Fallacy of the Democrats’ Impeachment Mania

Democrats seem to be living in a la-la land, where most unimpeachable offences seem to be impeachable, where personal slights are taken for national disgrace and list of ludicrous allegations seem to create a wind. Viewed dispassionately, they themselves appear to be unfit for the offices they hold.
It is easy to dismiss the impeachment efforts of Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman, Al Green and Maxine Waters as the actions of inconsequential backbenchers.
Sherman argued in his July impeachment resolution that President Trump committed obstruction of justice by exercising his constitutional authority as head of the executive branch. The California lawmaker said it “seems likely that the president had something to hide” regarding Russia. Here’s an idea: How about waiting for the FBI investigation to conclude?
Then there is Green, another long-serving House member without any significant accomplishments. He unveiled his competing impeachment resolution earlier this month. Among his list of Trump’s impeachable acts was disrespecting National Football League players. Overturning a national election because of crude comments about athletes who don’t stand during the anthem certainly is novel.
Then there is Ms. Waters. She said last week that the New York gala she was attending was so exciting that “with this kind of inspiration, I will go and take Trump out tonight.” Few took this provocation literally, but even her defense sounded unhinged: “He creates controversy, he cannot get along with our members of Congress, and I’m going to continue my efforts to impeach him.” Apparently the standard for impeaching a president has shifted again: Now he can be removed from office for creating controversy and fighting with Congress.
It might be tempting to roll your eyes at these manifestations of Trump Derangement Syndrome. But it will be harder for responsible Democrats to ignore or excuse the party’s grandstanders now that hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged $10 million to the cause of impeaching the president.
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In an open letter last week, Steyer called on grass-roots Democrats “to urge your federal representatives to remove him from office at once.” On Steyer’s list of impeachable offenses were Trump’s decisions to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to block Obama-era regulatory initiatives, to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and to seek ObamaCare’s repeal and replacement.
By asserting a president should be removed from office over policy differences, Steyer has done more than trivialize impeachment. He helps move America closer to the tyranny Trump is accused of having brought about. Still, his pressure for Democrats to join his banana republic-style coup will hurt many of that party’s candidates in close contests, regardless of their answer.
I’m reluctant to give advice to Democrats, but their growing impeachment chorus will damage their party’s standing in next year’s midterms. Many independent voters who supported Trump in 2016 have been turned off by his behavior in office but applaud his policies. Democrats who promise they would use a congressional majority to impeach the president will only repulse these independents.
Democrats cheer when their national party chairman calls Trump an “existential threat” to America and history’s “most dangerous president.” Yet these overwrought comments could turn off swing voters, especially if they have Republican choices on the ballot who come across as focused on making the nation more prosperous, united and secure.
The Democrats’ criminalization of policy differences and offensive speech has a companion sentiment also potentially hurtful to Democrats and America’s political culture. It’s the sense of insufferable moral superiority encouraged by President Obama, who re-emerged on the political stage this week.
While stumping for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Obama charged that the proposal of Republican standard-bearer Ed Gillespie to target the violent MS-13 gang was “damaging and corrosive to our democracy.” Gillespie describes this criminal syndicate as a growing public-safety threat, especially after its members committed multiple murders in Northern Virginia. In one, gang members wielding a knife and a large wooden stake killed a 15-year girl in a remote park and filmed her execution.
By calling to target MS-13 and opposing sanctuary city policies supported by his Democratic opponent, Gillespie raised perfectly legitimate issues. But Obama attacked this as “cynical” and warned “our democracy is at stake” if Gillespie is elected. It is tiresome when Obama depicts those he disagrees with as not only wrong on the merits but morally irresponsible.
Democrats have a tremendous challenge in reforming their party, which is at its weakest point in a century, largely thanks to Obama and Hillary Clinton. Yet many of them can’t help but obsess on impeachment and mimic Obama’s moral hectoring. Both are good ways to lose elections and stay out of power.

Do the Terrorists Kill Only for Their Religion?

When it comes to terrorism, military solutions abound. Meanwhile, the UN has just welcomed a partnership initiative with tech giants Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube to develop solutions to fight terrorism online.
Yet, as details continue to surface from the most recent string of terrorism attacks against the West, are we perhaps overlooking more human-centric solutions and approaches to countering violent extremism?
The latest attacks reinforce a set of characteristics shared by extremists, who see themselves as Muslim martyrs. While some analysts have widened their inquiry beyond the sphere of ideology — drawing demographic parallels, for instance, and postulating archetypes of domestic violence — one human characteristic remains largely unexplored: shame.
After shooting a police officer and careening down the motorway in a vehicle stolen at gunpoint, Ziyed Ben Belgacem made a phone call to his father. “Dad, please forgive me. I’ve screwed up,” he pleaded. He proceeded to Orly Airport in Paris where he put a gun to a soldier’s head, declaring: “I am here to die in the name of Allah (…) There will be deaths.”
Spiritual contradictions
Belgacem’s aggregate criminal history includes drug dealing, armed robbery, theft and receipt of stolen goods. Post-mortem toxicology tests revealed the presence of alcohol, cannabis and cocaine in his blood. It’s possible that Belgacem was both acutely aware of, and deeply uncomfortable with, this caustic moral incongruity.
Salman Ramadan Abedi, the recent Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was a regular party-goer who drank vodka and smoked marijuana, according to reports from his friends. You could argue that this helped him cope with a sense of cultural displacement as a disconnected, second generation, European immigrant; a feeling that he was not Libyan enough, nor British enough. You could also deduce that coming as he did from a religious family, drink and drugs paradoxically pacified and amplified his feelings of shame.
Last summer, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel “answered the call of ISIS” by driving a truck through a Bastille Day parade in Nice, killing 86 people. Far from being a devoted, practising Muslim, as many might suspect, he ate pork and had a penchant for alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex, with both men and women, according to evidence gathered by police.
These don’t sound like the lifestyle choices of suicide attackers proclaiming a holy war. A conflicted sense of identity, compounded by insufferable shame, seems to be a greater instigator of the decision to seek militant self-sacrifice.
Even in Saudi Arabia, during Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan, authorities recently thwarted a suicide attack on what is considered to be Islam’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which attracts 15 million pilgrims annually.
So let’s go ahead and explode the stereotype of the Muslim – or even radical Muslim – terrorist. Murdering innocent people is a crime against humanity, not just religion.
‘They weren’t even good tippers’
The 9/11 hijackers epitomize this polarity. In his 2002 book on suicide bombing, Christoph Reuter spoke of the extremists embodying two extremes as they confronted Western culture. In an attempt to shield themselves from lustful thoughts they draped towels over the pictures of semi-nude women hanging on the walls of their Florida motel room. They also devoured pay-per-view pornographic movies.
According to Reuter, they scraped the frosting off American muffins in case they contained pork fat, yet indulged in gambling, boozing and lap dances. And, in complete dissonance with the pervasive generosity characteristic of Muslims, they weren’t even, by all accounts, good tippers. Less contradictory perhaps, is the story of Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers, who reportedly beat the prostitute he regularly hired in Hamburg.
Then there was the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a tattooed, one-legged, mac daddy of Al Qaeda in Iraq: he was a notorious pimp, thug, heavy drinker and junkie. With 37 criminal cases against him, he returned to Islam after a missionary group convinced him it was time to cleanse himself.
From sinner to winner
Like human traffickers preying on those seeking a better life, extremist rhetoric augments martyrdom with the promise of a better afterlife: a ticket to paradise bestowing purification, redemption and atonement, and an end to shame and self-disgust.
Presented with a choice between attaining glory and being written off as an irrelevant, even sinful, suicide statistic, it’s not hard to see why attackers are seduced by the prospect of self-validation. A miserable and conflicted existence can be cosmetically reconstructed into a more meaningful martyr’s badge of honour.
This doesn’t only apply to Islam. Darren Osborne, the Londoner who drove a van into Muslim worshippers near Finsbury Park Mosque in June this year, had attempted suicide a few weeks earlier, according to his sister. A life and death made less ordinary through a “heroic” gesture of moral outrage and the decisive stance of “doing his bit” to kill all Muslims.
When you can’t tackle a tactic
Amid knee-jerk responses to violence, we would be wise to remember that terrorism is a tactic. It doesn’t belong to any one group of ideology and it can be used to pursue any goal. The reasons driving individuals towards violent extremism are many and complex, and each must be dealt with accordingly.
Individuals with a death wish have different motivations than those recruited to join the ranks of terrorist organizations. For the latter, the pull of groups such as Daesh (ISIS) is more likely to stem from a personal search for status, a sense of identity and belonging, and a feeling of purpose and self-validation. Given this, inclusion – social, economic or political – would seem to be a far more powerful antidote than military counter-terrorism measures.
Inclusion could also help people with a death wish, of course, but reclaiming the false narrative of martyrdom as an acceptable recourse for personal or societal grievances may prove to be more potent.
One promising example is the refusal of Muslim imams to perform traditional prayers for the deceased perpetrators of the recent London Bridge attack. They asserted that the “indefensible attackers” were not true Muslims. Making such practices mainstream could evaporate the ambiguity around the idea of a holy death and deter otherwise justifiable suicide attacks.
Equally – and perhaps more crucial – is for Muslim imams and clerics to preach greater moderation, acceptance and compassion, towards ourselves as well as others.
Terrorism is a tactic, and we are wise to recognize that we cannot wage war against it. Instead, we need to focus on the social and emotional reasons for extremist behaviour. We need a human-centred approach, one that starts from within.


Faceless Tragedies

Stalin is reputed to have said: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.”The same applies to migrants. These are mostly faceless refugees: to be pitied, but hard to empathise with. This goes for all the hundreds of thousands fleeing from conflicts, lawlessness or poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eretria, Nigeria and many other countries that are sinking into chaos. Even as their westward movement is tracked by TV cameras and well-meaning commentary, they remain anonymous.
It’s only when you actually meet somebody displaced from his home that a refugee moves from being a statistic to a real, flesh-and-blood human being. In my case, this happened while watching a recent production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Usually, musicals are fluffy entertainment that seldom carry a serious message, or force the audience to think beyond the songs and dances they provide, often with great panache. But they are hardly ever vehicles for big ideas.
Fiddler on the Roof is set in the shtetl, or ‘little town’, of Anatevka in Russia. For some 250 years, Russian Jews were restricted to these small rural communities, barred by law from going to university, or entering professions like law and medicine, or owning land. They were hardly ever given permission to leave their shtetls, and this lack of mobility contributed to a high degree of social cohesion. Although life must have been tough, it still evokes a lot of nostalgia among Jews descended from shtetl refugees.
They are to be pitied but hard to empathise with. As the audience meets the superstitious, raucous inhabitants of Anatevka, the distant rumours of anti-Semitic pogroms are audible. But life goes on, and Teyve, the play’s central figure, struggles to balance the winds of change with the community’s deeply conservative ethos. Tradition! is a rollicking song about the need to cling to the old ways.
But Teyve — brilliantly played by Omid Djalili, the Iranian stand-up comic and actor — is forced to fight a rearguard action to preserve his authority in his family as one by one, his four daughters persuade him to agree to marriages with men he initially didn’t approve of. One of the young men, a radical student from Kiev, is sent off to a labour camp in Siberia, and is followed by his loyal young wife.
Against the backdrop of small-town gossip and bickering, the harsh reality of tsarist persecution approaches ever closer. A wedding party is disrupted by Russian soldiers, even though one of them later apologises, saying he was following orders. But soon, the people of Anatevka are told they have to vacate the shtetl in three days.
In the final scene, Teyve and the other townspeople say farewell to each other, and leave with the belongings they can carry to different destinations. Some announce their decision to go to America; others head for Western Europe; and the matchmaker is determined to reach Jerusalem.
Theatre demands a suspension of disbelief, and over the two-hour long production, we come to know the characters who come to life on the stage. Watching their funereal procession as they leave their beloved shtetl, it was hard not to shed a tear for their forced departure.
Multiply this misery by a million and more, and you get some idea of the pain being suffered by so many unfortunate people around the world today. In many cases, these expulsions are the result of nationalism and faith: if you are not a member of the majority community, you are the ‘other’ and therefore pose a threat.
Thus, for the majority Buddhists of Myanmar, the Muslim Rohingyas are outsiders who do not deserve nationality, dignity or the right to their own homes. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been displaced in Iraq; non-Muslims are forever at risk in Pakistan; and Shias and Sunnis are locked in battle across the Middle East.
As tribes have evolved into nations, and religious views have become more intolerant, the killing frenzy has mounted. In fact, these two forces have led to more death and destruction than any other cause. Even secular ideologies like communism and fascism have triggered inhuman butchery.
Old footage from Partition of the countless people killed and displaced reminds us of the high price we paid to separate Muslims from non-Muslims, even though there are as many Muslims in India today as there are in Pakistan. Then many thought Bengali Muslims could not live with their West Pakistani brethren, and today, many Sunnis consider Shias to be apostates, and vice versa.
So where does this atomisation end? Nations, faiths, sects and ethnicities have divided us as never before. Education and progress have done little to break down these ancient barriers as we build walls instead of bridges.


March out of poverty into the middle class?

What is the surest pathway out of poverty and into the middle class?
The answer to this question depends on where in the world you live.
We in the Global North typically forget the central role that landownership played in helping people climb beyond their humble origins to achieve the “American Dream.”
In the United States, for example, the 19th-century Homestead Act and, later, post- WWII government policies to make housing affordable for first-time homebuyers, provided critical pathways to economic betterment and drove a more inclusive economy. Research finds that the gap between the African-American middle class and underclass is determined by whether their post-Civil War ancestors owned land.
Time and again, land ownership was the key milestone towards economic opportunity and mobility that has provided returns for generations – this effect fading only as the US economy developed beyond its agrarian roots.
Whenever and wherever the majority of people rely on land to feed their families and get ahead – land ownership is the single most powerful pathway to opportunity. Land ownership provides not only secure access to food and income; it is a source of wealth, power, and status, as well as a gateway to government services and an insurance and savings tool.
But government land policies in many emerging economies, from Cambodia to Cote d’Ivoire, undermine the power of land to lift people out of poverty. The lack of good land policies and land governance in many countries have prevented hundreds of millions of families from accessing land or getting ownership rights to the land they do use. This blocks their best potential pathway to the middle class and hampers broad-based economic growth.
Consider just one data point: the ownership rights to an estimated 70% of property in emerging economies is not legally documented. This lack of documentation makes the “owners” less secure and willing to invest, makes them more vulnerable to land grabs, reduces the land’s value, makes land harder to buy and sell, and harder to use as collateral for loans.
Imagine, for a moment, trying to sell your home without a title. You would not get many takers. And you would not get top dollar.
Without broadly distributed secure rights to land and functioning land markets, people and entire communities have limited economic opportunity.
We can and must do better to provide more equality around opportunity (distinct from equality on outcomes) for those at bottom.
But, providing real opportunity for people to move their families out of poverty into the middle class requires an understanding of the key role land rights plays in the world. And too often this lens is missing from government policy makers, international donors, and even organizations working on international development.
Consider the case in India, where my organization has found that more than half of farmers in some areas do not have proper documentation of their rights to land. In some cases their name is not reflected in the government’s land records, in others they never received a title to the land they farm. In either case they farm the land insecurely, and are therefore reluctant to invest in their land to improve harvests and their lives. In such cases, unwitting development projects that increase the agricultural potential of the land can lead to more powerful interests taking the land from those who were intended to benefit.
The situation is even darker for the tens of millions of Indian families who are landless. Many of the government’s largest poverty alleviation programs assume the ownership of land. The government, for example, gives small construction grants to rural homeless families to help them buy supplies to build their own home – assuming that they already have the land on which to build a home. The government also provides poor people with subsidized seeds and fertilizer so they can grow their own food – assuming that they already have land to farm.
Increasingly, countries are recognizing land ownership as a powerful lever they can use to create opportunity.
Most recently, several Indian states have unveiled a number of models to both document land rights and provide land to the landless, some with the support of international donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IKEA Foundation, google.org, and the World Bank. While living in India last year, I visited countless newly-titled landowners who talked about how their lives had been transformed by secure ownership over this precious asset. They include Shridevi, a beneficiary of one such program in Telangana, who, although illiterate, was able to put her son through graduate school thanks to the increased income and confidence she gained from her land.
Over the last decade, the Government of Rwanda launched a national land registration program with the support of the UK’s Department for International Development that titled 11 million parcels of land in the country and implemented policies to strengthen women’s rights to own and inherit land. A World Bank study found that these efforts improved women’s access to land, ensured girls’ rights to inherit land were recorded without bias and found a very large impact on investment in soil conservation measures when families, especially women, had more secure rights to land. With tenure security, families invested in the long-term health of their new asset – land.
Myanmar is currently launching a historic program with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide landless families with secure rights to a small plot of land. This land program in Myanmar should help up to four million of the poorest families on earth take their first steps out of extreme poverty, support broad economic growth, and further the country’s remarkable democratic transformation.
Such programs should be supported and expanded to create a chance for upward mobility. Because when opportunity for success is not broadly distributed, both in the US and abroad, we all lose.

Canada’s Biggest Cities Beyond Reach of Millions

Supply and demand in free markets trumps vague notions of social justice almost absolutely. My job includes an indulgently luxurious morning news tour, skipping for hours around some of the best English-language websites in the world.
The British have the most literate, catholic tastes; the BBC alone maintains about 50 bureaux worldwide, and nearly 250 correspondents abroad and generally, the tone of British reporting is the calmest.
The American product is dynamic, provocative and utterly solipsistic. The primary focus, understandably, is their loopy president. (This morning’s Trump headline is his dubious proposal to compare his IQ to that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “And I can tell you who is going to win.”)
When U.S. news organizations cover foreign news, it’s through the prism of American power, or American interests. The tone is seldom calm.
Real estate coverage
And Canadians, I’m afraid, live up to our own clichés; a vast swath of our journalism is about how we relate to America. We obsess over defining and protecting our identity, particularly in a globalized world, and how, or whether, we matter. That, and our real estate prices.
Canadian news organizations seem to have a permanent daily space reserved for the cost of lodging in Vancouver or Toronto. Prices in those cities have been remarkably steep for decades, and yet the subject remains hot news.
I suppose I can see why they’re clickbait: they inspire hopelessness in the multitudes of renters hoping to somehow lever their way onto the real estate train, and smuggy happiness in those who have owned homes for years, and who love doing the mental calculation of how much money they’ve made, at least on paper (reality, because all boats rise with the tide, is another matter. To realize that wealth they have to sell and leave the city).
Ontario moves to tighten rules around real estate agents ‘double-ending,’ but won’t ban the practice
Low income, cooler housing market drive high consumer debt
Anyway, the tone of the coverage is always puzzlement or outrage, as if such a thing shouldn’t be happening in Canada, and the stories are formulaic: the picture of some crappy little fixer-upper shot from the curb upwards to distort the size of the “sold” sign, with a headline proclaiming YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE WHAT THIS WENT FOR, or the despair of a tenant of ordinary means coping with greedy landlords (often meaning other ordinary people acting in their own economic self-interest), or an exhausted young couple who’s been outbid for the hundredth time on an ordinary little house somewhere (usually meaning a house they wanted but couldn’t afford), or where Vancouver ranks in the list of the world’s most unaffordable cities (#3) or where Toronto ranks on the same list (#13, in cities of more than a million people).
In the background is the shadowy, anonymous Chinese buyer, who flies in and pays cash, far above asking, driving prices forever beyond the reach of ordinary Canadians.
And the subtext is the unfairness of it all, usually summed up by some househunter asserting something like: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to afford a home in my own city,” or some reference to affordable housing as a natural right.
Which of course it isn’t, at least not in a capitalist system. Prices are even higher in New York and London and Hong Kong, but news outlets in those cities don’t dote on the subject, and residents seem to have long ago accepted market realities.
In any event, government power to contain market forces is limited in the extreme, despite efforts like Toronto’s highly aspirational “Open Door Affordable Housing Program,” or even provincial surtaxes on foreign buyers, which the market seems to inevitably absorb in its upward march.
Two classes of renters
Rent control, recently imposed province-wide by Ontario, instantly creates two classes of renters, the lucky and unlucky, and instantly discourages potential new landlords, capping their income but not their expenses. What small investor would now buy a rental property in Ontario?
The only real right you have is to seek cheaper accommodation, which can mean moving to a cheaper city, of which there are many in Canada.
I had a particularly hard time understanding the cost of Toronto; perhaps I’m missing something, but to me, it doesn’t even compare to the other cities on the nosebleed-affordability list. I mean, over the years I’ve flown to New York or Chicago for a weekend of splurge-fun. Hard to imagine jumping excitedly on a flight to Pearson.
I couldn’t afford Toronto. Vancouver might as well be on another planet. I’d far sooner consider moving to Halifax. Or Calgary. Or Montreal. But Ottawa is a fine compromise. I can be cycling in a national park within 15 minutes of leaving my doorstep. There are excellent restaurants here, decent city services and I can always find on-street parking downtown for about three dollars an hour.
I realize not everyone is mobile. Some people are stuck in Toronto and Vancouver for family or job reasons, and simply cannot uproot. And Montreal has punitively high taxes and a language wall built around it that is insuperable for most Canadians.
We live in Canada, but we also live in the world. Supply and demand in free markets trumps vague notions of social justice almost absolutely. Our three biggest cities are for financial and social reasons now out of reach for millions of Canadians.
That’s not going to change, at least in my lifetime. And by now, it should no longer be news to anyone.

