industrial economy that increases resource productivity with the intention of reducing waste and pollution. The main value drivers of CE are (1) extending use cycles lengths of an asset (2) increasing utilization of an asset (3) looping/cascading assets through additional use cycles (4) regeneration of nutrients to the biosphere.
The Internet of Things is the inter-networking of physical devices through electronics and sensors which are used to collect and exchange data. The main value drivers of IoT are the ability to define (1) location (2) condition (3) availability of the assets they monitor. By 2020 there are expected to be at least 20 million IoT connected devices worldwide.
The nexus between CE’s and IoT’s values drivers greatly enhances CE. If an institutions goals are profitability and conservation, IoT enables those goals with data big data and analysis. By automatically and remotely monitoring the efficiency of a resource during harvesting, production, and at the end of its use cycle; all parts of the value chain can become more efficient.
When examining the value chain as a whole, the greatest uses for IoT is at its end. One way in which this is accomplished is through reverse logistics. Once the time comes for a user to discard their asset, IoT can aid in the retrieval of the asset so that it can be recycled into its components. With efficient reverse logistics, goods gain second life, less biological nutrients are extracted from the environment, and the looping/cascading of assets is enabled.
One way to change traditional value chain is the IoT enabled leasing model. Instead of selling an expensive appliance or a vehicle, manufacturers can willingly produce them with the intention of leasing to their customers. By imbedding these assets with IoT manufacturers can monitor the asset’s condition; thereby dynamically repairing the assets at precise times. In theory the quality of the asset will improve, since its in the producers best interest to make it durable rather than disposable and replaceable.
Even today, many sectors are already benefiting from IoT in resource conservation. In the energy sector, Barcelona has reduced its power grid energy consumption by 33%, while GE has begun using “smart” power meters that reduce customers power bills 10–20%. GE has also automated their wind turbines and solar panels; thereby automatically adjusting to the wind and angle of the sun.
In the built environment, cities like Hong Kong have implemented IoT monitoring for preventative maintenance of transportation infrastructure, while Rio de Janeiro monitors traffic patterns and crime at their central operations center. Mexico city has installed fans in their buildings which suck up local smog. In the waste management sector, San Francisco and London have installed solar-powered automated waste bins, that alert local authorities to when they are full; creating ideal routes for trash collection and reducing operational costs by 70%.
Despite the many advantages to this innovation, there are numerous current limitations. Due to difficulty in legislating for new technologies, Governmental regulation lags behind innovation. For example, because Brazil, China, and Russia do not have legal standards to distinguish re-manufactured products from used ones, cross-border reverse supply-chains are blocked. Reverse supply chains are also hurt by current lack of consumer demand , which is caused by low residual value of returned products. IoT technology itself, which collects so much data people’s private lives, generates major privacy concerns.
Questions arise like: who owns this data collected? How reliable are IoT dependent systems? How vulnerable to hackers are these assets? Despite the prevalence of IoT today, with 73% of companies invest in big data analytics, most of that data is merely used to detect and control anomalies and IoT remains vastly underutilized. Take an oil rig for example, it may have 30,000 sensors, but only 1% of them are examined. Underutilization of IoT in 2013 cost businesses an estimated 544 billion alone.
Even with these current barriers, because of the potential profits and increased social performance, the future implementation of an IoT enhanced CE is bright.
As government regulation catches up and technology improves, recycling and conservation will become more profitable and reverse supply chains can proliferate. When the ownership of collected data is finally clearly defined by laws, then the interoperability of IoT data can take hold to increase its efficiency. As the CE expands into different sectors of the economy: farmers may remotely monitor their crops and use GPS guided tractors to perfectly plow and harvest, Governments can prevent depleting fish stocks by tracking fishing boats with IoT, energy companies can share their energy production responsibilities by attaching a connectivity-enabled solar panels on city roofs, in the infrastructure sector GPS guided driver-free smart cars can reduce congestion by taking optimal routes, in health care $1.1 trillion a year of value can be created with remote health care in monitoring chronic-disease patients, etc.
Estimates are that the potential profits from institutions adopting CE models could decrease costs by 20%, along with waste. The increase in efficiency combined with the goodwill generated by conservation is a win-win proposition for innovation, even with costs implementation, future monetary profitability will make it a no-brainer.

Seventy years after Indian Independence, where is it now?

Seventy years ago this month, at midnight on August 15, 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed India’s independence from the British Empire. Nehru called it “a moment that comes but rarely in history, when we pass from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” With that, the country embarked on a remarkable experiment in governance that continues to this day.
It was an experiment that Winston Churchill thought implausible. “India is merely a geographical expression,” he once dismissively barked. “It is no more a single country than the Equator.”
Churchill was rarely right about India. But it is true that no other country matches India’s extraordinary mix of ethnic groups, a profusion of mutually incomprehensible languages, varieties of topography and climate, diversity of religions and cultural practices, and disparate levels of economic development.
It is often noted, only half-jokingly, that “anything you can say about India, the opposite is also true”: every truism about the country can be contradicted by another truism. In fact, the singular thing about India is that you can speak of it only in the plural. There are, to use that hackneyed expression, many Indias. Everything exists in countless variants. There is no agreed standard, no fixed stereotype, no “one way” to approach things. Even the country’s national motto, Satyameva Jayaté (Truth Alone Triumphs), can be understood in myriad ways. India is home to at least 1.3 billion truths, if the last census hasn’t undercounted us again.
It is this diversity and complexity that led the British historian E.P. Thompson to call India “perhaps the most important country for the future of the world.” As he put it, “All the convergent influences of the world run through this society…. There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in some Indian mind.”
India’s exceptional pluralism is acknowledged in the way the country arranges its affairs: all groups, faiths, tastes, and ideologies survive and contend for their place in the sun. At a time when most developing countries opted for authoritarian models of governance to promote nation-building and economic development, India chose to build a multi-party democracy.
That democracy may be freewheeling, boisterous, corrupt, and inefficient. But, despite many stresses and strains over the years – including 22 months of autocratic rule during a “state of emergency” declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 – it has survived, and even flourished.
To be sure, India still strikes many as maddening, chaotic, divided, and even desultory, muddling its way through the first decade of the twenty-first century. But, thanks to its unique diversity, India is not just a country; it is an adventure, in which all avenues are open and everything is possible.
The resulting national identity is a rare animal. It is not, as is most often the case, based on language; India has at least 23 – possibly as many as 35, depending on whether you believe the constitution or the linguists. Nor is it based on geography: the “natural” geography of the subcontinent, framed by the mountains and the sea, was rent by the partition of 1947.
India’s nationalism is not based on ethnicity, either. To be “Indian” does not mean to fit into any single racial type. On the contrary, from the perspective of ethnicity, many Indians have more in common with foreigners than with other Indians. Indian Punjabis and Bengalis, for example, have more in common ethnically with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, respectively, than they do with their fellow Indian Poonawalas or Bangaloreans.
Finally, Indian nationalism is not based on religion. The country is home to every faith known to mankind, and Hinduism – a religion that not only lacks a national organization, established church, or ecclesiastical hierarchy, but also uniform beliefs or modes of worship – exemplifies our diversity as much as it does our common cultural heritage.
Instead, Indian nationalism is founded on an idea: the idea of an ever-ever land, emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy. This land imposes no narrow conformity on its citizens. You can be many things and one thing. You can be a good Muslim, a good Keralite, and a good Indian all at once.
Whereas Freudians note the distinctions that arise out of “the narcissism of minor differences,” in India, we celebrate the commonality of major differences. If the United States is a melting pot, then India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix well with the next, but they do complement one another, together forming a single satisfying repast. Put another way – and turning Michael Ignatieff’s expression on its head – we are a land of belonging, not blood.
So the idea of India is of one land embracing many peoples. It is the idea that a nation characterized by profound differences of caste, creed, color, culture, cuisine, conviction, costume, and custom can still rally around a democratic consensus – namely, that everyone needs to agree only on the ground rules of how to disagree. It is this consensus on how to manage without consensus that has enabled India to thrive for the last 70 years, even as it faced challenges that led many to predict its disintegration.
India’s founding fathers wrote a constitution for their dreams; we have given passports to their ideals. But, today, those ideals are being increasingly threatened by rising intolerance and an increasingly belligerent majoritarianism. On this 70th anniversary of Indian independence, all Indians must rededicate themselves to an inclusive, pluralist, democratic, and just India – the India that Mahatma Gandhi fought to free.


Terrorism and extremitis

Quick question. What is common to the following cities – Brussels, Istanbul, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Orlando, London and Manchester? Well, apart from being prominent, affluent global cities, they have all been subject to major terror attacks linked to Islamic State (IS).
These attacks together have claimed hundreds of innocent lives. They have also created fear in the minds of millions of people. Cities like Paris and London are expected to be safe. If terrorists can carry out missions in the top first world cities, what hope is there for the rest of the world?
In fact, since June 2014, when ISIL proclaimed itself to be the Islamic State, it has ‘conducted or inspired’ over 70 terrorist attacks in 20 foreign countries according to a running count by CNN. These countries do not include its home base of Syria and Iraq, where thousands more have died in terrorist atrocities.
India has suffered from terrorism. So has Pakistan. And it turns out, now the first world too is not immune.
Thus, there seems to be no solution in sight. In many countries, terrorism does become a political issue. However, it tends to polarise and divide people more rather than bringing them together to solve the problem.
The issue of terrorism today has become yet another casualty of extremitis, a disease endemic to the era of the internet. Today, on social media, it is extremely difficult to be heard if you have a balanced, practical or nuanced approach to solving any problem.
Things are either ‘amazing’ or a ‘disaster’. Modi is either loved or hated. Trump is either ‘100% right’ or ‘completely stupid’. You are either a ‘patriot’ or an ‘anti-national’.
The argument that every situation might have pros and cons is considered a weak one. Truth and facts are irrelevant. Reason and logic don’t matter.
What matters are your feelings, and which side you are on. Welcome to extremitis, the nasty by-product of mass social conversations.
The same social media that was expected to open minds and expose people to various points of view, is now the world’s biggest polariser. The issue of terrorism is no exception.
Extremitis suggests that terrorism can only be one of two things. One, it is ‘completely the fault of Islam’, and hence ‘Muslims should be banned’. On the other side of terrorism extremitis are the ultra-liberals. They believe ‘these terror attacks are not related to a particular religion’ and those claiming otherwise are ‘Islamophobes’ and ‘racists’.
This extremitis generates a lot of noise and juicy headlines. It doesn’t really solve anything. Meanwhile, IS’s ever-expanding footprint reaches new cities and perpetrates new atrocities.
We need to stop getting polarised over terrorism. It is not a right-wing or a left-wing issue, but affects us all. And while terrorism doesn’t have a religion, there’s no denying that IS, the most active global terrorist organisation at present, follows radical Islam. Hiding this truth in the name of political correctness doesn’t help anyone either.
The (mis)use of Islam in recruiting terrorists means the Muslim community at large, and Islamic countries in particular, have to play an active part in solving the problem. Radical Islamic organisations are able to generate funds for their activities. To counter them, strong moderate Islamic organisations need to be created and funded by governments around the world as well. These modern, moderate, liberal Muslim organisations may not have guns, but they need to be prominent and influential enough to stand up to their fundamentalist counterparts.
Also, Islam is the only religion where over a dozen countries are officially Islamic. Many of them are not democracies, and fundamentalists have a big say in how these countries are run.
This complicates the problem, and is perhaps the reason why radical Islamic terror has thrived far more than that of other religions. However, the rest of the world has to get together and put pressure on these countries, through diplomatic, economic or other means, to have a zero tolerance policy on terrorism.
Holding fundamentalist beliefs may well fall within the parameters of religious choice. However, when innocent people get hurt, all bets are off.
Many of these Islamic countries have strict zero tolerance laws against narcotics for instance, and are successful in keeping their countries drug free. Similarly, they have to commit to zero tolerance against terrorism.
Back home in India too, we have to do the same. Terrorism is a hard problem to counter. Only a zero tolerance approach works. To that extent, all our homegrown terror apologists (the types who say terrorists ‘were just misguided youth’) should be condemned.
These solutions do not amount to asking for a ‘Muslim ban’ or labelling a religion as evil. At the same time, they don’t pussyfoot around the issue in the name of political correctness either.
The solution to terrorism will not come from one extreme point of view, but from somewhere in the middle, using logic and reason.
It is time we take a break from extremitis, and work to solve a huge problem and make the world a safer place

Divide and cook

In Barney White-Spunner’s new book Partition, he quotes Christopher Beaumont who was appointed secretary to Sir Cyril Radcliffe when the barrister arrived in Delhi to divide the subcontinent.
The first task Radcliffe gave him was “to scour the bazaars for wine, preferably white; he managed to find some cases of Alsatian which seemed to cheer Radcliffe up as he started work”. With their refreshing acidity, slight sweetness and spicy aromas, white wines from Alsace, like Riesling and Gewurztraminer have long been recommended as ideal pairs for Indian food, but it’s odd to learn they accompanied this carve-up as well.
Stories about Partition’s effect on food tend to focus on the arrival of tandoori food in Delhi. Writers like Madhur Jaffrey and, more recently, Sadia Dehlvi and Anoothi Vishal, have chronicled how refugees from Pakistan brought tandoors and started making their grilled meats and flatbreads. But they also write of the loss of the subtler foods of old Delhi, which followed the seasons and where meat and vegetables were often cooked together.
Across the country, Partition’s effect on food was dire. In January 1949, in a speech to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Jairamdas Daulatram, the Union Minister for Food Supply (and as a Sindhi, a refugee himself) estimated that India had been left with 80 per cent of the population, but only 65 per cent of wheat production and 69 per cent of rice production. An article in The Times of India (ToI) in 1955 estimated that of the 96 tons of fresh fish that used to be sold in Calcutta, as much as 61 tons came from what was now East Pakistan.
But people in Pakistan faced losses as well. In the 1960s, my grandfather was the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi and as a Malayali, became familiar with many Muslims from South India who had fled to Pakistan and now felt lost in this northern country. How much they must have missed the coconuts, rice and fish of Kerala.
In Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the protagonist Salim Sinai misses leavened bread in Karachi, a city now dominated by naans; finally he finds a convent where the nuns still bake loaves. The bakers who came to India opened Karachi bakeries, like a famous one in Hyderabad (the city of Hyderabad in Sind has a Bombay Bakery, but from before Partition). Just as Delhi got tandoori food, Mumbai got koliwada dishes made when Punjabi refugees applied their ajwain-spiked masalas to local seafood. Pani-puri may have come from Karachi’s legendary gol-guppas.
But was Karachi halwa first invented here? In 2001 I read a story by the Mumbai-born, Karachi-based writer Asif Noorani about how Chandu Halwai, the famous sweet seller, came to Mumbai after leaving his Karachi shop to a Delhi sweetmaker called Ahmed. In time Ahmed started getting requests from people who had returned from Mumbai for Karachi halwa, but when he contacted Chandu for the recipe, he was refused. Partition might have cost him his shop, but it couldn’t take his secrets as well

China Gained from Partition of India

It does look and sound strange, but the partition of India- as events proved- was of immense value to China. It is another matter, that neither Chinese nor any other country could visualize such a turn of events.
The occasional reflections on the tragedies of Partition rarely include the consideration of its geopolitical consequences. The sundering of the political space in the Subcontinent gets a lot less attention in the narratives of independent India’s international relations than the sentimental accounts of Delhi’s non-alignment and moralpolitik.

Even today, it is not easy for the Indian elites to recognise that the geopolitical legacies of Partition remain the biggest drag on India’s larger global aspirations. None of it more important than the fact that China has turned out to be the biggest long-term beneficiary from the division of the Subcontinent.
Nothing illustrates the different geopolitical evolution of India and China since the mid 20th century than the simple question of territorial consolidation. Consider the following: India was divided in 1947 and China was united in 1949. The Subcontinent’s great partition locked the successor states — India and Pakistan — in a perennial conflict. China overcame an era of fragmentation to come together as a strong nation.
If the British Raj emerged as a powerful state by generating a measure of political and administrative coherence to the Subcontinent, its dissolution accompanied by division resulted in the strategic diminution of its successor states, India and Pakistan.
The combination of British power and the massive resources of an undivided Subcontinent created what came to be known as the “India Centre” that dominated the geopolitics of Asia and the Indian Ocean. Indian capital and labour, its armies and administrative systems were central to political stability, economic globalisation and the spread of modernising ideologies in the eastern hemisphere.
Before Partition, India’s energies — economic and military — radiated outwards. After Partition, the Subcontinent’s energies turned inward in defence of the new political borders. If the Anglos are widely seen as the main villains behind Partition — the British for their divide and rule tactics and the American integration of Pakistan into the Cold War politics — it is hard to see how the West benefited from Partition.
The Anglo-American initiatives to replace the India Centre with such new regional security structures as SEATO and CENTO flopped. For there was no real possibility of effective regional security without the participation of India. The efforts by Washington and London to mediate between India and Pakistan in order to generate a more coherent bastion against international communism, for example in the wake of the 1962 war between India and China, did not succeed either.
To make matters even more interesting, the communist giants, Russia and China fell apart at the turn of the 1960s and opened the door for the American strategic partnership with China that would contribute enormously to Beijing’s rise as a great power. China was not only good at exploiting the great power conflicts to its own benefit, its leaders also clearly saw the strategic implications of Partition. They also saw the opportunities to probe independent India’s limitations in sustaining primacy in the Subcontinent and the Indian Ocean that it had inherited from the Raj.
In the early decades after Partition, China seemed relatively marginal to South Asian geopolitics. India’s energies were focused on opposing the Anglo-American co-option of Pakistan into the Cold War alliance system and the supply of Western arms to the Pakistan military. India bet that it could manage the inherent contradictions with China through a conscious befriending of Beijing. But the outcomes abound in paradoxes.
Given the anti-Communist orientation of CENTO and SEATO, you would have thought China would view Pakistan with suspicion and embrace an India that chose to remain non-aligned and refused to support the Cold War alliances. China, however, found it hard to reciprocate India’s love — wrapped in the slogans of Panchsheel and Asian solidarity against Western imperialism. Instead Beijing built an all-weather partnership with Rawalpindi that would grow from strength to strength and remain the one constant feature of the Subcontinent’s international politics.
If India could not stop seeing China through an ideological prism even after 1962, Beijing consistently viewed Rawalpindi through a geopolitical lens. For one, the Chinese leaders saw no real contradictions with Pakistan, despite its pro-Western orientation. Beijing also rightly assessed that ideological slogans are not adequate to overcome major disputes over territorial sovereignty with Delhi.
Even more important, China understood that strong support to Pakistan was a critical element in limiting any future challenges from India. Hence the bilateral deal with Pakistan on Kashmir in the early 1960s, nuclear cooperation in the 1970s and 1980s following India’s first nuclear test in 1974, the transfer of missile technology in the 1990s, and the effective integration of Pakistan’s structures into China’s own military planning on defence production, interoperability and power projection over the last two decades.
For China, Partition is a gift that continues to give. Meanwhile, its growing economic resources, military capabilities and political influence have dramatically improved Beijing’s ability to exploit India’s difficulties with its smaller neighbours as well. Whether it is trade and investment, creation of infrastructure or the supply of armaments, it is China the looms large over the Subcontinent. After years trying to limit Western influences in its neighbourhood, India now finds halting China’s penetration of the Subcontinent will need a lot more political will and strategic purpose.


Donald Trump’s realism and implications for India

The United States President Donald Trump delivered a nuanced speech outlining the new Afghanistan strategy. He did not deviate from the prepared text, and the speech received considerable appreciation from within and outside the United States. While President Trump’s speech focused mostly on the United States (US) policy towards Afghanistan, it also briefly reflected on the domestic politics as well.
After 17 years of military engagement, fatigue has come to characterise the US policy towards Afghanistan. The necessity of the withdrawal defines the public discourse on Afghanistan in the United States. Contrary to his initial impulse, President Trump has stated that victory in Afghanistan is possible and constitutes an “outcome worthy of tremendous sacrifices that have been made.” He also alluded to the possibility that a rapid withdrawal may create a vacuum which will be filled only by the ISIS and Al Qaeda.
In 2009, former President Obama announced deployment 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan and simultaneously enunciated a timetable for the withdrawal commencing from the middle of 2011. This surge-and-withdrawal approach did not yield results,as the Taliban instead of launching offensives merely waited for the draw-down of American forces. Contrary to Obama’s approach, President Trump’s Afghan strategy refrained from clearly specifying the troop levels or defining the timetable. Instead, he stated that the US military posture in Afghanistan will evolve constantly based on ground conditions and the commanders would have greater freedom in terms of deploying various resources.
President Trump was sharply critical of Pakistan’s tactic of taking assistance from the US to fight terrorism and providing a haven for terror.
It appears that the current senior White House staffs, who were involved in the drafting the new strategy, are serious students of noted realist thinker Hans J Morgenthau. The resonance of Morgenthau views was evident when President Trump stated:“we must address the reality of the world as it exists right now.” By repeatedly asserting that the US should be guided by ‘security interests’ and not normative concerns, President Trump declared his preference for a realist framework over a liberal approach. This implies that agenda such as the promotion of democracy and protection of human rights will take a back seat. While the focus on “killing terrorists” is an important objective, Trump’s Afghan strategy seems to be neglecting the need to recognise and contest the political structures and ideological processes that are creating and validating terrorism.
President Trump was sharply critical of Pakistan’s tactic of taking assistance from the US to fight terrorism and providing a haven for terror groups such as the Taliban. While President Trump has called on Pakistan to demonstrate its genuine commitment to combat terrorism, one wonders as to how the US will respond if Pakistan fails to comply. With significant improvement in the bilateral relationship with China, Pakistan will demonstrate considerable reluctance to change the course.Not surprisingly, in less than 24 hours, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson came out in support of Pakistan and pointed out that sacrifices made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism should be recognized.
India will feel vindicated that Pakistan has been recognised for its duplicity in promoting terrorism and simultaneously claimingto be its victim. However, there will be concerns in India on equating the rest of South Asia with developments in the Af-Pak region. Terrorism emanating from the Af-Pak region has its own dynamic, and there is no need to expand the definition of the problem area to the rest of South Asia.
President Trump referred to India’s tireless efforts in Afghanistan and called on India to play a more proactive role in Afghanistan. However, he went on to add that “India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan.” This is the second time that President Trump has deployed the phrase ‘billions of dollars’ referring to India, which conveys an impression of disproportionate and an unfair gain. Earlier, he used a similar phrase while announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
India will also have to carefully examine if Trump is deploying a ‘good terrorist’ and a ‘bad terrorist’ distinction. President Trump stated his objectives are obliterating the ISIS and crushing Al Qaeda. However, concerning Taliban, his goal is to prevent it from taking over Afghanistan. Further, he added that it is “possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban” in Afghanistan. Terrorism is a consequence of regressive social and political ideas propounded by groups such as Taliban. Therefore, incorporating elements of Taliban in the Afghan government and its implications for regional security needs to be mapped out.
Friends, such as India, and allies would have taken note that President Trump started his major foreign policy speech by referring to domestic politics in the US. He reiterated the necessity of transcending race, ethnicity, creed and colour to build a unified country. In a telling statement, he noted: “The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.” It is clear that President Trump was responding to the events in Charlottesville and his statements, which elicited a sharp response from across the political spectrum in the US. While analysts will dissect the metaphor of “war” to describe domestic politics, it should be noted that President Trump seems to have made an honest admission of the deep political divide that America needs to transcend. Friends and foes of the US will assess as to whether the current US administration has theenergy to respond to an intense domestic crisis and also pursue robust external posture. Further, the sustainability of the new Afghan strategy, based on principles of realism, will also be contingent on stemming the high attrition rate in the White House

The Fourth Industrial Revolution disrupted democracy

With the rapid and exponential growth of connectivity and networking predicted by Moore’s Law, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting many fields, but none more strikingly than democracy – and capitalism. Both institutions are based on the freedom to choose a leader, product or service based on the best available information. But only now are we realizing the significance of how this information is created, delivered, modified and consumed – how it has been skewed by the exponential growth in communications technology.
From the advent of language and the alphabet, through the evolution of printing, broadcast and the telephone, the control of communications was historically in the hands of a privileged few.
In fact, the original purpose of the Phoenician alphabet, from which most modern alphabets developed, was to restrict information to those who could read. However, with the advent of the internet and the hyper-connected, interdependent world that now exists, we have only recently begun to fully grasp the power of communications between any group of people, anywhere on the planet at any time – simultaneously.
Compounding that, traditional forms of individual and mass communications are waning. Witness shrinking print newspaper readership, broadcast television viewers and fixed line telephones.
Until a few years ago, the internet was still treated as a digital version of previous analog broadcast technologies like TV, newspaper or radio. However, with the advent of affordable mobile devices and social networks, we have finally seen a technology emerge that offers interaction, engagement and collaboration across the world in real time, among groups as small as two and as large as millions.
Private-sector social media platforms, such as Twitter and YouTube, allow anyone to transmit information to the masses without gatekeeper approval.This has redefined the broadcaster-audience equation. Previous power-brokers can no longer control the limitless information passing directly through cyberspace to personal smartphones. Entrenched rights are being dismantled, a new power is emerging in the world and ICT is leading this change.
There have been many benefits to society from this change. It’s now much harder to conceal things like political corruption, product defects and inadequate service. When politicians miss parliamentary sessions or make different promises at two different campaign stops, the news is immediately disseminated. For businesses, a “hot mic” moment can go instantly viral or a seemingly minor problem with a product can evolve into a global recall – and corporate scandal — in an instant.
In 2016, a perfect storm of technology advances combined with marginalized voices led to everything from Brexit to the recent U.S. presidential elections. Even with the huge growths in online retailers at the expense of their physical counterparts, we are all confronted with a new world order in which traditional assumptions of everything from news reporting and polling to advertising can be wrong. This is causing every government and business leader to question how to lead effectively and responsibly amid the confusion based on inaccurate information.
When confirmation bias runs the world
These surprises weren’t supposed to happen in the era of big data and artificial intelligence. Both the quantity and quality of information were supposed to get better. But as we became comfortable and confident with technology, the fundamental way we communicate and exchange information also changed.
This era of anytime mobility helps like-minded individuals band together via social media. They share information which isn’t necessarily incorrect, but is definitely myopic and biased, leading to what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” In the last few years, supporters who shared tweets and articles and reaffirmed beliefs that furthered their cause unleashed a populist movement that changed everything from geopolitics to who gets to live in America’s White House and South Korea’s Blue House.
Pundits everywhere have been speculating about how the economy, international politics, immigration and even the environment will change with these surprises. But even before these events, the world was already changing. Just ten years ago, such electoral results would not have been possible. In fact, back then the five largest companies on the planet were oil or oil-related. Today, the five largest are all information-based – data has truly become the “new oil” and, as with oil, it’s a resource that’s full of opportunities and surprises.
Unlike traditional public utilities, communication infrastructure and media, as well as the infrastructure underlying the internet, is now mostly owned by private groups. This is another example of how the balance of power between public and private forces has changed and even transcended boundaries of sovereignty, further complicating governments’ roles and making this a truly global issue.
Will all this change affect the ICT industry? The answer is no. ICT played a key role in 2016, and it is clear that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will continue to drive politics and industry. Leaders should interpret the events of last year as a sign that communications have been truly democratized. The technology that allowed electorates to organize and coordinate in unforeseen ways to determine the fate of an economic union, as well as the impeachment or selection of the next leader, is affecting other areas of society in as yet unforeseen and unexpected ways.
This is the new reality, but mainstream media, government and industry is just starting to grasp the ramifications of a mobile, hyper-connected, anytime/anywhere world. It’s also important that leaders grasp this fundamental change in the way we communicate and make decisions. At this year’s Davos, the theme of “Responsive and Responsible Leadership” is a good opportunity to talk about this new context. It’s the start of a new era and the birth of new communication controlled by the many, not the few.
Leaders today must realize that the revolution in communications is not an extension of the old ways, but a whole new paradigm. Anyone can become a broadcaster, pollster or news-maker. The full meaning of this change, evident in the votes of 2016, is only starting to reveal itself.


Privacy in India – an Elite Fantasy

Elite concerns are usually disconnected from the ground reality. For the 1 per cent of Indian who live privileged, cocooned lives, the judicial right to privacy created by the Supreme Court yesterday will add yet another layer with which they can insulate themselves from the “barbarians at the gate”.
So, here is how the rich will benefit. First, they may now be able to refuse medical treatment and die in their beds, peacefully, instead of being compulsorily hooked up to tiresome, life-saving machines in hospitals. But try explaining this “right” to the millions of poor Indians for whom just getting admitted to hospitals is still a dream and refusing treatment would be unimaginable.
Second, the well-heeled may now be able to press for being judicially forgotten – all traces of their past lives and identities expunged, giving them a fresh start without having to flee to distant London or arid Dubai. Contrast this with the Herculean efforts the average Indian makes to become part of a database and have an officially recognized identity – a voter card, a passport, a PAN card, anything which proves that she exists.
Third, those with alternative lifestyles – the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community might now hope to be free of the notoriously archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes everything other than straight sex. But would this give them the right to marry a partner of their choice; adopt children or be socially accepted?
Now ponder the downsides. Law enforcement agencies struggle to manage terrorism, Naxalism, urban mafiosi, drug pushers and armed rural gangsters even today. “Privacy” concerns will provide a legal shield to undermine information collection, detection and investigation. Nothing less than the over-the-top, draconian Armed Forces (Special Provisions) Act – used today only in the “disturbed” areas in Kashmir and parts of the North East – would be effective. Since gangsters can afford to hire the best lawyers, the violation of their fundamental right to privacy in the process of enforcing the law, will now become a favourite ploy to keep these worthies free to wreak havoc.
Will this fundamental right to privacy help the 200 million slum dwellers or the unknown millions who sleep under the stars on urban streets? Is not our fear of
the “big State” overblown? The India I know is under policed, under governed and under regulated. There is a plethora of agencies, laws and rules to bind down anyone and yet very few – mostly the timid, those mindful of their public image and the law respecting middle class get intimidated by the legal spaghetti. The rich buy their way out of any mess and the poor are so inured to danger and risk that it is second nature for them to live with uncertainty.
Take the case of Aadhar for verifying the identity of those using the Public Distribution System (PDS). Recent studies in Jharkhand by responsible social scientists – Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera – found that 15 percent of the eligible PDS beneficiaries were excluded because of technical glitches or access problems in using Aadhar as a test of identity. But 85 percent of the beneficiaries were targeted correctly. If the right to privacy eliminates the use of Aadhar, we will be back to what Rajiv Gandhi famously called the 25 percent approach to poverty reduction – where 75 percent of the funds are siphoned-off by intermediaries. How and why would a reversion to a system which has huge inclusion errors (ineligible people getting benefited) be any better?
Finally, consider how retrograde is the fight by “right to privacy” advocates against big data. It is big data – the billions of pieces of information on human behavior and preferences linked to specific human demographics, which enables algorithms to predict trends, thereby aligning products and services with customer needs. This is what makes big data commercially valuable. In price sensitive markets like India, telecom and e-commerce penetration is being driven by the potential to monetize big data. Putting brakes on this process means putting brakes on the rolling out of technology services which will become more expensive if the actual user is to pay for them.
India lost an opportunity in 2014 when facebook- Bharati Airtel wanted to roll out free internet services on mobiles. TRAI regulations ensured that this venture never took off, thereby slowing down internet access for all except the 300 million people in the upper most income segments who can afford it.
Nandan Nilekani is now an evangelist against “digital colonialism” in the context of tech majors like Google and Amazon aggressively expanding their presence in India. We should be wary of tech industry insiders playing the “anti-foreign” card. Similar attempts were made by the infamous “Bombay Club” to scuttle the 1992
economic liberalization. Their contention was that liberalizing domestic market was fine but Indian industry should continue to be protected from foreign competition. We are fortunate that the government of the day paid no heed to this self-serving agenda.
India is a big economy with very shallow industrialization. We need to remain open to all economic actors – domestic and foreign who want to invest in India. It would be a huge mistake to emulate the xenophobia of the United States and draw up our bridges. Data is the new oil. Data security needs to be ensured irrespective of whether data is stored in India or overseas. But generating anti-foreign hysteria is not in our interest as we try to integrate into global supply chains and become a part of the global value creation eco-system.
It is easy enough to legislate rights. We have many notional rights. Creating a level playing field for all citizens to enjoy these rights equally is another matter altogether.

Let Pakistan not get away with false promises now

Indians and Afghans went ballistic with joy and Pakistan fretted and fumed after President Trump spelt out his “path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia”. Trump minced no words about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism saying: “Today, 20 US designated foreign terrorist organisations are active in Pakistan and Afghanistan— the highest concentration in the world. For its part Pakistan often gives safe havens to agents of chaos, violence and terror”. He added: “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations (like) the Taliban”. He signalled a number of changes in US—Afghanistan policies, warning that it was time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to ”civilization, order and to peace”.
It is clear that the heat is going to be turned on Pakistan by the Americans. The US Congress is proposing to enact a legislation to progressively reduce/cut off economic and military aid and supplies to Pakistan. America’s allies, notably UK, Germany, and Japan will supplement the American effort.
The US will also be enhancing its military presence in Afghanistan. The proposed US Congressional Legislation requires the administration to deny economic and military assistance to Pakistan, if it does not mend its ways.
Trump has indicated that while it “may be possible” to have a political settlement with ”elements in the Taliban”, this can take place only after it ends violence.Secretary of State Tillerson has stated: “This entire effort is intended to put pressure to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory and we may not win one, but neither will you”.
He added: “At some point in time, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end”. Tillerson also made it clear that the US could revoke the status of “Major Non-NATO ally” that Pakistan enjoys, clearing the way for stringent restrictions on arms supplies and economic assistance. It is now evident that the US intends to link arms and economic assistance to Pakistan ending support for terrorism in Afghanistan, through the Taliban and Haqqani network. It is also possible that US drone strike on the Pakistan -based, ISI supported Taliban and its leadership will be stepped up.
How will Pakistan react to these new US policies? Rawalpindi will protest loudly at US policies. The message will be quietly sent to the US that if it turns the squeeze too much, Pakistan will be forced to deny use of its soil to American military supplies and aid to Afghanistan. The aim will be to force the US to cool off on sanctions, by holding out promises of Taliban good behaviour, in the event of the US agreeing to continue economic and military assistance. This is something, which India and Afghanistan should ensure does not happen. There will substantial pressure on the US to agree to an early resumption of “unconditional dialogue” with the Taliban. This should, however, remain conditional on a verifiable end to Pakistan support for cross-border terrorism. China has already made noises of support for Pakistan.
Beijing has made it clear that it will back Pakistan on its position regarding a role for the Taliban, which equates the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Trump has made it clear that India remains a “strategic partner” not just in South Asia, but across the entire “Indo-Pacific” region. The old hyphenation between India and Pakistan has been eroded, but India has to be careful on this score. We also need to bear in mind that Russia, Iran and China have close contacts with the Taliban. Economic cooperation and military training for Afghanistan has to be quickly stepped up.

Will India shake off its grand delusions?

‘Tis the season for chest-thumping. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is unquestionably on top of the heap. But what a heap it is. Over the past couple of weeks, quite a bit of nasty triumphalism has been on display. Such eruptions need a trigger, and a handy one was provided by the departing remarks of Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
The amount of opprobrium heaped on Ansari was astonishing and disproportionate. Just two weeks before Ansari’s retirement, President Pranab Mukherjee, in his own farewell speech, had said India’s soul resides in pluralism and tolerance. “We may argue, we may agree or we may not agree. But we cannot deny the essential prevalence of multiplicity of opinion. Otherwise, a fundamental character of our thought process will wither away.” Mukherjee also spoke of the rising tide of violence: “At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear and mistrust.”
These are stark and unambiguous statements, but they did not draw the kind of vitriol that Ansari’s “sense of insecurity” remark did. In the days since, the BJP’s op-ed writers have weighed in with what can be charitably described as selective intellectualism. This is happening alongside a continual re-telling of history. Both strands converged in a column by the BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav titled ‘Coming Full Circle at 70’.
Madhav wrote about the “genius of our country, which is rooted in its religio-social institutions like state, family, caste, guru and festival”, and went on to rubbish Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership after independence, comparing him unfavourably with strongmen like David Ben-Gurion in Israel, Mao Zedong in China and Kemal Ataturk in Turkey.
Quoting from a sharp exchange of letters in 1945 between Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru over ‘native wisdom’ and village life as the centrepiece in new India. Nehru was peddling his colonial masters’ views, Madhav said. He ignored the fact that the two men may have differed, but were extraordinarily close – Gandhi did not disavow Nehru as the best choice to lead independent India or waver from naming Nehru his political heir.
Nehru may have been westernised, but he certainly had deep connections with rural India, travelling often into the countryside from his 20s. In the first years after independence, he wrestled with food scarcities, a better deal for farmers, and the abolition of the zamindari system so the share-cropper would get to till his own land. “For the Congress the agrarian question was the dominating social issue and much time had been given to its study and the formulation of policy,” Nehru wrote in The Discovery of India. Twelve years later, the then prime minister wrote to a chief minister: “I would repeat that the keystone of our planning is agricultural production. We can never have surpluses for industrial growth unless these come from agriculture.”
Ironically, to underline his point Madhav quoted a Western writer. “The liberal unease is palpable. Their plight is best described by Edward Luce in his book through a less-used Greek word demophobia — fear of the mob. The mob, humble people of the country, are behind Modi. They are finally at ease with a government that looks and sounds familiar. They are enjoying it,” Madhav wrote.
Madhav is being disingenuous. Luce has used ‘demophobia’ in his new book The Retreat of Western Liberalism to highlight the anxiety of the elites in western democracies. In a recent interview on, Luce says that the United States and Britain are more vulnerable to populism because of their triumphalist and complacent stand on their economic and political models, “so it’s not a surprise that wealthier people in the West, who are doing better than they’ve ever done before, are feeling way more demophobic”.
When there was dismay at his apparent endorsement of vigilantism, Madhav responded that he had meant the humble masses, “not the mob in conventional sense”.
In another celebration of cultural nationalism, Delhi University professor Rakesh Sinha criticised Ansari’s ‘binary’ view of majority and minority and noted: “From 2014 onwards, there has been a marked consolidation of saffron politics as India’s political executive is completely Congress-mukt — the offices of president, vice president and prime minister are held by RSS men.”
He quoted Tajamul Hussain, a lawyer and member of the Constituent Assembly, as saying there had never been a tyranny of the majority in India. True – but that was because the subcontinent had allowed itself to be ruled by tiny minorities – the Mughals and the British – for four centuries. In the Assembly, Hussain fought long and hard against a proposal to set aside reserved constituencies for Muslims. This was understandable – he was the only Shia among 31 Muslim representatives from the provinces. On 26 May 1949, for example, Hussain argued that no ‘speck of separatism’ ought to be permitted in the new Indian constitution: “Other minorities will also be encouraged to demand it. Minority within a minority must be logically entitled to it and thus, far from adding and aiding unity, it will only serve to promote separatism and create sectional strife, leading to untold religious, social and political complications.”
The makers of our constitution decided wisely in the end against constituencies reserved for minority religions. That has stood us in good stead. The same Nehru who is now being air-brushed out of our history and political discourse said in the Constituent Assembly on August 14, 1947, hours before independence: “At a time when we are on the threshold of freedom, we should remember that India does not belong to any one party or group of people or caste. It does not belong to the followers of any particular religion. It is the country of all, of every religion and creed. We have repeatedly defined the type of freedom we desire. In the first resolution, which I moved earlier, it has been said that our freedom is to be shared equally by every Indian. All Indians shall have equal rights, and each one of them is to partake equally in that freedom.”
Seventy years after independence, we are still struggling with many of the fundamental questions the Constituent Assembly grappled with. We have still not fulfilled Article 44 in our Directive Principles of State Policy: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” Bigotry and bias still stalk our land. But we deceive ourselves that we are an egalitarian democracy. I remembered Adi Shankaracharya, the genius who in his very brief life (788-820 CE) cemented Advaita philosophy and sanatana dharma (eternal duties) and wrote numerous treatises while criss-crossing India. In his Maya Panchakam (five verses on delusion) the refrain is: “Aghatita ghatana patiyasi maya” (that is the unique effect produced by deceptive delusion). When will we emerge from our delusions?

On Defining Religion

When Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that President Donald Trump’s 90-day ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries is “a religiously based ban,” and “if they can ban Muslims, why can’t they ban Mormons.” This has become the position of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, which has influenced not only the American public but has convinced the majority of the world that America is “bad.” How can we blame the world, and even a good segment of American citizens, for hating America when such disingenuous and misleading claims are aired to the world from US officials and broadcast by American television channels?
The majority of the world does not understand that much of the American media is in a propaganda war against the Trump Administration simply because he names Islamic jihad and would prefer to see a strong and prosperous America as a world leader, rather than to see a dictatorship — secular or theocratic — as a world leader. He ran as a Republican; meanwhile, Democrats and the mainstream media refuse to engage in respectful and legitimate debate on the most vital threat to Western civilization in the twenty-first century: Islam. Truth has become irrelevant; people seem to prefer a political game of tug-of-war to sway public opinion against the Trump Administration, and, presumably, to elect Democrats forever. That is how the system is set up.
Political discussions on television have become extremely frustrating; they have turned into shouting matches and name-calling at the least informative levels. Television hosts often become instigators and participants in the shouting matches. The thinking is apparently that the louder they get, the more attractive the program will be. Meanwhile everyone is talking at once; the viewer cannot hear anyone, so the program could not be more boring.
Under the US Constitution, freedom of religion is protected. and Islam has been welcomed inside the West on that basis as one of the three Abrahamic religions. According to Western values and the Western understanding of the word, “religion” is supposed to be a personal relationship with God, where free will is of utmost importance; the believer has authority only over himself or herself when it comes to religious laws or punishing sins (such as leaving the religion or committing adultery) — quite different from criminal laws intended to protect society. Western values also allow followers of a religion the freedom to proselytize, but never by resorting to government enforcement.
Bottom line, the Western definition of religion is in harmony with the Biblical values of the human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that all human beings are created equal under the law. It is considered a basic Western value to view God, family and country as a top priority.
Now let us compare these values to Islamic values. Muslim citizens have the right to punish other citizens with humiliating, severe, cruel and unusual punishments such as death, flogging and amputation, for sinning against Allah, the Quran or Islam. Those “crimes” include leaving Islam, being a homosexual, or committing adultery. And if the Islamic government does not enforce such punishments, any Muslim on the street has the right to apply the punishment against another Muslim and not be prosecuted. That is why apostates, such as myself, cannot visit any Muslim county; the fear is not only from Islamic governments but from anyone on the street.
Being a Muslim is not a personal relationship with God, as it is under the Bible, but is enforced by the state at birth. When a child is born in Egypt to a Muslim father, the birth certificate is stamped “Muslim” and all government-issued documents as well. A child must learn Islamic studies in school and practice Islam throughout his life. In Egypt, the twin sons of a Christian divorced mother were forced to take Islamic studies and become Muslim just because their originally-Christian father converted to Islam. Today, in Egypt, I am still considered Muslim and such a status could never change if I ever lived there again.
Islamic law and leaders rely on government enforcement — under penalty of death — to keep Muslims within Islam and to convert the minority Christian population into Islam. Islamic sharia law, obliges Islamic states to enforce religious law, and if the Muslim head of state refuses to follow religious law, sharia permits the public to use force to remove the head of state from office.
Islam claims to be an Abrahamic religion, but in fact Islam came to the world 600 years after Christ, not to affirm the Bible but to discredit it; not to co-exist with “the people of the book,” Jews and Christians, but to replace them — after accusing them of intentionally falsifying the Bible. Islam was created as a rebellion against the Bible and its values, and relies on government enforcement to do so.
The tenets above are just a few of the differences in values between Islam, the Bible and the Western concept of religion. What the West does not understand is that Islam admits that government control is central to Islam, and Muslims must demand to live under an Islamic government sooner or later. That might explain the reason for the eternal violence in nearly all Muslim countries, between government being in the hands of a religious theocracy or of the military. Islam, as it is practiced today, has violated all Western definitions of religion and values.