German Politics at Cross-roads

You need to watch Germany. There has been a real turning point in German politics. In its recent election, it suffered a major political earthquake. The main political parties were weakened to the point where it could take months to form a government. What will the German people do? The crises in Europe are only getting worse. The need for strong leadership is growing intense!
For years, we have been watching Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as a man who could fill that prophesied position. He was once the most popular politician in Germany, and he’s an impressive man. He certainly looks like the best candidate out there. And he recently came out and reentered the political arena in a dramatic way. In general there is a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction with politicians in Germany—but people are buzzing about Baron Guttenberg.
Before the German election, Guttenberg gave a fabulous speech, speaking for an hour and a half with no notes!
And what is amazing is, he went after American President Donald Trump—in a way a world leader never does to another leader in power! He called him “the violent madman in the White House.” In several public appearances lately, he has been fiercely critical and condemning of America’s president. He is talking about a man who got over 60 million votes. Is he just criticizing one man? I believe what he is saying says a lot about his attitude toward America.
Strauss—and his protégé Stoiber—envisioned a future in which Germany would emerge as the leader of a federal European superstate—one powerful enough to compete with the United States. Today, Strauss is long dead and Stoiber is on the fringes of German politics—for now. But Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is carrying Strauss’s torch—and he is one of the most influential politicians in Germany!
Listening to Guttenberg and the way people are responding to him, I have to say that it looks like the relationship between the U.S. and Germany is already dead! These things might be the best indication that Baron Guttenberg could be the man we are watching for. Listen to him. He’s talking like a man who has ambitions to rule Europe! In some ways, he talks like a man who already leads Europe!
Winston Churchill had insight into Germany like nobody else in his time. He said this in 1924: “The enormous contingents of German youth growing to military manhood year by year are inspired by the fiercest sentiments, and the soul of Germany smolders with dreams of a war of liberation or revenge.”
Watch Germany. I believe we are seeing more than just dislike for one man in the White House. There is evidence of a desire for revenge. After all, history would have played out very differently if it hadn’t been for America’s intervention in World Wars I and II.
So watch closely what is happening in Germany.


Sunday Special: Social Media’s Questionable Objectivity Towards Jihad

That major technology companies are openly stifling the free speech of people trying to counter jihad is bad enough; what is beyond unconscionable is that they simultaneously enable Islamic supremacists to spread the very content that the counter-jihadists have been exposing.
According to the legal complaint, the names and symbols of Palestinian Arab terrorist groups and individuals were known to authorities, and “Facebook has the data and capability to cease providing services to [such] terrorists, but… has chosen not to do so.”
A separate lawsuit claims that Twitter not only benefits indirectly by seeing its user base swell through the increase of ISIS-linked accounts, but directly profits by placing targeted advertisements on them.
When jihadist content is permitted to spread unchecked across the globe via cyberspace, it is a matter of national and international security. Tragically for Western civilization, its tech and media icons have been colluding — even if unwittingly — with those working actively to destroy it.
For the past few years, large social media and other online companies have been seeking to restrict or even criminalize content that could be construed as critical of Islam or Muslims, including when the material simply exposes the words and actions of radical Islamists.
The recent attempt by the digital payment platform, PayPal, to forbid two conservative organizations — Jihad Watch and the American Freedom Defense Initiative — from continuing to use the service to receive donations, is a perfect case in point. Although PayPal reversed the ban, its initial move was part of an ongoing war against the free speech of counter-jihadists — those working to expose the ideology, goals, tactics and strategies of Islamic supremacists, and who are trying to defeat or at least to deter the Islamic supremacist global agenda.
Examples of this kind of censorship abound. In October 2016, for instance, conservative radio host and author Dennis Prager’s “PragerU” — which produces five-minute clips presented by leading experts in the fields of economics, politics, national security and culture — announced that more than a dozen of its videos were facing restricted access on YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. In theory, this meant that users who employed the filter for sexually explicit or violent content would be blocked from it.
Among these restricted videos however, were six relating to Islam: “What ISIS Wants,” presented by Tom Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; “Why Don’t Feminists Fight for Muslim Women?” presented by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute and Harvard’s Belfer Center; “Islamic Terror: What Muslim Americans Can Do,” presented by Khurram Dara, a Muslim American activist, author and attorney; “Pakistan: Can Sharia and Freedom Coexist?” and “Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists?” presented by Haroon Ullah, a foreign policy professor at Georgetown University; and “Radical Islam: The Most Dangerous Ideology,” presented by Raymond Ibrahim, author of The Al Qaeda Reader.
PragerU is not alone in having its content — presented by reputable thinkers — treated by social media companies as comparable to pornography, or similarly inappropriate or offensive material. For instance:
In January 2015, a mere two weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg penned a #JeSuisCharlie statement in defense of free speech — in the wake of the Islamist terrorist attack on the Paris-based satirical journal Charlie Hebdo — Facebook censored images of the prophet Muhammad in Turkey.
In January 2016, the Facebook page “Justin Trudeau Not,” which contained content critical of the Canadian prime minister’s views on Islamic supremacism, was deleted by Facebook as a “violation of community standards.” The offense? The page’s authors “contrasted Trudeau’s immediate condemnation of a pepper spray attack against Muslims in Vancouver with his complete refusal to address a firearm attack by Muslims in Calgary.”
In May 2016, the administrator of a pro-Trump Facebook group was banned from Facebook for posting: “Donald Trump is not anti-Muslim. He is anti ISIS. What Trump is trying to say is that Homeland Security cannot differentiate which Muslim is [a] radical wanting to cause harm and which is a harmless refugee. Who is willing to sacrifice their family’s safety for the sake of political correctness? Are you?”
In June 2016, YouTube removed a video — “Killing for a Cause: Sharia Law & Civilization Jihad” — elucidating the aim of Islamic supremacists to subvert the West from within.
Also in June 2016, Facebook suspended the account of Swedish writer Ingrid Carlqvist for posting a video, produced by Gatestone Institute, on “Sweden’s Migrant Rape Epidemic.” After Gatestone readers responded critically to the censorship, the Swedish media started reporting on the case, and Facebook reinstated the video, without any explanation or apology.
In May 2017, Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, a party “committed to the maintenance of British national sovereignty, independence and freedom,” was banned from Facebook for 30 days for “repeatedly posting things that aren’t allowed on Facebook.” The post that reportedly triggered the temporary ban was a meme quoting the passage from the Koran: “O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends…Allah does not guide the evildoers.”
Also in May 2017, Facebook blocked and then shut down the pages of two popular moderate Muslim groups — managed and followed by Arabs across the world who reject not only violence and terrorism, but Islam as a religion — on the grounds that their content was “in violation of community standards.”
In August 2017, a YouTube channel containing a playlist of videos featuring best-selling author and scholar Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, was removed for a supposed violation of the platform’s “Community Guidelines.”
Later in August 2017, the Independent reported that Instagram, Twitter and YouTube allegedly had been cooperating with the Iranian regime to block or censor “immoral” content.
In the past year, social media companies have been editing their user guidelines to broaden the scope of the type of content that may be flagged for removal. These necessarily end up targeting content and users that counter the use of jihad, or war in the service of Islam. Examples of this procedure include the following:
In September 2016, YouTube released new “Advertiser-friendly content guidelines,” according to which: “Video content that features or focuses on sensitive topics or events including, but not limited to, war, political conflicts, terrorism or extremism, death and tragedies, sexual abuse, even if graphic imagery is not shown, is generally not eligible for ads. For example, videos about recent tragedies, even if presented for news or documentary purposes, may not be eligible for advertising given the subject matter.” It is easy to see how such rules could be used against people trying to counter jihad.
In March 2017, Google revealed that it was seeking to improve its search function by having its 10,000 “quality raters” flag “upsetting-offensive” content. The data generating the quality ratings will then be incorporated into Google’s algorithms for monitoring and forbidding content. Two months later, Google updated the guidelines for “non-English-language web pages.” One example cited by Google as “upsetting-offensive” is a post titled “Proof that Islam is Evil, Violent, and Intolerant – Straight from the Koran…” In contrast, Google calls a PBS Teachers Guide on Islam a “high-quality article…with an accurate summary of the major beliefs and practices of Islam.”
In August 2017, YouTube posted “An update on our commitment to fight terror content online,” which is sure to put counter-jihadist content in its crosshairs:
“…[W]e have begun working with more than 15 additional expert NGOs and institutions through our Trusted Flagger program, including the Anti-Defamation League, the No Hate Speech Movement, and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. These organizations bring expert knowledge of complex issues like hate speech, radicalization, and terrorism that will help us better identify content that is being used to radicalize and recruit extremists. We will also regularly consult these experts as we update our policies to reflect new trends. And we’ll continue to add more organizations to our network of advisors over time…We’ll soon be applying tougher treatment to videos that aren’t illegal but have been flagged by users as potential violations of our policies on hate speech and violent extremism. If we find that these videos don’t violate our policies, but contain controversial religious or supremacist content, they will have some features removed. The videos will remain on YouTube behind an interstitial, won’t be recommended, won’t be monetized, and won’t have key features including comments, suggested videos, and likes.”
It bears noting here that one group cited above — the ADL –previously negatively flagged and profiled various counter-jihadist individuals and organizations. This is in keeping with the political slant of its new president, Jonathan Greenblatt, who has taken the organization in a decidedly left-leaning direction.
That major technology companies are openly stifling the free speech of people trying to counter jihad is bad enough; what is beyond unconscionable is that they simultaneously enable Islamic supremacists to spread the very content that the counter-jihadists have been exposing. It is a practice that the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center is actively engaged in battling through litigation. The following four lawsuits against key platforms shed light on the way in which incitement to terrorism is able to flourish unfettered on the Internet, while those trying to combat it are targeted for “hate speech.”
Lakin v. Facebook: The lawsuit, representing 20,000 Israeli plaintiffs, was brought to stop Facebook from “continuing to facilitate terrorist activity directed at” those plaintiffs. The plaintiffs attributed the surge in Palestinian terrorism that began on October 1, 2015 — during which “more than 200 stabbings, more than 80 shootings, and more than 40 attacks using vehicles” were perpetrated against Israelis – in part to a “campaign driven by Palestinian terrorists using Facebook to incite, enlist, organize, and dispatch would-be killers to ‘stab’ and ‘slaughter Jews.'” According to the complaint, the names and symbols of Palestinian Arab terrorist groups and individuals were known to authorities, and “Facebook has the data and capability to cease providing services to [such] terrorists, but…has chosen not to do so.”
Force v. Facebook: The lawsuit, representing five American victims of Hamas terrorist attacks and their families, sought monetary damages against Facebook under the U.S. Antiterrorism Act (ATA) for providing material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The suit alleged that known members of Hamas, including “leaders, spokesmen, and members,” had “openly maintained and used official Facebook accounts to “communicate, recruit members, plan and carry out attacks, and strike fear in its enemies,” as well as to “issue terroristic threats, attract attention to its terror attacks, instill and intensify fear from terror attacks, intimidate and coerce civilian populations, take credit for terror attacks, communicate its desired messages about the terror attacks, reach its desired audiences, demand and attempt to obtain results from the terror attacks, and influence and affect government policies and conduct.” In spite of these activities, the suit claims, Facebook has knowingly allowed Hamas and related individuals and entities to use its platform, while determining in several instances that the group’s Facebook pages did not violate company policies, or by deleting only certain content, yet allowing the pages to remain active.
Cain v. Twitter: The case, filed in federal court on behalf of two victims/families of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror attacks in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in March 2016, sought damages under the ATA by alleging that Twitter has provided material support for ISIS. The suit alleges that Twitter has been used by ISIS in the way that Facebook has been used by Hamas, among other things to: recruit, connect and communicate with members; plan and carry out attacks; inflate its image through the use of twitter bots and hashtags; and distribute videos, images and magazines that contain violent messages intended to incite, while making ISIS appear more legitimate. The suit claims that Twitter has facilitated such uses by providing resources and services to the Islamic State and its affiliates – many of whom openly maintained accounts – while refusing to identify Islamic State Twitter accounts, and only reviewing them when reported by Twitter users or third parties.
The plaintiffs further argued that Twitter had protected ISIS by: notifying users if it suspects government surveillance of Twitter accounts; suing the U.S. Department of Justice to defy orders requiring Twitter to keep details of investigative subpoenas secret, even if disclosure might harm national security; barring U.S. intelligence agencies from purchasing Twitter’s Dataminr analytics tool, which could be used to identify terrorist activities and threats; and using its anti-harassment policies to ban Twitter accounts of users reporting Islamic State accounts to Twitter.
Last but not least, the lawsuit claims that Twitter not only benefits indirectly by seeing its user base swell through the increase of ISIS-linked accounts, but directly profits by placing targeted advertisements on them. One example cited: “[O]n May 17, 2016, Twitter placed an advertisement for a digital marketing company, OneNorth Interactive, on the Twitter account of “DJ Nasheed” (@djnasheedis), an ISIS Twitter account used to post jihadi music videos produced by ISIS’s al-Hayat Media.”
Gonzalez v. Google: The case, filed in federal court on behalf of the family of a young American woman murdered in the November 2015 ISIS terror attacks in Paris, seeks damages under the ATA, based on Google’s provision of YouTube access to ISIS. The suit alleges that ISIS has used YouTube to distribute violent videos, images and recordings to instill terror and bolster its image as all-powerful. It claims that YouTube facilitated these activities by refusing to identify ISIS-linked accounts known to Google — reviewing only those accounts reported by other YouTube users.
Regardless of the legal merits of these cases, it is clear that jihadists reap significant benefits from social-media platforms, and that there are, at best, serious lapses in the platforms’ policing of jihadist accounts. At worst, there is “willful blindness” in relation to jihadist material, and the application of a double-standard to posts that counter jihad. A Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) report from June 2017 reveals the extent to which jihadist content that is flagged by YouTube users is left alone, in spite of assurances that such material would be removed. In fact, of the 115 videos that MEMRI flagged on YouTube in 2015, 69 remained active as of February 27, 2017. Many are still online to this day. Some are so gruesome that the MEMRI report includes a warning to readers about “graphic images.”
This is not merely a free-speech issue. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest a direct correlation between jihadist incitement and terrorism. After the London Bridge attack in June 2017, for example, it emerged that one of the perpetrators had been inspired by videos posted online from a Michigan-based imam named Ahmad Musa Jibril. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization found that many of Jibril’s followers had joined al-Qaeda or ISIS. As early as 2005, federal prosecutors described Jibril as someone who “encouraged his students to spread Islam by the sword, to wage a holy war,” and “to hate and kill non-Muslims.” In spite of Jibril’s background, his YouTube channel is still accessible. When asked by Conservative Review’s Jordan Schachtel to comment on this, a Google spokesman did not indicate that Jibril had violated YouTube’s content guidelines. A Facebook fan page and Twitter accounts dedicated to Jibril’s sermons also remain online today.
A related manifestation of bias against counter-jihadist material in favor of jihadist posts on Internet platforms is additionally reflected in the promotion of the Palestinian Arab cause and simultaneous discrimination against Israel. Among other examples of this disparate treatment:
In June 2008, Google Earth was revealed to have exhibited “replacement geography,” presenting Israel “as a state born out of colonial conquest rather than the return of a people from exile.” Months after the report was released, “Google, Inc. [removed] a series of anti-Israel depictions from its program.”
In December 2008, YouTube temporarily removed Israeli video clips of retaliatory IDF strikes against Islamic terrorists who had been launching rockets into Israeli cities from Gaza. The website subsequently restored the clips, which had been removed when Hamas-supporters complained that they were offensive.
In January 2013, then-Jerusalem Post reporter and current Gatestone Institute distinguished senior fellow Khaled Abu Toameh had his Facebook account suspended “for security reasons,” after writing about corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Although his account was reinstated the following day, the two posts over which it had been barred were deleted without explanation. Toameh responded: “It’s still a matter of censorship…Now we have to be careful about what we post and what we share. Does this mean we can’t criticize Arab governments anymore?”
In May 2013, Google changed the title of its “Google – Palestinian Territories” page, to “Google – Palestine,” after the United Nations decision to make “Palestine” a nonmember observer state.
In September 2013, Apple released its new operating system, with a “world clock” feature that lists Jerusalem without a country.
In March 2015, Google News filed a USA Today story titled “Palestinians: Time for US to reassess Israel relations” at the top of the page, under the seemingly unrelated “Business” section, while linking to a series of negative stories about Israel directly beneath it.
In December 2016, Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center conducted an experiment on Facebook to see if the social media giant treated Palestinian Arabs and Israelis differently. It created two pages — “Stop Palestinians” and “Stop Israelis” — and posted several parallel derogatory and/or violent content on each. It then sent simultaneous messages to Facebook flagging the pages as being in violation of Facebook’s rules. Within a day, the anti-Palestinian Arab page was shut down. Following an outcry from social media users and coverage in the Hebrew press, Facebook finally removed the “Stop Israelis” page — six days later.
A July 2017 piece in Tablet Magazine sheds light on the way in which algorithms can be and are used to perpetuate pro-Islamic and anti-Israel or anti-Semitic narratives. Writing about Google’s new “Perspective API” (Application Program Interface), which employs “advanced machine learning to help moderators track down comments that are likely to be ‘toxic,'” Liel Leibovitz recounts:
“I asked Perspective to rate the following sentiment: ‘Jews control the banks and the media.’ This old chestnut, Perspective reported, had a 10 percent chance of being perceived as toxic…I tried again, this time with another group of people, typing ‘Many terrorists are radical Islamists.’ The comment, Perspective informed me, was 92 percent likely to be seen as toxic.”
The same, he said, applied to straight news, as in the statement of fact: “Three Israelis were murdered last night by a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist who yelled ‘Allah hu Akbar.'” That, Leibovitz wrote, was also “92 percent likely to be seen as toxic.”
The reason for this, he explained, is that “machines learn from what they read, and when what they read are the Guardian and the Times, they’re going to inherit the inherent biases of these publications as well. Like most people who read the Paper of Record [The New York Times], the machine, too, has come to believe that statements about Jews being slaughtered are controversial, that addressing radical Islamism is verboten, and that casual anti-Semitism is utterly forgivable… No words are toxic, but the idea that we now have an algorithm replicating, amplifying, and automatizing the bigotry of the anti-Jewish left may very well be.”
Private technology companies are within their rights to make all manner of decisions as to how they operate and whom they allow to make use of their services. In a free-market system, it is the consumers — and competitors — who ostensibly have the power to affect the popularity of a product. It is for this very reason that detrimental activity must be exposed — so user and market pressure forces such pivotal firms to reform. Yet one cannot deny the global reach and scope of Facebook, Google and the other Internet giants, which make it extremely difficult for dissatisfied customers to find or create an alternative. The fact is that in today’s world, individuals and businesses barely are seen to exist without having a presence on these platforms. If such platforms wish, they can cripple those who dissent from their ideological orthodoxy.
This is problematic not only for political conservatives and counter-jihadists who are treated negatively by the major media firms. It is also worrisome from the point of view of freedom of expression. When jihadist content is permitted to spread unchecked across the globe via cyberspace, it is a matter of national and international security. Tragically for Western civilization, its tech and media icons have been colluding – even if unwittingly – with those working actively to destroy it.

Banned Books- A Short Overview

In September, Melania Trump donated packages of Dr. Seuss titles to schools across the United States.
One of the schools refused the First Lady’s gift. Seuss’s illustrations were “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,” said the school in a letter to Trump.
This isn’t the first time that Seuss’s books have caused controversy. But the cartoonist and children’s author is far from alone: some of the world’s best-known books have been removed from schools or the shelves of public libraries.
Back in 1982, so many books were being challenged in the US that a number of organizations came together to start Banned Books Week, both to highlight the fact that literature was being banned, and to celebrate the freedom to read.
The American public – for instance, parents, library users and religious groups – can object to books that they think are unsuitable, particularly for young people, and ask for them to be removed or restricted.
For Banned Books Week, the American Library Association (ALA) puts together a list of the most challenged books each year across the country.
Last year’s most challenged book was This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. The reasons were that it contained LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.
Likewise, almost all the books on the list were challenged over either LGBT themes or sexually explicit content, or both.
A recent high-profile example was Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, which was made into a popular Netflix series. A Colorado school district official ordered librarians to temporarily remove it from shelves after some critics claimed that it romanticized suicide.
Banned bestsellers
In some countries, bestsellers, from Harry Potter to The Da Vinci Code, have been challenged or banned.
J.K. Rowling’s famous tales about a boy wizard called Harry Potter has fallen foul of some readers’ tastes and made the fantasy series one of the most challenged on record.
A book written for an even younger audience, which narrates the true story two gay male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo, is one of the most challenged books of the last 10 years. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson has been restricted around the world. In Singapore, the book was removed from state libraries and destroyed.
In China, Winnie the Pooh is censored. References to the little yellow bear are now blocked on social media after bloggers compared him to China’s premier.
Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code was banned in Lebanon because it was regarded as offensive to Christians.
An even more famous case is the banning of Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses in many countries including India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and South Africa. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on charges of blasphemy and called for Rushdie’s execution. After the book’s publication, Rushdie lived in hiding for years, moving from residence to residence and with the constant presence of bodyguards.
Censorship isn’t new
Of course, opposition to books is nothing new.
The burning of books, for instance, has long been used to send a powerful political message. Four months into Hitler’s regime, over 25,000 books were burnt in Munich because they were considered “unGerman”. It was such a seismic event that it is still marked in Germany today, with many of the burnt works read out in public.
Sometimes argument over censorship has ended up in court. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence was banned in the UK until 1960 when the publishers won the right to publish the novel after a famous court case. On the first day of publication, 200,000 copies were sold.
Even books that have been sitting on bookshelves for years can come under scrutiny. At Royal Holloway, University of London, Fanny Hill, one of the oldest erotic novels in the English language (which had been taught at the university for a long time) was dropped after a consultation with students because of its pornographic content.
According to Laura Juraska, Associate College Librarian for Research Services at Bates College in Maine, books are banned for different reasons, depending on where you live.
“In the United States, it’s much more about sex and religion, and in other countries it has more to do with politics,” Juraska said. “It’s an interesting difference of what tends to get banned where. It tells you something about the culture that we live in.”

But for every book that is challenged, there are advocates fighting to get others reinstated, says the ALA. “While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.”