The moral dilemmas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Do we need a new moral code for the age of drones and gene-editing? Should your driverless car value your life over a pedestrian’s? Should your Fitbit activity be used against you in a court case? Should we allow drones to become the new paparazzi? Can one patent a human gene?
Scientists are already struggling with such dilemmas. As we enter the new machine age, we need a new set of codified morals to become the global norm. We should put as much emphasis on ethics as we put on fashionable terms like disruption.
This is starting to happen. Last year, America’s Carnegie Mellon University announced a new centre studying the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence; under President Obama, the White House published a paper on the same topic; and tech giants including Facebook and Google have announced a partnership to draw up an ethical framework for AI. Both the risks and the opportunities are vast: Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and other experts signed an open letter calling for efforts to ensure AI is beneficial to society:
“The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”
These are big names and grand ideals. However, many efforts lack global cooperation. Moreover, the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution go beyond the internet and AI.
Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, believes this phase will be built around “cyber-physical systems” with the blurring of the physical, digital and biological. As we embrace this machine age, we will need be confronted by new ethical challenges, calling for new laws. In some cases the entire moral code may need to be rebooted. Such is the nature of technological breakthroughs. We believe that humanity will soon be on the cusp of re-thinking morals – an Ethics 2.0.
The origins of ethics
Ethics derived from philosophy or religion do not easily fit into the world of technology. Everything from Aristotle to the Ten Commandments give us moral navigation – but any established set of rules tends to run into dilemmas. The world of science also has its share of attempts, from Asimov’s Three Laws for Robots to Nick Bostrom’s work on ethics. However, humans find it hard enough to develop virtues for their own conduct, let alone building relevant virtues into new technologies.
The ethical implications range from the immediate (how are the algorithms behind Facebook and Google influencing everything from our emotions to our elections?) to the future (what will happen if self-driving vehicles mean there are no more jobs for truck drivers?). Following is a sample, by no means exhaustive, of the ethical decisions which will face us:
Life Sciences. Should gene editing be legal to manipulate the human race and create “designer babies”? Cancer researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee, in his critically acclaimed book The Gene, highlighted the deep ethical questions that advances in genome science will pose. The list of ethical questions is long: what if a pre-natal test predicted your child would have an IQ of 80 points, well below average, unless you undertook a little editing? What if these technologies were limited to only a wealthy people?
AI, machine learning and data. Over time, Artificial Intelligence will help us make all kinds of decisions. But how do we ensure these algorithms are fairly designed? How do we iron out biases from such systems, which will eventually be used to determine job promotions, college admissions and even our choice of a life partner?
Should the local police use facial recognition software? Should predictive policing based on algorithms be legal? What impact will this have on our privacy? Will cutting-edge technology in the hands of local law enforcement usher in the era of the surveillance state?
Social media and gadgets. What if our Kindles were embedded with facial recognition software and bio-metric sensors, so that the device could tell how every sentence influenced our heart rate and blood pressure?
Bots and Machines. How do we decide what driverless cars can decide? How do we decide what Robots can decide? Will there be a need for the robot equivalent of a Bill of Rights? What about the rights of humans to marry robots and of robots to own property? Should a highly advanced Cyborg be allowed to run for political office?
The path ahead
Typically in the past, free markets have decided the fate of new innovation and with time, local governments come in and intervene (Uber is banned in Japan but operational in India). However, in this case such an approach could be disastrous.
We are not in favour of government getting in the way of innovation: we are calling for a coherent global dialogue around ethics in the 21st century. The dialogue needs to move beyond academic journals and opinion articles to include government committees and international bodies such as the UN.
So far we have taken a siloed approach – from worldwide banning on human cloning to partial restrictions on GM Foods. Different regions have also taken disparate views and failed to orchestrate a unified response: the EU’s approach to managing the societal impact of new technologies is markedly different from that of the US. China, on the other hand, has always taken the long view. Technology is like water – it’ll find its open spaces. In an interconnected world, local decisions are only effective when enabled by international consensus.
There is a need for a structured international forum to form a list of technologies that need governance, to evaluate each technology and release a blueprint for its code of conduct. For example, an international governmental body could lay down specific rules such as making it mandatory to release the logic behind certain AI algorithms.

Legacy of 1857 continues unabated

As the year 2017 marks the 160th anniversary of the uprising, let’s examine the role played by the two groups at a defining moment in history. The brave and fractious anti-British uprising of 1857 was put down with a heavy hand. It took another 90 eventful years for Hindus and Muslims who claimed to have jointly led the anti-colonial showdown to part ways. Anger, acrimony, violence visited both communities and tore up large swathes of their habitats across the subcontinent.
If there were Hindu, Muslim or Sikh participants in the rebellion, there were Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs allies of the British as well. The Shia Nawab of Oudh rebelled and the Shia Nawab of Rampur sided with the British.
If Sunni purists joined the mutiny, then Bhopal, under the influence of the ultra conservative Ahl-i-Hadees, remained loyal to the East India Company. Many Sikhs, Pathans, and a whole host of Hindu chieftains joined the British against the rebellion.
Many of us celebrate Hindu-Muslim unity of 1857, but we ignore the disunity both between and within the communities. Both premises — of 1857 and 1947 — were therefore suspect. There was no monolithic Muslim identity in either case. There was no monolithic Hindu identity either. This was proved in 1857, but overlooked in 1947, possibly to address new exigencies of electoral politics.
Everyone wanted to show their popular prowess at the ballots so they gathered everyone that was not traditionally in either camp as one of theirs.
Had both sides heeded B.R. Ambedkar, they would have analysed the defeat in 1857 more rationally and approached the division of 1947 with far more circumspection than they provisioned for. The role of the backward castes, including the erstwhile Untouchables (today’s Dalits), continues to be underplayed in the popular imagination.
In the popular imagination, 1857 is touted for Hindu-Muslim unity and 1947 is remembered for their disunity. Ambedkar had a different view of both. Consider his typically cutting passage from The Annihilation of Caste: “The first and foremost thing that must be recognised is that Hindu society is a myth,” says the book Dalits regard as their bible. “The name Hindu is itself a foreign name. It was given by the Mahomedans to the natives for the purpose of distinguishing themselves. It does not occur in any Sanskrit work prior to the Mahomedan invasion. They did not feel the necessity of a common name, because they had no conception of their having constituted a community.
“Hindu society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be-all and end-all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Moslem riot. On all other occasions each caste endeavours to segregate itself and to distinguish itself from other castes.”
How did the caste tangle feature in 1857? Consider the airbrushing of certain embarrassing traits from historical discourse. Whose exploits are we more familiar with between Ramabai Pandita and Begum Hazrat Mahal? Ramabai was born to a progressive Brahmin family of Maharashtra. She suffered for her association with the Untouchables in her neighbourhood, one of whom she married during a visit to Bengal.
After converting to Christianity following a study tour in England, she intensified her mission to improve the condition of low caste Indians, primarily their children, including child widows. This early public intellectual was born in 1858, the same year that Begum Hazrat Mahal, Ramabai’s antithesis, issued an ‘ishtehaarnama’, or a proclamation, from her exile.
We are reminded over and over again with Vedic monotony that Begum Hazrat Mahal played a most heroic role in India’s battle against British rule, which she evidently did. But there’s a less discussed dimension of her personality and that of her other notable contemporaries who waged battle against British rule in 1857. You can be sanguine that the queen of Awadh and her fellow rebel rulers, if they shared her social views, would not pass muster in any comity of worthy rulers.
The Indian Council of Historical Research released a collection of proclamations issued by the rebel leaders a few years ago. Documented by Dr Iqbal Hussain of Aligarh Muslim University, they throw a different light on the social history of 1857.
Hazrat Mahal, speaking on behalf of her son Birjis Qadar (Wali of Awadh), urges her subjects in a proclamation dated June 25, 1858, to not heed the siren call of Queen Victoria. Why? Because Awadh had respected the right of religion, honour, life and property, in that order, something the British ostensibly didn’t. The regina of Awadh explains her son’s claim on their subjects’ loyalty.
“Everyone follows his own religion (in my domain). And enjoys respect according to their worth and status. Men of high extraction, be they Syed, Sheikh, Mughal or Pathan among the Mohammedans, or Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaish or Kayasth among the Hindus, all these retain the respectability according to their respective ranks. And all persons of a lower order such as a Sweeper, Chamar, Dhanook, or Pasi cannot claim equality with them.”
The proclamation twists the knife further in its lament: “The honour and respectability of every person of high extraction are considered by (the British) equal to the honour and respectability of the lower orders. “Nay, compared with the latter, they treat the former with contempt and disrespect. Wherever they go they hang the respectable persons to death, and at the instance of the Chamar, force the attendance of a Nawab or a Rajah, and subject him to indignity.”
Clearly, the pervasive legacy of Vedic Brahminism, which would rile Ambedkar six decades later, was at work in 19th century northern India through a Muslim ruler. The syndrome has not quite abated even today.

The immigrant swansong

There’s an old joke about the scene that greeted Neil Armstrong and co when they stepped on the moon: They saw an auto garage shop manned by an Indian Sikh; they drank chai at a tea stall run by a Keralite Malayali; and finally they checked into a motel managed by a Gujarati Patel.
Advancing the script, the first person to travel to Mars in the near future, who may well be of Indian origin, would apocryphally meet a ‘sardar’ managing the Martian branch of Tesla, a ‘Mallu’ (or Goan) running Mars’s first Michelin-star restaurant, and a ‘Gujju’ managing a five-star hotel.
Ethnic stereotyping aside, the legend of the Indian diaspora is immense. There are more than 30 million people of Indian origin across the globe, a population almost the size of Canada’s. There is no country where they are not present, including remote island states such as Nauru in the Pacific and isolated outposts such as Barrow, Alaska. Their expansive emigration has allowed India to build bridges with countries and communities across the globe, giving New Delhi economic openings, a stake in the political stability and prosperity of resident countries, and geopolitical heft.
Such is the allure of its diaspora for India – in no small measure because of the nearly $70 billion they remit annually – that New Delhi has now developed a template for community outreach whenever the prime minister travels abroad. Over the years, such community events have become bigger, brighter and more boisterous, as the Indian immigrants have found their voice on the strength of sweat and toil, smarts and savvy, embracing success like few other ethnicities have managed.
Slogans and cries of Bharat Mata ki jai now rend the air in arenas across the globe, from New York’s Madison Square Garden to Sydney’s Super Dome to Dubai’s cricket stadium. (Even in as politically restrictive a country as Saudi Arabia – temporary home to an estimated three million Indian workers – the Indian prime minister recently reached out to the country’s toiling expats.)
Nowhere has the Indian diaspora grown and thrived as much as in America, home to nearly four million People of Indian Origin and Non-Resident Indians, now chronicled extensively as the wealthiest and best-educated community not just in the US, but arguably anywhere in the world. From architects to astronauts, from yoga instructors to zoo keepers, from law and politics to acting and entertainment, there is not a sphere of activity they haven’t broken into.
With a median family household income of over $1,00,000 and 70% of its adult population holding at least a master’s degree (both way above the US average), this ‘model minority’ is the envy of other nations and, till recently at least, pride of the host country in showcasing its diversity and openness. Indeed, no country on earth has taken in as many Indians as its citizens as the United States.
There is a growing sense – and a few small indicators – that the historical mandate for openness and acceptance in what is fundamentally an immigrant society is being altered, if not subverted. Next week, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the US capital, he will meet the Indian community at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner in neighbouring Virginia, in a modest ballroom of 14,000 square feet that can accommodate some 1,500 people.
This is a far cry from the 15,000 plus people who stampeded into New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2014 and Silicon Valley’s SAP Center in 2015, two events that set the tempo and provided the template for similar prime ministerial outreach across the world. Of course, it is possible that availability and security issues may have resulted in a distant venue, but scuttlebutt suggests there is more to this.
Mind you, the capital area’s Indian-origin population is large enough to have merited the Walter E Washington Convention Center (which offers the city’s largest ballroom at 52,000 square feet), or at least the Washington Marriott Wardman Park or Omni Shoreham, venues where Modi’s predecessors Manmohan Singh and AB Vajpayee respectively addressed the community.
But this is not the time, nor the dispensation, with which you share or showcase the strength of the diaspora. In as much as previous administration officials and US lawmakers were awed by the Madison Square Garden spectacle (and said so publicly), and saw it as a celebration of the country’s diversity, this regime is more likely to see it as a threat.
Already, the signs are not propitious – not just in the US but in many immigrant destinations abroad, including UK and Australia. From proposing ideological tests for potential immigrants to shutting down guest worker visas (which have led to US citizenship for many Indians) on the pretext of misuse, nativist boffins have begun to curtail immigration, initiating steps that have also put a hex on Indian students who venture abroad to study, on tourists, and indeed on businesses.
Of course, no country can afford to have open borders and every country needs to regulate inflow of immigrants; New Delhi shouldn’t mind that. But what India should aim for is to secure and expand the facility of its people to freely travel for education and entertainment, trade and commerce – India’s great strengths – while hoping both for its and America’s sake that the nativist mood against globalisation is a temporary aberration. Immigration is not the issue; trade and commerce are.

The stain of history- America Still Suffers

America has always had a certain vanity about being a beacon of democracy and republicanism. Recent events in Charlottesville reveal that this democratic colossus has feet of clay. Clashes in the small Virginian town, near Washington DC, have been triggered by those opposing the removal of the statue of Robert E Lee, commander of the armies of the Southern states of the US who sought to perpetuate African-American slavery in the US in the 1860s. And 150 years later, the current US President Donald Trump is finding it difficult to condemn their actions, even though many of them profess neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideals. To their credit, a majority of Americans are appalled at the behavior of their president.
The enslavement of people kidnapped from Africa by the millions is a stain on American history that just won’t go away. One reason for this is the incomplete integration of the US. The American constitution formally accepted slavery till the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, a reluctant and inadvertent consequence of a war which was actually fought to keep the American Union intact, not abolish slavery. Indeed, African-Americans only got their civil rights including the right to vote in the mid 1960s, fifteen years after all Indians got them. Racism still pervades the US with white politicians, especially in the South, using all kinds of tricks to disenfranchise the poorer blacks and Hispanics.
The persistence of historical memory, leaping over decades and centuries is not, of course, unusual; there are those in India who are still fighting the battle of Haldighati and have never gotten over the disaster of the 3rd battle of Panipat. And so, this twisted American Civil War replay in Charlottesville.
Following their defeat, Southern states were under martial law and US Congress even saw some African-American legislators in the 1860s and 1870s, but then came a reversal, and they were once again condemned to the bottom of America’s social pile, along with a system of apartheid that forcibly separated the lives of black and white people till the mid 1960s.
In this period, African-Americans were lynched on the flimsiest of pretexts and white Southerners sought to recapture their racist history by honouring many of those who fought against the Union by erecting statues and naming schools and institutions after them. It’s recently that we have seen a movement to remove them.
Charlottesville is at the epicentre of this historical churning. It is a small, pleasant town with a well-known university founded by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US, who had estates nearby. He is the principal drafter of the American Declaration of Independence and a towering intellectual of liberal democracy. Another nearby estate belonged to George Washington, the first president of the country, and the man who led its armies to victory.
Slavery loomed much larger in their minds. For one, both used slaves to work their estates. But they were conscious that they were leading a democratic revolution as well. For that reason the word “slavery” never figured in the American constitution, even though a fifth of the American population were African-Americans, mostly slaves. They were counted for the purpose of allocating seats in the US Congress, but needless to say they did not have the vote, leave alone liberty.
Jefferson was ambivalent about slavery, even terming it as a terrifying “fire bell in the night.” But when he died, he simply parcelled out his slaves in his will like any property, including his own children from an African-American mistress. Washington, to his credit, freed or manumitted his slaves on his death.
The election of Donald Trump has opened these terrible wounds. Some whites continue to believe that the US is, or ought to be, a white nation, even though blacks have been there for as long as them, albeit involuntarily. They attack immigration for diluting the country’s whiteness and globalisation for the loss of jobs. Many of these angry white men are the core constituency that propelled Trump to victory.

Racism? Not just a black and white issue

In the early 1960s in Washington DC, some friends were on the lookout for a better house. So they put an ad in the classifieds, listing requirements for “a diplomat and his family” and asking potential landlords to ring “Mrs Ray”. One gentleman who called was polite, pleasant and appeared to have the perfect home for them. Then came the rider. “How dark is the diplomat?” he asked politely and my mother hung up.
Many, many, years later, a childhood friend married a Norwegian, settled there and had a son. Her marriage didn’t last but Norway is her home now and she loves it. Given that Scandinavia always scores so highly on all the parameters we look for in terms of liveability, I asked if she ever felt that the indigenous Norwegians are racist. “Some of them are,” she said after much reflection. “But they are polite about it.”
“Polite racism” is an intriguing concept. We tend to think of it in terms of violent deeds, whether in South Delhi (against Africans) or in Charlottesville (against African-Americans and Jews). In my friend’s case it came in the form of a query like, “How did your son like going back home to India?” “Back home?” she recounted to me with some indignation. “Just because he is half Indian? He’s born and bred in Norway!”
Racism, evidently, is not as black-and-white an issue as some believe it to be. It is complicated and confusing. For instance, the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville last week definitely hate the African-Americans who rallied to counter them. But they are no fans of their florid President either as he has “let” his daughter marry a Jew. They probably regard him as a bigger traitor than David Bowie. Not polite, these racists.
David Bowie. Not polite, these racists. Indians can be pretty nastily racist too as recent incidents have proved. But are we politely (nicely?) racist too? More by omission than commission. While many desi families now happily have white and even east Asian members – a change from say a century ago when every other race and even region was regarded with distaste – how many Indians have dated or married people of African descent? Until very recently, all too few.
Neena Gupta’s relationship with Vivian Richards became a byword precisely because it was so rare ditto Anjoo Mahendru’s reported fling with Gary Sobers. But actress and cookery queen Madhur Jaffrey is the actual “pioneer” – if the word can be used in this context – of this kind of interracial marriage. She married the African-American classical violinist Sanford Allen nearly 50 years ago, after her divorce from Saeed Jaffrey.
It is interesting to note that despite Indians living in various African nations for many generations have remained mostly as ethnically homogenous as the other races. And a recent report on inter-racial marriages in South Africa reveals that still only 5% of “Asians and Indians” are likely to marry outside their race, and whites even less. What percentage of ‘rebels’ actually marry those of African descent is, unfortunately, not stated.
The video circulating about the Charlottesville rally also revealed one unusual fact: as the two antagonistic crowds faced off, shouting slogans and waving fists, there were no Indian or south east Asian faces to be seen. It seemed a throwback to the much less inclusive and racially diverse USA of the 1960s that my parents and brother saw. It does seem as if we Asians are still not clear about where we stand on the race issue.
Communities of single ethnicities are often not well disposed to other races or appearances. Significantly, those of African descent – in Africa or elsewhere are no exception either, as the marriage of Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama to the Englishwoman Ruth Williams in 1948 demonstrated. Not only did her father throw her out, his uncle apparently declared “If he brings his white wife here, I will fight him to the death.”
But nearly 70 years after Sir Seretse and Ruth’s wedding, Africans married to Indians today also mention family displeasure on both sides. Indian families whose sons and daughters have spouses/partners of African ethnicity take time to adjust—especially given the light skin hang-up that still plagues us –though most are not outright rude. And it’s the same on the African side, as recounted by Indian spouses. Polite racism?