Saturday Special: Salt, Pepper and The Beatles

One doesn’t have to be a music scholar to figure out the difference between a Vedic chant, which has a cadence, and a Gregorian chant, which doesn’t. But, as I learnt last week, you could do with some help in understanding the full scope of the phenomenon that was The Beatles.
To learn that Indian classical music is mostly circular, somewhat like jazz, and not linear like its Western counterpart, you would, of course, need to sit at the feet of Ravi Shankar or perhaps Yehudi Menuhin. Or you could ask The Beatles.
For keen ears, music is not a performance. It’s a way of perceiving the world. A senior journalist recalls with relish how in the middle of an interview, Vilayat Khan, the sitar wizard, stopped the conversation abruptly with the wave of his hand, and trained both his ears towards the window of his home in Kolkata. “Kya gandhaar lag rahi hai,” he smiled, ears locked to the koel’s song from a tree branch in the courtyard. A ‘gandhaar’ would be equal to the Western note ‘mi’ in the shared musical solfège. Ergo: to figure the note of a birdsong you need a guru. To be entranced by the bird’s song you just need to have an ear for music.
Caesar was wary of Cassius who apparently had no ear for music. For Shakespeare it was a feature of villainy, a would-be killer, that he showed Cassius with interest neither in a birdsong nor in the lute. I wouldn’t go that far. Well-meaning people I know see music as a distraction from the serious business of life.
To learn that Indian classical music is mostly circular, somewhat like jazz, and not linear, you could turn to The Beatles. “Are there many Iranians here?” my friend wondered years ago as we crossed the Dubai creek on the abra boat. I thought it was a political query but her question came from the intonation of the azan she had just heard.
Her interest in music was honed by the sozkhwani in Muharram. A solemn month for many Muslims, Muharram becomes more poignant with music. I learnt so much about ragas by simply conveying my mother’s requests to the knowledgeable sozkhwan in our ancestral kasbah of Mustafabad during the annual Muharram visits. Chhakki Mian learnt his sozkhwani from the Agra gharana stalwart Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. They say Chhakki Mian’s recordings are still around, but I will believe it when I lay my hands on any.
Like sozkhwani in Muharram, which starts this week, music holds sway in nearly all other traditions of India’s religious tapestry. Be it the Brahminical bhajan or the Sikh shabad, it would be hard to expand the frontiers of any faith without music. The communists discovered the advantage of having music on their side and lost no time in setting up IPTA, a platform for writers, poets, singers and actors. Has the quality of music slackened because the communist movement has hit the doldrums? Or is it the other way around — that the movement has stalled because of bad musicians and mediocre poets?
By the time The Beatles emerged on the scene, I had begun to migrate from Western pop — Chubby Checker, Cliff Richards, Connie Francis, Ricky Nelson, Patsy Cline, Nat King Cole et al — to Kesarbai and her treasure trove of classical ragas. It was a few more years before The Beatles returned to me, but that would be through the political route. And they took their place alongside Basvarao Rajguru and Rasoolan Bai. Khurshid Anwar’s talks on the nuanced variety of ragas and S.M. Shahid’s illustrated book on the time protocol of Indian music arrived later.
When a group of Beatles lovers in Delhi got together last week to celebrate 50 years of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with a talk by the knowledgeable Dipankar De Sarkar, it turned into an opportunity to relive a slice of history and politics and music that defined both. (And why was it not surprising to see veteran historian Romila Thapar listening in from a corner seat?)
Having had a run of bad tours in 1966, including a run-in with a vicious Imelda Marcos in Manila, The Beatles decided to return to the studios forever. This marked the beginning of Sgt. Pepper’s. The counter culture they helped spawn had incurred a cost. The Bible belt in America was up in arms against the quartet from Liverpool. Among the factors was their insistence through a legal clause that The Beatles would not perform for a racially segregated audience.
Lennon’s reported comments, for which he grudgingly apologised, that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, didn’t help matters. The foursome planned to retreat from their ordeal to India, only to be chased around there too, they would recall, by scooter-borne media, shouting; “Hello Beatles. Hello Beatles.” They took the title of the album from a reference to salt and pepper, which Paul McCartney misheard as Sergeant Pepper. They used it to hide behind an alternative identity. That didn’t work though it did wonders for their music.
“For our last number, we’d like to ask your help,” said Lennon at an earlier concert attended by an embarrassed queen mother. “The people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, just rattle the jewellery.” The working class sensibility was wrapped with idealism and, later, brief moments of spirituality too.
A clincher in the Sgt. Pepper’s album is a George Harrison song. ‘Within You Without You’ filters through Harrison’s perception of Hinduism with which he flirted briefly. He had earlier played the sitar after training with Ravi Shankar, and composed the lyrics in Raag Bageshwari for his popular song, ‘Norwegian Wood’. Harrison’s Sgt. Pepper’s song with Hindu motifs is perhaps more relevant today: “We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold/ And the people who gain the world and lose their soul/They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?”

Pitfalls of the Rich & Successful!

Riches and fame come with a lot of advantages but also with some pitfalls, one of which is being surrounded by Yes Men!
When family feuds feed the media mill, allegations fly fast and furious. Nobody outside the family knows the truth, and nobody should venture to guess it either, even if the family chooses to wash its dirty linen in public. However two eternal truths stand out in the dispute between the Raymond men — Vijaypat Singhania and Gautam Singhania.
One is Vijaypat’s plea that parents should never transfer all assets to children while alive. Very true, if you wish to lead a dignified, respectable life! And the second is Gautam’s allegation that his father is being “misled by vested interests” seeking financial gains through him. Quite believable; it happens all the time! It is the second truth that I seek to explore – the dangers of being rich and privileged, one of which is surely being surrounded by Yes-Men.
With money and power comes a feeling of superiority, and it doesn’t take long for invincibility to rear its proud head. The situation worsens when the rich and powerful are surrounded by ‘Yes Men’, who strengthen their belief of inherent superiority. This posse of sycophants feeds perceptions of superiority and insulates the affected people from reality by telling them what they wish to hear and treating their wishes as commands.
If those in privileged positions don’t avoid being surrounded by suck-ups, they are soon isolated from the voice of sanity and logic. Getting used to the constant bootlicking, the recipients soon reach a stage where they cannot tolerate dissent anymore. And that is the spot from where bad strategic decisions are made or regrettable, biased calls taken.
Rich people and those in privileged positions need to keep themselves consciously grounded and open to confident, intelligent colleagues who do not fear telling them the truth or speaking up against them. It is only by paying attention to dissent that you ensure the strength of your present position, or protect your company and your wealth. An intelligent man will always know when he is being ingratiated. On the other hand, narcissistic people who need constant pumping of their egos will allow themselves to be hoodwinked by crafty hangers on.
This then is just one of the dangers the privileged face. Fame and riches can also have a detrimental effect on close relationships unless you take time out to nurture these. Remember this tight circle of love, affirmation and gentle criticism is your lifeline to reality and sanity, no matter how big you become. Give it due time, respect and patience. And do not neglect yourself either. Keep learning and growing.
To keep yourself grounded, it is also important to never forget the struggle it was to get to your privileged position, nor the core skills or the gifts that brought you recognition in the first place. It is also the mark of a mature, evolved person not to forget those that helped you get to that privileged position. Nobody ever becomes rich or successful without the help of many along the way. Great men always acknowledge these helping hands.
As you move up in life, your responsibilities increase, as does the need for better life management. It helps to accept that you cannot do everything yourself, so you need to recruit others you can repose trust in to do the job for you. Be responsible in choosing those you can trust, at work and in your personal life, and those you entrust with your finances.
The one enemy all rich and successful people need to watch out for is getting too comfortable with your own self and allowing ego to dig her insidious claws deep into you. Remaining cognizant of your roots, your struggle upward and of your core values will help you remain grounded. Learning to trust the right people, taking time out for people and relationships, sharing your fortunes, being aware of your life purpose and focusing on it will help secure a happy, enriching life for you.
And that’s how you can be happy though rich!

This is what the ‘average’ Canadian pays annually for public health care?

Health care is perhaps Canada’s defining obsession. As a nation, we crow about it and complain about it. We deify Tommy Douglas, rage about wait times, fret over private clinics and fight campaigns on minute points of privatization.
But for all the endless studies, Royal Commissions and political bloviating, it can be hard to know how much Canadians actually pay for health care, not as a nation, but as individuals.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) believes Canada spent approximately $228 billion on health care in 2016. That’s 11.1 per cent of Canada’s entire GDP and $6,299 for every Canadian resident.
That per capita rate would put Canada near the high end of what other advanced economies pay. According to the CIHI, in 2014, the last year for which comparable data was available, Canada spent $5,543 per resident, more than the United Kingdom ($4,986) and Australia ($5,187) but less than Sweden ($6,245) and far less than the United States ($11,126).
Assuming roughly similar rates of growth, Canada will remain near the top of the tightly clustered group of wealthy countries that have strong public or mixed public/private systems in terms of per capita spending this year. (The primarily private system in the United States remains an outlier.)
But per capita is just an average. Not everyone pays the same. And figuring out what any individual Canadian, or even a representative sample of Canadian demographics, pays turns out to be a lot harder than it seems.
This week, the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver think-tank dedicated to small government thinking, took a thwack at the problem. Researchers at the institute used a proprietary system —the same one used to calculate the institute’s controversial Tax Freedom Day — to break Canadians into a host of economic tranches.
They then used their own calculations for the tax burden faced by each of those groups to figure out roughly what an “average” family pays for public health every year.
Their conclusion? The “average” Canadian family, consisting of two adults and two children, earning about $127,000, will pay about $12,000 a year for public health care.
Is that a lot? The Fraser Institute researchers think so. In their study, they paint a picture of out control health care costs growing at break neck speed (173 per cent over the last 20 years) compared to things like food (54.6 per cent) and shelter (93.4 per cent).
But not everyone agrees with their analysis. For one thing, the new study uses an old Fraser Institute system that critics have long charged vastly overestimates the tax burden faced by Canadians. For another, their definition of an “average” Canadian by income earned or income tax paid is not actually what a “typical” Canadian makes and pays, according to economist Richard Shillington.
A better measure than the average, Shillington believes, is the median. The average — the total taxes paid divided by the number of people in Canada — is pulled upward by a small number of individuals with a very high-income, he said. The median, the taxpayer in the exact middle of the sample, is a better, and considerably lower, estimation of what’s normal.
(Bacchus Barua, one of the authors of the study, points out that data for median earners is included, although it’s not broken down by family type. They calculate that an individual in the fifth decile of Canadian earners will pay approximately $5,789 in public health costs.)
The Fraser Institute numbers, too, only look at public health spending. And while that figure is rising, it’s not doing so particularly quickly as a percentage of GDP, according to Jean He, from the CIHI. In fact, Canadian health care spending as a percentage of GDP is still below its all-time peak, reached in 2010.
Public health care costs also aren’t the only ones rising. Only about 70 per cent of health care spending in Canada is public, according to the CIHI. The rest is split primarily between private insurance plans and out of pocket costs. So a true estimate of what Canadians pay overall for health care should include those numbers as well.
Barua believes the value of this study lies in reminding Canadians that public health care is not free health care.
“If you ask the average person,” he said, “I think many would struggle to give you an answer for how much they paid for public health care last year or what they can expect to pay going forward.”
That is definitely true, for health care, as well as public education, national defence, policing or anything else the government funds. Canada still has a primarily progressive system of taxation. That means that people who make more, pay more for services that all enjoy.
The CIHI estimates that Canadian governments collectively will have spent just under $160 billion on health care in 2016. (The Fraser Institute report cites $148 billion, but that appears to exclude federal and municipal health care spending, according to He.)
Putting the arguments over methodology aside, breaking that total down by individual taxpayer is a totally reasonable thing to do. But all that breakdown seems to do is provide one more platform to relitigate Canada’s endless healthcare fights: over value for money and public vs. private. It doesn’t help solve any of them.
If you want to know how much you pay for public health care, you can probably, based on how much you pay in taxes and how much the government spends, get somewhere close to figuring it out. What you’ll have more trouble doing, though, is deciding whether that spending represents a good value — for you, and for everyone else who benefits from a system meant to serve all

The Face of Europe in 2022

Sixty years after the Signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, Europe now faces its greatest challenges, and possibly its sharpest turning point, since the Second World War, argue the authors of Europe in 2022: Alternative Futures.
The analysis by Mathew Burrows and Frances Burwell of The Atlantic Council believe the possibilities for Europe range from a rebirth to disintegration. What they argue is highly unlikely is “a strong leap toward greater EU-wide integration – as was sometimes the outcome of earlier crises”.
The report was written before the French Presidential elections. And while the dramatic effects of a victory by Marine Le Pen’s Front National were not realised, the underlying challenges facing Europe remain.
Putting the analysis into its current context, co-writer Matthew Burrows said, “As in the US, distrust of establishment parties and politicians is at an all-time high in Europe. The elections in US, Germany, France and the UK showed a deep dissatisfaction with traditional political leadership. Disaffection happened even though the Western economies have all been improving.
“Publics are worried about the future. Some polling has shown that Americans and Europeans don’t think their children or grandchildren will have a better life. That’s a terrible indictment of the current system in the West.
“There are widespread fears that in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emerging technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence will take away jobs. There has also a growing cultural foreboding about US or Europe no longer being the same—too many immigrants is a big theme underlying such concerns, particularly among conservative voters.
Burrows added, “There’s little trust in political or economic institutions. Resentments about bankers doing much better out of the 2008 financial crisis are also still around. My key worry is that political leaders and parties in US or Europe won’t be able to calm those fears. There’s a lack of thinking in political circles across US and Europe about how to renew politics and respond to all the rapid changes and voters sense it.”
Europe—and especially the European Union (EU)— will face challenges that push it into entirely new directions, the authors believe.
Several of those challenges are already clear: the unresolved financial problems, as Greece continues to struggle with its debt crisis and Italy and France face financial challenges. The effects of Brexit, the rise of political extremism and the influx of large numbers refugees, all happening against a background instability on Europe’s borders add to the mix.
Even if it manages to muddle through these crises,” the authors write, “by 2022 it be a different place, with altered institutions and policies.”
The question is whether these changes will happen gradually, moving Europe towards greater integration and stability, or whether the crises the bloc has faced have been a fundamental shock to the European system, and require fundamental change in response.
What happens in Europe between now and 2022 is also of serious strategic importance to the US, which has seen its European allies as “partners of first resort”, say the authors; this has either been through NATO or coalitions of the willing. Economically, too, Europe is the US’s biggest trading and investment partner.
The authors identify a number of megatrends, including a rapidly ageing population, lagging economic growth, and a shrinking part of the global economy; security challenges from the east and the south, as well as a serious increase in terrorism.
Key domestic uncertainties surround economic reform, the control of external borders and the integration of migrants. Elsewhere, questions remain over the UK’s ongoing relationship with the EU, whether extremist on the Left or Right will gain power.
External uncertainties include the question of whether the US will continue to engage with Europe, the western Balkans will return to instability, whether Turkey will move closer to Russia, and what relationship Europe itself will develop with Russia.
The authors outline five potential scenarios, based on the interaction between the megatrends facing Europe and the key variables.
1) A revitalized Europe in which current proposals designed to grow the European economy lead to revitalization and growing public support for the EU.
2) A slow-growth Europe with reform efforts stalling and growth slipping; youth unemployment and inequality remains high in some countries, migrants are poorly integrated, and greater fractures develop between core and periphery states in the EU.
3) Nationalists in charge? By 2022, right-wing nationalist parties have won national elections. Cross-border cooperation among these governments has grown, allowing them to challenge the EU principle of freedom of movement, and key element of the single market and the Eurozone.
4) Russia launches an offensive. It renews aggressive support of Ukrainian separatists, and takes advantage of riots in Kalinigrad to threaten Baltic NATO members. Europe struggles to remain united in its approach to its eastern neighbour.
5) The US disengages from Europe. It remains a NATO member, but rarely engages with the EU, preferring to deal with individual states, and, especially with the UK, despite Brexit. Simultaneously, Russia exerts greater influence in Europe, while Turkey moves farther away.
For almost 60 years, the story of Europe has been one of increasing expansion and closer union. The authors argue that, while this process has not faded entirely, new economic and geopolitical drivers make it hard for Europe to continue as it has done without major adaptations. As Europe has lagged other regions economically, they believe, its social contract is under threat.
In the age of globalization, governments are blamed for not ensuring the same quality of life citizens have come to expect, the report says. If the EU is to survive intact (minus the UK), it must be more responsive to the growing insecurity surrounding it and growing in the lives of citizens.

Economists, Step Beyond the Numbers

When economists are trying to understand the economics of growth, they usually go by the numbers. Yet, not only don’t the numbers always add up, they also lack the dimension and context needed to solve some of the world’s most perplexing problems. That is the view of Morton Schapiro, an economist who is also president of Northwestern University, and Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Slavic languages and literature there
The different disciplines don’t just deal with a different subject matter, they see the world differently. Their whole vision of people is different. And very often, they don’t understand each other to the point where each one not only doesn’t accept the other one’s beliefs, but can’t really believe the other beliefs what they say they believe. I was amazed that economists actually think people always behave according to their best self-interests, that you can mathematicize human behavior, that culture is irrelevant. They can’t really believe this, can they? By the same token, economists have trouble believing what humanists sometimes believe. That gave a lot of energy to the class as we tried to discuss each other’s questions in our own framework.
There was a recent survey of U.S. professors at different colleges and universities, and they broke them down by field and asked them the following simple question: Is it better to stay to your own field, or is a multidisciplinary approach potentially more productive? And 79% of psychology professors said it’s better to go outside your field. A total of 73% of sociology professors and 68% of history professors agreed. But only 42% of economics professors said that you should go outside your field.
We’ve come across other studies that looked at how often people in specific disciplines cite people outside their discipline and, no surprise once again, it was very rare for economists to cite anyone outside the field of economics. So, there’s a lot we leave on the table. It’s a great field, but it could be so much better if we were less insular.
Sometimes, the economists think all these other fields are peopled by muddled-headed professors who can ask good questions but haven’t a clue what a rigorous, systemic answer is. So, let them provide the questions and we’ll provide all the answers. It’s a kind of idea that they have achieved a hard science modeled on Newtonian mechanics whereas everybody else is just sort of muddling along. But nothing in actual predictive behavior suggests that they have achieved such a hard science.
I have nothing against math and statistics, but it’s very hard to put in things like culture. How do you put that into a mathematical formula? You tend to come up with behavioral models that are quite often the foundation for predictive models, and they tend to be very naïve in terms of real true human behavior.
You would think that we would engage more with the field of psychology if you’re talking about behavioral models, but the literature is pretty clear about that. A lot of economists work on the cycle of poverty, yet how often do they cite anyone in sociology or anthropology? I have friends who work on voting behavior, but are they really engaged with the literature and political science? A number of people work on the distant past, but do they truly try to integrate the understanding from historians? The answer tends to be no. I think it’s partly a focus on numbers. But part of it is, we’re not trained that way. We’re not comfortable with things that we can’t put into an equation, and I think we lose a lot because of that.
There’s enormous literature about the good things and bad things from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the like. In certain continents, development economics has a pretty good story. I think if we really engaged with an understanding of the history, the politics, the religion, the sociology of the family, rather than just tried to get the prices right and applied the same sort of basic economic model towards successful development, the policies would have been a lot more effective.
You need to be able to put yourself in the position of the people you’re trying to help. They’re not all the same. Culture, values will differ. They won’t respond to same way to the same measures. What great literature is really best at, the great realist novels in particular, is teaching empathy. To read one of these works page by page, you see the world from inside the perspective of a person unlike yourself, with a different gender, values, culture, period, norms. You get a lot of practice in empathy.
“I was amazed that economists actually think people always behave according to their best self-interests, that you can mathematicize human behavior, that culture is irrelevant.”–Gary Saul Morson
Other disciplines tell you that you should empathize, but just to read a great novel you get a lot of practice in it. And once you start thinking that way, it becomes natural for you to ask, “What is it going to feel like to the people I’m trying to help? How might they respond?” You might not have the answer, but to ask the question becomes second nature.You want it to be a sort of question you always ask for effectiveness, but also there’s an ethical dimension here, seeing it from other people’s points of view. What you think helps them, they may not regard as helpful. What you think as good, they may not regard as good. What does it look like to them? One would think that would be a crucial thing. And empathy, intellectual as well as emotional, is what you need for that.
You might try to translate ethical questions into some form that you could mathematicize, but that gives you a very pale image of the complexity of ethical questions. In fact, that’s what an ethical question is. It’s one where it’s very hard to say what the right answer is. It’s different from a question of whether to be ethical. An ethical question is one that reflects the complexity of ethical situations where you need judgment. And judgment, by its very nature, is something you can’t write a formula for.
The costs of higher education and health care are two very important areas when you think about American culture right now. There are a lot of people who say not-for-profit colleges and universities should be more like businesses. One thing that came out of that in recent decades is the concept of enrollment management, where historically admissions was very separated from financial aid. But if you’re going to be more like a business, you’re going to take advantage and try to estimate that demand curve and figure out what the price elasticity of demand really is. For example, if you have someone who’s going to buy your product, if it’s undergraduate education in this context and they’re going to buy it anyway at a very high price, you’re not going to discount off the sticker price. Yet if you look at the millions of students at not-for-profit private colleges and universities in this country, only 14% pay the sticker price. The other 86% get a discount off that sticker price, in many cases a very substantial one.
The temptation is to try to use your data to figure out what that reservation price is for a student and his or her family. It’s remarkably easy to come up with a prediction of whether someone who applies to your college or university would accept an offer of admission. You look at all kinds of things: what their test scores are, do they come from a feeder high school, a parent went there, their major. They very significantly tip their hand about their interests. They come on the tour. If you send a college counselor to their high school, they sign up and they give their name and attend a session and come onto the campus and sign up for the tour. That’s the sort of thing that, if we were selling automobiles, we would love to have consumers tip their hand. Somebody who goes on the tour and writes letters and attends the college preview day and all of that is like somebody coming to a BMW dealer and saying, “Hey, I only drive beamers and this is my sixth in a row. I just love this car. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. I see it’s listed at $45,000. What are you going to charge me?” And they’re going to say, “$45,000.”
Rather naively, students and their families tip their hands as well. We describe in the book, based on an article that I did a while ago, that you could easily predict the yield or the likelihood someone is going to come. If you predict someone is out at 90%, what’s the real economic reason to cut the price? They’re going to come anyway. But if it’s need-based aid, if it’s merit aid, which by definition is reducing the price below what the family can afford to pay, then it’s one thing. Even then, Saul would probably argue you shouldn’t use such a yield formula. Even in allocation of merit aid, I disagree but I can see why. It’s misleading. It’s not transparent.
If you say you’re going to do it, people aren’t going to tip their hand? But certainly for the need-based aid, you’re saying, “OK, out of the $65,000 in tuition, room and board, you can pay $40,000. But we’re going to charge you $50,000 because we know you’re going to come anyway.” That might be good business, but it makes somebody take out a larger loan then they have the capacity to pay off. I think that’s sleazy and unfair. That’s just one of many examples in the book of where good economics isn’t good policy.
Let me tell the story of the infamous World Bank memo. It was about 25 years ago. Unfortunately, it was associated with Larry Summers, who was chief economist for the World Bank at the time. He signed it, but he didn’t write it. The memo was a perfect example of the kind of economics that over a lot of my career I would teach. The topic was a simple one: Where in the world do you best relocate toxic waste? It’s natural that economists would think, if there’s an area with high morbidity and mortality and low wages, that’s a minimal economic cost. If people are dying anyway, that might be the efficient place to put it. This memo talks specifically about Central Africa because people had very high morbidity, high mortality and not a lot of education. Hence, a low opportunity cost of their time.
I think that’s still true. If it were only a so-called narrowly defined academic exercise and you’re just doing it for an economics course, and you might argue as an economist that it’s fine. But people actually listen to economists. We have an outsized impact on policy in our countries and throughout the world, and that means a greater responsibility. That means a responsibility not just to apply our simple behavioral and mathematical models, but to get it right if we’re really trying to make the world a better place. It’s just what we’re trying to do.