‘7 Sins of India’ – the Funny Chinese Video on Doklam

Indian television news content is often criticized for being over the top. Moderators are criticized for their histrionics. The absence of reason is mourned, as is the resemblance of programming to government propaganda. But a new Xinhua video suggests that even in this game China has India beat.
Streamed on New China TV, the official YouTube channel of Xinhua news agency, which is the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China, the video features a pulchritudinous female anchor throwing peculiar new light on the Doklam standoff, topped by a faux hirsute faux Indian making a fool of himself backed by a full supply of canned laughter.
The script is pretty hilarious actually. It’s not clear to me if the scriptwriters are really taking the mickey out of India or sort of subtly subverting their own script masters as well.
I have recorded the script below, with the hope that in something like the august tradition of rap battles, someone out there is going to put together a classy rejoinder:
Anchor: It’s been two months since Indian troops illegally crossed the China-India boundary but so far India has shown no sign of withdrawal at all.
When the whole world is trying to wake India up from its impulse China’s realized it’s impossible to wake a guy who is pretending to be asleep.
Faux Indian: Nobody is blaming me because I’m asleeeeep. (Snoring)
Anchor: Fine fine … let’s now take a look at what India has done during these two months which in a nutshell is regarded as the 7 Sins.
No 1: Trespassing
On June 18 Indian border troops carrying weapons and driving bulldozers illegally crossed the delimited boundary into the UNDISPUTED Chinese territory.
Yeah you heard it right, driving bulldozers straight into your house without even knocking at the door. What kind of neighbor would that be?
No 2: Violating bilateral convention
No 3: Trampling international law
You may think Doklam is a disputed area but the truth is both India and the international community have recognized the place as a part of China according to the 1890 convention between Great Britain and China relating to Sikkim and Tibet. And the thing is this exact convention is part of international law.
Didn’t your mama tell you never break the law!
No 4: Confusing and wrong
No 5: Putting blame on victim
This is kind of funny. India has been inventing various excuses to whitewash its illegal move. But first of all you’ve got to make sure your excuses can hold water dude!
India’s argued that China’s building of roads would represent “significant change of status quo … with serious security implications for India”. Would you go and take it up when your neighbor’s building a path in his garden?
Faux Indian: He’s building a path in his garden! I’m in DANGER!!
No 6: Hijacking small neighbor
Well this is most outrageous. We thought India would have been wiser after the first stupid excuse. But this time it attempted to justify its incursion in the name of “protecting Bhutan”.
Faux Indian: Don’t move – this is Bhutan’s home. I’m here protecting it.
Faux Bhutanese: (with the faux Indian waving a knife at him) No not my home.
Anchor: The Bhutanese authorities have clearly told Chinese officials that Doklam is not Bhutanese territory and they are also confused by India’s behavior.
Well I’m just wondering, how does it feel shooting yourself in the foot?
No 7: Sticking to mistake knowingly
China has a strong will to solve the problem peacefully – with the prerequisite of India’s withdrawal of course.
However India is so thick-skinned that it is on the one hand crying for talk but on the other hand refusing to withdraw.
Have you ever negotiated with a robber who had just broken into your home and refused to leave? (Nooo) You call 911 or just fight him back, right?
Faux Indian: Why call 911? Don’t you want to play house bro?
Anchor: If you really want to play, get out of my house first. (Shaking her finger)

Are Radical-Leftist Millennials Really ‘Snowflakes’?

The suddenly chic term “snowflake” seems, at first glance, to be an apt insult for the leftist radicals that have become so numerous in American universities in recent years.
But is it a fitting metaphor? The beautiful and unique part of the term works well. Such students have an inflated estimation of their uniqueness, individuality and importance. They are driven partly by the belief that they are special and uniquely enlightened, and that their feelings carry more weight than those of other people.
The perfect conditions only aspect of the analogy is also apt. Like snowflakes that can abide only optimal weather conditions, young leftist radicals are notoriously easily offended. Any statement that doesn’t perfectly adhere to the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy triggers them. Any belief that doesn’t perfectly match their own worldview sends them into a rage. They feel themselves to be personally victimized by Brexit, and by the idea that America could be run by a person that they didn’t vote for. And if someone is so obscene as to assert that a fetus is more than a clump of cells, that the sun plays a role in climate change, or that a person with two X chromosomes is a woman and a person with an X and a Y is a man, the campus leftists will be offended to the point of wrath.
But at the fragility part of the term, the snowflake analogy breaks down. Yes, these radicals are easily offended. But unlike nature’s snowflakes, campus leftists don’t melt away under heat.
When a Yale instructor said in 2015 that students should determine for themselves how to dress for Halloween rather than genuflecting to the university’s warning against costumes that were “culturally unaware or insensitive,” were the campus leftists spooked into grief-stricken silence? Did the possibility of them seeing a classmate wearing a sombrero reduce these students to puddles of tears?
No. They waged a seven-month campaign of aggression, painting graffiti outside the instructor’s home, posting degrading images of her and her husband—also a faculty member—online, cursing them out, and generally bullying and harassing them until both resigned from their administrative posts.
When the University of California–Berkeley’s College Republicans invited alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to speak to them in February, did the campus leftists retreat into safe spaces to cower in fear?
No. They rioted, vandalized facilities, set fires, smashed windows, and beat people in the streets with metal poles until Yiannopoulos was evacuated and his speech canceled. The radicals won the battle against Milo’s speech, but the war wasn’t over. A spokesperson for the College Republican student group said that, in the months since the incident, their members have been “pepper-sprayed, sucker-punched and verbally and physically assaulted for voicing their opinions and beliefs” on campus. One group member caught a leftist student destroying one of the Republican group’s signs and posted a recording of the vandalism online. It was one of many such acts of vandalism against the Republicans. Unidentified individuals also posted signs across campus calling for members of the Republican organization to be lynched or beheaded.
When Middlebury College invited libertarian conservative social scientist Charles Murray to speak in March, did the school’s leftists withdraw to a cry-in on some remote corner of the campus to quietly grieve the decision?
No. They shouted obscenities until Murray was silenced. After Murray had been hurried into a smaller room along with event moderator Allison Stanger, the extremists found them and banged windows and pulled fire alarms until the building’s power was shut down. Finally, when Murray and Stanger tried to leave campus, the mob swarmed them, hospitalizing Stanger.
When House Republicans passed the Obamacare-replacement bill in May, did the University of Georgia’s Young Democratic Socialists recoil, defeated, into their fragility and anxiety? No. They called for those Republicans to be “guillotined.”
These campus leftists are not fragile students who melt under the heat of opposition. They don’t riot out of maudlin emotional sensitivity. That’s off the mark. Theirs is the fervid indignation of moral virtue. They are extremists of liberal orthodoxy, hell bent on doing whatever it takes to silence heretics who disagree with their sacred tenets—sometimes including using violence.
In this way, these extremists are fiery religious zealots. They are not champions of such cornerstone liberal American values as free speech, rule of law and due process, but opponents of them. The stakes in their holy war are too high to be restrained by such tedious values. Political morality must be enforced. Heretics can’t be reasoned or compromised with. Debate must be shut down. All anathema views must be forcibly quashed. In this crusade, any microaggression against the sacrosanct leftist creed must be countered with macroaggression. Of course, not all campus leftists would revert to violence. But this is not about hypersensitivity.
It’s about religious fervor. Radicals know that their intellect and privileged educational status does not entitle them to self-importance. So they take up causes that do give them the gratifying entitlement to feel superior. This way, their identity is based not on their privileged education, but on moral superiority.
This new religion is the opium of the privileged class. It is true that within pious progressivism, there is some posturing and duplicity; there are those who have learned to game it for their own political ends. But many adherents are sincere. They’ve gotten swept up in easy religion—an easy cause to fill the aching moral void.
Like every religion, it has a few valid moral tenets. But overwhelmingly, it is shallow, shortsighted and self-serving piety.
It is a religion of zealous demands for social justice (the shortsighted, feel-good justice of popular culture and vapid secular absolutism that is in the long run anything but just), but one that puts no demands on the individual to develop substantive character, humility or sound judgment. And it places no demand on the individual to wage the grueling, lifelong battle against selfishness within his own mind.
The religion requires no deference to an acknowledged higher authority in pursuit of true judgment. The human heart is the highest authority.
Contradiction they view as persecution. Instead of being devastated by it, the campus zealots are galvanized by it. They spill over with rage and sanctimony, all the more fervent to fight for their righteous cause. They are fueled by faith that can be as blind as that of the most benighted religion. No one would call Islamic State jihadists snowflakes. And the fervor of campus leftists springs from that same well.
This type of belligerent piety is nothing new. Jesus Christ encountered its equal some 2,000 years ago, in the Pharisees who were bent on silencing His “heresy.” He called attention to the stark contrast between their external show of righteousness, and their internal decay: “You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people’s bones and every kind of impurity” (Matthew 23:27; International Standard Version).
These campus leftists are a new brand of radical Pharisees, ready to take up stones to silence opponents of their new religion.
Since the radicals are not fragile individuals in perpetual need of safe spaces, a better term for them than snowflakes might be secular Pharisees.


US isn’t ready for automation

Economists have long argued that automation, not trade, is responsible for the bulk of the six million jobs shed by the manufacturing sector over the last 25 years. Now, they have a put a precise figure on some of the losses.
Industrial robots alone have eliminated up to 670,000 American jobs between 1990 and 2007, according to new research from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo.
The number is stunning on the face of it, and many have interpreted the study as an indictment of technological change — a sign that “robots are winning the race for American jobs.” But the bigger takeaway is that the nation has been ill-equipped to deal with the upheaval caused by automation.
The researchers estimate that half of the job losses resulted from robots directly replacing workers. The rest of the jobs disappeared from elsewhere in the local community. It seems that after a factory sheds workers, that economic pain reverberates, triggering further unemployment at, say, the grocery store or the neighborhood car dealership.
In a way, this is surprising. Economists understand that automation has costs, but they have largely emphasized the benefits: Machines makes things cheaper, and they free up workers to do other jobs. For instance, 41 percent of Americans were farmers a century ago, but thanks to tractors and mechanical harvesters, only 2 percent work in the agriculture today. The rest of us now can now aspire to be programmers or anesthesiologists or DJs or drone pilots.
The latest study reveals that for manufacturing workers, the process of adjusting to technological change has been much slower and more painful than most experts thought. “We were looking at a span of 20 years, so in that timeframe, you would expect that manufacturing workers would be able to find other employment,” Restrepo said. Instead, not only did the factory jobs vanish, but other local jobs disappeared too. Acemoglu and Restrepo say that every industrial robot eliminated about three manufacturing positions, plus three more jobs from around town.
If we are to make it through the next wave of automation, which is predicted to upend even more industries, we may have to rethink our policies about work and education — and learn from the industries that have coped the best.
Their research from Acemoglu and Restrepo joins the work of David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, who have shown that the harms of trade with China were similarly concentrated in certain communities. The laid-off manufacturing workers couldn’t quickly find new jobs, so the economic pain lingered in their neighborhoods. Experts still believe that trade and automation can benefit Americans overall, contributing to lower prices and creating new kinds of jobs. But this evidence draws attention to the losers — the dislocated factory workers who just can’t bounce back.
The United States does have a program to retrain workers who lost their jobs to overseas competition, but research shows that most of them turn to other parts of the government safety net, such as Social Security, disability benefits and Medicaid. None of these efforts, though, seem to be doing enough for communities that have lost their manufacturing bases, where people have reduced earnings for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps that much was obvious. After all, anecdotes about the Rust Belt abound. But the new findings bolster the conclusion that these economic dislocations are not brief setbacks, but can hurt areas for an entire generation.
Acemoglu and Restrepo’s paper is also notable for its specificity. It has been difficult to pinpoint the impacts of technology on employment, in part because the effects have been so widespread. “When economists talk about automation, we’re actually talking about a bunch of stuff — we’re talking about capital, software, machinery, robots, artificial intelligence,” Restrepo said.
Many of these changes are invisible, or at least taken for granted, which is why false narratives persist, like the idea that trade with China caused the vast majority of job losses in the past decade. It’s harder to villainize Microsoft Word, or the robotic welders that have quietly replaced humans in many car factories.
How do we even know that automation is a big part of the story at all? A key bit of evidence is that, despite the massive layoffs, American manufacturers are making more stuff than ever. Factories have become vastly more productive. Many factors contributed to these changes and Acemoglu and Restrepo focused on one in particular — the rise of the industrial robot.
These are what people typically envision as robots — the autonomous sleds that carry parts across the factory floor, or the programmable arms that can weld, paint and even operate heavy machinery. The researchers obtained new data on the spread of this new technology, which is what enabled them to estimate how many jobs it displaced. Theirs is not a full accounting of the costs of automation, but a precise look at one component of this trend.
Since industrial robots still represent just a fraction of what we think of as automation, the claim that they caused 670,000 lost jobs is all the more surprising. As the researchers mention, some consultants believe that the number of industrial robots will quadruple in the next decade, which could mean millions more displaced manufacturing workers.
Restrepo is the first to concede that his research focuses on mostly the debit column. The benefits from robots — and from technological advancement in general — are even harder to measure, and it’s a matter that many economists are still sanguine about.
In the past, machines did automate many jobs out of existence, but new technology always created new opportunities — new kinds of desires, and new kinds of jobs to fulfill them. The recent anxieties about technological change are hardly new: Writing in the 1930s, the economist Maynard Keynes counseled patience, promising that any jobs lost to technology marked only a “temporary phase of maladjustment.”
The question, now, is what to do if the period of “maladjustment” that lasts decades, or possibly a lifetime, as the latest evidence suggests. Some say the time is nigh for a universal basic income. Bill Gates recently offered another provocative suggestion: Perhaps robots should pay taxes to compensate the workers that they replace.
Another lesson from history is that humans may have to become more flexible. America’s transformation from an agricultural nation to a manufacturing nation didn’t happen by accident, says Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute who studies automation trends. “For people to go from working on the farm to working in factories, we greatly increased the educational attainment of the country over that time,” he said. “Our leaders made intentional decisions that made those changes possible.”
Some workers have weathered the strains of automation better than others. The number of jobs in finance, for instance, has continued to climb in recent decades, despite computers taking over many tasks, from filing papers, conducting research or even executing trades. Computerization displaced some people, but also created new kinds of work — jobs for programmers and people who sift through terabytes of financial data. In this case, automation amplified opportunities for people with advanced skills and talents.
Even in auto manufacturing, an industry that has been the poster child for robots displacing workers, there are signs of new opportunity. Ron Harbour, an analyst at Oliver Wyman, says that many of the most automated factories these days actually require more human labor to produce a car. That’s because cars themselves have become more complex, with things like powered seats and side airbags, and entertainment systems and backup cameras.
“There’s actually more work required of a plant today than ever before, so the labor hours have actually gone up a little bit,” he said. “The plants have made significant productivity improvements, but that has been offset by increasing complexity of the process. There’s just more work.”
The latest auto jobs are not the same as the old auto jobs, of course. These days, plants are seeking more robot technicians than assembly line welders. But this illustrates the hope that someday there will be more than enough work for both humans and robots and artificial intelligence routines, as long as we are prepared for it to look different than we’re used to. We just have to muddle through the meanwhile.


Tea, please

People sometimes assume that the appeal of reading ‘classics’ like Jane Austen’s novels is the joy of immersion in a timeless past. This is a mistake. The real appeal of Austen, who died 200 years ago this month, aged just 41, is how modern she seems. The questions she deals with, of class and character, money and marriage, are still very relevant, which is why her stories work so well in modern adaptations in films like Clueless (1995) or Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000).
Austen lived when Britain was starting to feel the first stirrings of immense change. The old, mostly rural world, ruled by aristocrats persisted, but a new middle class was being created by the money flowing in from places like India. Warren Hastings, who consolidated British rule in India, was a friend of Austen’s family.
Austen’s aunt was one of the first unmarried British women to travel to India in order to find a rich husband and, while successful in this, was also rumoured to have become Hastings’ mistress. He was said to have been the father of her daughter Eliza, who Austen was close to, and on who she may have modelled characters like Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park.
The changes in British life manifested in their food. The traditional diet was heavy on bread and meat, or dried peas for the poor (like dals in India), but now it diversified. In Maggie Lane’s book Jane Austen and Food she notes how ‘vegetable’, earlier a botanic term, now started to be used for food. Earlier people spoke of potherbs or gardenstuff, mainly as f lavouring, but in Austen’s time vegetables began to be appreciated for themselves. She only uses the term in her last unfinished novel, Sanditon, “and then in the mouth of the modern and modernising Mr.Parker, while his wife remains faithful to the old term.” Austen herself wrote of revelling in tomatoes, a food item earlier seen as possibly poisonous.
India appears with curry. Lane notes a couple of references in Austen’s minor works, only collected and published long after her death. But her close friend Martha Lloyd, who married one of her brothers, kept a collection of recipes including one for Curry In The Indian Manner.
Austen never gives lavish descriptions of food. Food helps illuminate character, like the fussiness of the heroine’s father in Emma, and also grounds the reality of a world where women had to make it. There may have been cooks to do it— as wonderfully detailed in Longbourn, Jo Baker’s servantsview version of Pride and Prejudice — but Austen was always aware of the effort.
Perhaps this is why tea, both as drink and meal, features so much in her books. It required less work, yet the conversation around it helped illuminate characters. According to Lane, it was Austen’s job to make it for the family breakfast. And tea’s popularity pushed the British to break China’s monopoly by establishing plantations in India, embedding the Empire in every sip taken in Austen’s world.

NAFTA Terminology Explained

Here’s a quick NAFTA glossary for when trade talks commence

Negotiations start today for an update to the quarter-century-old North American Free Trade Agreement. This glossary of negotiating terms helps explain understand some of the underlying dynamics of these talks.

Demandeur: The party requesting a negotiation. In this case, it’s the U.S. The demandeur is generally considered to have weaker leverage, but that weakness is mitigated here by the U.S.’s economic might, and by President Donald Trump’s efforts to re-establish leverage with the ultimate threat: ripping up the deal.

Zone of possible agreement: Exactly what it sounds like. For example, say the U.S. wants Canada’s dairy industry opened 100 per cent to free-market competition, but would secretly settle for two per cent. And suppose Canada wants a zero per cent change, but would eventually settle for four per cent. That leaves an eventual zone of agreement between two and four per cent.

Non-agreement alternative: Your power at the negotiating table is tied to what happens if you walk away. If your Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is the status quo, and you’re happy with it, you have power. This is Canada and Mexico’s position. Trump has moved to scramble that rosy scenario by threatening the end of NAFTA.

Fast track: Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has power over international agreements. Because no country wants to negotiate with 535 amendment-adding American lawmakers, the U.S. political system has devised a compromise. It’s formally called Trade Promotion Authority – better known as “fast track.” Under a fast-track law, the White House handles negotiations with the foreigners. In exchange, lawmakers are guaranteed a role in shaping U.S. strategy, with regular consultations.

Supply management: A system that protects a sector shielded from free trade, with import limits and price controls. Canada has such a system for dairy and poultry. The U.S. hates it. Recent trade deals have seen Canada open up the system slightly. Canada agreed to a 3.25 per cent opening in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for fear of a scary BATNA there: being shut out of a new global trade zone. It will now likely argue that, like the TPP, and like old milk, that offer is expired.

Diafiltered milk: Supply management isn’t the main irritant listed by the U.S. dairy industry. It’s especially unhappy that Canadian producers get to profit from price controls, and then can sell skimmed-off diafiltered components for cheese-making at (lower) market prices, squeezing Americans out of this growing market. The Canadian government created a new category of dairy product for this purpose, Class 7. It became internationally famous when President Donald Trump complained about it.

Rules of origin: Will be a big issue. It involves what percentage of a product is really North American, and therefore deserving of being traded without tariffs. Under NAFTA, a 62.5 per cent of car components must be North American to count as a domestic tariff-free product. The Trump team wants that raised. But key details still aren’t clear _ including whether it will be designed to target Asia, or Canada and Mexico; how it will affect supply chains; and whether it will be calculated on the basis of where a piece gets assembled, or where its sub-components come from.

De minimis: This old phrase from Latin, meaning “of minimal” concern, is now relevant in regard to an ultra-modern retail giant: EBay, too. The question is how much Canadians can spend on an online purchase from abroad, without paying a duty. Canada has one of the strictest de minimis thresholds in the world – it’s $20. The U.S. has it set at $800, and wants Canada to move that way. On the other side, bricks-and-mortar retailers in Canada are pleading with the Canadian government to keep a low threshold, arguing that the hunt for bargains abroad will damage jobs and businesses at home.

Two-level bargaining: The idea that national negotiators are working on two levels: with the other country, and with domestic parties. These domestic actors can be silent allies: think good cop, bad cop. The good cop (the negotiator) says he or she can’t move, because the bad cops at home will fight any concession. The U.S. has notoriously powerful domestic actors – big business donors to Congress, and a Congress itself that can, in the end, block whatever deal it wants.

The renowned academic who developed two-level theory, Robert Putnam, says this sometimes benefits the U.S., and sometimes hurts it: “(It’s) an unhappy and unique feature of our democracy,” he once wrote. “(It) increases the bargaining power of American negotiators, but it also reduces the scope for international co-operation.” Canada’s domestic actors include the provinces.

At TPP talks, Canadian officials printed up a news story about provinces complaining about supply management changes to distribute it, and made sure other parties were aware the provinces were unhappy.

The Reality of Sci-fi

In recent times, I have started to take science fiction quite seriously. It is only natural that the distant futures depicted in Hollywood movies and popular novels are termed fictional; we cannot know for sure what life will look like hundreds of years from now, nor rely on anything other than our imagination with regards to potential life forms beyond our planet.
Still, those who create fiction often fashion their characters and stories on everyday realities. Some of the more compelling sci-fi out there does foretell a future world based on contemporary developments. Unfortunately, the future that most closely resembles our present is at best disturbing, and at worst a dystopia.
Admittedly, it is hard to be optimistic these days. The newly elected president of the so-called ‘free world’ is announcing flamboyantly that the time-honoured tradition of torture is an entirely legitimate endeavour. Or­­­­ga­­nised violence within societies, especially Muslim-majority ones, shows no signs of abating thanks both to imperialistic powers and self-proclaimed defenders of the faith. Less spectacularly, states and corporations collude to watch over our every step, and so-called ‘development’ is everywhere destroying eco-systems and endangering our planet.
Sci-fi dystopias are a more realistic depiction of the future.
Intriguingly, all of this is closely connected to rapid improvements in technology. Scientific advances have led to new and more efficient ways to incarcerate and torture large numbers of people; to the production, availability and employment of more destructive weapons; to an information super-network, from which soon no one will be able to exclude themselves; and to the domination of nature in unprecedented ways.
Think about the last point briefly. The modern era is associated with the creation of a capitalist world market through maritime trade in which agricultural commodities became the staple of exchange. We developed and refined technology to mobilise water, forests and land to produce a variety of what became known as ‘cash crops’. Yet much of the world’s surface remained unutilised because it was not considered ‘valuable’.
Now all of this is changing, and very rapidly. Entire land masses, bodies of water, and mountains that were all previously not sou­r­ces of ‘value’ are now fair game because technology allows us to drill further and faster to find oil, gas, minerals and so on that can be turned into commodities. There are very few places on earth that remain unexploited.
Whether in the past, or in the present, technology has always been the means through which we have made ‘progress’. But just as in the past, so today the question that begs to be asked is: what is progress? Is it to be taken for granted that technology necessarily creates a better world, if not for all then for the majority of the people who occupy it (including future generations)?
This question is an urgent one because a large number of people who otherwise think critically about all of the disturbing developments I have listed here tend to be enthralled with technology at large, and particularly information and communications technologies that are rapidly transforming social life.
Coming back to sci-fi dystopias: On the one hand images of space inspired by cutting-edge technology do inspire hope because humanity has made remarkable strides to reach where it is today. We started as hunters and gatherers almost completely dependent on nature, and can now imagine unlimited renewable sources of energy, as well as life, beyond the earth.
But the truth about technology is that it continues, for the most part, to be mobilised for the pursuit of power and profit. The internet, as our most recent ‘missing person’ trauma confirms, is very easily mobilised to limit rather than encourage freedoms. To continue just ‘hoping’ in the face of all these realities that technology will play its role to suddenly expand human frontiers — and that means for all of humanity and the eco-system that sustains it — is rather myopic.
In fact, it is pure fiction.
Sci-fi dystopias are, it seems to me, a more realistic depiction of the future. Some of the more outlandish futures in which we have conquered space, are flying around in ships and living on other planets along with other life forms are not to be taken too seriously. But tack on our increasing obsession with networked gadgets, screen-based recreation, and the use of machines to perform our menial la­­­bour with the power vested in states and corporations to monitor our every move, develop artificial intelligence/engineer genetics, and exploit the earth’s resources — this is the making of a sci-fi dystopia of the worst kind.
There is no utility to speculating right now on what comes to pass. What is is our ability to see the warning signs. Technology has certainly been at the heart of humanity’s most prized achievements. But ‘progress’ is always a double-edged sword. Our political choices — if we are not too dumbed down to make informed ones — will determine what life looks like on the other side of progress.

Technology changes migration patterns, but Western aid policies stuck in the 1980s

Technology is more than an enabler — it is also a ferocious inducement to migrate. Can aid-spewing governments be more nimble than the technology that helps migrants flee?
One of the first memories I have of the news is of the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. The brutal images of starving children and their families was a stark reminder that I was lucky to be born in Canada.
No matter its cause, the solution to the famine seemed pretty straightforward: send more food to the poor Ethiopians. Our school raised money to help. So did the Canadian government. There was also Live Aid, Band Aid, and aid bodies like the Red Cross and United Nations ready to help.
But Western help was predicated on the assumption Ethiopians would be happy to stay put until that help arrived. It was a safe one, as far as assumptions go: what choice did they have? The idea that a famine-afflicted Ethiopian could up sticks and journey to Canada was absurd. You had to have the ways and the means by which to make that long journey. In the pre-internet age almost, no one did.
Now, many more people do, thanks to the smartphone. It provides the ways, and allows those with the means — if means are required — to contribute to the journey. And it’s turning the question of foreign aid into a more complicated one.
Smartphone-facilitated migration
The recent journey to Canada of two Somali men — Abdikadir Ahmed Omar and Guled Abdi Omar — helps illustrate the point.
A generation ago, these men would have been trapped in Somalia waiting for help, or at best, able to move to a neighbouring refugee camp, as Abdi had done by fleeing to the Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya. A refugee application would have been their only route to Canada.
Now, armed with a smartphone, migrants like Ahmed and Abdi are able to: research a destination; plot a journey; find other migrants willing to make it; keep in contact with friends or relatives while on the move; send and receive money electronically along the way; arrange passage with smugglers at key transit points; and (if necessary) evade the authorities.
Technology is more than an enabler, however, it is also a ferocious inducement to migrate. What the mid-’80s famine sufferer knew of the West was limited; it was certainly nothing like the info now gleaned from a few minutes on the internet. Only those with absolutely no means — or the most committed patriot — will now wallow in misery while a better life is on display (if not on offer) somewhere else, even if that somewhere else is culturally and geographically a long way from home.
This tech-fueled hypermobility presents a number of serious policy challenges to governments in the developed world.
Some are obvious, and pressing: European leaders have been under acute stress for three summers now thanks to the massive numbers fleeing the likes of Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia. The resulting issues around borders, benefits and terrorism have torn at European solidarity
With the United States now providing a less attractive welcome thanks to Donald Trump’s controversial “Muslim ban” and apparent overall hostility to immigration, Canada is also experiencing an uptick in migrant arrivals. And they’re arriving to an asylum system that’s already struggling to cope with demand, thanks, in part, to the recent decision by the Trudeau government to drop visas for visitors from Mexico.
Part of the (longer term) answer both in Canada and Europe is to stabilize war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan, but, as we’ve seen for decades, the West hasn’t exactly been nailing this kind of work.
And even if they are successful, Canada’s efforts won’t produce results quickly. Can the fix go in before the locals decide to leave the problem behind? Can aid-spewing governments be more nimble than the technology that helps migrants flee?Not likely. Governments are a target for disruption for a reason: they’re slow to react and hidebound in their ways.)
Western aid and development tools are still, by and large, designed for 1980s problems and powered by 1980s delivery. They are overly bureaucratic, too reliant on government-to-government relationships (where the recipient government is often corrupt) and predicated on a grateful and fixed recipient population.
The Trudeau government has put down its marker, pledging to recast its foreign aid spending through the prism of women and girls. This approach is grounded in the data that shows female participation in work and government produces better social and economic outcomes. And it might be the correct one, assuming the women and girls are willing to stick around to make it work.
Of course, it is conceited to assume everyone wants to come to places like Canada, Europe or the United States. And the scale of Syria’s displacement is likely an outlier. A good many migrants now trapped in bureaucratic limbo in Europe and elsewhere would prefer to go home should the circumstances allow it.
And even with the sharp uptick in migration over recent years, these hardy souls are but a tiny sliver of the overall populations of their home nations. Most remain wedded to their geography.
Nevertheless, the shift in the reasons for, and practice of, migration augurs for a careful rethink of foreign aid. If the disruption forecast by the effects of global warming are correct, mass migration of distressed populations could become the new normal.
Should foreign aid continue to be directed to countries? Or should it follow the persons in need? Do we need to limit the allure of more prosperous countries to provide time to solve problems abroad? Or do we need to invest more in accommodation and integration at home?
Wherever you stand on these and other difficult policy questions, recent European history demonstrates that it is better to wrestle with them in advance of a crisis, rather than in the midst of one, when few are thinking clearly.


What’s in a word?

There is no mention of the colour blue in ancient texts. Not in early Greek literature, not in Hindu Vedic hymns, not in the original Hebrew Bible, not in ancient Chinese stories or Icelandic sagas.
William Gladstone, the first to notice this through Homer’s Odyssey (‘wine-dark’ seas) wondered if the Greeks were colour-blind. But philologist Gieger found a consistent pattern across different cultures: every language first developed a word for black and white, the next colour to come into existence was red, and after yellow and green, blue was always the last to show up, at times centuries later. People in ancient times could see it of course, but they couldn’t recognise it. The Himba tribe in Namibia still doesn’t have a word for it and still cannot identify it in a colour palette.
How far does language shape our worlds? Can we register something, understand it and grapple with it if we don’t have a word for it? The lack of a word ensures we cannot discuss it, but since words also structure thoughts, does that mean we cannot think about or perceive it? This article is about rape. But in shifting the perception lag from colours to humans, let’s start with an easier example.
Historically, children became adults without teens as a transition category. So while people have been 14, 15, 16 years old throughout history, they were adults. Adolescence is a modern social construction. Questions of whether teenagers should labour and toil or not, fight in wars or not, or be married off or not would have made no sense to anyone before the 19th century. They still make no sense to those outside the ambit of modernity. Issues of adolescence could emerge only after adolescence was recognised, even though it was already present as an age cohort.
Much to activists’ frustration, there’s no local word for rape. Now let’s shift this further, to a problem that has frustrated women activists for decades. There is no local word for rape.
I was to interview distraught women survivors of violence to prepare case briefs for lawyers at a legal aid centre. And I didn’t have the vocabulary to inquire about rape. When they tried to tell me themselves, I’d spend 20 minutes telling them they were wrong, that no one had looted their izzat and hurmat (dignity and respect) because those were innate.
Zyaadati spanned everything, from withheld promotions to unfair accusations. Zabardasti could range from forced marriage to forced work to forced confinement at home. We had no way of framing and jointly understanding what had happened to her. At times, I’d look at the women and simply ask, “Did he?” And they would simply nod. Our shared understanding was the knowledge of unspoken horrors.
There was also the legal term ‘zina bil jabr’, translating to ‘forced adultery’, which is firstly a term no one knows; secondly, is a contradiction in terms; and thirdly, it’s ludicrous.
These roundabout terms further reinforce the stigma attached to rape, that it should not be directly acknowledged. Naari Tehreek coined a new word, ‘zabarjinsi’. Women writers have also tried, though the terms still haven’t taken hold. So the question remains, can we understand the experience of sexualised subjugation when we have no conceptual architecture to even recognise it? The viciousness against women following public accusations of rape and harassment illustrates as much cluelessness as misogyny.
Once you see blue, you cannot un-see it. But there is a difference between seeing something involuntarily, like turning towards a window and seeing a tree, and looking at something, which requires intention and attention. We can and do see women’s suffering without actually looking at it.
Optimism about social change is more about coldness than naivety. It requires an insensitivity that social activists shouldn’t even have, of stepping away from the horrendous daily violence, its broken or brittle survivors, the apathy of officials and society’s indifference, to a distance where each case becomes merely a plot point on a graph of changing trends. Yet it’s the activists and engaged citizens who need to see change most, otherwise outrage congeals into cataracts of bitterness. So here’s the uplift. Recognition can be forced. And language can be co-opted.

Ambivalent West: Loves its iron ladies, frowns at iron men

There is a discernible and abrupt change in the public mood in London. The grim uncertainty, often verging on hysterical panic, appears to have given way to a sense of reassurance following the ‘coronation’ of Theresa May as prime minister of the United Kingdom.
The change hasn’t been brought about merely on account of the fact that the UK has dispensed with a government that overnight became a lame duck because of the Brexit verdict in the June 23 referendum. The shift is more on account of the initial decisiveness of the new prime minister who, her party colleagues believe, may have many of the attributes of Margaret Thatcher, the proverbial Iron Lady. The sheer ruthlessness with which May sacked some of the stalwarts of the earlier David Cameron government may seem cruel and, in parts, excessive. However, it is undeniable that May’s night of the long knives has gone down well with an electorate looking for a show of steely decisiveness.
Strong leaders — and more so women who display political guts — are greatly admired in democratic societies. The reputation of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel owed considerably, or at least did before she misread the quantum of her country’s generosity towards a wave of refugees from Syria, to her ability to take difficult decisions without dithering. She stands out in sharp contrast to French president Hollande who, unfortunately, is seen to be a far cry from Charles De Gaulle — the post-war leader who set the standards of inspired leadership in France.
Yet, there is an inexplicable paradox. While the West is unequivocal in its admiration and support for strong leaders at home, the emergence of strong leaders elsewhere and particularly in countries labelled ‘illiberal democracies’, has been greeted with overdoses of hostility. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has, without question, been singularly responsible for extricating the country out of its post-Soviet trauma. He has enabled Russia to recover its self-esteem and re-emerge as a global power. However, in the West, the very mention of Putin invites derision and in Western Europe at least he is viewed as an ogre who, if left unchecked, has the potential of triggering a European war.
The same yardstick is applied to President Erdogan of Turkey. Earlier this month, Turkey was rocked by an attempted military coup. A group of mid-level military officers attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Erdogan. The plot failed because of the phenomenal show of public resistance to the military adventurism.
The failure of the coup was fortuitous. With the immediate neighbourhood unsettled by the civil war in Syria and parts of Iraq, the prospect of Turkey becoming unsettled and being confronted with a civil war was unappetising. With Islamic radicalism playing havoc, courtesy the grotesque appeal of the Islamic State’s proposed caliphate, it would have been a matter of time before the radicals would have secured footholds inside Turkey. The failure of the coup and Turkey’s return to stability under Erdogan was, under the circumstances, a great relief.
On paper, the West expressed satisfaction that the military takeover had been thwarted and Turkey’s democracy — however imperfect — preserved. However, there was no mistaking the tinge of regret in many western capitals that Erdogan emerged from the crisis, not only unscathed, but even more powerful. This is not to suggest that the plot to overthrow Erdogan had the active blessings of the West. There is certainly no evidence as yet that last week’s coup was organised on the same lines as the exercises that overthrew, say, Mossadeq in Iran and Salvador Allende in Chile. However, it would be fair to say that the plotters genuinely believed that their adventurism would secure the backing of some powerful foreign powers in the event of it succeeding.
Certainly, the grave concerns expressed by the European Union and the so-called human rights bodies at the quantum of retribution planned by Erdogan would indicate that the plotters enjoyed the emotional support of western powers. The well-meaning concerns over the need for a ‘rule of law’ can’t obliterate the fact the so-called secularists fell back on blatant illegality to oust an ‘illiberal’ but popular, democratically elected regime.
It is tempting to fall back on the Cold War rhetoric of a duplicitous West pursuing its agenda with characteristic craftiness. But this is an over-statement. What matters is the realisation that the ideals of liberal democracy often invoked against strong leaders in different societies isn’t about universal norms but self-interest.


Sci-fi Defines Citizens of Future

Any future in which humans persevere or flourish will be accompanied by a repeated need to reassess what a citizen is. In the 1940s, science fiction author Olaf Stapledon gave a talk to a school about the future. Addressing his audience as “you citizens of the future”, he proposed three visions for this future: the “destruction of the human race”, a “worldwide police state”, and “an entirely new kind of human world”.
Citizenship will not be such an important issue if Stapledon’s first vision comes to pass. But any future in which humans persevere or flourish will be accompanied by a repeated need to reassess what a citizen is. As we increasingly consider what and where we are citizens of in the face of recent political events in Britain and America, what “citizens of the future” might look like takes on new resonance. And it’s something that science fiction has long imagined.
Citizenship obviously has different meanings. Etymologically, it implies the inhabitant of a city, but its connotations cut across legal, geographical, cultural and racial senses. Nobody necessarily agrees on what citizenship is, let alone who should have it. This is further compounded when we consider who the citizens of the future might be, from the “next generations” of children and grandchildren, to questions around the political, economic and geographical landscapes that will redefine current debates about citizenship.
Citizens in space
The most common science fiction setting – space – is the site of one such redefinition, as humanity expands into the universe. This is something of a stalwart of science fiction from Star Wars (the Empire and the Galactic Senate) to Star Trek (the United Federation of Planets). In both cases, humans and aliens are part of the same political organisations. In Star Trek especially, the different series examine the various tensions surrounding Federation membership, from the inclusion of the Klingon Empire in The Next Generation to the founding of the Federation in Enterprise.
Even without aliens, science fiction has examined how humanity might be governed as it colonises space. One of the most explicitly political of such works is James SA Corey’s recently adapted Expanse series.
The Expanse sets the United Nations (as the governing body of Earth) against the Martian Congressional Republic and a “terrorist” Outer Planets Alliance. Here, a corollary between citizenship and colonialism comes to the fore. Citizens of the Belt imagine themselves to be citizens of one place (the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter) but are in fact governed by Earth, Mars and corporations based on those planets.
World citizens
Much science fiction imagines some such incarnation of a “world citizen”, often emerging from space colonisation and a decline of national borders. Some examples of “post-nation-state” science fiction are concerned with the rise of mega-corporations (such as William Gibson’s early cyberpunk fiction or Continuum). Others explore the increasing homogenisation of humanity, as racial characteristics (broadly identified) become mixed across large sections of the population.
World citizenship isn’t necessarily imagined as a consumer hell or socialist paradise. One of the most famous, and perhaps provocative, examples of global citizenship in science fiction is the one portrayed in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Heinlein’s “citizens” are the opposite of civilians. In this novel, citizenship equates to being given the right to vote in the State (the Terran Federation) and is only earned via federal service.
In effect, Heinlein seems to be advocating limiting the right to vote to those who serve the State and, given that this service is often military, for many readers Heinlein’s sense of “world citizenship” is quasi-fascistic. Heinlein justifies this militaristic “citizen of the world” by the existence of an outside enemy — the Bugs. So citizenship here remains a case of “us” and “them”: what unites the world and humanity is a shared enemy beyond the State.
Us and them
Some authors are more overt about the ways in which the concept of citizenship can itself be redefined. In Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead – the sequel to his famous Ender’s Game – he introduces the Hierarchy of Exclusion, a framework that determines how “foreign” other nations, planetary populations, and species are. The Hierarchy of Exclusion codifies the ways in which categories of “us” and “them” are decided, and as one of his (alien) characters comes to realise, “the tribe is whatever we believe it is”.
Another recent example is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which underscores what happens when any particular racial or cultural imperative, whether a notion of “the human” or being born within a particular caste, comes to stand as a measure of citizenship. In her novel, she equates the struggle of a colony planet seeking independence from the empire with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) seeking to obtain its own legal identity. Both cases revolve around notions of citizenship, which Leckie rather cannily reframes in terms of “Significant Beings”.
Back to reality
Given Leckie’s narrative of AI rights, recent proposals for European legislation to reconsider the legal status of robots seem strangely relevant, even if truly autonomous machines do not exist yet. While much of the draft report is concerned with legal liability, section 32f looks to the future:
The most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations.
As The Independent reported, this implies that a robot could be legally a citizen. Yet in the same report, the committee advocates that designers include “opt-out mechanisms (kill switches)”. This creates a potential situation where an “electronic person” could be programmed with a kill switch – surely a somewhat self-contradictory gift of citizenship?
So where does all this leave the notion of “citizens of the future”? Aliens — in both senses — can become citizens (if our understanding of citizenship shifts), as can robots (if we have the means to kill them). But citizenship depends, it seems, as ever upon who we call “us” and who we call “them” – citizenship understood as an exclusive club.
Elsewhere in his writings, Stapledon counseled himself to “think cosmopolitanly” – that is, to think inclusively, outside of national and even anthropocentric structures. As citizens of Stapledon’s future, it seems we are still failing to consider citizenship in such innovative terms, even now. For all the speculations inherent to the field of science fiction, it appears that we still often limit ourselves, even in our imaginations, to a moribund sense of citizenship.