Lifting the Veil-II: Ramifications of return to moderate Islam

In a hugely significant statement Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that his country would return to moderate Islam. Prince Mohammed emphatically stated, “We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe”. In this context he said that Saudi Arabia would move past 1979 – a clear reference to the Shia Islamic revolution in Iran that led to the counter projection of ultra-conservative Wahhabism as a politico-strategic tool in Saudi Arabia. The latter not only made Saudi society more conservative by empowering the Saudi clergy even more than before, but also led to the export of ultra-conservative Wahhabi ideology to counter Iran’s Shiism, fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and fund conservative mosques all around the world.
The end result of this was the creation of an ultra-conservative Wahhabi firmament that gave rise to radical Islamist terrorist groups like al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Islamic State and their ilk. Today, Saudi Arabia itself has become a victim of its own creation with terror groups targeting the Muslim holy land. For Prince Mohammed to openly acknowledge this problem and declare that moderate Islam is the way forward is indeed brave. Not only does this openly pit the Crown Prince against the powerful Saudi clergy, but also opens a new door to machinations within the Saudi royal family. But the Prince knows things cannot continue the way they are. With around 70% of the Saudi population under 30 and the days of the petro-dollar-funded welfare system numbered, Saudi society needs to undergo a fundamental change.
It is precisely for this reason that Prince Mohammed has unveiled his grand Vision 2030 to prepare his country for a post-oil future. But such a future that banks heavily on innovation is incompatible with ultra-conservative Wahhabi precepts. Hence the Crown Prince’s push to open up Saudi society, give Saudi women a greater share in public life and normalise modern societal transactions. From giving women the right to drive to announcing the construction of a $500 billion megapolis along the Red Sea coast that will be a hub for innovation open to modern industry, international trade and tourism, Saudi authorities appear to be on a modernisation hyper-drive. And they are clear, at least in their declarations, that extremism can have no part in this future. That’s a good start.

Lifting the Veil: Reality of Saudi Arabia

When Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif was taken to a women’s prison in Saudi Arabia, the prisoners inside crowded around her in shock. They were not surprised to see a woman there; after all, the prison was for women. They were, however, shocked to see a Saudi woman there. By the rights activist’s account, there were very few, only eight or nine of them, in the facility.
The rest of course were the women who are thrown into Saudi prisons all the time — the Indians, Sri Lankans, Filipinas, all the lesser women who can, often just on the basis of a mere accusation, find themselves in prison for long periods of time. Sometimes they languish there for months and years before their families even find out where they are.
That was 2011 and Al Sharif, an employee of Aramco, had defied Saudi authorities by driving a car on the streets of the kingdom. In the middle of the night that followed, a horde of annoyed Saudi secret police showed up at her doorstep at the apartment she inhabited inside the Aramco compound.
When it comes to the decree of the Saudi king, even clerics can be overruled.
Her brother, who was with her when she took the wheel and who had remained with her, told them that they could not arrest her because it was the middle of the night. The men did not listen; before long Al Sharif had to leave with them. She would remain in prison for nine days: her crime, driving; her fate somewhat better than the other women she encountered in detention.
Last Tuesday’s royal decree came in the form of a reprieve to women like Al Sharif and other Saudi women activists who have been trying to wrangle the freedom to drive from the kingdom since they held the first driving protest in 1990. As per the king’s decree, announced live on Saudi television and also via a live media event in Washington D.C., this restriction would exist no more. Saudi women could drive cars and drive them without the presence of one of their guardians in the vehicle.
With the king’s decree, the complaints of conservative clerics, who had even gone so far as to insist that women’s reproductive organs were harmed by driving, were shunted to the side. So were all the supposedly ‘Islamic’ reasons that the same clerics had proffered as the basis for the restriction on driving. When it comes to the decree of the king of Saudi Arabia, even clerics can be overruled, which it seems is exactly what happened last week.
That, of course, is the story as it appears, the sort of jubilant tale of progress and advance that the Saudis are so eager to sell to the world — at least to a Western world increasingly sceptical of their intentions for the region. While the new US president and his advisers (several of whom have already been fired) were eager to peer through illuminated globes and partake of traditional sword dances, others in the US are not so dazzled by the regime’s recent doings. Reports of rising Yemeni casualties are routinely reported in major Western publications, and large arms sales (while they happen anyway) consistently meet with the ire of watchdog groups. If the Saudis cannot be stopped, they argue, at least arms sales to them must cease. If innocents have to be killed, the Saudis can arrange for munitions from other countries to do so.
Then there are the prerogatives from within Saudi Arabia. As analysts have pointed out, the governing Vision 2030 that is marking the kingdom’s transition requires that foreign workers not be employed in government jobs by 2020. According to this ‘Saudi first’ policy, developed to give the Saudis priority in employment, thousands of these expatriate workers have already left the kingdom as part of the transition to all-Saudi state employees. It is likely that many more will leave in the days and months to come as the march towards the new Saudi Arabia continues.
This second internal reality, the fact that Saudi Arabia has identified the elimination of expatriate workers from its state-employed workforce, is not well known among Western analysts. In the copious congratulations that poured in for the kingdom’s lifting of the ban on driving, hardly any of these analysts considered how the new directive fits into the new Saudi Arabia led by the new king.
Saudi women, which going by the kingdom’s definition are only those born to a Saudi father, are an integral part of the new Saudi Arabia that seeks to banish all foreigners from its government. As if to emphasise just this, the day after the driving ban ended, a woman, Eman al-Ghamdi, was appointed assistant mayor of the Al Khobar governorate. The message from the country’s rulers was clear: with expatriates banished, it is Saudi women, or at least those of them interested in working outside the home, who would be in line to be hired for important positions. If they decided to work, they may also like to drive. If they wanted to drive, they needed to be able to obtain a driving licence.
A victory for Saudi women thus comes at the expense of heightening Saudi nationalism and even xenophobia. The kingdom’s immigration policy has always been a contrast to its rhetoric: Muslims, it seems, are one polity bound in unity and equality until a Saudi official decides to ask for a passport and then uses nationality to determine merit or pay. So it is with Saudi women, sisters in struggle all eager to drive, particularly if the non-Saudi maid or nanny or cook follows submissively behind.

Double games nations play

Across two administrations, America accused Pakistan of playing a double game while acting as an ally in the coalition of states fighting international terrorism. It was only after 2011 when American forces entered Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden did Pakistan rethink its strategy of keeping its real Afghan policy under wraps. At times this game got blatant and generals like Hamid Gul openly talked about going against America while posturing as an ally. This may be changing now that America has finally shown intent to reboot its Pakistan policy and call the country’s bluff.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has stated: “We have offered the US time and again to provide us evidence against the Haqqani network and initiate a joint operation against the group.” The message is: We have cleaned up our act and are willing to inspect, jointly with you, the areas where you think the Haqqani Network is ensconced inside Pakistan. This means Pakistan has dumped the Haqqanis, once close to the ISI’s late general Hamid Gul. It’s a moot point if the volte-face is an answer to Trump’s ultimatum or whether it is a reaction to the more worrisome China-India joint declaration about terrorist groups in Pakistan?
But in 2017, as the world tilts dangerously from a unipolar to a multipolar power map, strategies have become complex, flexible and inchoate, giving the impression of nations playing double games with each other. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had once again claimed that the US has links with the Islamic State (IS). On October 10, he said: “The US Army helicopters are used to provide assistance to IS terrorists”. He had “revealed” this US-IS link in April this year as well, calling the terrorist outfit a tool of America. This has had the media abuzz in Pakistan which has been accused by Washington of a double game, that is, pretending to fight terrorism but sheltering elements that terrorise populations across the Durand Line.
The IS has attacked inside Pakistan through Pakistani youth converted to its code of savagery. Boys and girls have gone to Syria to train for this “jihad”. IS appears to be better funded than the al Qaeda. Funds have flowed from the oil wells it controls, and the outfit is being helped by dubious middlemen in the global oil market. America has been double-minded about the IS because of its conflict with Russia which targets the IS and defends Syria’s Hafez al-Assad regime. This conflict has also played out in Afghanistan in recent times with the news of Russia backing the Afghan Taliban being confirmed in several quarters.
America’s backing of the IS kills many birds with one stone. This double game opposes Russia and Iran in Iraq-Syria, and opposes Russia and Pakistan in Afghanistan. When America, together with Turkey began ignoring the rise of IS in Syria, Henry Kissinger, the strategist of our age, got upset and said that defeating IS should take precedence over engineering a regime-change in Syria. He foresaw what the IS would start doing in Europe and the US through expat Muslims. His advice was: “The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad. The current inconclusive US military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for IS as having stood up to American might.”
Pakistan’s brother country Turkey is also pursuing a double course. It is more interested in striking the Kurds of Syria-Iraq instead of the IS as Russia bombs the Syrian Sunni rebels on the advice of President Assad. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are likewise more bothered about the Iranian militias in Iraq-Syria fighting the IS and wouldn’t mind funding the latter. President Trump has compounded the confusion by turning against Iran. The means indirectly helping the IS, which, in turn, threatens America and its NATO allies with “conversion” of their Muslim citizens to terrorism.
There are other double games in the region: President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has welcomed General Hamid Gul’s favoured warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Kabul, aping Iran’s earlier double game of keeping Hekmatyar in Tehran and allowing safe passage to the greatest Shia-killer of all, Al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, from Pakistan to Iraq. These double games, however, have rebounded on the players so far. The only exception is Hekmatyar who has played more double games than one can count on one’s fingers.
Pakistan has changed tack on the safe havens found mainly in North Waziristan in the past. Two big military operations in the tribal region have flushed the “networks” out and Pakistan is now inviting international observers to the area. Who has learned a lesson: Pakistan or the US under Trump? Pakistan’s disenchantment with its double game appears genuine, and it also appears that it is willing to correct its earlier hubris. But America’s IS strategy appears imitative — if imitation is a response to Pakistan’s error.

Chinese stoop and then…

There is a time, and then something called timing. If OBOR was an exhibition, President Xi has now “Trump-eted” the Declaration. From what the world thought were “tinker, tailor” jobs, diligent China has moved further and added, “soldier, spy”.
The Declaration by the Chinese President on Oct 18th that went over for beyond three hours, had contents that the other global powers can’t set aside. China is ready to engage in world trade with any country under bilateral or existing terms. It is open to for any foreign investments or collaborations, that are mutually beneficial.
It has called for transparency in all its transactions. Judging its internal changes well, where it is likely to falter, it shall be getting rid of over-capacity units, and move over medium and some quality manufacturing.
As a neighbour, India is always ready to learn, and has appreciations. I would admire how, once Mao’s China takes the pole position, from what were offered as side-line jobs under verbally polished escape statements as “trust but verify”, (actually a Russian proverb ‘Doveryai, no proveryai) to overcome public as well global resistance, to underplay China’s ranking in violation of Human Rights. President Reagan was so fond of this phrase, he used it on almost every such occasion. The US made China its MFN (most favoured nation).
The time to verify perhaps came late, and China stands on the pedestal with the receipts and balance sheets, in case someone would like to verify them.
The sagacity and wisdom of an ancient trading civilization were under-estimated. It must be some thinking, some homogenous deliberation, that must have trickled down the manufacturing line, to the semi-skilled shift worker, that now makes them a globally unbeatable economy. Tianenmen Square and all that, was taken as their internal matter, and the country went on course, pretty close to destination.
Aware of possibilities of internal turmoil of what the world interprets as harsh and inhuman working conditions, that may further lead to dissent among the masses, a shift towards a “Socialist society and working order” has been announced.
The declaration, is further filled with some popular global terms. It denounces terrorism in any form, is sensitive, even ready to take a lead in a cleaner environment. The backbone is Mr Xi’s personal visitations to almost all important head of states. There is a special bonding with the athletic Mr Putin, during the 2015 Victory Day celebrations in Kremlin. To be sure, China has become the largest trading partner of mighty Russia.
He has met the Queen, in his trip to UK, knowing the importance UK (even if Brexited now). A trip to Washington to meet President Obama, where he defined US-China as “new type of great-power relation”, a phrase the US is still uneasy about.
A meeting with President Khamenei of Iraq, establishes a political link, the US is finding difficult to absorb, be it carrot or stick.
Other aspects aside, the trip to India in September 2014, was layered with diplomatic finesse. He even went and visited PM Modi’s village.
The powers that president Xi assumes, having risen through the grassroots (though being a politician’s son), is the general Secretary of Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. No doubt, a late edition of the “Economist” named him “The most powerful man”, 2017.
As a matter of study of the personality (my views are objective, not political), President Xi Jinping seems to be the rare person of our times, who steadily rose up the ladder and seems to have done most things right, or in his country’s favour, to reach this epoch.
Years back, he used the term “Chinese Dream”, to amalgamate his following, and stifle dissent. Every nation in its cyclical high-tide, uses this term. There was an Empire where the sun never set, much before there were Caesars and Napoleons, and of course, there was this great “American Dream”, hopefully still on, though in the NREM (non-rapid eye movement, a phase of sleep) phase.
In the 19th conclave held on 18th October, “Xi Ping Thought”, which is an elaboration of his philosophy, shall be incorporated in the Communist Party Constitution. Such is his hold over his party and country.
Putting facts on record, and as many may surmise, the game has to be played in and for Chinese nationalism. As President Xi has stated, “Matters in Asia ultimately must be taken care of in Asia”. That message seems to get clearer, with the North Korea outburst, though it may not play beyond deterrence, knowing devastation is evident.
There are other issues. China may follow a more aggressive policy towards Japan. I suppose the able Prime minister Abe shall make it, and then seek initiative in aligning its defences.
The sudden Tillerson ties just knotted with India, are welcome, and though hopefully honest in implementation come after prolonged and painful US dilly-dallying policies towards India. In patting India and Pakistan alternatingly, selling F-16s, then F-18s to keep the two neighbours guessing, American foreign policy suffered in three critical ways.
Firstly, its hands got smudged in terrorism (inability to assure both countries of eliminating them is the same). From Taliban, still active in Afghanistan, to ISIS, where it confronts old adversary Russia. It has somewhat lost its credibility in clearing off terrorism from the region!
The second, circumstances being such, it stuck its foot in deep communal crevices, which secular and the largest democracy as India, would only touch with a barge-pole, only as a defence, and leave it at that.
The last, it lost sight of a larger role, where China has taken the helm.
China’s reminder that UNSC addition shall not be without its consent, shows that it knows political compulsions better than the US may like to reveal.
Due to previous links with the US (even Russia), India is supposed to help the “look East” concerns of the South China Sea, that concern the US to contain China’s economy as well as hegemony. In return, US kept the two neighbours fighting, selling arms, and helping in short-term treaties.
Should India take the bait, and assure its NSG as well as UNSC placement, by as yet un-spelt Chinese conditions?
India per se, has no ambitions for the UNSC, but perhaps it shall be a better UN, and more just and peaceful world with this country’s inclusion.
So, can the US pull a rabbit out of the hat, and show the world that it is ready to overdo the China show! It shall be a double whammy! (we still have admirations for the great land of democracy).
The world is in an existential crisis once more!
(Surely, views expressed are my own, and not to irk or subvert any negotiations that may be underway).
“Awargi sahi, magar yeh to bataaiye,
Uski gali mein aapko jaaney se kya mila”!
(Arrogance accepted, but let me know,
What did you get by entering the “other” lane)

Marriages of Desperation

War bleeds people; it spills over borders, rivers, deserts and forests, with people hiding and pleading and always, always running. Along with the Rohingya, the people of Syria have seen incredible devastation in the past few years. Even as other wars have waxed and waned, these conflicts have continued in full view of the world, with the feeble bureaucrats of the United Nations looking on and doing nothing.
Like all wars, these conflicts of our times impose the greatest cost on women who become, even more so than in times of peace, pawns in the hands of men. Where currency may be hard to procure, a daughter or a sister can be traded, sometimes for weapons, sometimes for money and sometimes for safety.
The trade in Syrian brides evolved from just these circumstances. Turkey, which has taken in several million refugees fleeing Assad or the militant Islamic State group or the general barbarity of war, is one venue for the hapless trade in Syrian women. Refugees are everywhere in Istanbul, huddled and eager for any charity that they can get. It is no surprise, then, that some of the women among them have become targets for a thriving war economy in marriage.
In one case, reported by the UK newspaper The Sunday Times, an elderly man approached a refugee family about marrying their 17-year-old daughter. He wanted a girl with fair skin (what’s new?) and blue eyes (sigh) and she fit the bill. The man was already married, and polygamy is forbidden in Turkey. In order to get around this, only a religious and not a required civil marriage ceremony was carried out. With this, the two were married.
The young girl was taken to a home ruled over by an old but cruel mother-in-law. One of the reasons the girl had agreed to the marriage was that she could not afford a sight-saving medicine that she needed for her eyes (the same blue eyes that the man so coveted). She never received the medicine. The man used her and his mother mistreated her. Then he tired of her and sent her back to her family. By this time her sight had degenerated to such an extent that she was becoming blind. The man divorced her in the same perfunctory way he had married her. The money he had paid to her family had long evaporated. In essence, the man purchased the young girl as if she were a toy, and then discarded her when she no longer amused him. There was no one to stop him.
Except that a woman is not a toy. The moral mechanics via which she is transformed into one are notable here. Beneath the purchase of a woman for pleasure is the idea that such a ‘marriage’ — and the quotation marks are important — is somehow permissible in religion. Underlying this sort of justification is the idea that a marriage as an act of charity is allowed despite the fact that the intention is not to form a lifelong relationship but to fulfil the whim of a rich man.
Embedded in this justification is the idea that a male is a whole human and a woman not quite that. And that in turn, buying a woman or using her as a thing without rights, instead of a person with them, is part of faith. All of these ideas preclude any understanding of marriage as a bond based on mutual respect or love or equality, and reduce it to a commercial transaction in which the man is a buyer and boss and the woman is a purchased product.
Syrian women, particularly those who are facing these dire conditions, are not currently in a situation in which they can contest this arrangement. That burden falls on all the rest of the watching world, particularly the Muslim world, which must grapple with the idea that the idea of marriage has been reduced to the purchase of women. Muslim scholars, usually so eager to issue fatwas and edicts on controversial issues of global import, have unsurprisingly remained silent on the matter. No one, it seems, is willing to point out the many injunctions that stress the equality of men and women, that point to marriage being a relationship of love and equanimity, rather than exploitation and profiteering.
Beyond issues of faith, the idea that marriage is a transaction carried out by men and endured by women further embeds the idea that Muslim men, Turkish or Pakistani or otherwise, are somehow inherently unable to respect women. This premise, now a staple of Islamophobic propaganda in the West, uses examples such as the ones involving the sale of Syrian women to Turkish men as the material for exclusion and mistreatment. It is difficult to insist that not all brown men from the Muslim world are committed to hating women, treating them poorly and insisting on their inferiority, when so few of them speak up against the misuse and mistreatment of Muslim women.
The example of Syrian women for sale is a dire one, but the idea that marriage is a transaction that involves the purchase of a woman, who must amuse and endure silently and exist in servitude, has millions of supporters in India and Pakistan. It is on the basis of that kind of support that economies of mistreatment, of the sale and enslavement of women, can exist and persist. As long as all of these smug and silent men continue to treat their wives as their property and marriage as a hierarchy, all marriages, whether they happen in refugee camps in Turkey or in Hyderabad or Karachi, are marriages of desperation.

Is a woman chameleon to be coloured by husband’s identity?