Mother Nature- The Source of All Progress

From airplanes to medical glue to tiny robots, nature is inspiring some of today’s most important innovations. By observing how organisms have adapted to overcome a variety of challenges, we can discover new ways to solve problems of our own.
The highest form of flattery
When it comes to overcoming an array of varied problems with an even more diverse set of solutions, scientists have nothing on natural selection. Countless generations of millions of species have developed numerous ways to defy gravity, stick to objects while underwater, and even lift objects thousands of times more massive than themselves.
Medics, scientists, and even engineers have long been interested in learning how biology has overcome certain obstacles so they can glean principles that we might apply to our own challenges. A historical example of such a strategy can be found in the Wright brothers’ study of birds as they worked on their first plane. They observed how the shapes of birds wings affected airflow and lift, and incorporated this information into what became the first aircraft to complete a sustained, controlled flight.
Today, aerospace engineers continue to use this strategy, now with the focus specifically on owls to make aircraft quieter. And with tools that allow us to study organisms on a molecular level, we can now look at everything from sea creatures to woodland animals for inspiration to improve our tech, our medicine, and — ultimately — our lives.
One company that has successfully adopted this strategy, called “biomimicry,” is Gecko Biomedical, founded by Jeffrey Karp. He designed a medical tape to replace sutures and staples that was inspired by — you guessed it — the gecko. By simulating the tiny hairs that allow gecko’s feet to stick to walls (and adding some glue for good measure), Karp was able to design a tape that could seal incisions in internal tissues like gastrointestinal tracts.
Karp’s team has also gone on to invent a surgical glue after studying the mucus of sandcastle worms. The glue not only remains sticky in wet environments, but is strong enough to hold together a beating heart — an application for which the glue is undergoing clinical trails in Europe.
Solving a problem
Karp maintains that his goal in biomimicry is never to simply copy certain elements in nature just because we can. Instead, he aims to identify real human needs, and only then look at the natural world to see if it offers any insight.
“When we look to solve problems, it’s not so we can publish papers and get pats on the back from the academic community,” Nick Sherman, a research technician at Karp Lab, said in an interview with the Guardian. “It’s more like, ‘Is this work going to help patients? If not, how do we make it help them?’”
That is why the team has focused on developing medical devices that have the potential to vastly improve patient care, as is the case with the surgical glue. Jean-Marc Alsac, a cardiovascular surgeon who is overseeing the trial, told the Guardian, “This could completely transform how we perform surgery.”
But medicine is not the only field that nature has been transforming. Robotics, too, has been building off of biological models, yielding ‘bots that can do amazing things. For example, engineers recently designed 100-gram (3.5-ounce) robots that work together like ants. When six of these cooperate, they can lift a 1,800-kg (3,900-pound) car.
The robo-ants could be applied to a number of today’s problems, which are many. With continued symptoms of climate change, an aging population at higher risk of cancer, and an increasingly digital society that is more susceptible than ever to cyber attacks, we are in desperate need of fresh solutions. These machines, medical devices, and robots are a testament to the wisdom of the natural world.
Karp believes biomimicry is a winning strategy because “every living creature that exists today is here because it tackled a number of challenges,” he told the Guardian. “In essence, we are surrounded by solutions. Evolution is truly the best problem-solver.”
Here are four reasons nature is more valuable than you may have initially thought. The common denominator is innovation. The value of the industries described below is in the trillions of dollars. The value of deploying some of these solutions to better protect the planet is priceless.
Technology that mimics ecosystems
Nature, through evolution, has been solving problems for billions of years – far longer than humans have. Natural systems are well adapted to their environment. A close study of how these systems work can help to solve some of the challenges we are facing today. For instance, we can study the swarm logic of ants that never bump into each other as they harvest leaves on the forest floor, to develop an algorithm for self-driving cars.
Let’s ratchet that up a notch. What if we built a city that worked like an ecosystem? Porous pavements evacuate rainwater, while bioluminescent trees light buildings made of self-healing concrete. Electric cars, powered by renewable energy drive around parks where pollution is captured by smog vacuum cleaners to ensure clean air is available to all. These innovations exist. These cities have the potential to exist.
Nature-inspired materials
What if we could grow our own homes using mushrooms? What if plastic disintegrated in weeks not decades? Biology can be harnessed to create non-toxic products that are reliable for their use-life and disintegrate seamlessly after use.
In addition to building products made of natural materials, you could also create new materials inspired by those in nature. For instance, the physical structure and surface chemistry of an Amazonian butterfly’s wing called Morpho could inspire the development of self-cleaning surfaces, industrial sensors and photonic security tags. And that’s just one butterfly in a jungle of an estimated 10 million animals, plants and insects. This is the very same ecosystem that is under threat from illegal logging, poaching and climate change.
Hacking nature for health
Studies have shown how mangroves help to protect exposed coastal areas from adverse weather events. As climates change, such natural assets will become invaluable to protecting us from sea-level rise and high-intensity storms.
But nature doesn’t just live in the great outdoors. As a species, our bodies have evolved to improve our health and functioning. Through bio-technological innovations we are increasing the pace and possibility of some of these applications. What if your morning breakfast gave you a read out of your current health state or diagnosed early stage cancer? What if you could grow a new pair of lungs?
Human enhancement is entering a new era of possibility, and ethical dilemmas. What is clear is that nature’s in-built solutions have the power to radically transform life as we know it.
Transition to a clean economy
The very concept of renewable energy is inspired by and relies on natural processes – the sun, wind and water. By harnessing nature, we can generate energy that is perpetually renewable. But nature can take us even further. For example, the same swarm logic from ants mentioned above could be applied to smart grids to help to manage the flow of energy more efficiently and reduce peak electrical demand.
And now to the Holy Grail of energy research: what if we could replicate photosynthesis to capture carbon dioxide and emit hydrogen and water? Researchers at Virginia Tech recently designed a supramolecule that does just this. The discovery could spell a new era of clean economics inspired by nature.
Such natural processes could be applied to an entire economy too. A study of how calories move through coral reefs demonstrates that natural systems maximize energy and minimize waste. That is not the case in our current economy, where we will have more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050 if we don’t change our ways. Could we develop a new systems-level approach inspired by nature that re-thinks the way we take, make and dispose of goods and services?
The planet has the potential to help us to redesign our economic systems and the products we make and consume in novel ways. At the same time, with the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology has the potential to transform the way we think about protecting the planet. We can develop big data alliances to better monitor and enforce environmental regulation. We have the possibility to reduce illicit wildlife trafficking by using remote sensing and tracking devices. The blockchain could be used to register innovations from nature and sell this intellectual property to the highest bidder, while ensuring the return of revenues to help conserve the environments from which these innovations originated.
We are at the gateway of an inclusive bio-economy. What is needed now are strategic alliances to implement a transformation of our operating models.

The Aryan chromosome

Where did the Aryans come to India from? When did they migrate? Genetics is now beginning to affirm archaeological and literary evidence.
Genetics is now in a position to act as an umpire between competing theories on the Aryan question. Earlier genetic studies dealt with mtDNA, which is transmitted by the mother; these studies pertain to much earlier periods. Since societies were male-driven and migrants would have been accompanied by very few women, studies of Y-chromosome variations which track the male line are far more important for establishing correlations with historical periods. These studies show that about 4,000 years ago, there were migrations from Central Asia into Iran and north western India. The conclusion will come as no surprise to scholars who have been examining the relevant linguistic, literary and archaeological evidence in an open-ended manner. There is, however, a very strong non-scholarly ideological dimension to ancient Indian history.
Lexical and grammatical similarities between people in India and those to the country’s west have been explained by postulating the existence of Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) who at one time lived together and subsequently dispersed in stages. Indo-Iranians were part of this family; they are the only peoples who have left behind literature, with the Rig Veda being closer to the Zoroastrian text Avesta than to the later Vedas.
In all other cases, we only have surviving vocabularies as guides.
A clue to the geographical location of the original PIE homeland is provided by the fact that there are a number of IE loan words in Finno-Ugric languages. For example, the Finnish vasara for hammer is cognate with Indra’s weapon, vajra. The Finno-Ugric homeland is confidently placed in the northern forest zone in northern Europe. PIE can then be allotted the contiguous territory to the south that is the resource-less steppes bordering the Caspian and Black Seas. The Sanskrit maks and the Avestan maksi, fly, correspond to the Mordvinian meks, but do not have an equivalent in other Indo-European languages. This borrowing must have taken place after the European branches had already migrated.
Commonality in vocabulary suggests that Indo-Europeans were already familiar with the wheel, metal (copper or bronze), and horse before their dispersal began. Domestication of the horse is a major event in world history. It transformed PIE society. Ox-driven vehicles had been very slow; horse owners could now move swiftly and cover large territories.
Copper was first extracted in the 5th millennium BCE in the Kuhrud Mountains in east Iran, while the appearance of wheeled vehicles anywhere in the world is not earlier that the 4th millennium BCE. Thus, the IE dispersal could not have taken place before the 4th millennium BCE. The Indo-Iranian speakers first moved eastwards followed by a southward migration that began in about 2,000 BCE.
This time was one of great upheaval for ecological reasons. Prolonged failure of rains caused acute water shortage in a large area, causing the collapse of sedentary urban cultures in south central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and India, and triggering large-scale migrations. Inevitably, the new arrivals came to merge with and dominate the post-urban cultures.
The physical attestation of migrations comes from the discovery of accidentally mummified corpses in the Chinese Xinjiang province (east Turkestan). The oldest mummy, of a woman, is dated about 2,000 BCE. From their features, the dead have been identified as Indo-European speakers.
As for the Indo-Iranian speakers, south central Asia became their first destination. Rivers fed by the snows of Hindu Kush and the Pamirs would have been less severely affected by the drought. Accordingly, the delta of river Murghab (Greek Margiana) and the middle plain of the river Amu (Bactria) became the home of the Indo-Iranian people.
Archaeology cannot tell us anything about the languages spoken, but the arrival of new people can be discerned from changes in material culture, funerary practices and religious motifs. Another indicator is the presence of linguistic groups in the same geographical area in historical times.
Remarkably, the post-urban Namazga VI in south Turkmenistan shows a pedestal decorated with a swastika, an absolutely new motif. The Bishkent culture in Tajikistan shows graves where the cremated remains were buried. These graves match the description given in the famous Rig Vedic death hymn (10.18).
Thorough archaeological exploration of the Central Asian republics and north Afghanistan was carried out during the Soviet era, but the important area of south Afghanistan has remained largely unexplored. This is unfortunate because both the Iranians and the Indic speakers would have passed through south Afghanistan before reaching their historical destinations.
The Avesta is familiar with central Asian geography but not with the river Indus. It mentions in equivalent terms, the rivers Sarayu and Saraswati as well as the land of seven rivers, sapta-sindhvah; all these are known to the Rig Veda as well. Presumably, the same geographical feature is meant in both the texts. In sapta-sindhvah, Sindhu is used in the generic sense of a river. Later, the name was given to a specific river, the Indus. All attributes assigned to river Saraswati are transferred to the Indus in a later hymn. This suggests eastward movement of the Rig Vedic people.
There were a number of Indic groups which spoke related dialects. The Rig Veda, however, was the creation of just one of them. The Indo-Iranians display interesting linguistic divides. There is an s-h divide between the Rig Vedic and the Avestan peoples: S in Rig veda becomes H in the Avesta (soma/haoma). But both use r instead of l. Later Vedic texts abound in l (rohia/lohita). Here, we have examples of an expanded catchment area for the post-Rig Vedic literature.
An examination of the new material and cultural features in the post-Urban Harappan sites suggests the arrival of Indic speakers in three prominent waves. The first Indic speakers to arrive in India made their presence felt in Swat (Rig Vedic, Suvastu), and Gomal river (Rig Vedic Gomati) in Balochistan during 2,000-1,800 BCE . They do not seem to be connected with the Rig Veda. The Rig Vedic people are estimated to have arrived in India in Swat and Punjab about 1,400 BCE after a 3,00-year sojourn in south Afghanistan.
After the pioneering extensive male-line related Y-chromosome studies covering vast areas, the time has now come for India-specific work. Such investigations would take ancient Indian history beyond the realm of speculation and place it on a firm footing.


West Influence Enabled Disgrace of Indian Women

No man, even in anger, should ever do anything that is disagreeable to his wife;
for happiness, joy, virtue and everything depend on the wife.
Wife is the sacred soil in which the husband is born again,
even the Rishis cannot create men without women.
— Adi Parva, Mahabharata Book, 1.74.50-51
‘Aham Brahmāsmiti’ composed in 700 BCE means ‘Self is only part of the Infinite Reality.’ This thought exemplifies a quote close to my heart ‘Soul has no gender’ which stems from Hindu philosophy. Hinduism is a religion which puts women first. In Hinduism, Brahma and Manu created the first female named Shatarupa, but women are far from inferior. The term associated with female is ‘Shakti’ which means ‘power’’ and ‘strength.’ All male power in Hindu literature comes from the feminine.
यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः ।
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः ॥
मनु स्मृति
The divine are extremely happy where women are respected;
where they are not, all actions are fruitless.
Manu Smriti
Vedas talk of man and woman as sky and earth, verse and melody. They complement each other. None is more important than the other. For example, when husband rules his wife, the wife also rules over her husband and her husband’s relatives. (RV 10.85) Many of Rigvedic verses, one of the first poems in human history, are composed by women sages.
From the powerful portrayal of Ma Durga, to the bowing down of people to Ma Laxmi, no prayer to a male God is complete until the Goddess is paid due reverence and respect.
Arabindranath Tagore made a watercolor painting of a woman in a saffron saree, she was the image of ‘Mother India’, of freedom, of our purpose to fight for the independence of our land. At a time where nations did not give women the right to vote a woman was symbolised as the guiding light to millions across our nation. Fighting for our nation was equivalent to fighting for our Mother. The love for our nation was equated with the power of love for our Mother.
So where did patriarchy begin?
In the Historical Vedic Religion, female rishis or rishikas existed. In the Upanishad period too women composers existed. Some examples of women in these two periods are Vishwavara, Apala, Ghosha, Indrani, Surya Savitri, Shashvati, Lopamudra, Arundhati, Maitreyi, Gargi, etc. When Mandana Mishra and Adi Shankaracharya had a debate, the mediator was Mishra’s wife Bharati.
Therefore, until this period (until 7th century AD) women were not suppressed. Instead, women were learned enough to even judge debates on philosophy.
In Abrahamic religions there are no female god’s or prophets, the practice of patriarchy and female subordination stems from Abrahamic religions. ‘A Woman is inferior to a Man because she was so created by God’ is the belief of Western traditionalists. In this regard, western philosopher Aristotle propounded similar ‘theories’, for him female was ‘mutilated male’, someone who does not have a soul. In his view, the biological inferiority of a woman makes her inferior in her capacities, ability to reason and her ability to make decisions. He said “the courage of man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying.”
Savita Halappanavar lost her life in Ireland due to Christianity. A religion which is ‘pro-life’ failed to save the life of an innocent expectant Mother whose unborn child was the cause of sepis and subsequent death. If she would have had an abortion, Savita Halappanavar would still be among the living. Is the death of a mother worth less than a spontaneous abortion?
Indian law has discriminated against practices and religion, we have made laws against dowry killing and the evil practice of sati. We have abortion laws where a woman has a choice to decide what happens to her body. Hinduism believes in reforming itself, and that’s the beauty of the religion.
Traditions are different for each temple in India: in some temples males are not allowed, some prohibits females, some allow all castes and religions to enter, some don’t allow non Hindus, some allow only non-Brahmins to perform ritual, and some allow only Brahmins.
So the question of intolerance against women does not arise, the traditions in a temple are based on legend not on religion.
Hinduism is not the founder of patriarchy.
How are Indians against the progression of women? How is the West more developed than the East?
Guy Sorman states that the idea of feminism and ecology came from the 1968 movement, from the meeting between India and the West. He says: “There is hardly anything in European thought to predispose the West to reject virility, the respect for authority, the mastery over nature. India too has a warrior (khastriya) tradition of virility as exemplified in the Mahabharata, only it is secondary. First, comes the veneration of thousands of goddesses – for the Indians, India is above all Mother India.”
Knowledge, study and in-depth analysis of Hinduism will be the cure to removing adopted patriarchal beliefs, it will be the cure of female subordination, it will be a guiding light for Hindu’s all around the world.

The business of old age & age-old bigotry

Who wants to live it up forever? Almost everybody, it seems. From fitness fads to designer diets, from bariatric bulge removal to cryopreservation research, age-busting seems as much part of contemporary life and imagination as the Kardashians and the Beliebers.
How long we can live is paradoxically a fitting poser for our teeny-bop times. The answer, said a controversial study that created ripples last year (‘Evidence for limit to human lifespan’, Nature, October 2016, Xiao Dong, Brandon Milholland and Jan Vijg), is about 115 years, the natural human age limit. And chances of anyone crossing 125 in any given year are below 1 in 10,000.
But hope floats for those who want to jive forever. Five research groups recently pooh-poohed the 115-year ceiling. They suggest that while things could change, so far there’s no strong evidence for a limit to lifespan.
These critics of the 2016 paper question what they consider its shaky methodology, inadequate sample size and inflated analysis. They say it used patchy data while analysing maximum age at death in a year instead of maximum lifespan. Nor did it factor in medical and technological leaps expected to boost longevity.
Some researchers looked at longest lifespans yearly since 1968 in countries with the most 110-plus ‘super-centenarians’: France, Britain, the US, Japan. Extend ‘trend lines’, they say, and it seems average and maximum lifespans will keep lengthening. Other demographers expect a maximum lifespan of 125 by 2070.
Unfazed, the 2016 paper’s authors reemphasise natural age-related constraints. On this score, sufficient data suggested that peak age plateaued since the mid-1990s. Jan Vijg, a molecular geneticist who led the study, grants that scientific breakthroughs could undo age barriers. But that wasn’t the point.
Most laypersons can follow the debate, even if unsure about taking sides. What’s interesting is that mention of a human age limit should raise dust. Few live to be 100-plus, let alone 110-plus. Yet, the idea that more of us could luck out that way seems widely appealing. But what does that mean, really?
Yes, compared to the past, life isn’t nasty, brutish and short. Lifespans everywhere are longer thanks to better nutrition, healthcare, amenities, education and economic opportunities. This means the 60-plus ranks will grow. It’s estimated they’ll form nearly 22 per cent of the world’s population by 2050. In India, they’ll be about 324 million-strong by then.
This has profound implications. It is one thing to romanticise grand old age such as Jeanne Calment’s, a Frenchwoman who died aged 122 in 1997. It’s quite another to create enabling conditions for old folks to live with dignity, remain productive and be cared for when they hang up their boots. Inarguably, many societies seek to address age-related issues, whether by reconsidering retirement age, bolstering social security or reorienting taxation and healthcare.
None of this excuses our cringe-worthy public discourse on ageing. Old age is everywhere seen as a drain on resources and a strain on families, instead of a natural stage of life no different from, say, childhood with its special needs. Assisting elders through public and private efforts is projected as growth-dampening. Policymakers patronise the elderly as wards. Or they resent them, wanting funds for age-friendly support systems to go to more ‘productive’ areas.
Young and old seem like entries in a ledger, one marked as future gains, the other as dead losses. Childcare being ‘good investment’, we demand better anganwadi centres, schools, children’s parks. But there’s heartburn over providing pensions, wheelchairs or old age homes. Falling fertility rates in some countries are yoked to the demographic ‘disaster’ of greying populations. The terminology is telling. It’s as if old folks should drop dead because people aren’t making enough babies.
Our culture reeks of ageism. People are cheer-led to live long in a society that views death as an effrontery. Then they’re badgered to stay forever young in a society that views ageing as scandalous. Ergo, we’re told to get as close to 100 as possible in a youth-obsessed, Botox-jabbed world that thinks old is mould.
Old age ain’t for sissies, Bette Davis said. One may rage against the dying of the light as an aesthetic gesture. But light dimming is as inevitable as baldpates and cataracts. A sissy culture that quakes in neurotic fear of wrinkles lacks the spiritual heft to accept change and mortality. Nor can it achieve a happy death.
Can this culture have the political and moral wherewithal to treat the elderly as equal citizens, which is what they are? Don’t their lifelong contributions to family, society and economic productivity offset the ‘economic cost’ of their being nurtured in their twilight years? If the answer is no, let’s hope we don’t live till 115.


Legends and myths

European historians trace the origin of their history writing from the Greco-Roman period. For a long time the history of ancient Greece remained in oblivion and not much was known about the ancient Greeks. The discovery and publication of Hesiod’s Theogony and Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey open the secrets and unknown aspects of its ancient history.
Homer’s Iliad brought to light the 10-year Trojan war and its heroes. Later, the German archaeologist Schliemann (d.1890 AD) excavated the ancient city of Troy which showed that the war between Greek and Troy was not a fiction but a reality. It appears that there were other historians besides Hesoid and Homer but their writings were destroyed before the advent of the modern ages. When Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, some scholars fled the city taking with them the manuscript of Herodotus (d.425 BC) and Thucydides (d.395 BC) to Italy where these were edited and published.
Roman politician and scholar Cicero (d.44 BC) called Herodotus the father of history for his famous work Histories featuring the Greco-Persian wars. “Historie” is a Greek word which means inquiry. Herodotus shared his views on the foundation of Greek democracy, compared and contrasted democracy and monarchy, portraying the Athenian democratic form as the exemplary form of government. He glorified the 300 Spartans, who fought bravely but were killed by the Persian army at Thermopylae. He also narrated in his book the countries he visited, their customs, traditions and institutions. However, for his exaggeration or his concoction of a good story by adding a bit of fiction to it, Herodotus has also been called the “father of lies”. Despite all his weaknesses, his history is regarded as the foundation of European historiography.
Not always separating fact from fiction, the Greeks were the first to start writing the history of Europe
Thucydides, who witnessed and experienced the Peloponnesian Wars fought between Sparta and Athens, narrated in detail the important events which happened during the conflict. His philosophy of history was based on realism and that the strong should rule the weak, as they have the power to do so. Generally the Greeks believed in the cyclical concept of history in which the same events occurred again and again in similar conditions. These two historians provided historical methodology and style of writing to the future generations of European historians.
The founding of the Roman Empire and its conquests expanded the scope of historiography. As generals, consuls, nobles and administrators played important roles to conquer other countries, their contribution was included in history and they were eulogised as the founders of the empire.
Besides wars, other aspects of society especially the formation of law and the administrative structure of the state were significant areas of interest for Roman historians. They also critically examined the role of the Roman Senate, the assemblies and the judicial system of the state. We can also find plenty material regarding the activities of common people which were centred around the Forum of the city as well as how gladiators were their entertainment source. Historians also described the triumphant march of the generals who returned home after a conquest, bringing war booty with them which pleased the public. The knowledge of history became further enriched when Romans conquered lands, learnt their languages, customs and traditions and in this way brought to light their history.
When the Roman nobility became conscious of history, they wanted to safeguard the achievements of their families in order to retain their high social status and in this regard, they began to preserve the historical documents of their families which later provided original sources for history writing. However, the biographies which were written on the basis of these documents were not impartial and paid glowing tributes to the nobility, which were seldom deserved. Some generals wrote accounts of the wars that they fought, for instance Julius Caesar’s (d.44BC) commentaries on his conquests of Gaul and Britain were lauded for being rich sources of history.
Other historians of the Roman Empire were Livy (d.17AD) whose monumental work The History of Rome comprises 142 books, and Plutarch (d.120AD) whose work Parallel Lives a series of biographies of Greek and Roman nobility is fascinating and absorbing. Polybius (d.118BC) and Tacitus (d.117AD) wrote about the moral degeneration caused the downfall of the Roman Empire. Modern historians were deeply inspired by Roman history which became their preferred field of research. One such historian is Edward Gibbons (d.1794) whose masterpiece The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire published in six volumes remains one of the best sources of knowledge about the vicissitudes of Roman society.