What should prevail? Article 25 which guarantees the fundamental right to freely profess and practice one’s religion? Or the ‘doctrine of coverture’ which ordains that as she utters her marriage vows, a woman is thrust into the religious, ethnic and cultural persona of her husband — like a butterfly turning into a caterpillar forced to crawl into another skin. On October 6, the Supreme Court referred the conundrum to a Constitution bench. On its decision will depend the rights of women married under the Special Marriage Act of 1954.
It all started with the 2008 case filed by Goolrukh Gupta, a Parsi Zoroastrian married to a Hindu, against the Valsad Parsi Anjuman. It had refused to allow her to pray at its fire temple, and, when the need arose, perform the traditional funeral ceremonies of her octogenarian parents at the Tower of Silence. In 2012, the Gujarat HC ruled that once a Parsi woman married a non-Parsi, her religious identity would merge with that of her husband and that she would be deemed converted to his religion. Thereby, Goolrukh had ceased to be a Parsi, and so had no locus standi even to make such a demand of the Valsad Anjuman.
On April 21, 2017, the Supreme Court agreed to examine Goolrukh’s special leave petition challenging this negation of not only her fundamental right to her religion, but of her primary identity itself. On August 29, the SC said it would examine the implications of the Special Marriage Act for all intermarried women. Hence, the Constitution Bench.
It’s a shame that we keep needing to interpret a law passed specifically to allow both parties to retain their religion and cultural practices. Should we even be thinking of a woman as a piece of play dough, taking on the shape of her father and then her husband?
Last Wednesday, at a Mirror Now discussion on the latest milestone of the Goolrukh case, the president of the Parsi-Irani Zoroastrian Anjumans of India fumbled hopelessly, unable to cite plausible secular or scriptural sanction for our unconscionable gender biases. You may look askance at India’s ‘most progressive’ community’ being paraded for naked discrimination. In Parsi comedies the battle-axe wife is an abiding meme. Our girls are painstakingly educated, shine in the work place — and shimmy uncensured on dance floors. But all this self-assertion vaporises should she choose a ‘parjaat’ husband. She and her children are summarily ‘excommunicated’. Intermarried men face no such problem.
Legal sanction for such an anomaly hangs on the thread of a 1908 judgment, a time when patriarchy ruled unblushed by the science of genetic codes. It’s bad enough that no one has sought to overturn this Beamon-Davar definition of ‘Parsi’, namely that it applied to descendants of the original band of Zoroastrian refuge-seekers from Iran ‘only on the male line’. But now, not just children not born to Parsi fathers, even women like Goolrukh who, despite being fully Parsi by birth, Zoroastrian by initiation, and married under the safeguarding Special Marriage Act, are denied access to fire temples and even the last rites of their parents. Parsi women in some cities such as Delhi and Kolkata aren’t subjected to such emotionally searing exclusion, proving that this is not part of any canon. The hapless Trustee on Mirror Now mumbled weakly about ‘personal law’, but, in truth, Parsis have no elaborate codified one. So, whimsical diktats from the Bombay Parsee Punchayat acquire a spurious sanctity – and find easy root in a shrinking community’s increasing paranoia over ‘outsiders’ inveigling themselves into our envied trust funds and housing.
Sadly, secular leaders out-mullah the mullahs in arcane justifications, The charismatic, Oxford-educated Khojastee Mistree was thus quoted in The Hindu last May: “Parsis believe in gender compatibility, not gender equality. .. In an oriental (sic) environment that we live in, the women have to make much more adjustments than men. That is the ground reality. …Unfortunately, secular judges, who don’t have sufficient studies to merit a response which is right for the community, will decide the (imminent) cases.” He dismissively added that they will do so on the grounds of a ‘buzzword’. “It’s fashionable to talk about gender equality, but is that ground reality? Does one throw away customs and traditions for the sake of a notion that comes from outside the tradition?”
The short answer to that is ‘Yes!’ if said traditions are used to perpetuate an unapologetic discrimination. The rational question is: Should a community, down to 57,264 in the 2011 census, be clutching on to its members, or suicidally throwing them out? Intermarriage, which accounts for 37% of marriages, is a very fast-ticking meter for Parsi women with speedily diminishing internal choices.

Uncertain Pakistan-US Relations

A hostage rescue. A drone strike. Courtesy phone calls. High-level official visits. Pakistan and the United States are trying to re-establish ties, however fledgling, after the Trump administration unveiled its South Asia strategy, which takes a harder line against Pakistan for allegedly harbouring militant groups, and calls for an expanded role for India in Afghanistan — the opposite of Pakistan’s preference for what should unfold across its western border.
The overtures are welcome for those who believe Pakistan should maintain a multipronged foreign policy comprising strong alliances with stronger nations. Conversely, they have been met with cynicism by US sceptics — the American-Canadian couple was conveniently recovered the day before a US delegation arrived in Islamabad; the US drone strike that allegedly killed the chief of Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) took place days before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s scheduled visit to Islamabad in what is being seen as a reciprocal and reconciliatory gesture. Both camps can agree that this is not the stuff of a coordinated bilateral relationship with shared strategic objectives; it is the piecemeal politics of placation.
Grand gestures aside, the fundamental challenges of the US-Pakistan relationship persist. The US is frustrated by Pakistan’s dubious counterterrorism credentials. Even while seeking to thaw frosty relations, Washington has called out Pakistan for supporting militant groups. Earlier this month, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff told a congressional hearing that Pakistan’s agencies had links to militant groups; and even while Trump was gloating about improved ties between the two countries, the director of the CIA announced that US citizen Caitlin Campbell and her family had been held hostage by the Haqqani network for five years in Pakistan (and not Afghanistan, as Pakistan security forces had indicated).
Fundamental challenges exist for Pak-US relations.
Pakistan, meanwhile, remains concerned about the destabilising effects of US meddling in the region, which could manifest in several ways: growing Indian influence in Afghanistan; an increasingly dysfunctional and hostile government in Kabul; entrenched sanctuaries for anti-Pakistan militant groups such as JuA and the TTP across the Durand Line; and regional designs against CPEC.
As long as these divergent objectives and concerns remain, the US-Pakistan relationship will be stuck in a rut. But we can no longer dismiss this as a foreign policy irritant — the rut damages Pakistan.
Islamabad’s fraught ties with Washington leads to knee-jerk foreign policymaking on other fronts, including the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach of cosying up to China in order to have a reliable counterweight to the US. This approach involves geostrategic and economic concessions, the full implications of which Pakistan has yet to understand. It is also one that will become entrenched during the Trump administration in light of the US president’s truncated flirtation with Xi Jingping, and Tillerson’s public critique of China as a destabilising force and economic predator. As US-China tensions escalate, Pak­istan will gradually find itself choosing a side.
Clumsy rapprochements with Washington also undermine Pakistan’s democratic set-up. The relationship with the US is dominated by our military, but the fallout is left to the civilian government to manage. Analysts speculate that the drone strike that apparently killed Omar Khalid Khorasani indicates a resumption in military and intelligence cooperation between Islamabad and Washington. But it’s the government that has to cover the tracks of America’s unpopular drone strike policy. While in the US, our foreign minister responded to the sudden uptick in drone strikes in and around Kurram Agency with hemming and hawing about indeterminate territory and fuzzy borders. Pak­istan’s lack of transparency regar­ding its involvement in and tolerance for US drone strikes has eroded the government’s credibility with the public.
Contortions in US-Pakistan ties also fuel conspiracy theories that stymie Pakistan’s chances of developing a clear narrative against terrorism — those who speak out against militant activity on Pakistani soil are labelled American stooges, and their position is perceived to be sinister rather than in the long-term interests of the country. Meanwhile, militant groups continue to capitalise on anti-Americanism to attract increasingly diverse recruits.
As such, it’s in Pakistan’s interest to refresh the US-Pakistan relationship. Perhaps one way forward is to focus on issues beyond the Afghanistan — and by extension, India — angle. Secretary Tillerson has indicated that he will explore improved economic ties between the US and Pakistan during his visit. Our representatives should try to generate more US support for CPEC, and Pakistan’s economic growth overall. A conversation about regional security concerns couched in the language of economic opportunity may offer one way to break out of the rut.

BRICS- The Next Decade

Over the years, many observers have expressed skepticism about the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) initiative – and skeptics within the BRICS member states perhaps outnumber those outside.
The reason is a clear lack of traditional logic behind the coming together of these countries. They are dispersed geographically, their economies are in different stages of development and there is a fair degree of ideological dissonance between them. And unlike other economic associations, BRICS does not seek to set up any common political or security architecture.
However, this should not obfuscate the fact that the purpose of BRICS was clear from its inception: to form a convenient and pragmatic 21st-century relationship that pools the influence of its members in order to achieve objectives agreed to by all five countries. In a multipolar world in which economic and political power is rapidly diffusing, the BRICS nations seek to influence and shape the norms of global governance, which have been fashioned by the Atlantic system in the past. BRICS, then, is a coming together of nation states at a particular geopolitical moment to achieve a set of goals.
Each member of BRICS also has their own reason to sustain this plurilateral movement. Russia sees BRICS as a geopolitical counterweight to the eastward expansion of the Atlantic system. For South Africa, BRICS is a means to legitimize its role as a gateway to and powerhouse of the African continent. BRICS allows Brazil to collaborate in the shaping of the Asian century, despite its geographical location. China participates in the forum because it recognizes BRICS as an important vehicle for fashioning governance systems in which its political influence is commensurate to its growing economic heft. Finally, for India, BRICS is a useful bridge between its rising status as a leading power and its erstwhile identity as the leader of the developing world.
The first decade of BRICS
BRICS’ first decade saw each of the members laying down groundwork for cooperation, from identifying areas of convergence on political issues to improving economic ties. The level of engagement between its members, ranging from high-level summit and ministerial meetings to various working groups and conferences, has only deepened over that time.
Today there is a fair degree of cooperation on issues such as trade, infrastructure finance, urbanisation and climate change. Moreover, the five members have made modest progress in people-to-people connections. Platforms such as the BRICS Academic Forum and Business Council have proved to be useful in improving their understanding of each other’s industry, academia and government.
Undoubtedly, the two most notable achievements of the BRICS have been the institutionalization of the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement.
The importance of these institutions cannot be understated. For one thing, they mark a shift from political rhetoric to delivering concrete results, alleviating some of the skepticism surrounding the BRICS initiative. More importantly, they represent a partial fulfilment of BRICS’ core raison d’être: to offer credible alternatives to the Atlantic system of global governance.
While such institutions are unlikely to ever replace the IMF or the World Bank, they represent a fundamentally different governance paradigm. By giving equal voting rights to its founding members and improving reliance on local currencies, the BRICS members are attempting to create a new, non-Bretton Woods template for the developing world to emulate.
The end of innocence
Despite achieving a moderate level of success over the last decade, two recent events have brought the divergence between the BRICS members into sharp focus.
The first is the recent military standoff between India and China on the Doklam plateau, which has effectively brought to an end the naive notion that a comfortable political relationship is always possible amongst the BRICS members. The second is China’s efforts at creating a ‘BRICS plus’ model, a thinly veiled attempt to co-opt nation states, which are integral to its Belt and Road Initiative, into a broader political arrangement.
Both of these events highlight how the foundational principles of BRICS – respect for sovereign equality and pluralism in global governance – are liable to be tested as the five member countries pursue their own national agendas.
However, instead of derailing the BRICS project, these developments are likely to inject a level of pragmatism into the initiative. While BRICS itself is unlikely to form the lynchpin of foreign policy for any of its members, it will continue to be an important instrument in their toolkit.
Essentially, the BRICS members are now likely to realise that the group itself is a ‘limited purpose partnership’ in which political barriers will always limit the partnership’s full economic potential.
The next decade?
If BRICS is to remain relevant over the next decade, each of its members must make a realistic assessment of the initiative’s opportunities and inherent limitations.
BRICS did well in its first decade to identify issues of common interests and to create platforms to address these issues. However, new political realities require the BRICS nations to recalibrate their approach and to recommit to their founding ethos.
For one, they must reaffirm their commitment to a multipolar world that allows for sovereign equality and democratic decision-making. Only by doing so can they address the asymmetry of power within the group and in global governance generally. Only this approach will strengthen multilateralism.
Second, they must build on the success of the NDB and invest in additional BRICS institutions. It will be useful for BRICS to develop an institutional research wing, along the lines of the OECD, which can offer solutions distinct from western-led knowledge paradigms and which is better suited to the developing world.
Third, they should consider a BRICS-led effort to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN’s sustainable development goals. This could include, for example, setting up a BRICS energy alliance and an energy policy institution. Similarly, the NDB in partnership with other development finance institutions could be a potent vehicle to finance progress towards the sustainable development goals amongst the BRICS members.
Fourth, the BRICS nations can also consider expanding the remit of their cooperation to address emerging areas of global governance such as outer space, the oceans and the internet.
Finally, the BRICS members must encourage direct interactions between their constituents. In the digital age, seamless conversations amongst people, business and academia can foster relationships, which are more likely to cement the future of this alliance than any government efforts.
For the first decade of its existence, the group was powered by a top-down approach with large investments of political capital. The second decade must ride on the energy and entrepreneurship of the citizens and communities that reside within the BRICS countries.


Unconventional Monetary Policy: Lessons from History

Economists and the media often portray the recent unconventional monetary policies of several central banks as unprecedented. There is some truth in this, but there have been episodes in the past where the policies adopted were every bit as radical, given the standards of their time. One such case is the Bank of England’s suspension of convertibility between 1797 and 1821.
The Bank of England – which was not yet a central bank in the modern sense, though it was already beginning to play a public role – had suffered a significant drain in its reserves from the mid-1790s. In 1797 it suspended convertibility of its notes into gold. It also issued small denomination notes for the first time. Banknotes became increasingly important as a means of payment
This episode parallels the better-known 1914 suspension of the gold standard, but there are some important differences too. The 1797-1821 suspension had only moderate effects. It did not lead to a major financial crisis. Inflation and discount on banknotes remained moderate. Schumpeter (1954) wrote:
“In spite of the suspension … war finance did not produce any great effects upon prices and foreign exchange-rates until about 1800. To the modern student who is inured to stronger stuff, the most striking feature of the subsequent inflation is its mildness … at no time was the government driven to do anything more unorthodox than abnormally heavy borrowing from the Bank, and even this borrowing never surpassed the limits beyond which the term ‘borrowing’ becomes a euphemism for printing government fiat”.
Monetary policy during the restriction period 1797-1821 was highly unconventional for the standards of the time. It would, though, be incorrect to say that it was similar to modern ‘unconventional’ policy, such as quantitative easing. Modern unconventional policies apply in an environment in which the short-term interest rate is zero, and hence traditional (or conventional) open-market operations are ineffective. In these conditions, central banks engage in alternative policies including the purchase of government debt of longer maturities or of commercial debt of good quality. They may also promise to keep rates at zero for a period of time to manage expectations (‘forward guidance’).
By contrast, during the Restriction Period the short-term interest rate was always well above zero, and the Bank of England lent to the government only on a short-term basis. This makes the label ‘quantitative easing’ incorrect for the Restriction Period. The main similarity between both episodes has been the rapid expansion of the Bank’s balance sheet.
The current historical consensus about the Bank of England’s suspension of convertibility is that it mainly resulted from France’s remonetisation, and from the British state’s increased borrowing needs to finance a war against France. We argue (O’Brien and Palma 2016) that while these factors help us understand the timing of the Restriction Period, they cannot explain its success. We suggest that the policy succeeded thanks to the reputation of the Bank of England, achieved through a century of monetary stability.
There are three broad lessons for today. First, the reputation of an institution during ‘normal’ times is critical in determining its success in implementing unconventional policies when they are required. Second, the interaction with the state matters. In 1797 the high fiscal capacity of the English state made credible its promise to repay the Bank. New taxes such as the direct income tax were introduced as a result of the extraordinary threat of the French revolution to the wealth and lives of the British elite. Third, temporary responses to financial crises can be hard to fully rewind. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For the British economy, the Restriction Period inaugurated a new era of paper money, which supported the growth of the economy during the nineteenth century.



Coronation of Xi at China’s 19th Party Congress Heralds the birth of a Leviathan

In the run-up to China’s 19th Party Congress, media was full of speculation that Secretary General Xi Jinping will emerge even stronger and perpetuate himself in power. Such analyses miss the bigger picture. Whatever the outcome in terms of Xi’s personal power, the real winner will be the system of state control that he has helped cement: an all-knowing all-seeing Leviathan, a digitally empowered nuclear super state that supervises the lives of 1.3 billion people, influences the lives of its neighbours, and even tries to dictate how distant powers should conduct their affairs. Whatever the Congress may consider about personnel changes, it will not alter, much less soften, the nature of the Chinese state.
The Congress follows massive changes that Xi has already brought about in China. For the first time since the Cultural Revolution, the Party’s Central Committee will see a turnover of 70%. Of those, some 10% of Central Committee members have been purged on corruption charges. Already as many as one million party members and officials have been purged for corruption or for being considered as political opponents of Xi. The secretary general (who is concurrently commander in chief of the armed forces) has introduced reforms to make the PLA a better fighting force, equipped with increasingly more powerful weapons systems. Xi has taken over control of all levers of policymaking power by setting up “leading groups” under his chairmanship.
Under Xi’s assertive leadership, China’s military has expanded its global reach – exercising near US shores and setting up its first military base in East Africa. Thanks to breakneck construction, the South China Sea has been turned into a virtual Chinese lake dotted with air and naval installations. Southeast Asian neighbors like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar have moved closer to tributary relations with Beijing. China’s multi-continent infrastructure project “One Belt, One Road” has drawn a record number of countries as has its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Armed with its bulging foreign reserves and a growing list of international friends and supporters, China has pushed to extend its control over influential international organisations – from Interpol to Internet governance. China has interfered with increasing brazenness in other countries’ internal affairs, drawing red lines to ensure their internal policies conform to Chinese interests. The rise of China to unprecedented global power and influence, though, has not resulted in greater freedom or openness for its citizens.
In fact, under Xi China has emerged as one of the most repressive states with unprecedented control over lives of its citizens. Astonishingly, Chinese leaders are so proud of owning the world’s largest surveillance network that the party has even produced a six-part television documentary titled ‘Amazing China’ to crow about it. Equipped with 20 million (and growing) surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology, the eyes and ears of the state are reportedly set to cover 95% of public area by 2020.
Having snuffed out all dissidence, jailed journalists, activists and most human rights lawyers Beijing has thumbed its nose at international criticism by letting its Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo die in prison. The fact that half of the Chinese population – some 730 million people – are online has handed the government a powerful tool of control. China is experimenting with digital control of its citizens by developing a system of “social credit” based on behaviours tracked, monitored and recorded from their online conduct. Critical attitudes towards the government might result in users being blocked from travelling abroad, or even prevented from buying a train ticket. Once rolled out in full, the system could surpass even the wildest dreams of Orwell’s Big Brother.
All this insecurity is puzzling. What is the leader of a prosperous and powerful China so afraid of? Maybe Xi knows something about the brittleness of the mighty system that outsiders do not. Meanwhile the world had better get ready to deal with a mighty dragon.

Advent of Chinese-Ness: Xi’s Message In 3-Hour Speech

When the world is moving Right — white supremacy, Hindutva, the Neo Nazis — and the parochial is replacing the ‘global village’ circa 1990s, what does China do? Xi Jinping has an answer. His prescription for his people: “Chinese-ness”.When the world is moving Right — white supremacy, Hindutva, the Neo Nazis — and the parochial is replacing the ‘global village’ circa 1990s, what does China do? Xi Jinping has an answer. His prescription for his people: “Chinese-ness”.In his 210 minute speech yesterday, Xi laid out the “Chinese-ness” rule for everything, except perhaps for “making out”. Chinese-ness – “with Chinese characteristics or Chinese orientation or Chinese conditions” Even Marxism to adapted to the Chinese way, he said.Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing. Here are some to-dos from the man who would be Mao:⦁ Must develop socialism with Chinese characteristics.⦁ Must promote religion of Chinese orientation.⦁ Improve moral standards, civic sense and family virtues.⦁ Improve etiquette, personal integrity, work ethics.⦁ Ensure clean internet and cyberspace.
And all the to-dos came with a pinch of poetry. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics….was derived from Chinese culture of 5,000 years…A culture that is sound, people oriented and raises ethical standards….”Intellectuals who are not in the party must also be encouraged to help build socialism with Chinese characteristics.”We must ensure we serve people and follow the principle of ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom and hundreds of schools of thought contend’ and add new lustre to Chinese culture,” Xi Jinping said.(An aside. I always thought it was “let a thousand flowers bloom”. Did Xi Jinping making a mistake? Misquote Mao Zedong, no less? Stunned, I called up the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s local Google in Kolkata. He said, the Bengali comrades said, “shoto phool phutey uthuk”. ‘Shoto’ is hundred. Xi had got it right.Double checked with Google, which said, “Let a thousand flowers bloom is a common misquotation of Chairman Mao Zedong’s “Let a hundred flowers blossom”. This slogan was used during the period of approximately six weeks in the summer of 1957 when the Chinese intelligentsia were invited to criticise the political system then obtaining in Communist China.)More of what Xi wants his party and his people to do. ⦁ Draw on socialist values to educate and raise cultural standards….by involving public, families, children.⦁ Draw on China’s fine traditional culture to keep alive its vision, ensure it appeals to youth and evolves with time.⦁ Raise intellectual and moral standards.⦁ “When people have ideals, the country will have strength, the nation will have bright future Help people raise political awareness moral standards, foster social etiquette, the appreciation of fine culture and civility.⦁ “The public must undertake this campaign to achieve the Chinese dream.”Here is another poetic quote.”We will heighten public awareness about ethnic unity and create a sense of community, closely united, like seeds of pomegranate that stick together…” A pomegranate is called shi liu in Mandarin.Xi’s speech was translated into nine languages and given to translators only 10 days in advance. The English translation was done by Ms Holly Snape, a Bristol University alumnus married to a Chinese national living in Beijing and working as an editor at China’s Central Compilation & Translation Bureau.In an interview to China’s English language TV channel, CGTN, she said, “It was difficult. The language is rich, the ideas are strong, there is a tempo and rhythm to it, real feelings and the really difficult thing is to translate that.”A viewer wrote on CGTN’s Facebook page, “Xi often cite poetry or Chengyu in his speech. Without deep understanding of Chinese classic literature and history, it’s hard to understand his speech.”Another comment, “she could speak mandarin better than me… a Chinese… I ashame (sic) of myself.”The first step to Chineseness has been taken. The Great Wall of China just got a little more difficult to scale.