Decolonizing culture and history

There are two contesting views of colonial history, and the proponents of both those two diametrically opposite views have faithful followers in the West.
There are those who believe that colonization was good for India and most of Africa and that it had a civilizing effect on the societies that got colonized.
There is a sense of nostalgia and regret because a sudden disruption in the colonial rule produced a distortion of democracy.
Parliamentary democracy, railways, the English language and the modern educational system in India are nothing but a direct import from the British Raj.
And there are others, who have started getting more attention these days in the West. The proponents of this school of thought believe that colonization was destructive for the native population, reducing them to losers on both the cultural and the economic front.
The effects of two centuries of colonization can still be felt, and it is a misnomer to call it a process of globalization. It was pure and simple exploitation at its best and racism at its worst. Shashi Tharoor, Congress Member of Parliament, espouses this view and has recently created a much needed debate on this issue in the west.
Shashi Tharoor has been interviewed in connection with his recently published book, “Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India” by a British television channel, where he summarizes his point as follows: “Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world – India, in the early 18th century and reduced it, after 200 years of plunder, to one of the poorest”. He wants these facts to be part of the school syllabus in the Western countries. Does he have a point here?
Several research results on historical knowledge among the present population in Britain reveal that four out of ten people still regard the British Empire as a good thing. So it is not just Shashi Tharoor but also many historians here who would want to establish a balance and who want the entire truth to be told.
The approach to history in European schools is still very Euro-centric, and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, was one of the first leaders to acknowledge this negative effect.
He wants the immigrant population from the French colonies to realize that what happened in the past was unjust and at times so gross so as to be referred to as crimes against humanity.
This is a positive approach that can pave the path of reconciliation. Similarly, just two days ago, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, to apologize for the exploitative role of the Catholic Church in forcefully separating indigenous children from their parents to be sent to residential schools in order to assimilate them into the mainstream white society. Such schools have existed till 1996.
Racism and racial ideas have long persisted, and policies based on racial prejudices were not just abstract thoughts but real policies affecting the lives of thousands of indigenous children in Canada.
This year marked the centenary of the sale of the United States Virgin Islands by the Danes, who sold them to the Americans for a meager 25 million dollars. The Americans have had racially segregated schools for a long period in the history of their country.
Denmark, too, forcibly separated Inuit children from their parents and brought them to Denmark in the 1950s, creating permanent psychological damage to the minds and social capacity of these children. Greenland is demanding an apology for this ghastly act.
Racism is still alive and has metamorphosed into racial policies where new immigrant laws have been tightened so much that mothers cannot migrate into many European countries, even though their children are citizens here, and sometimes children are asked to leave the country even if their mother has a residency permit.
Racial policies persist in the West and they thrive on the xenophobic perception of inferiority imposed on the subjects of the colonized world. The colonized world was poor, uneducated, unorganized, primitive and superstitious.
The Western world is modern, based on Protestant values of hard work, labor and frugality. I think Shashi Tharoor has contributed something very valuable to this debate.
It is important to disperse the knowledge of colonialism in the Western world. It is one way to restrict racist policies and dispel structural racism, which is increasingly affecting the lives of immigrants in the West, even if they are diligent, honest and scientific in their thinking.
The colonization of the East was a robbery of the wealth of the nations who were colonized, colonization in the West like in Canada and Greenland were the theft and robbery of children. No less lethal and painful. The after-effects are still felt among the traumatized indigenous populations

Shape of Future of Warfare

Stories about killer robots, machine-augmented heroes, laser weapons and battles in space – outer or cyber – have always been good for filling cinema seats, but now they have started to liven up sober academic journals and government white papers.
However, war is about much more than combat or how we fight. Is the sensationalism of high-tech weaponry blinding us to technology’s impact on the broader social, political and cultural context that determines why, where and when war happens, what makes it more or less likely, and who wins?
Consider artificial intelligence (AI). The potential for developing lethal autonomous weapons systems grabs headlines (“killer robots!”), but the greatest impact of AI on conflict may be socially mediated. Algorithmically-driven social media connections funnel individuals into trans-national but culturally enclosed echo-chambers, radicalising their world-view.
As robots relieve humans of their jobs, some societies will prove better prepared than others in their use of education and infrastructures for transitioning workers into new, socially sustainable and economically productive ways to make a living. Less prepared nations could see increasingly stark inequality, with economically-excluded young people undermining social stability, losing faith with technocratic governance, and spurring the rise of leaders who aim popular anger at an external enemy.
Looking beyond individual technologies allows us to focus on the broader and deeper dimensions of the transformation coming our way. Professor Klaus Schwab, chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum, argues that the collapse of barriers between digital and physical, and between synthetic and organic, constitutes a Fourth Industrial Revolution, promising a level of change comparable to that brought about by steam power, electricity and computing.
Something that makes this revolution fundamentally different is how it challenges ideas about what it means to be human. For instance, neuroscience is teaching us more about our own fallibility, and also just how ‘hackable’ humans are. As science continues to uncover difficult truths about how we really operate, we will have to confront basic assumptions about the nature of human beings. Whether this deep transformation will reinforce or undermine a shared sense of human dignity, and what effects it will have on our relationship with organized violence, remain open to question.
The experience of past industrial revolutions can help us begin to search for answers about how this will transform the wider context of international security. In the first industrial revolution, deposits of coal and iron ore were one factor determining the “winners” in terms of economic and geopolitical power.
Today, new modes and artefacts of industrial production will also change demand patterns, empowering countries controlling supply and transit, and disempowering others. Progress in energy production and storage efficiency, for instance, is likely to have profound consequences for the petro economies and the security challenges of their regions. Although the set of natural resources critical to strategic industries will change, their use as a geo-economic tool will probably be repeated.
For instance, this is widely thought to have happened when, in the midst of a maritime dispute with Japan in 2010, China restricted export of “rare earths” that are critical for computing, sensors, permanent magnets and energy storage. With ever more commercial and military value embedded in the technology sector, such key materials will be deemed “critical” or “strategic” in terms of national security, and be subject to political as well as market forces.
The 19th Century Industrial Revolution showed how technological asymmetry can translate into geopolitical inequality – in the words of Hilaire Belloc’s poem ‘The modern traveller’, spoken by a European about Africa: “Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim Gun, and they have not”. (The Maxim Gun was the first recoil-operated machine gun).
What will be the Maxim Gun of our time? Who will have it, and who will not? In the 20th Century, the “haves and have-nots” of the nuclear weapons club membership became the major determinant of the post-war global order, and – as seen in the cases of Iran and North Korea today – this continues to be relevant. Stealth technology and precision guided missiles used to impose a “new world order” in the early 1990s showed how the gap in military capability separated the United States from others, sustaining its leadership of a “unipolar” order.
According to the current US deputy secretary of defence Robert Work, “There’s no question that US military technological superiority is beginning to erode”.
History can only tell us only so much. There is a need for fresh thinking about the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for international security.
Strategic de-stabilisation
1. Waging war may seem “easier”. If increased reliance on machines for remote killing makes combat more abstract from our everyday experience, could that make it more tolerable for our societies, and therefore make war more likely? Those who operate lethal systems are ever more distant from the battlefield and insulated from physical danger, but this sense of advantage may prove illusory. Those on the receiving end of technological asymmetries have a stronger incentive to find other ways to strike back: when you cannot compete on a traditional battlefield, you look to where your adversary is vulnerable, such as through opportunistic attacks on civilians.
2. Speed kills. “The speed at which machines can make decisions in the far future is likely to challenge our ability to cope, demanding a new relationship between man and machine.” This was the assessment of US Major General William Hix at a conference on the future of the Army in October 2016. The speed of technological innovation also makes it hard to keep abreast of new military capabilities, easier to be misled on the actual balance of power, and to fall victim to a strategic miscalculation. The fact that some capabilities are deliberately hidden just makes it harder. Because offensive cyber capability relies so much on exploiting one-off vulnerabilities, it is difficult to simultaneously demonstrate and maintain a capability. Once a particular vulnerability has been exploited, the victim is alerted and will take steps to fix it. General Hix again: “A conventional conflict in the near future will be extremely lethal and fast, And we will not own the stopwatch.”
3. Fear and uncertainty increase risk. The expectation that asymmetries could change quickly – as may be the case with new strategic capabilities in areas like artificial intelligence, space, deep sea and cyber – could incentivise risk-taking and aggressive behaviour. If you are confident that you have a lead in a strategically-significant but highly dynamic field of technology, but you are not confident that the lead will last, you might be more tempted to use it before a rival catches up. Enhanced capacity to operate at speed puts security actors into a constant state of high alert, incentivises investment in resilience, and forces us to live with uncertainty. Under these conditions, war by mistake – either through over-confidence in your ability to win, or because of exaggerated threat perception – becomes more likely.
4. Deterrence and pre-emption. When new capabilities cause a shift in the balance between offensive and defensive advantage – or even the perception of such a shift -, it could increase the incentives for aggression. For example, one of the pillars of nuclear deterrence is the “second strike” capability, which puts the following thought into the mind of an actor contemplating a nuclear attack: “even if I destroy my opponent’s country totally, their submarines will still be around to take revenge”. But suppose swarms of undersea drones were able to track and neutralize the submarines that launch nuclear missiles? Long-range aerial drones can already navigate freely across the oceans, and will be able to fly under the radar deep into enemy territory. Such capabilities make it possible in theory for an actor to escape the fear of second-strike retaliation, and feel safer in launching a pre-emptive strike against aircraft in their hangars, ships in port, and critical infrastructure, with practically no chance of early warning. Indeed, cyberattacks on banks, power stations and government institutions have demonstrated that it is no longer necessary to fly bombers around the world to reach a distant enemy’s critical infrastructure without early warning. The idea of striking a `knockout blow` may come to seem feasible once more.
5. The new arms race is harder to control. One of the mechanisms for strategic stability is arms control agreements, which have served to limit the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. When it comes to the multiple combinations of technology we see as a hallmark of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one of the obstacles to international agreement is caused by uncertainty about how strategic benefits will be distributed. For instance, the international community is currently debating both the ethics and practicality of a ban on the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems. One of the factors holding this debate back from a conclusion is a lack of consensus among experts about whether such systems would give an advantage to the defender or the attacker, and hence be more likely to deter or incentivize the escalation of conflict. Where you stand on the issue may depend on whether you see yourself as a master of the technology, or a victim. Another obstacle to imposing control is the wider cast of players
6. A wider cast of players. As cutting-edge technology becomes cheaper, it spreads to a wider range of actors. Consider the development of nuclear bombs – the last breakthrough in weapons technology that re-wrote the rules of international security. Although the potential for a fission bomb was understood in terms of theoretical physics, putting it into practice involved thousands of scientists and billions of dollars – resources on a scale only a few nations could muster. Over 70 years later, the club of nuclear weapons states remains exclusively small, and no non-state actor has succeeded in acquiring nuclear capability.
In contrast, there are more than 70 nations operating earth-orbiting satellites today. Nano-satellites are launched by Universities and Corporations. A growing list of companies can launch and recover payloads on demand, meaning even small states can buy top-notch equipment “off the shelf”. As Christopher Zember put it, “Once the pinnacle of national achievement, space has become a trophy to be traded between two business owners”. These days, even a committed enthusiast can now feasibly do genetic engineering in their basement. Other examples of dual-purpose technologies include encryption, surveillance, drones, AI and genomics. With commercial availability, proliferation of these technologies becomes wider and faster, creating more peer competitors on the state level and among non-state actors, and making it harder to broker agreements to stop them falling into the wrong hands.
7. The grey zone. The democratisation of weaponisable technology empowers non-state actors and individuals to create havoc on a massive scale. It also threatens stability by offering states more options in the form of “hybrid” warfare and the use of proxies to create plausible deniability and strategic ambiguity. When it is technically difficult to attribute an attack – already true with cyber, and becoming an issue with autonomous drones – conflicts can become more prone to escalation and unintended consequences.
8. Pushing the moral boundaries. Institutions governing legal and moral restraints on the conduct of war or controlling proliferation date from an era when massively destructive technology was reserved to a small, distinct set of actors – mostly states or people acting under state sponsorship. The function of state-centric institutions is impaired by the fact that states’ militaries are no longer necessarily at the cutting edge of technology: most of the talent driving research and development in today’s transformative dual-use technologies is privately employed, in part because the private sector simply has access to more money. For example, the private sector has invested more in AI research and development in five years than governments have since AI research first started. Diminishing state control of talent is epitomised by Uber`s recruitment of a team of robotics researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in 2015, which decimated the research effort they had had been working on for the United States department of Defence.
The fact that the trajectory of research – and much of the infrastructure critical to security – are in private hands need not be a problem if state actors were able to exercise oversight through traditional means such as norms development, regulation and law-making. However, the pace and intensity of innovation, and difficulty of predicting what new capabilities will be unleashed as new technologies intersect, makes it difficult for states to keep up. State-centric institutions for maintaining international security have failed to develop a systematic approach to address the possible long-term security implications of advances in areas as diverse as nanotechnology, synthetic biology, big data and machine learning. Nor have industry-led measures yet filled the gap.
9. Expanding domains of conflict. Domains of potential conflict such as outer space, the deep oceans, and the Arctic – all perceived as gateways to economic and strategic advantage – are expanding via new technologies and materials that can overcome inhospitable conditions. Like cyberspace, these are less well-governed than the familiar domains of land, sea and air: their lack of natural borders can make them difficult to reconcile with existing international legal frameworks, and technological development is both rapid and private sector-driven, which makes it hard for governance institutions to keep up.
Those who secure “first mover” advantage may also seek to defend it against the establishment of regulation and governance in the common interest. Access to the technology needed to reach and exploit space, for example, allows belligerents to compromise the effectiveness of defensive measures that rely on satellites for communications, navigation, command and control technology. Even a very limited strike on a satellite would likely cause space debris, damaging systems used by the wider community. Despite a 1967 United Nations treaty calling for the peaceful use of Space, the United States Deputy Secretary of the Air Force recently warned that “there is not an agreed upon code of conduct” for space operations.
10. What is physically possible becomes likely. History suggests that any technology – even one that gives moral pause – will eventually be developed in order to be used as a weapon. As the political theorist Carl Schmitt explained, political conflict is the “realm of exception” in all sorts of ways that make the morally unthinkable not only possible, but more likely. Professor Ole Wæver and the Copenhagen School of international relations developed the concept of “securitisation” to describe how a security actor invokes the principle of necessity as a way of getting around legal or moral restraints. Policy-makers can argue that because non-state actors, terrorist and criminal groups can access new technology, they are obliged to pursue weaponization, in order to prepare an adequate defence. Public disquiet can also be bypassed by conducting research in secret; we now know from de-classified accounts of Cold War studies that soldiers were used as guinea pigs to research the effects of new weapons, and military experiments may well be underway today in areas such as human enhancement. The tendency for the logic of conflict to drive the development of technology beyond what is considered acceptable by society under normal conditions is one more reason to pay closer attention to trends in this field.
Institutional shifts
International Security is destabilised at the institutional level by the way the 4th Industrial Revolution is empowering the individual through technology, and the way that blurs the lines between war and peace, military and civilian, domestic and foreign, public and private, and physical and digital. The democratisation of destruction has been mentioned above, but non-state groups’ leveraging of global social media – whether to gain support, undermine the morale of opponents, sow confusion, or provoke a response that will create an advantage – has increased the strategic importance of shaping perceptions and narratives about international security. ISIS’s use of online videos provide an extreme example of a non-state actor using social media to drive recruitment, while state security services in select countries employ online “trolls” on a large scale. Consider the implications for democratic control over armed force when technologies like big data analytics, machine learning, behavioural science and chatbots are fully enlisted in the battle over perceptions and control of the narrative.
The hacking attack suffered by Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014, allegedly motivated by North Korea’s political grievance, highlights these blurring lines – and the resulting difficulty of deciding who should be responsible for security in this new reality. If someone were so offended by a movie that they burned down the studio’s warehouse, one would expect the police to step in. But is it ultimately the responsibility of the state or of corporations to prevent or deter the kind of attack experienced by Sony Pictures? What is the appropriate response? When does an attack on a private company constitute an act of war? As an increasing proportion of what we value gets uploaded onto a global infrastructure of information and communications technology, do we expect it to be protected by service providers like Apple, or by our state’s security agencies?
Little by little, the responsibility for defending citizens is effectively shifting away from the state and towards the private sector. It is, for example, your bank’s security chief who bears responsibility for protecting your money from international cyber theft, whether it comes from straightforward criminal groups or those acting under the sponsorship of sovereign states. A report by Internet security company McAfee and the think-tank CSIS estimated the likely annual cost to the global economy from cybercrime at more than $400 billion – roughly equivalent to the combined defence spending of the European Union, or the Asia region.
According to 17th century political theorist Thomas Hobbes, the citizen agrees to give up some freedom and render loyalty in exchange for protection and to escape the “natural condition” of life, which was otherwise “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. In return, the state expects respect for its laws. But if citizens lose confidence in the state’s capacity to guarantee their security, be it through military protection or domestic justice and policing or social safety nets, they may also feel less of an obligation to be loyal to the state in return. In effect, the unravelling of the Hobbesian ”social contract”. This can undermine mechanisms for global governance, which consist of inter-state institutions that rely on state power for their effectiveness.
Could the relative loss of state power fatally undermine the system of international security? Several well-known tech entrepreneurs have talked in ways that suggest they see national governments not as a leader in norms development, but as an unnecessary inconvenience. Genetics innovator Balaji Srinivasan has envisioned “Silicon Valley`s ultimate exit” from the USA. Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has floated the idea of establishing a sea colony to literally offshore himself from government regulation. Elon Musk has talked about colonising Mars. There is serious interest in businesses formulating their own foreign policy. These are interesting ideas, but until there is a credible rival the state for the role of main international security actor to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the character of state action on security will need to adapt to the new environment, re-position itself to accommodate other actors, and renegotiate relations across a widespread network of partnerships.
What is to be done?
As attitudes adapt to the new distribution of security responsibility between individuals, companies and institutions of governance, there is a need for a new approach to international security. There is plenty of room for debate about how that approach should look, but the baseline can be drawn through three points: it will need to be able to think long-term, adapt rapidly to the implications of technological advances, and work in a spirit of partnership with a wide range of stakeholders.
Institutional barriers between civilian and military spheres are being torn down. Outreach to Silicon Valley is a feature of current US Defence policy, for example, as are invitations to hackers to help the Department of Defence to maintain its advantage in the digital domain. The “third offset strategy” promoted by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter is based on a recognition that private sector innovation has outstripped that of military institutions in the post-Cold War era, and a more open relationship with business as well as with academic and science institutions could prove vital to maintaining the dominance of US military capabilities.
Such is the speed, complexity and ubiquity of innovation today, we need a regulation process that looks ahead to how emerging technologies could conceivably be weaponized, without holding back the development of those technologies for beneficial ends. “Hard governance” of laws and regulations remain necessary, but we will also need to make more use of faster-moving “soft governance” mechanisms such as laboratory standards, testing and certification regimes, insurance policies and mechanisms like those set up by academics to make potentially dangerous research subject to approval and oversight. This will need to proactively anticipate and adapt to not only technological changes, but also macro-cultural ones, which are a lot harder to predict.
States and other security actors need to start exploring with each other some of the concepts and modes of operation that would make such a networked approach sustainable, legitimate and fit for the ultimate purpose of maintaining stability and promoting peaceful coexistence in the emerging international security landscape.
Instead of meeting each other in court, as the FBI met the Apple Corporation to settle their dispute about encryption, security providers could meet across a table, under new forms of public oversight and agile governance, as partners in a common endeavour. Instead of struggling along in denial, or wasting energy trying to fight the inevitable, stakeholders who have been working in parallel siloes can learn to collaborate for a safer world. What cast of actors populate this wider security ecosystem? What are shared priorities in terms of risks? What are some of the potential models for peer to peer security? How can the 4th Industrial Revolution be used to give citizens a stronger sense of control over choices of governance, or to deny space to criminal organizations and corrupt practices? Can smart contracts using block chain technology be applied to build confidence in financial transactions and peace agreements? Can defensive alliances be expanded to include or even consist entirely of non-state actors? Should international law extend the right to use proportionate force in self-defence in cyber conflict to commercial actors? What aspects of these challenges are a matter for legal instruments and regulation, and what aspects will require a new approach?
The future of national security may lie in models of self-defence that are decentralised and networked. As Jean-Marie Guéhenno, CEO of the International Crisis Group, wrote: “distribution of security measures among a multiplicity of actors – neighbourhoods, cities, private stakeholders – will make society more resilient. And over time, smaller but well-connected communities may be more effective at preventing and identifying terrorist threats among their members.” Several of the critical ingredients of such a de-centralized model are becoming available: more security responsibility is being taken up by city mayors and even civil society groups like the global hacktivist collective “Anonymous”, who declared war on the self-styled Islamic State. So far, however, this has been a haphazard phenomenon and its impact is diminished by a lack of coordination.
The answers that may emerge to these questions are unpredictable – but what is clear is the need to have a conversation that reaches across generations and across disciplines. This conversation has to be global. International security is threatened by a loss of trust, in particular between those who drew power from the last industrial revolution and those whose power is rising within a fluid and complex environment. The conversation needs to foster mutual understanding, dispel unjustified fears, and revive public confidence in new forms of responsive leadership that manifestly serve the common good.