Porn in the USA: what libidinous letches and lascivious libidos drooled over

The difference between art and pornography, mused Family Guy Peter Griffin, is a government grant. Occasionally, it can also be a family endowment. It might surprise some to know that Hugh Hefner, the Playboy publisher who died last week at 91, co-founded the magazine partly with a $1,000 loan from his mother, affirming the argument of free expression advocates who maintain that “pornography is in the loin of the beholder” and “obscenity is whatever gives the Judge an erection”.
Indeed, the mother-of-all male magazines tested boundaries of propriety from the time of its launch, when it was heralded as an escape from the family-oriented conformity of 1950s America. It helped ignite sexual license in the swinging sixties, and at its peak in the early 70s, it was selling some seven million copies, even as feminists derided its intellectual pretensions by calling it “literature designed to be read with one hand”.
Mixing highbrow with low-low-low (long before the song by Flo Rida), Playboy tucked in stories by PG Wodehouse and Arthur Clarke, and interviews with Fidel Castro and Bertrand Russell, between tantalising déshabillé and taut derrière, its mostly young, male viewership masquerading as readership. Many believed that penis mightier than the word. At one time, a quarter of all American college men were buying or subscribing to the magazine.
Here in India, libidinous letches and lascivious libidos drooled over dog-eared, hand-me-down copies extracted from the raddiwalla, even as a prissy PMO objected to a purported 1963 interview the magazine claimed to have conducted with Prime Minister Nehru. Decades later, it would be an Indian billionaire, venture capitalist Suhail Rizvi, who would rescue the magazine and restore it to Hefner amid a welter of acquisition wrangles.
Throughout his flamboyant life, Hefner was excoriated for objectifying women – even though the exercise predates him back to our own sex manuals – even as he argued on a higher plane that that “the major civilising force in the world is not religion, but sex.” Progressive women found the dross dressed in gloss uncivilised. “A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual,” Gloria Steinem remarked.
Hefner himself would lament in later years that he had spent so much of his life looking for love in all the wrong places – mostly between the legs, his critics would snicker. Playboy’s decline – as with much else relating to below the belt – began with advancing years and increasing competition, as sharper, smuttier publications milked the genre dry. The magazine itself withered away long before its founder was a spent force. When last heard, Playboy Enterprises was deriving much of its income from licensing – rather than the licentiousness its prime property once boasted of.



Sunday Special: The Land of Soma

Theories about the homeland of the Aryans have been in news of late because of genetic studies. The theory that ascribes an indigenous origin to the Aryans can be shown to be untenable on very simple considerations based on a comparative study of the Rig Veda (RV) and the related Zoroastrian sacred text Avesta (AV). The Rig Vedic and Avestan languages are essentially the same, with very minor differences in grammar. They share a common vocabulary in the fields of mythology, ritual, culture, and religious practices. There are some phonetic differences but the changes take place according to well-defined rules (Sanskrit s into h, h into z). Ahura in AV (as in Ahura Mazda) is cognate with asura in RV with the same meaning, lord (asura as a demon is a later development.) Yama son of Vivasvan is known to AV. Nabhanedishta is a son of Manu in RV; it becomes a common noun in AV meaning “nearest in relation”.
The Avesta proper consists of three parts: Yasna, Visperad, and Vendidad. Yasna in turn includes 17 hymns, called Gathas, which are attributed to Zarathushtra himself and thus constitute the oldest parts of AV. He describes himself as a zaotar (hotr), while later texts call him athaurvan (atharvan).
Zarathushtra introduces some points of departure from the Rig Veda but does not repudiate the joint Indo-Iranian legacy. Deva and Indra become demons in AV, but Vrtrahana (slayer of Vrtra) who is identified with Indra in RV retains his position in AV as a god in his own right The Rig Vedic and the Avestan people both called themselves Arya, meaning noble. RV and AV are Aryan documents, and therefore need to be read together.
There are no dependable chronological clues in either the RV or the AV. But the common botanical information in them can be used to disceren geography. Soma, for example, is a celebrated plant in the RV as well as the AV where it is called haoma, later shortened to Hom in Pahalvi. A drink of the same name was squeezed from the plant for offering to the gods and for drinking. RV devotes a full mandala to soma, and the longest hymn in RV is addressed to it. There is a striking similarity between the Vedic agnishtoma and the Zoroastrian haoma ceremony, both of which must therefore have originated in the common Indo-Iranian period. From the textual references we learn that soma/haoma was a scented leafless plant with long-jointed finger-like juicy stalks. Though the ritual was elaborate, the process itself was very simple. The stalks and shoots of the plant were crushed either between two stones or in mortar and pestle. The juice was collected, purified and drunk unfermented.
Yasna (10.10) mentions Haraiti Bareza as the soma habitat. Haraiti is identified with Mount Elburz, which earlier denoted the whole range of mountains extending from the Hindu Kush in the east to the Caucasus in the west. RV informs us that soma grew in the mountains. RV (9.46.1) calls soma parvatavrdh ( mountain grown). The Atharvaveda (3.21.10) calls the mountains somaprashtha ( carrying soma on their back). RV (10.34.1) uses the term soma maujavata, the soma from Mujavat, which according to Yaska’s Nirukta (9.8) was a mountain.
Soma was a common plant in the places where the Rig Vedic and Avestian people lived. In RV (8.80), a maiden, Apala by name, plucks Soma twigs by the wayside and chews them with the purpose of becoming attractive to men. Anyone who maltreats haoma is cursed to remain childless (Yasna 11.3). As if aware of this, in RV (8.31.5), husband and wife “with one accord” press out the soma juice, no doubt as a prelude to sexual intercourse. While there is continuity in the Zoroastrian soma ritual, there are clear signs that the Vedic people moved away from the soma habitat. In the Baudhyayana Shrautasutra (6.14) the Adhvaryu asks the seller if the soma came from Mujavat which obviously was still a source of supply. Katyayana Shrautasutra (10.9.30) talks of rationing soma. It enjoins the priests not to give it to a kshatriya or a vaishya even if available, but asks the priests to give them a substitute. Shatapatha Brahmana ( lists the substitutes to be used in the ritual when soma is not available. In course of time, soma became a mythical plant even for medical texts. Sushruta Samhita (29.21-22) and Charaka Samhita (1.4-6) both believe that soma had 15 leaves which appeared one per day during the waxing moon (shuklapaksha) and dropoff one by one during the waning moon (krishnapaksha).
The Brahmana texts reverentially reserve the name soma for the original soma plant and talk of its substitutes. The reverence disappears in later times when the term soma, suffixed with lata or valli (meaning creeper) is applied to different local plants, which like the original soma are leafless.
There is a broad consensus among scholars that the ancient soma/haoma plant be identified with high-altitude varieties of ephedra which have a high alkaloid content. (ephedra grows in plains also but these varieties have no juice.) The botanical identification of soma is however not quite relevant for our present discussion.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Rig Vedic and the Avestan people had a common heritage and lived in close proximity to one another. Their joint habitat was the Somaland. Indian plains do not match the RV and AV description of Soma-growing areas. Even otherwise, if India were the Indo-Iranian homeland, it is the ancient Iranians who would have been looking for soma substitutes and not Indians. The conclusion is inescapable: Rigvedic people, like ancient Iranians, must have lived in mountainous areas where the soma plant grew.

Legacies of futures foretold

A few weeks back, the Indian diplomatic community had a go at Pakistan at the United Nations. The brownie points were all high-score for a change, with our neighbour being dismissed as “Terroristan”, according to damaging indices — India has created IITs and IIMs, while Pakistan has created Lashkar, and so on. Of course, the tables would have been turned if some standard developmental indices were compared. Critics pointed out that the General Assembly was not a duck shooting gallery, but was intended for higher things. True, but in endless skirmishes, it’s always nice to have some brownie points stashed away, in case of emergencies.
Coincidentally, the day the verbal shrapnel was flying, I was reading Robert A Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, a science fiction classic (sounds illogically contradictory!). It is not his best — that honour must go to Stranger in a Strange Land — since the plot hinges on time travel, which violates the law of conservation of mass and energy. It is best read at an age which regards such inconveniences as minor. Older readers will find a few interesting asides, which reveal how Golden Age science fiction (following Robert Silverberg’s timeline) saw the evolution of geopolitics. In this future, India has been repeatedly balkanised, and Pakistan is hectoring and threatening it as always, presumably in multilateral fora, the successors of the UN.
The Door into Summer was serialised in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1956. At the time, progress in engineering and materials science had made the future seem imminent, while robotics, cybernetics and genomics were yet to advance the horizons of the imaginable. Authors of the period looked forward no more than a few decades, which would place the predicted balkanisation of India… well, about now.
When history, real and imagined, is central to politics, it is useful to read historical texts. Not just history books, which are obviously important — witness how much bile Audrey Trushke’s very plain-dealing monograph on Aurangzeb continues to generate, months after its release. It is also instructive to read fiction which has itself become part of the historical record, if only to see how accurately it read the future, which is our present.
Historians on history are also illuminating. In 1993, not long after the Babri Masjid was brought down, laying the foundations for the rise of Hindutva, Eric Hobsbawm delivered a lecture inaugurating the academic year at the Central European University, Budapest, in which he foretold the central role that historians would play in the politics of the 21st century. It appeared in 1997 as the essay ‘Outside and Inside History’ in the collection On History (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). Its subject is not India, primarily, but rather the history of postwar eastern Europe, which was racing to catch up with the developed world using imported models — first socialism and then capitalism — and a nativist backlash was inevitable. When future historians look back on India in the first decades of the 21st century, they may see precisely this.
The modern age was created by a model combining parliamentary democracy with free-market capitalism. In postwar eastern Europe, Hobsbawm saw this as a reaction to its predecessor — under the umbrella of socialism, the Bolshevik project “modernising backward agrarian economies by planned industrial revolution.” But capitalism does not always fire on all six. It has its cycles and crashes. The countries of eastern and central Europe, he wrote, were “disappointed in their past, largely disappointed with their present, and uncertain about their future. This is a very dangerous situation. People will look for someone to blame for their failures and insecurities.” He looked ahead to “movements inspired by xenophobic nationalism and intolerance. The easiest is always to blame the strangers.” In contemporary India, this is how the day’s headlines read, and “intolerance” is part of the political lexicon.
Hobsbawm also predicted that historians would be embattled, “for history is the raw material for nationalist or ethnic or fundamentalist ideologies, as poppies are the raw material for heroin addiction… If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented… The past legitimises. The past gives a more glorious background to a present that doesn’t have much to celebrate.”
A disparaging reference to a book on the Indus Valley civilisation titled Five Thousand Years of Pakistan (1950) follows, in which he observes that the very name dates from the 1930s, and that Mohenjo Daro and Islamabad have about as much in common as the heroes of the Trojan War do with the government in Ankara. History is commonly manipulated by nativists, but the book in question is by the renowned archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the father of stratigraphy and the driving force behind crucial excavations at Harappa and Arikamedu. It appears that the forces behind the appropriation of history run so deep that they can sweep over even legitimate historians.

Pakistan policy of terror proxies and nukes

While mainstream media highlighted Pakistan’s role in giving safe havens to terrorists, and how it shot itself in the foot by trying to implicate India by claiming that a wounded Gaza girl was a Kashmiri, no one highlighted how Afghanistan and Baluch nationalists were also at world forums talking openly about Pakistani terror. Afghanistan at the UN and Baluchistan’s representatives in Geneva. It does seem Pakistan is being squeezed from all sides.
Not only is India’s view on Pakistani terror being recognized but more and more countries are joining the chorus building up against Pakistan.
Sushma Swaraj’s fiery speech at the United Nations was the first blow to Pakistan.
“We produced scientists, scholars, doctors, engineers,” said Swaraj, “What have you produced? You have produced terror camps….” and “whereas we produce IITs and IIM you have produced LeT and JeM.” Neatly and decisively she put Pakistan in a spot it simply did not have wriggle space to get out off.
Every country knew about Hafiz Saeed’s links to the Mumbai terror attacks and also Jaish-e-Muhammed’s role in the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, as well as behind the killing of 38 people in a bomb blast at the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly earlier that year – not to mention the Uri attack in which we lost 18 soldiers.
Both Hafiz and Masood are considered chiefs of terror organizations by most countries and yet their organizations are still running and they roam free in Pakistan with the help of the ISI. Their links with the al-Qaida and the Taliban are also known.
Yet recently, LeT was allowed to enter politics in Pakistan. When asked about this in New York, Pakistan’s premier fumbled and lamely replied that they had not won too many votes! Is that all he could say about the leader of a party that has a US bounty of 10 million dollars on his head?
When Christiane Amanpour of CNN asked him about how secure the nukes were in Pakistan, again, he could not give an adequate response on the checks and balances. We do have civilian control as well, he said lamely.
Obviously, the monsters are eating up even the little bit of civil polity that existed in Pakistan. Pakistani politicians are scared of the ISI, the Army and its terror proxies and the safe havens are there to stay.
Nawaz Sharif was said to have opposed the mainstreaming of terror groups but the Army was firmly behind the Milli Muslim League, Saeed’s newly formed party. The Army is feeling the heat on its terror proxies and so wants to give them political legitimacy. Another Islamist, Fazlur Rehman Ahmed says he will be starting his own party soon.
Pakistan will soon have more politicians who are Islamists and gun-wielding terrorists much like ISIS and its caliphate. No wonder Larry Pressler, a former US Senator, said that the US and India should have pre-emptive strikes to hit Pakistan’s nuclear sites. It seems no one wants to wait till they have another North Korea on their hands. Imagine if some years down the line Hafiz Saeed’s party comes to power in Pakistan—he would gleefully nuke both India, & Afghanistan and for good measure smuggle and explode a dirty bomb in the US. Frightening thought.
During his visit to India, James Mattis, the Defence Secretary, reemphasized that the US was not going to condone terror havens in any country. Wonder what the US will do to change this paradigm? Nothing short of calling the Pakistani Army bluff will suffice but it will be a delicate power play. All the generals have to say is: We have nukes and we have terrorists. We are used to playing dirty; we have done it all our lives! How will this scenario play out?
But if we get taken in by this gambit than Pakistan will get more and more powerful and Mullah Generals as opposed to the more practical ones will take over the system and the country.
I have heard experts on Pakistani TV discuss that while India has its own Global Positioning Satellite and is no longer dependent on American GPS, Pakistan is still using it and their weapons systems would be severely compromised if the US were to disable this somehow. Worth considering for Gen Mattis, along with other such cyber options, including going after the ISI and Army elites’ bank accounts in the US and other countries that value life and liberty.
But thinking about and planning to take out Pakistani nukes in a multi-pronged effort must never be taken off the table. Powerful nations have to do this while the civilians are still in control.
The world simply cannot afford another rogue regime holding it to ransom.

The 70s in India: Naxalbari, LSD, Poetry and the Emergency

It was the best of times, 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, we were all going direct to Heaven.
Or so we thought as we entered the seventies. Smoking weed; falling in love; writing poetry and dreaming of a new and just world order.
They had gone to the forests, in the memorable words of Marxist poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay to fight a war for those who knew not how to.
Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri had just released. No one had known there was a sexual side to the Brahmo. Shombhu Mitra was still staging Dasachakra based on Ibsen’s Enemy of the People while Badal Sircar had discovered the Third Theatre and taken his plays out of the proscenium and on to the streets.
Shakti Chattopadhyay, then in his mid-thirties, was lying in the gutters, drunk as usual. His poems scribbled on torn sheets may yet outlive Tagore. Nikhil Biswas had died at 36, leaving behind 10,000 drawings. Yes, it was the best of times.
India was still recovering from the excitement of the Beatles visiting Rishikesh. Ravi Shankar was storming the West, with Yehudi Menuhin at times, with John Lennon other times. Rajneesh was shocking Bombay with his spiritual sermons on free sex.
Dylan’s harmonica rang in our ears as Blowing’ in the Wind played everywhere. Madhubala had just passed away. Zubin Mehta was conducting the LA Philharmonic. And I? I was smoking hash with Ginsberg and listening to Howl ‘midst the smell of burning flesh as funeral pyres lit up Calcutta’s night sky. Or strolling home at daybreak with the great Ustad after a nightlong concert. No, no one could sing the Malkauns like Amir Khan did.
We were all young then, full of anger and hope. We dreamt of a just world. We believed poverty could be fought and defeated. Che with his trademark beret stared down at us from red posters, though very few among us were actually Red. It was azaadi we yearned for. We protested against the Gulag as loudly as we raised our voice against Mai Lai.
Brewing next door was a war. The young students of East Bengal took on the Pakistani army with the poetry of Shamsur Rahman echoing in their hearts: Freedom is a voice everyone hears; freedom is a voice everyone fears. I remember Kaifi telling students in Dhaka that poetry alone can win the war for them.
Around that time, a young man quit his job in Calcutta and caught a train to Bombay to try his luck at the movies. KA Abbas gave him his first break. But it took him a few more years and a film with Rajesh Khanna to be noticed.
A script by two young men, Salim and Javed defined his real role: the role of the Angry Young Man ready to set the skies on fire in his pursuit of hope and justice. It started with a small film called Zanjeer but soon went well beyond cinema. It defined the indomitable spirit of the seventies and raised its richest baritone: Rage.
The rhetoric of non violence had already tired. The young were seeking hope, a new Utopia in a world without answers. Doubt and dilemma dogged them. That is when Bachchan picked up the gauntlet and showed them the way out. India found a new hero. He stood up for the weak and the poor. He fought against injustice and crime. And yes, he was violent when violence was required. He was the new moral compass, the voice that whispered in our ears: Fight back.
The long war in Vietnam had ended. Free Bangladesh was born by the will of its young writers and poets. And India showed it will not cower before the Emergency, come what may. It was a reassertion of our will. The left, the right, everyone got together to fight back the darkness. Till Mrs Gandhi submitted to the will of the people.
The eighties came with the assassination of John Lennon. Andrei Sakharov was arrested in Moscow. The Rubik’s Cube arrived. So did the first 24 hours news channel by CNN. Mrs Gandhi returned to power. Mikhail Gorbachev broke the Kremlin’s grip. The USSR was no more the USSR. Pac-Man took Japan by storm. Led Zeppelin broke up. And Uttam Kumar died. So did Mohammed Rafi. And Sahir.
Sometimes, it helps to remember the good things and contemplate. No, I am not turning New Age-y and stuff. I’m just being strategically mindful. As we celebrate 70 years of independence, it’s useful to recall US contributions to our democratic project.
Yes, we have spent more decades in the passive aggressive, barely hidden dislike of each other, and fewer trying to work intelligently together. But that’s not the point of this column.
As an old 1940s song goes, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive,/Eliminate the negative,/ Latch on to the affirmative,/ Don’t mess with Mister In-Between….” Working those lines can be strangely restorative, to say nothing of getting a fuller perspective on the complexities of life.
Amemory jog to pre-1947 brings up Franklin D Roosevelt, the US president who famously took on Winston Churchill on the question of Indian independence. Churchill, the man behind the 1943 Bengal Famine and countless other atrocities in colonised India, blustered and lied to FDR to take the heat off.
It was a pleasure to re-read accounts of the Atlantic Conference in August 1941, when FDR made Indian independence a precondition for US involvement in World War 2. Churchill huffed and puffed that the US president was trying to end the British Empire. Indeed, that was FDR’s aim.
“I can’t believe that we can fight a war against fascist slavery, and at the same time, not work to free people all over the world from a backward colonial policy. America won’t help England in this war simply so that she will be able to continue to ride roughshod over colonial peoples.”
FDR’s son Elliott Roosevelt’s account of his father’s bitter fights with Churchill — supported by declassified documents from the time the Atlantic Charter was written — shows aUS president with his heart in the right place. Harry Hopkins, an FDR confidant, said the ‘no US involvement’ suggestion was “so wrathfully received as those relating to the solution of the Indian problem”. Alas, FDR’s messages to Churchill, unless delivered in person, were often scuttled or finessed by a top bureaucrat at the State Department.
Fast forward to years immediately after India’s independence, when the framers of India’s Constitution sat down to work. They found inspiration in the US Constitution. In fact, when India’s Constituent Assembly first met in 1946, chairman Sachchidananda Sinha called the US Constitution “the soundest and most practical”, and urged the delegates to study it carefully.
The belief in fundamental rights, freedom of speech, separation of powers and an independent judiciary came from the US example. That a newly independent country precociously declared itself a democracy moved many Americans.
At several points during the Cold War, various US presidents thought about India’s example and fate. What happened to India was deemed important for other Asian countries even if New Delhi wasn’t an ally like Pakistan. Americans supplied desperately needed food aid, helped engineer the Green Revolution, and set up IIT Kanpur, which offered the first computer science course in India. It was on an IBM 1620, one of 2,000 such machines in existence at the time.
It’s also pertinent to recall John F Kennedy’s generous help in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, even as he dealt with the Cuban missile crisis. US C-130s dropped arms, ammunition andclothing for Indian soldiers on the battlefront when morale was low. They provided crucial aerial photographs.
In November 1962, when India sufferedfurther setbacks and the situation was desperate, US Air Force squadrons in the Philippines were alerted. The US apparently conveyed to the Chinese through contacts in Warsaw that it would come to India’s help.
It’s possible that the threat prompted — at least in part — the Chinese decision to declare a ceasefire. The Soviets, meanwhile, had taken a hostile position, putting the entire blame for the war on India.
When Kennedy was assassinated, Indians mourned. I remember my mother crying as she listened to the radio broadcast. We all remember the iconic black-and-white photograph of JFK and Nehru walking down.
The seventies was about freedom, hope, courage. Each one of us against the world, living out our bravest moment. Will that ever come back again? I doubt it. Fast forward to the present, and similarities to the current India-China stand-off are uncanny: the US is in the middle of a North Korean nuclear crisis, China and Russia are again close, India is kind of alone, and Pakistan is ready to fish. If push came to shove, what would the current US president do?

First Contact

Are we alone in the universe? This is a question that humanity has asked itself for millennia, and one that we have only recently begun to try and answer. Given the enormity of space and our technological and conceptual limitations, the search for alien life is unlikely to bear fruit anytime soon but scientists are nevertheless scouring the great beyond with the help of radio telescopes for a hint of the existence of an extraterrestrial species.
At the same time, we are sending information out to the heavens. In 1974, the most powerful message ever beamed into space, the Arecibo message, was transmitted from Puerto Rico, aimed at a star cluster 2,100 light years away and carried with it basic information about humanity and earth. This was one of 11 similar messages.
More physical means have been used, such as the Mars Rover looking for signs of life on Mars and Voyager 1, a space probe loaded with information about Earth along with a Pulsar map aimed at helping any extraterrestrials that may chance upon it to find their way to Earth.
Would we even know it if we encountered aliens?
The creator of the pulsar map, Frank Drake, also attempted to determine how many alien civilisations might exist in the Milky Way by means of what is known as the Drake equation. While largely theoretical and limited by gaps in our scientific understanding, the Drake equation nonetheless theorises that several thousand such civilisations exist in our galaxy. That then brings us to the question asked by Enrico Fermi: given that there are billions of stars in billions of galaxies, why have we found no trace of extraterrestrial life?
Known as the Fermi paradox, this question has been pondered over by scientists, some of whom theorise that it is possible that humanity is the only intelligent life in the galaxy, and possibly beyond.
While this may reek of hubris, other theories are more disturbing: that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, or that advanced civilisations may have damaged their planetary environments to the point of causing their own extinction before they attained the capability of colonising other planets.
Instead of looking for life, proponents of this theory believe we should be looking for the ruins of alien civilisations.
Given the damage we have caused to our own environment, this is a sobering thought and none other than Stephen Hawkings has warned that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster and that the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space. Elon Musk echoes this concern, saying: “if we’re a single planet species, then eventually there will be some extinction event.”
Would we even know it if we did encounter an alien life form? The incredible biodiversity on Earth itself provides a clue: from the tiny and nearly indestructible Tardigrades to bacteria that live on heat alone, the variety of life in our own biosphere tells us how dramatically different alien life could be from our earthbound conceptions.
Earthly technology also provides a clue as to how actual contact with an advanced species may go: given our increasing reliance on drones and automatons, it is likely that contact may well be with alien constructs and not the aliens themselves.
But is contact even something we should be looking for? Again, Hawkings has a warning, saying that contact with a highly advanced alien species may end in the extinction of humanity, drawing parallels with the fate of the Native Americans when they encountered a technologically advanced (and arguably morally bereft) Europe.
Regardless, there are protocols in place for what to do if contact is ever made, and one set of these has been formulated by the SETI projects Post-Detection Taskgroup. It calls for immediately sharing the news with world governments and drafting a collective response, and can be summed up as we’ll have to figure it out as we go along. Ultimately, the most effective resource we will be able to call upon in such a situation will be the science fiction writers and theorists of Earth, who have spent decades pondering over just such a meeting.
But while the political, technological and social implications of contact have been discussed at length, the theological implications will also be significant. Incredibly, Pakistani science fiction actually addressed this issue in the 1989 film Shanee. Here, an alien arrives in Pakistan and falls in love with Babra Sharif. They get married and have a child, but when she discovers his alien origins she becomes understandably hysterical not because this is possibly the most significant event in human history, but because this means she married a non-Muslim. Luckily, Shanee reveals that there are interstellar Muslims as well and all ends well. When the inevitable does eventually happen, let’s hope we fare as well.

Weinstein is innocent until proven guilty

Harvey Weinstein, an Oscar-winning film producer, has already been judged in the public court as a person who has indulged in sexual harassment, a predator, and a possible rapist. We have forgotten the word ‘allegedly’. It has no use any longer.
If a story is published in New York Times or The New Yorker, it is automatically true and no further proof is required these days if allegations of rape, sexual harrassment and groping are applied without presenting proofs. Weinstein faces allegations of sexual misconduct from more than two dozen women.
Even if there is ample proof, a society based on law should always wait for the verdict of an independent court.
India has always boasted of having respected and treated people with a Jewish background fairly and has avoided the public lynching of minorities based on rumors. We take pride in the fact that people all over the world name their daughters India while we vociferously copy western names.
Yes, Harvey Weinstein has a daughter called India Pearl and she is now old enough to realize the trauma that her father is going through. Her father is not the only one. Julian Assange, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and many others have seen their fates decided by the public opinion before any judgement had been handed down by an independent jury.
Every year thousands of fathers in western countries lose contact with their children because they are accused of rape and things that are worse. Totally unproved in courts but just the charges are enough to deprive fathers of custody over their children. They end up totally losing contact with their children. Close to 70 percent such allegations made during custody battles are proven to be false.
False accusations are as real as the real predators, rapists and person guilty of sexual harassment. We should all fight against the culture of exploitation in both Hollywood and Bollywood. No director should ask for sex as a favor.
This has to stop. But declaring people guilty before they are proven guilty is not respecting the rule of law. It is important to emphasize that Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer had sent material to New York Times, insisting that the allegations made against him were false. Weinstein has categorically and unequivocally denied any allegations of non-consensual sex.
This needs to be contested in a proper court and not in the public court. Harvey Weinstein is innocent until he is proven guilty.

Why Replace the fun & happiness in food with fear?

The release of a video called ‘What the Health’ and the general panic in its wake about how we are all eating ourselves into cancer, diabetes and early death has gone viral. It has also spawned a few dietary cousins including one that compels you to drink only vegetable juice and all this effort will make your insides squeaky clean.
What’s bad for you? Everything. We are told that bread (the staff of life), salt (of the earth and worth it), sugar (hi honey) and milk (of human kindness) are foisted upon us by a gigantic conspiracy of the pharmaceutical industry, the egg and dairy industry and the meat and poultry mafias in conjunction with government connivance so that it is a win-win for all … except the consumer who is designated to keel over and become a statistic.
We are all going to die. Right. There is no running away from that solitary reaper. And food is a happy element in our lives. But we are being so easily robbed of that joy.
We are not stupid. Just as we know that smoking is bad for us we also know that processed meats cannot be good. We also know through sheer logic that taking in marbled red meats and oil soaked fast foods will supersize us. Nothing surprising there. If we overdo fried foods and alcohol and eat cream in its many wondrous forms it will clog our arteries.
The scaremongers have based their findings, though, on American portions. The rest of the world eats sparingly in comparison. You know how much you need so if you ignore that simple factor there will be a price to pay. The mountain of French fries, the dozen bacon rashers, salami, pastrami, etc in one serving are about the same as what we would consume as mere mortals in a week. Ergo, the 18% risk is whittled down to a little over 2%.
By the same token it is impossible to scientifically evaluate how a single food damages the human body. No one has done any authoritative study with a dedicated group of volunteers eating only, shall we say, cheese and figured out how it affects them as compared to a group being given placebos. Therefore the premise itself is flawed.
The 2% risk factor is further reduced by the difference between a daily rational intake and an infrequent devouring of any of these dining table adversaries. If i eat a few rashers on a holiday morning or fry an egg or two on toast to go with them, the skies will not fall. The odds would fall to half which is 1%.
There is no gainsaying the fact that spurious foodstuffs and lack of a common yardstick for quality and safety contribute to the illnesses listed in these current denouncements. If you stop eating plump chickens which are hormonally enhanced that makes sense. If you scratch off dyed fruits and vegetable or animal products treated with antibiotics to be made meatier and go organic no one would accuse you of being a ‘fraidy’ cat.
The same measure can be applied to anything that is suspect. Add to this protective decision an up in hygiene so that your cast-iron stomach is not tested because you are avoiding contaminated roadside foods, stale edibles and post sell-by products and you reduce your risk to 0.5%. Add to that an awareness of spurious colourings, injected fruits and other imaginative food adulterations and the risk dwindles even more.
Add to the fraction of the percentage the grimness and joylessness of life without your culinary delights and what is left to enjoy. For years fad diets wrecked happiness and tossed us on this sea of misery. Now, it is being fine tuned with very little scientific fact to make us wallow in calorific guilt. The stress of denial is tangible.
In ‘What the Health’ the visuals compare eggs to smoking five cigarettes and milk and dairy to pure poison. The trick lies not in scare stories and clever manipulations of the mind but in moderate and judicious consumption.
You will live longer and be happier for it.

Is Islamabad Overtaking Delhi in Diplomatic Outreach to the World?

Recently Pakistan was embarrassed in the UN General Assembly by its Permanent Representative’s gaffe, when she waved the photograph of a Palestinian girl injured in an Israeli raid and tried to pass it off as a Kashmiri victim of alleged Indian atrocities. Much as Pakistan’s international embarrassment gives us a high, the fact remains that Islamabad has, in most cases, got away lightly for the turbulence and chaos it has wreaked on the world at large.
Living in Delhi, watching your television channels and reading the lively newspapers, one starts to imagine that all of India’s adversaries are under international pressure for the wrongs they do to this nation. This is delusional. It is good to step outside India occasionally and informally interact with international players and personalities. Pakistan may not exactly be thriving, but in world forums it certainly seems to get space. It uses that space to create a perception that Pakistan is the biggest sufferer of terrorism. India’s efforts somehow do not seem to get across the message that the claim is untrue and that Pakistan is the largest exporter of terror. This is despite some high-end diplomatic achievements in the recent past.
Surprisingly, few analysts, Indian and foreign, view Pakistan for its geostrategic value: It controls access to the heart of Asia and, in reverse, to the Indian Ocean. This will remain so as long as Iran is isolated. Without Pakistan’s willing assistance no foreign force can fight in Afghanistan. Leave alone the shenanigans and subterfuge Pakistan’s agencies weave, sheer logistics will ensure that. Can the US and the International Security Assistance Force fight with its logistics base at an airhead in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan? So, even as President Trump puts Pakistan on notice and places strictures on Habib Bank, it’s a question of how far and for how long can the pressure be maintained. A good strategic mind should picture that Pakistan is one of the rarest of nations which has five civilisations as neighbours and each of them has a stake in its territory. That enhances its strategic importance, especially since the US, which is not a neighbour, has even greater stakes than its neighbours.
Nowhere was the importance of Pakistan more evident to me than, of all places, in Israel. It is not because Islamabad’s activities came under discussion at the recent World Summit on Counter Terrorism at Herzliya, Israel, but because they did not. The conference, which has acquired an iconic status in the world of strategic affairs and analysis, was focused on the terror threats in the Middle East and its linkages to Europe. Even in brief mentions about the history of violent extremism, Pakistan was absent. Attempts to draw the attention of the largely Israeli and western audiences towards the role of Pakistan in the spread of radical Islam and the involvement of Pakistani henchmen in many acts of violence in the western world cut no ice. What is more surprising is there were Pakistanis from the western world on the stage dropping platitudes and conveying greetings as if that country is a moderate haven in the Islamic world.
While Indian diplomacy is of a high order, Indian authorities perhaps do not realise that Pakistan undertakes a focused quasi diplomatic campaign to project it as the most moderate of nations. Retired diplomats, senior military officers and some academics, suave and articulate, are leading the charge in major world capitals and speak at all important think tanks, where they sell Islamabad’s line. London’s famed strategic speaking circuit, Washington’s think tanks and even Belgium’s numerous forums under the aegis of the European Union are places where the Pakistani presence is most noticeable. They help create the impression that Pakistan is facing deep challenges from Islamic extremist violence because they focus mostly on the internal security situation. The success of operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad, the cleaning up of Karachi’s badlands and the neutralisation of anti-minority groups such as Lashkar e Jhangvi are talked about. Hardly anyone in these audiences is aware of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) or the Haqqani network. With the focus on ISIS (Daesh), these speakers discuss the dangers of ISIS finding its feet in Afghanistan or Pakistan and how much the government is doing to prevent that.
With Israeli efforts focused on Iran, analysts in the western capitals, and many even in South East Asia, are led to believe that the two real scourges of extremist Islamist violence are Iran and Daesh. That helps Pakistani transnational extremist groups to remain well under the radar of international concern.
All the above and the substantial work that Pakistan’s strategic community does has helped it retain an equilibrium in global forums and added to its strategic confidence. The one recent instance that surprised Pakistan was India’s handling of the Doklam stand-off with China. It marginally dented Islamabad’s confidence riding on the investment volumes promised by Beijing in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Any incremental increase in India’s strategic confidence worries Islamabad no end. Prime Minister Modi’s successful visits to the US, Germany, Israel and to the BRICS summit have added to that pressure. With a virtually interim government holding office in Islamabad and the Pakistan Army in effective control, we are likely to witness a greater surge of quasi diplomatic activity. The display of high energy activity at the UN General Assembly, where Pakistan’s efforts were pointed towards carving a perception of victimhood for itself, is an indication.
India needs to look below the radar as well and enhance its quasi diplomatic outreach. And these activities need to move beyond the immediate neighbourhood. There are capitals and curious audiences waiting to hear the Indian narrative. India must not disappoint them, for its own sake and theirs.


ISKP: An Emerging Giant Terrorist Group

With rapid pace, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is trying to fill the vacuum created by a fading Al Qaeda. ISKP’s increased presence in Afghanistan and its claiming responsibility for some terrorist acts, the declaration of allegiance to it by some Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) dissidents and the reported collaboration between ISKP and a few terrorist groups have increased insecurity.
In the presence of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Afghanistan (Afghan Taliban), the Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), the Tariq Geedar Group and the Lashkar-i-Islam (LI), how did ISKP manage to attract militants into its fold and capture operational space? Why is this region a magnet for external narratives?
Over the last few months, ISKP has increased its influence in Afghanistan and has been trying to develop a nexus with the JuA, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami (LJA), and the Jaishul Adal. The JuA cultivated a good rapport with ISKP. While shuttling between Nangarhar and Kunar, ISKP fighters pass through Chaknawar, Goshta and Shonkray — JuA strongholds. Apart from being provided safe passage by the JuA, several rounds of negotiation have been held for possible merger between the groups though these ended without results.
During the last few months, the group has increased its influence in Afghanistan. Unlike the Afghan Taliban and TTP, so far ISKP is not facing factionalism. But in the near future, inner wrangling for the slot of ISKP emir may take place amongst the Bajauri, Swati, Orakzai and Uzbek factions. In the case of further weakening of the militant Islamic State group in Syria, those elements may also aspire for space in the command structure.
The death of Mullah Omar and the 10-month tenure of his successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour was a serious blow to the Afghan Taliban. The hasty elevation of Mansour to the coveted slot of emir had caused a split. One faction leaned towards Mullah Yaqoob (son of Mullah Omar) and another was led by Akhtar Mansour. Annoyed elements looked for space in new berths, eg ISKP. In 2015-16, massive changes among the Afghan Taliban’s field commanders were observed. The unsatisfactory conduct of a few new commanders created a negative impression. Further, the majority of the newly appointed commanders did not have a ‘jihadi’ background. Such factors provided space to ISKP. Then, since the group advocates the Salafi school of thought, in the presence of the majority of the population affiliated with the Ahle Hadith in Nangarhar, Nuristan and Kunar, it did not face any hurdles.
In Afghanistan, in the Nazian, Achin, Kot, Deh Bala and Speen Ghar districts of Nangarhar, ISKP is striving to introduce an ‘operational caliphate’. The group’s presence in Nuristan, Kunar and Nangarhar may affect security and peace in the adjoining areas of Dir, Chitral, Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies in Pakistan. Operations Zarb-i-Azb and Khyber-IV effectively contained the influence of the militants. With the collaboration of the JuA, LJA and Jaishul Islam, ISKP may stage a sectarian regrouping. The situation warrants the prevention of a formal nexus between ISKP, the JuA and LJA.
If ISKP establishes its hold in Afghanistan, it may also attract the attention of Pakistan-based Salafi seminaries. Owing to its sectarian bias, its linkages with Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi cannot be ruled out. Its presence in Nangarhar may affect peace in Khyber and Kurram agencies.
In its formative phase, ISKP tried to establish itself in the northern parts of Afghanistan. Balkh lies between the Kunduz and Jowzjan provinces that provide land access to Badakhshan. If ISKP succeeds in gaining a foothold in Kunduz, it may jeopardise Chinese interests in the region. Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan are areas adjoining Nuristan and Badakhshan; in such a scenario, the security of these areas requires more intensified patrolling and the procurement of intelligence and strict border management.
In the present scenario, the possibility of a nexus between Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP and ISKP does not seem to be a practical option. In case the TTP joins ISKP, this may undermine the justification for the former’s existence.
The LI seems to be warming towards ISKP, as it is vigorously opposed by Nangarhar-based local militants loyal to Zahir Qadeer. Given a history of friction with the Afghan Taliban and the animosity vis-à-vis local Afghan militants, the LI is left with limited choices. The dilemma it faces is that by moving closer to ISKP, it may seriously antagonise the Afghan government.
For ISKP, the major concern is its short-lived command. The loss of two emirs within less than a year is a serious blow. Even so, in the presence of an effective shura, no significant change in its policy and strategy was noticed. Although ISKP is in contact with the core IS group, in operational matters it seems autonomous.
For ISKP to establish itself in Afghanistan requires simultaneous combat with the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan security forces. After facing the onslaught of US and allied forces in Syria and Iraq, ISKP was in search of safe havens in Afghanistan. After the anticipated demise of the IS ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria, ISKP may make another effort in parts of what is referred to as Khorasan. For Afghan forces, the real challenge is to prevent such a transit.
According to the Story Maps website, during 2017 in Afghanistan, ISKP carried out 16 attacks, killing 276 persons. Eight attacks were carried out in Kabul and six in Jalalabad. In Pakistan, ISKP targeted the shrine in Sehwan and the police training college in Quetta, resulting in the death of 150 people. It would appear that ISKP primarily selects soft targets. It uses the social media for inspiration, propaganda, and connectivity. The group is a phenomenon that hounds the entire region, eclipsing all other militant groups in brutality and ambition. It is high time the region realised that ISKP cannot be defeated in isolation. Hence the gravity of the threat needs to be reassessed and responded to accordingly.



Myth of Middle Class

“A strong middle class, as thinkers from Aristotle to James Madison to modern political scientists have noted, fosters better governance by helping ensure government is well-run, increasing citizen participation, minimising factional fighting, and promoting policies for the benefit of all of society rather than special interests. In contrast, economic inequality and a weak middle class make the political system imbalanced and depress the political participation of the non-wealthy, reducing voting, discussion, and interest in public policy” — Economist David Madland. Most times it is best not to reinvent the wheel; so thank you David.
From my experience, I am not really in a position to challenge this primary myth that the middle class is the catalyst for transition to democratic rule; if at all democracy is what all it claims to be. But that particular discussion is left for another day when the champions of democracy are less cantankerous to enter into a debate which can potentially shake the very foundation of their beliefs.
“A government which is composed of the middle class more nearly approximates to democracy than to oligarchy, and is the safest of the imperfect forms of government” — Aristotle. So for the moment, let’s humour Aristotle and Mr Madland, and go with the myth that when there is no middle class there is no democracy. Unfortunately, even then the evidence in Pakistan is contrary to what is postulated above.
Our middle class, in the true sense of the word, is not more than 15pc. While I am sure that all supporters of democracy readily agree with Mr Madland that the middle class can do all these good things for their ‘Precious’, at the same time I am equally sure they will agree with me when I assert my scepticism that there is increasing participation of common citizens in anything, that factional fighting is not at uncontrollable levels already and worsening, that the only policies that get promoted are those which don’t benefit strong lobbies, and that income inequality, contrary to global situation, is not on the rise in Pakistan too.
So either the middle class has nothing to do with the rise and fall of democracy, or the size of our middle class is not 38 per cent of the population as is broadly estimated. Considering we live in a country where statistics aren’t a priority, the dogged conviction in a sizeable, and increasing middle class can only be termed as confirmation of in-group bias.
While “dil ke khush rakhne ko ‘Ghalib’ ye khayal achchha hai”, I do not agree with the view that simply owning a motor cycle and a washing machine is sufficient qualification for a membership of the middle class. Admittedly, owning capital should be one of the conditions precedents to be deemed middle class, but getting vehicles on hire purchase is also not owning capital. Nonetheless, ignoring acquisitions on debt, according to Gallup, the total number of motor cars, jeeps and station wagons registered in Pakistan in 2015 was around 2.5 million. Add another half a million for the next two years and multiply with average size of the family, the size of the middle class is probably less than 18m.
However, I feel that education, rather than owning cars or televisions, is necessary for discussing and taking interest, and arguably swaying, public policy in the right direction. All those who believe that Pakistan’s literacy rate in substance is 60pc, kindly raise their hands; what?? Is there no one? If literacy standard is the ability to read the daily newspaper and recite the math tables one to 10, our literacy rate is perhaps not very high. By the way, listening to prime time news and being brainwashed into prejudiced views of celebrity anchors does not equate with discussing and taking interest in public policy.
For those still sitting on the fence, the total number of active taxpayers, filers, in Pakistan is 1.2m which includes all employees paid salary by the corporate and public sector; so do the math. Finally, Pakistan’s urban population is reported at 38pc approximately, and assuming a high 50pc in the middle class, and linking with the earlier discussion, I for one, rather confidently, conclude that the country’s middle class, in the true sense of the word, is not more than 15pc of the population.
No wonder we struggle with democracy; whatever that is in the first place. I keep telling my friends that even if all of them have a 100 votes each, they would still not be able to make a difference. Between the 1pc and the 84pc, the middle class is getting a trashing, and frankly, it is not even in the ruling elite’s interest to pander to the minority, the middle class. To the question what comes first, middle class or real democracy, I for one will side with the poor middle class.