Why Dissent: Violent Opposites, Dead Nuance

“It was the best of times,” Dickens’s novel famously opens, “it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received…in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
The similarity to our own noisy time — here, now — is too obvious to be missed. The clamorous farce that passes for TV “debate” is an eloquent illustration of our predicament, in which we are in the grip of matched opposites, good versus evil, monster versus saint, nationalism versus sedition, black versus white. Both the poles of these dichotomous complementarities are clung to so vociferously that there is little possibility of civilised discourse. We are being hustled into a world of instant understandings. No question is ever open; there is nothing that is uncertain, needing to be thought about. All that needs to be understood has been understood already and is readily available in capsule form from political hawkers. This is the age of the pamphlet and the slogan, and, I fear, when even that seems insufficient, of outright violence.
The search for historical parallels has drawn many in the direction of the European Thirties; the rampant furies of “nationalism”, the emergence of populist demagogues assiduously cultivating the cult of the Hero, the fragile international consensus, trembling on the edge of full-scale strife — the big similarities are too easy. What is truly alarming is the depth to which the comparison goes; the voluntaristic longing to transcend, in one deadly move, the clinging miseries of the present; “Jews”, “Muslims”, “the poor”, whatever; the temptation to escape from the obduracy of history into the fluid flexibility of myth; the flagrant resort to vigilante violence as a means of silencing dissent, even the minimal scepticism which is the precondition for thinking itself. All this is only too evident, even when — perhaps even because — it is becoming unutterable in the public space.
The resulting condition is one of a peculiar kind of hysterical boredom, constituted by melodramatically counterposed contraries, pregnant with desperately suppressed anxieties that threaten to tear apart carefully tended complacencies. This brings to mind an older parallel. France in the 1830s, between the revolutions of 1789 and 1848, as rendered by Stendhal in Le Rouge et le Noir, best described by Erich Auerbach: “This… is no ordinary boredom. It does not arise from the fortuitous personal dullness of the people who are brought together… Rather, we are confronted, in [this] boredom, by a phenomenon politically and ideologically characteristic of the Restoration period.”
Auerbach was writing his masterly work, Mimesis, while living in forced exile from his native war-torn Germany, deprived of access to his books, but perhaps particularly well-positioned therefore to develop his insights into the cultural desolation that preceded and underpinned the descent into fascism.
Auerbach identifies further, “an atmosphere of pure convention, of limitation, of constraint and lack of freedom, against which the intelligence and good will of the persons involved are powerless. In these salons the things which interest everyone… political and religious problems of the present… could not be discussed… As these people are conscious that they no longer believe in the thing they represent, and… are bound to be defeated in any public argument, they choose to talk of nothing but the weather, music, and court gossip.” And when that proves insufficient, to shout, lather themselves up into abusive, then violent “nationalisms”.
The farce of TV “debates” shows us in the grip of matched opposites, good versus evil, black versus white. There is little civilised discourse. No question is open. This is the age of the slogan — and outright violence.
Is there a way back from this brink, this cacophonous desert of radical contrariety in which we find ourselves? Frankly, I’m not hopeful. Piyush Goyal’s breezy dismissal of Paul Krugman’s nuanced scepticism regarding the gasp-inducing notebandi initiative — pah, Nobel-Schobel, so he might know some economics, but we have 300 seats in Parliament! — is illustrative of a populist arrogance that does not make for good politics.
Indeed, one consequence of polarisation is the death of nuance, of distinction. Having alternative visions for our shared condition is of the essence in democratic politics. Dissent is not sedition and giving reasons to each other, persuasion, conversation, is a good index of a democracy. By that token, I’m afraid — for all the carnivalesque aspects of our elections, the colourful diversity which we celebrate even as the ruling ideology acts in multiple ways to suppress and subvert it — we are not doing so well.
The choice of villains varies, but the cacophony of our polarised political discourse produces a growing cynicism about the political class full of dangerous portents. The gap opening between what is genuinely popular — of, by and for the people — and what is populist, generating volatile majorities, should be a matter of concern to all of us, across the great divides.


In Donald Trump, progressives see their hypocrisies laid bare

It took a blustering Manhattan amateur to upend America’s political order. For a political neophyte, Trump causes considerable consternation. For his politics, yes, but also for what he and his actions represent.
Two months into Donald Trump’s presidency and opposition remains at a fever pitch. This permanent state of apoplexy is somewhat strange, however, given that Trump’s actions — the generous use of executive orders or cherry-picking media for off-the-record gaggles, for example — all echo those of his predecessors. Albeit, with far more bombast.
But neither his bluster, nor even necessarily the content of his policies, explain such strident opposition to America’s 45th president. Instead, it may be that, in Trump, critics and the media see their own failings and hypocrisies laid bare — a twist of the knife that generates opposition more fervent than a President Cruz or Rubio might’ve encountered.
The early policy setbacks Trump has experienced — an embarrassing defeat on Friday with his health care plan, following on the heels of having his second consecutive immigration executive order blocked by the courts — belie the sea of change that occurred in American politics with his election. In just a few short months, Trump’s rough and tumble way of doing business has done more to upend the established political order than progressives have in the past 30 years.
U.S. intelligence
Take, for example, the Trump administration’s very public feud with the U.S. intelligence agency. A frequent lightning rod for criticism – especially given the “oopsies” over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and torture scandals – the intelligence community has largely skated in the past with the help of pliant or otherwise ineffectual Republican and Democratic White House leadership.
With Trump, however, the intelligence community is experiencing significant pushback and criticism, and the president has even gone so far as to compare them to Nazi Germany. Indeed, Trump’s attempt to bring the CIA to heel is the stuff progressives only wish their politicians were capable of.
Then, there’s another target of persistent progressive criticism: the insidious influence of big money in U.S. politics, particularly in presidential races.
The reflexively invoked “Citizens United” case is frequently cited as allowing corporate – and union – money to pervert the course of American political life. Yet it was liberal Hillary Clinton who was chasing down every Wall Street dollar she could for an ultimate campaign expenditure of $1.2 billion.
Republican Trump’s comparatively paltry Wall Street fundraising and total spending was just $616 million – a pittance in modern presidential races and a bitter pill for progressives to swallow. It was “poor Donald,” of all people, who publicly took on the likes of the Koch Brothers and knocked back deep-pocketed political interests. How uncomfortable.
After eight years of trashing a rather docile President George W. Bush – who stated in his book Decision Points that he felt mixing it up with the media was beneath the office of the president – the media slipped a little too comfortably into the role of cheerleader for the Obama administration. Indeed, when the Obama administration – like administrations before it – conducted off-the-record gaggles and backgrounds with hand-picked media, there was hardly a peep from journalists.
And when the Obama administration named journalist James Rosen as a criminal co-conspirator in an investigation into State Department leaks about North Korea, and used the Espionage Act to obtain warrants for Rosen’s phone records and those of his parents, the broader press reaction was muted, at best.
Trump’s mean tweets
But when Trump sends out a mean tweet about CNN? Suddenly the very foundation of the First Amendment is under siege. With the furor surrounding Trump’s decision to break tradition and not call on the AP first at press conferences, one would think he had just subpoenaed two months’ worth of the AP’s phone records.
There is hypocrisy flying around in other areas, too. Liberal publications long critical of the CIA, particularly for its actions in Latin America, are now suddenly seized by the idea that America needs a strong and independent intelligence community.
Critics and pundits who openly mocked Mitt Romney over his characterization of Russia as America’s number one geopolitical foe have all now seemingly rediscovered their membership cards to the John Birch Society. Of course, by that same token, conservative news outlets that traditionally pray at the altar of Reagan now find themselves taking a more conciliatory approach to Russia.
For a political neophyte, Trump causes considerable consternation. For his politics, yes, but also for what he and his actions represent.
Trump has single-handedly accomplished what decades’ worth of politicians —progressive and conservative alike — could not, and has knocked a self-absorbed media down a peg. There is the uncomfortable realization that taking on the intelligence community or eschewing big money donors was possible all along, but establishment politicians had no such interest in doing so. It took a blustering Manhattan amateur to upend America’s political order, the result of which is exposing the crushed hopes and hypocrisy of his rivals.

Solving Medical Muddle in the US

I was to lecture in man’s own country, Patna, Bihar. At Banquet time, I suddenly caught the flashing marketing statement in moving neon lights, “Once admitted, you will never have to visit this hospital twice”!
I believe, the statement was cliché’ marketing in the state, because the most common complaint, like anywhere else, is that doctors make patients knock at every door, without a relief! The clientele I saw showed that it worked. Occupancy was full. The nuances of the English language (British or American), is full of “manholes” that one may luckily realize just a word prior to completing a theme statement.
Citing an instance, at the silver jubilee of a major medical institution, I heard the Dean say, “We have had stalwarts who, once through with the complete examination, gave the patient ‘complete cure’”. In the land that evolved the Vedic philosophy, further differentiated the mind-body entities, a “complete cure” may actually be close a state of “Nirvana”, alive, or beyond life.
Politics, having its own juggled vocabulary, as a rule refrains from long medical promises particularly during intense campaigns. General advice is to refrain from such commitments. It has brought great discomfort to the ruling administration, whenever they tried for “complete” cures. President Clinton realized it in time during his first term. Obamacare, brought a complete shutdown in the government machinery, though it still chugged along in certain states. English campaigns just brush over the health issue, though NHS is far from what anybody would imagine for an ex-imperial empire, and still a sought after destination for medical education. In India, farmer loans and caste equations are uppermost. There is some talk of expanding healthcare, affordable loans, but as President Trump said, “My best wishes to you and your 1.25 bn people!
It was never a matter of intentions, whenever a health program is taken seriously. It is indeed worthy and challenging, like getting into the fifteenth round in the ring, both contestants tired, and painfully waiting for a split verdict, whatever that be.
Right from the countdown, it becomes a matter of semantics, coverage, affordability, projected changes in taxes, and balancing the expenses that puts a restriction on previously provided liberties, that may unexpectedly blow up into a maelstrom!
“Repeal and replace”, eight months ago sounded professional, clean and mature, as campaign and vocabulary goes. It brought the head-on difference between the GOP and the Democrats. Surely, a healthcare program is a new, stylish, slightly expansive shoe that is bound to cause some discomfort, till your foot starts showing compatibility. There were some real, and press quoted figures that were to be used to sway the votes, particularly regarding, abortions, payments for maternity expenses that are linked to certain Catholic principles, and would aggravate into belief related votes. Important too was the principle of whether the rich should get the treatment of their choice, if they can afford the premiums, and what would be the tax exemptions if any. This certainly would split class based votes for a rightist party.
Seeking pardon from a frail healthcare system in India (but the best in this region), the American healthcare system becomes so tardy to handle just because is the most comprehensive, expensive, but has components as “Medicaid” and “Medicare”, both of which provide huge subsidies for the poor and unemployed, and the retired and pensioners, respectively.
The changes that have come about are that in “Medicaid” close to forty per cent is being spent on young unemployed who seek reprieve for their morbidity because of drug and alcohol addictions, smoking and other un-recommended life-style habits, where the middle- class tax payer feels burdened for someone’s indulgence, and a strictly thinking administration (not the way in politics), is ready to crack the whip.
Medicare expenses are mounting due increased longevity, with a higher proportion expensive procedures and chemotherapy, for conditions as Alzheimer’s, Parkinsonism, Strokes, Cardiac procedures and morbidity, oncology (hugely vast and expensive), and implants, knee, hip, the list goes on. To let the program, go on as such shows unaffordable financial projections even in the next five years. To ask them to pay, may not be feasible for a man who has actually paid for his By-pass, and prostate surgery from his policy and in-pocket expenses, and is looking for a house and limited pension to survive on at retirement.
Understandably to President Trump’s dislike, the Bill fell in the Senate. The Republicans had 52 votes to count on, but were betrayed by two women senators, but surprisingly by Senator Mc Cain whose opinion carries weight, having survived a dreadful melanoma, presently an equally challenging lesion in the brain, and his knowledge of the State of Arizona. It is no too fortunate a condition to be in, but find out another man who knows politics of grass roots, and knows what it is to be put in suspicion by doctors. The essence of governing the poor, and the need of the right therapy for those who suffer could not be better etched in any other’s heart and mind.
Having started with the value of vocabulary, the “Repeal” appears too strong for negotiations. I don’t know how much its tilted the votes, but such un-negotiable vocabulary is perhaps what is driving politics into un-necessary heat for a cause, where the US can lead and leave some footprints.
A watered- down vocabulary, that does not bring much embarrassment, is perhaps the way out. In a way, the GOP filibuster blocking “Obamacare” was pretty aggressive. The democrats can’t use a filibuster in their present numbers.
A suggestion. Rise above personality and party politics. Rename it as “The US healthcare Bill”. You still get the authorship, as well as a national goodwill!
I must conclude that any single party enunciating the Act, has enough to be criticised about. The answer lies in the intrinsic paradigm of healthcare. This is a market where the customer can’t choose a product as per his paying ability! Mostly, it is the other way round!
Some modifiable human clauses need to fit into what would otherwise be an elaborate, multi-chaptered financial and delivery system!
“I think the biggest problem with healthcare today is not its cost – which is a big problem – but for all that money, it’s not an expression of our humanity.” Jonathan Bush

Truth, Half-truth & Statistics

We all get our share of Whatsapp forwards, which most of us faithfully forward to our entire contact list promptly. Here is one that I received last week:
“Are you a Secularist? Please answer these thoughts provoking & rational questions for yourself.
1. There are nearly 52 Muslim countries. Show one Muslim country which provides Haj subsidy.
2. Show one Muslim country where non-Muslims are extended the special rights that Muslims are accorded in India?
3. Show one country where the 85% majority craves for the indulgence of the 15% minority.
4. Show one Muslim country, which has/had a Non-Muslim as its President or Prime Minister.
5. Show one Mullah or Maulvi who has declared a ‘fatwa’ against terrorists or Antinational politicians & Self-proclaimed religious leaders
6. Hindu-majority Maharashtra, Bihar, Kerala, Pondicherry, etc. have in the past elected Muslims as CM’s. Can you ever imagine a Hindu becoming the CM of Muslim – majority J&K?
7. In 1947, when India was partitioned, the Hindu population in Pakistan was about 24%. Today it is not even 1%. In 1947, the Hindu population in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was 30%. Today it is about 7%. Probably even less.
8. What happened to the missing Hindus? Do Hindus have human rights?
9. In contrast, in India, Muslim population has gone up from 10.4% in 1951 to more than 14% today whereas Hindu population has come down from 87.2% in 1951 to less than 85% in 1991. In the context of question no 7&8, Do you still think that Hindus are fundamentalists?
10. In India today Hindus are close to 85%. If Hindus are intolerant, how come Masjids and Madrasas are thriving? How come Muslims are offering Namaz on the road? How come Muslims are proclaiming 5 times a day on high decibel loud speakers that there is no God except Allah?
11. If Muslims & Christians are minorities in Maharashtra, UP, Bihar etc., why are Hindus not minorities in J&K, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya etc? Why are Hindus denied minority rights in these states?
12. When Christian and Muslim schools can teach Bible and Quran. Why Hindus cannot teach Gita or Ramayan in our schools?
13. Do you admit that Hindus do have problems that need to be recognized? Or do you think that those who call themselves Hindus are themselves the problem?
And finally…
14. Abdul Rehman Antulay former CM of Maharashtra was made a trustee of the famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple in Prabhadevi, Mumbai. Can a Hindu- even Mulayam or Laloo – ever become a trustee of a Masjid or Madrasa or the Wakf Board?
“Hinduism is not a religion, it is a way of life since 8000 BC”
Please Share if you are Care for your beloved country for peaceful and joyful co-existence. Jai Hind”
Well, clearly, the author of this forward, and then all those who unthinkingly keep pressing the forward button think the questions raised are profound and so irrefutable that they must resonate with anybody who reads them. How the core message of this forward, which in truth only flames the embers of fire already pervading the atmosphere in the country will lead the readers to a peaceful and joyful co-existence is beyond me.
While prima facie it is tragic that one should have to invest one’s time engaging in a debate on the Whatsapp forward, I do so, if only to show that there are sane answers possible to such questions.
First and foremost, let it be said that non-secular Islamic countries hardly present us a benchmark or a model of governance which is worthy enough as an ideal for us in India, or for the rest of the world to follow! One would think our greater objective should be to become more progressive by inclusion rather than more regressive by exclusion. We belong to a democratic tradition of governance and a glorious tradition of tolerance, which most Islamic nations simply do not have.
On the other hand, even the Christian-dominated Western democracies are fairly secular, where non-Christians and of non-mainstream individuals do hold important positions:
The Mayors of London, Oxford (and probably quite a few other cities in UK) are Muslims; a Sikh is the defence minister in Trudeau’s cabinet in Canada; the present PM of Ireland Leo Varadkar is the son of an Indian immigrant (a Maharashtrian) and by his own avowal, a gay! The French PM Macron is 39, married to a 64 year old woman! Peru once elected for its President a person of Japanese origin (Alberto Fujimori). India itself has a glorious tradition of having had Muslim presidents. Even among smaller nations, Fiji – where only 30% of the population is Hindu, or Trinidad and Tobago, where only 18% population is Hindu, the PMs have been Hindu. Of course this is an off-the-cuff list and far from being exhaustive.
To me, these examples celebrate a degree of inclusiveness in the more developed democracies world-over and worthy of emulation to be stood up as examples; and not the model represented by most Islamic countries.
At the same time, let us not forget that the Islamic states like the Emirates, the House of Saudis, and a host of Gulf nations, and Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt or even Libya (the last two unfortunately and severely decapitated in recent times) have used their oil wealth far more effectively for the service of their people by providing clean, healthy and functioning environment with modern infrastructure. I seriously wonder even if India had been an oil-rich nation, whether our self-serving politicians would have done a fraction of that over the last seven decades post-Independence. Personally, I would rather borrow from these virtues of the Islamic nations than brood upon their defects and give up what is already glorious in our own tradition.
Further, it is hardly widely known that what usually passes for the Haj subsidy, is essentially just discounted airfare on AI and Saudia flights, which is a sort of bulk discount on inflated prices. Politicians usually do a wink-wink at it because it helps them garner Muslim votes! In any case a lot of Muslim leaders baulk at the so-called Haj subsidy and prefer an open and transparent global tender, so as to make Haj feasible for many more people.
The mystery of the “missing-Hindu” population in Pakistan and Bangladesh is no different from the argument forwarded by some of our demagogues who “fear” that if the Hindu population does not proliferate fast enough, while the Muslim population does, the day is not far when Muslims will overtake the Hindu population. Is this true? Let us see how far is this day.
Consider this: The total Indian population in 1951 was about 36 crore and currently (1917) about 130 crore. The population-share of Hindus in 1951 was 84% and those of Muslims 10%, while currently, these percentages are about 80% and 14.5% respectively. In other words, the Hindu population grew from about 30 crore to 104 crore from 1951 to 2017 (about 3.5 times), while the Muslim population grew from 3.6 crore to 10.4 crore 18.20 crore (about 5 times). What this means is that the larger Hindu population has grown at about 1.82% every year, while the Muslim growth rate has been 2.45% year on year. Happily, according to the 2011 survey, the population growth rates are now much lower, at about 1.6% for Hindus and 2% for Muslims. Do the elementary math with the annual growth rates and you will find that at the current rate of growth, it would take about 1000 years for the Muslim population to overtake the Hindu population!
The truth is the Muslim population in India has increased and that in Bangladesh diminished also because of the porous borders. If all this is accounted for, the lower Hindu population in Pakistan and Bangladesh does not imply any genocide of Hindus or mass-scale conversions in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. It is good old and simple statistics. But then no one said statistics cannot be misused!
It is to the credit of the enormous population of Hindus that they have co-existed for centuries with a diverse set of people and are so inclusive, unlike many of the Islamic countries. We should be celebrating our inclusiveness rather than rue the exclusiveness of Islamic countries.
Arguing for Hindus to be declared a minority in the tiny J&K or North-Eastern states is absurd, especially as these states already feel threatened – with Pakistan making mischief on the one end and China at the other, even as these states want to protect their identity, whether racial, ethnic or cultural. Such thinking is not what made “Hinduism a way of life since 8000 B.C.”, as the ‘Patriot’ in the Whatsapp forward avows. Nor is flaming the embers of hatred the way to greater peace and joy.