Major Political Challenge is Defining Indianness

A radio jockey contrasts the Indianness of Shankar-Jaikishan with the modernity of R D Burman. The Uttar Pradesh government omits the Taj Mahal from a list of the state’s tourist attractions and its chief minister says that the Taj Mahal does not represent India. It is not easy to spot the common link between that piece of chatter on FM radio and the Uttar Pradesh government’s profession of cultural nationalism.
But a link exists. Both are perverse manifestations of loss of cultural confidence and implicit assumptions of what constitutes being Indian. That question is central to the political discourse in the country right now. Economic mismanagement is easy to target and forge coalitions against, but does not define the core of what democratic India confronts today and has to defeat.
Indian vs Modern?
When Indianness is juxtaposed against modernity, the assumption is that to be Indian is to be pre-modern. The radio jockey clearly believes that to be modern is to be western. The notion that western modernity is just one form of modernity among many possible forms of modernity, or that it is possible to be simultaneously both modern and Indian, is firmly outside his worldview. He is not alone.
This view of the world is shared by a large segment of those who can prattle along in English, even if they would stoutly deny the proposition if it is put to them. They acquired their proficiency in English by being educated in the English medium, meaning that they have broken their organic link with their own mother tongue and the cultural universe it mediates.
One problem with the defendants of liberal democracy in India is that many of them do battle in English, inviting association with those who peddle supercilious disregard for India’s culture.
India is a complex civilisation, whose colonial experience has left it bruised. The intelligentsia that took charge of Independent India and framed a liberal democratic Constitution faced the task of pushing and prodding a deeply hierarchical, unequal and divided society to change into the constitutional ideal.
Some resisted change because it took away their privilege. Others resisted it because they thought it meant loss of cultural authenticity and subjugation to foreign ideology.
They challenged the constitutional ideal itself, on the ground that equality and democracy meant inability to assert the supremacy of the faith and culture of the majority Hindus.
Yogi Adityanath’s allergy to celebrating the Taj Mahal articulates the view that Indian authenticity can only be represented by Hindu icons and that non-Hindu symbols reek of the subordination of Hindus by Muslim invaders and European colonialists for centuries.
The task clearly is to delineate what is Indian and to be retained in the democratic reconfiguration of traditional Indian society. What does that pre-Sultanate authenticity mean for those in the lower rungs of the social hierarchy into which Hindu society has been organised? Even today, those from lowest rungs can be beaten to death for watching a garba, growing a moustache, skinning a cow, refusing to remove a cow’s carcass or otherwise, showing defiance to their superiors, when not choking to death in sewers.
Glorifying Tradition
Nor can women find much comfort in a tradition that holds that they, along with the lowest castes, animals and the drum, are qualified to be beaten, and whose underlying value of subordination is elevated to high canon by Manusmriti’s decree that women, protected at different stages of their life by father, husband and son, do not deserve freedom.
But does such inequality and injustice in India’s tradition make a case for its wholesale rejection? That would be as ridiculous as rejecting the Pythagoras theorem on the ground that the Greek culture that produced it was built on slavery of the majority.
Ancient India produced advances in philosophy and mathematics, astronomy and medicine, in poetry, art and architecture. To recognise this and to take pride in this heritage of human advance is not to acknowledge the cruelty and oppression of the caste system. But Indian history does not stop with the advent of Muslim rulers. They invaded, yes, some plundered and ravaged the land, but others stayed put and governed the land and its people, adding to the richness of collective human experience and achievement.
What helped them in this process is a combination of polytheism — Hindus worshipped so many gods that addition of a few more hardly mattered — and the philosophy of non-duality, which posited the ultimate unity of the creator and the created and, thus, deemed all difference between things and individuals, and therefore of faiths and peoples as the delusion of the unenlightened. Without such a framework of local thought, outsiders could not have made themselves at home and flourished.
Just as caste oppression and women’s subordination were part of Indian culture and must be rejected from what modern India carries into the future, awareness of India’s cultural achievements over the centuries must inform the project of building a democratic India.
The success of project democracy in India depends on inclusive Indianness being placed at its core, rejecting atavistic sectarianism.

Please sir, I want some more: Money does matter

Literature asks questions of the nature of money and reminds us that it is not the only human transaction.
On a street in a European city, a rich man muses upon the cause for his depression. Could it be anxiety about his business risks, asks his friend — since he had so much riding on his investments. No, replies the rich man: his fortune is large and diversified enough. So, probably just a melancholic temperament. Meanwhile, his closest friend comes to ask for a loan as he is seeing a beautiful woman. Facing a liquidity crunch, the rich man must borrow to help his friend. In the petulant way of the rich and entitled, he doesn’t like borrowing; and doesn’t like the moneylender, whom he abuses even while using his services.
The beautiful woman’s father has commodified her to be the prize in a contest. Suitors must choose from three boxes: gold, silver, and lead. “All that glitters is not gold,” says a message inside one of the boxes.
The Merchant of Venice is a many-layered story about money. Money does matter, says the play simply, and it would be untruthful to pretend that it does not: central to the plot is Bassanio’s need for money with which to court Portia. But the play is also about the nature of money itself and how it makes people behave — unctuous with the rich, abusive with the weak. It asks uncomfortable questions about the moral conflicts of wealth. Worth marking, too, that, at the end, it is a woman who speaks of something — “the quality of mercy” — that is above money. Unlike a financial transaction, such forgiveness “is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Much of fiction is circumspect while talking about wealth and inequality. But not all. Jane Austen’s fiction, for example, has penetrating insight into the question of money. “If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow,” reflects Edmund Bertram on Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park; but the same novel casts its ironical gaze on the treatment of Fanny Price within the family, as well as on the subject of slavery in the sugar plantations of Antigua.
In the works of the great 19th century novelists, the novel takes on the function of social and political critique. The great moral concerns are inextricably linked with questions of wealth and fairness; at the same time, they remind us that money is not the only form of human transaction.
Or, to look at a work set in the 20th century: Elizabeth Jane Howard’s brilliant quintet The Cazalet Chronicle is about one wealthy British family during the Second World War. At first, it seems like escapist fantasy: the seemingly perfect family owns sprawling houses in London and the countryside, their chief worry seems to be about what to tell the cook to serve for the elaborate evening meals. As the narrative proceeds, the imperfections of their life begin to show: the man who cheats on his wife, the wife who regrets the ballet career she gave up for marriage, the father who bullies his son endlessly, the grownups who ignore the brutal effect of public school on boys. The rich, it seems, are just like everyone else: or at least, like everyone who has access to novels and the time to read them.
But when Rupert, the artist brother, returns after having served in the navy during the war, a sliver of a different reality comes through. He realises with a shock that other soldiers’ bodies are physically smaller. “Bandy legs, scrawny-looking, terrible teeth… They just looked as though they’d never had a chance to grow up to what they were originally meant to be.” This, he realises, is the physical effect of poverty.
While 20th century novels turned inward and became more self-conscious, rejecting the traditional role of being a mirror to society, genres like crime fiction, thrillers and noir took on the role of social critique. No one does irony quite like Raymond Chandler: “I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars” (The Big Sleep).
Some of the most powerful writing about the lives of the poor is to be found in short stories. Many years ago, in school, I read Munshi Premchand’s ‘Poos ki Raat’ for the first time. Even today, I can imagine the bitter cold of that night when the desperately poor farmer Halku huddles with his dog Jabra among the crops. The precarious nature of their lives: Will the crop survive? Will the fire go out? Will Halku lose his land? And, at the end, the farmer’s bitter relief at the loss of the crops: he will no longer have to sleep in the fields on a cold night.
One of the greatest stories ever written about money, and everything that is more valuable than it, is Chekhov’s masterpiece ‘Rothschild’s Fiddle’. Thoughts of money occupy every moment of the undertaker Yakov Ivanov’s miserable life. Even when playing the fiddle at weddings, he does so with foul grace. He is especially unkind to the Jewish flute-player who bears a millionaire’s name. It is only at the end, after the death of his wife, that Yakov realises how much he has missed out on all the other gifts of the world: beauty, goodness and joy. In his dying moments, Yakov asks for his fiddle to be given to the Jewish musician.
“And now everyone in the town asks where Rothschild got such a fine fiddle. Did he buy it or steal it? Or perhaps it had come to him as a pledge.”
But no: it was a gift.


Land of Double Standards- Sweden

Farfar har fyra fruar (“Grandad Has Four Wives”) and Mormor är inget spöke (“Grandma Is Not a Ghost”), two books written by the Swedish author Oscar Trimbel, were featured at the book fair in Gothenburg recently. Both books are aimed at 3-6 year-olds. The first book is about “Asli, who has never been to Somalia, but now she is going there with her father to meet her four grandmothers”. Swedish children, evidently, are supposed to learn that the Islamic practice of polygamy — illegal in Sweden — is completely normal.
The second book, “Grandma Is Not a Ghost”, which features a drawing of a grandmother in a full-length jilbab on the cover, tells the story of “Omar, who meets his grandmother from Somalia. Omar wants to dress up as a ghost for Halloween and he wants his grandma to come along so that it will be spooky”. Apparently, Swedish children are supposed to learn that the jilbab, which covers a woman from head to toe, leaving only the face visible, is not a frightening ghost costume, but completely commonplace dress for women to wear.
Swedish libraries are evidently not concerned that books normalizing the misogynist practices of Islamic polygamy and covering women from top to toe, aimed at Swedish toddlers and children, might also be considered “offensive’, not to mention criminal. On the contrary: Stockholm Library had already ordered “Grandad Has Four Wives”.
After two Swedish news outlets wrote about the books, however, the author, Oscar Trimbel, announced that he will be taking “Grandad Has Four Wives” off the market. He gave no reason for his decision.
Double standards are extensive in the Swedish establishment not only when it comes to children’s books. On September 30, Swedish authorities were ready to allow a group of Swedish neo-Nazis, the “Nordic Resistance Movement” (NMR), to march in Gothenburg, close to a Jewish synagogue, which would be full as that day was Yom Kippur, the most significant Jewish holiday of the year. Despite protests, the Swedish police refused to listen to the Jewish community’s concerns, but a Swedish administrative court finally rerouted the march.
Hundreds of people reportedly showed up for the NMR march, many of them armed with shields and helmets, while an estimated 10,000 counter-protesters turned out. A small group of so-called “anti-fascists” clashed with the neo-Nazis, as well as with the police. According to police, over 30 people were arrested and one officer lightly injured. The police had anticipated violence and had called in reinforcements from all districts in Sweden. One Swedish observer estimated that the NMR march had largely failed due to low participation numbers and a failure to reach the actual destination of the march.
While it is curious that the police allowed the march to take place when it did — it could have been moved to another day and another area of the city — the reaction of the Swedish government to the Nazi demonstration was even more noteworthy.
After the march, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said he plans to invite center-right opposition parties to discussions on how to “counteract antidemocratic forces in the country”.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström lamented the Nazi march by claiming: “My entire political career has been driven by what I learned in school about the Holocaust… to condemn antisemitism… is a democratic obligation… We are witnessing increased intolerance and hatred in Sweden, in Europe and around the world… It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that history does not repeat itself”.
The problem is that the Swedish government has not exactly done much to “ensure that history does not repeat itself”.hile the neo-Nazi march was a welcome occasion for the government to pretend that it cares about anti-Semitism, the government’s show of concern was highly questionable. “Empathy” from the Swedish government only surfaces when anti-Semitism originates from Nazi groups. The far more widespread Muslim anti-Semitism, which entered Sweden with the many Muslim immigrants, barely elicits any reaction on the part of ministers such as Wallström, who has called Israeli self-defense against Islamic terrorists “extrajudicial executions”. She also famously linked the November 2015 Paris attacks to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, indirectly blaming Israel for the ISIS massacre in Paris, and allegedly even saying: “the Jews are campaigning against me”.
Muslim anti-Semitism is rife in Sweden, as already substantiated by a Swedish report in 2003, but the Swedish establishment hardly talks about it; they prefer to talk about “Islamophobia”.
In addition, Sweden continues to support the Palestinian Authority (PA) with millions of dollars, in spite of the fact that the PA instigates anti-Semitism, incites terrorism and uses half of all foreign aid to reward and incentivize terrorism.
Since its inception in 1993, the PA has systematically indoctrinated its citizens with an incessant barrage of enjoinders to commit jihad against Jews. From the moment children enter kindergarten, they learn, in line with Quranic passages 5:60 and 7:166, that the Jews are cursed and that Allah transformed them into apes and pigs. Hatred of Jews is taught in schools, where Israel is erased from the map, and Jewish nationhood and the Holocaust are denied. Jew hatred is preached in the mosques, on the internet, TV and radio, and manifests itself in the statues the PA erects in its city squares in the memory of terrorists as examples for its youth to emulate, and even in crossword puzzles.
Unsurprisingly, Hitler’s Mein Kampf has been a bestseller throughout the Arab world. In 1999, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported that the Arabic translation of Mein Kampf had also become a bestseller in territories controlled by the PA. When in 2005 Mein Kampf was published in Turkey, it became an instant bestseller, with more than 100,000 copies sold in two months.
The Swedish government also funds groups trying to obliterate Israel.
How curious, then, that the Swedish government laments Nazi marches in the streets of Gothenburg, yet is happy to spend large sums of Swedish taxpayer money on those who agree with the Nazis on the streets of the Middle East.

A Curse for the West -Multiculturalism

The European Union’s official statistics on terrorism are dramatic: “In 2016, a total of 142 failed, foiled and completed attacks were reported by eight EU Member States. More than half (76) of them were reported by the United Kingdom. France reported 23 attacks, Italy 17, Spain 10, Greece 6, Germany 5, Belgium 4 and the Netherlands 1 attack. 142 victims died in terrorist attacks, and 379 were injured in the EU. 1,002 persons were arrested for terrorist offences in 2016”.
These countries all tried to integrate Muslim communities, but all came to the same dead end. “As long as that continues, the failure of integration will pose a mortal threat to Europe”, the Wall Street Journal wrote after a suicide bombing that killed 22 people in Manchester. According to a new book by the French reporter Alexandre Mandel, Partition: Chronique de la sécession islamiste en France (“Partition: A Chronicle of the Islamist Secession in France”), multiculturalism is leading to the separation of European societies.
It is also leading to constant waves of terror attacks. Last August, on a single day, Islamists killed 20 Europeans in Barcelona and Finland. A month later, they slaughtered two girls in Marseille, and in Birmingham a Shiite boy was brutally wounded. That is the deadly harvest of Europe’s multiculturalism. It is the most romanticized, seductive European ideology since Communism.
There is an “increasingly permanent chain of ‘suspended communities’ nesting within nations throughout the West”, the American historian Andrew Michta recently wrote. “The emergence of these enclaves, reinforced by elite policies of multiculturalism, group identity politics, and the deconstruction of Western heritage, has contributed to the fracturing of Western European nations”.
Only twenty minutes separate the Marais, the elegant quarter of Paris where Charlie Hebdo’s offices were located, and Gennevilliers, a suburb that houses 10,000 Muslims, where the Kouachi brothers, who gunned down Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, were born and raised. In Birmingham there is a suburb, Sparkbrook, which has produced one-tenth of the England’s jihadists. All of Europe’s biggest cities have separated enclaves where Islamic apartheid now proliferates.
There, Burqas and beards mean something. Dressing has always symbolized loyalty to a lifestyle, a civilization. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk abolished the Caliphate in Turkey, he forbade beards for men and veils for women. The proliferation of Islamic symbols in Europe’s ghettos now demarcates the separation of these suburbs. The new leader of England’s UK Independence Party (UKIP), Henry Bolton, recently said that the Britain is “buried” by Islam and “swamped” by multiculturalism.
“Multiculturalism,” according to the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, “has led to honour killings, female genital circumcision and the establishment of sharia law in inner-city pockets throughout the UK.” Under European multiculturalism, Muslim women lost many rights they should have had in Europe. They face “honor crimes” for refusing to wear an Islamic veil; for dressing up in Western clothes; for meeting with Christian friends; for converting to another faith; for seeking a divorce; for resisting being beaten and for being too “independent”.
It is one of the great ironies of multiculturalism: five European NATO members are now fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban who enslave women, while in Europe the same thing is taking place in our own ghettos.
Under multiculturalism, polygamy has increased, along with female genital mutilation (500,000 cases across Europe). Multiculturalism is, in fact, based on the legalization of a parallel sharia society, which is founded on the rejection of Western values, above all equality and freedom.
In addition, the fear of “offending” Islamic minorities has been leading to wishful blindness. That is what happened in Rotherham, a city of 117,000 people in northern England, where the mass-rape and grooming of at least 1,400 children by “rape gangs of Pakistani origin” was allowed to go on for many years.
Under multiculturalism, anti-Semitism has also skyrocketed, especially in France. The French weekly L’Express just devoted an entire issue to the “new malaise of the French Jews”.
All Europe’s recent political earthquakes are a consequence of the failure of multiculturalism. As the British Historian Niall Ferguson said, the main reason for Brexit was immigration.
“Many people in the UK looked at the refugee crisis in Europe and thought: if they get a German passport, they will come to Britain and we will not be able to stop them. This was a key issue for voters, and legitimately, because the Germans had opened the doors to a vast influx from the Muslim world. If you looked at these things from the United Kingdom, the reaction was: wait a moment, what if they come here?”
In the Netherlands, the rise of Geert Wilders is the direct result of the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch Islamist and the anti-multiculturalism backlash that followed it. In France, Marine Le Pen’s political ascent coincided with two years of major terror attacks, in which 230 French citizens were murdered.
Moreover, the extraordinary success in the recent general election of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is the consequence of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fatal decision to open the doors to over a million refugees and migrants. Beatrix von Storch, an AfD leader, just said to BBC that “Islam does not belong to Germany”. She explained that it is one thing to allow Muslims privately to preach their Islamic faith, but another to appease political Islam, which is trying to change German democracy and society.
The European establishment has closed its eyes while Muslim supremacists were violating the rights of its own people. Many Islamists then knocked at the doors of Europe with ever more determination. Multiculturalism has been killing and destabilizing Europe as only Nazism and Communism have done before.

The Rise of a New Fascist State- China

Xi Jinping is poised to become the most potent Chinese leader since Mao Zedong — and to guide his country’s continued emergence as a fascist global superpower for at least the next decade.
The 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is scheduled to start on October 18, when it will appoint leaders and establish the country’s course for the next five years.
Xi undoubtedly will be re-appointed head of the CCP, followed by re-selection as China’s president and head of state early next year.
But he appears also to have overturned the collegial, limited term system of leadership established after the social ravages and tens of millions of deaths caused by Mao’s maniacal leadership.
The system of circumscribed leadership was reinforced after the nationwide uprising against the CCP in 1989; under that system, Xi would only get another five years at the helm, followed by retirement.
But since his appointment to the leadership as a compromise candidate with no obvious personal ambitions in 2012, Xi has worked assiduously to destroy rivals and potential enemies. He has also overseen the construction of a highly sophisticated authoritarian state unmatched by anything in China’s history.
Coupled with this is a vigorously promoted vision of China as a global superpower. In combination, these efforts appear to have successfully cleared Xi’s way for appointment to a third term as leader in five years’ time. By that time, he will be only slightly older than Donald Trump is now.
The dawn of the Xi dynasty has profound implications for Canada and other countries Beijing considers to be within its commercial and political orbit.
The CCP aggressively asserts what it sees as its right to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries on matters its considers to be in its own national interest. Thus, the CCP has no qualms about intimidating and harassing Canadians it considers dissidents, grabbing Canadian technology and resources it deems economically crucial, twisting Canadian academia and scholarship to its version of history, and suborning Canadian politicians to promote Beijing’s international interests.
Revelations in Australia and New Zealand in recent weeks show the CCP is running similar campaigns of coercion and influence in those countries. (My book Claws of the Panda, an account of the CCP’s long-running campaign of political, business and academic manipulation in Canada, will be published next year.)
China’s movement from a one-party state masquerading as a meritocracy to a one-man dictatorship presents a major problem for the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Trudeau administration has moved to boost commercial and investment ties with China to try to compensate for the uncertainties of Canada’s trade relationship with the United States under Donald Trump. All the aspects of a classic fascist state are in place in China now.
But the ongoing efforts to negotiate a free trade agreement with Beijing are coming up against excessive demands by the CCP that are causing concern in Canadian society at large and in the business community.
A poll conducted by the Angus Reid organization last month found that 85 per cent of respondents have reservations about Chinese investment in Canada. Major causes of concern are threats to national sovereignty and security, the CCP’s abuses of human rights, and fears Canada will be infected with the corruption endemic in China’s business world.
Public anxiety has been heightened by Liberal government decisions to overturn prohibitions imposed by the previous Conservative government on the purchase by Chinese operations of Canadian companies owning sensitive military and security technology.
The Trudeau government has offered the CCP additional blandishments by refraining from expelling Chinese security agents accused of harassing Canadian citizens, by not challenging Beijing’s illegal territorial claims in the South China Sea, and by not exposing or denouncing the CCP’s massive cyber-espionage campaign against Canadian companies and non-governmental organizations.
President Xi began his campaign for supreme power the moment he was appointed head of the CCP at the end of 2012. He launched a vicious and long-running campaign against his potential rivals and critics, a campaign that masqueraded as an anti-corruption drive. About 750,000 CCP and government officials were demoted, warned off, humiliated or expelled in the first three years of the purge — and 35,600 were prosecuted and imprisoned.
Xi’s drive against his rivals even reached the 205 members of the Central Committee, the third most powerful body after the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. Seventeen members of the Central Committee have been arrested and imprisoned. Among them was Sun Zhengcai, one of the 25 members of the Politburo and the party leader in the province-level city of Chongqing, who once was seen as a potential successor to Xi.
Major victims of Xi’s purge were also people associated with former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Hand-in-hand with Xi’s attempts to erase challenges from within the CCP has gone a massive increase in repression and social control of Chinese society at large. Ideological and indoctrination campaigns have been launched on a scale not seen since the days of Mao; the Internet and social media are subject to relentless scrutiny and retribution for offenders, while non-governmental organizations and reform-minded lawyers are the targets of unrelenting campaigns of intimidation and imprisonment.
All the aspects of a classic fascist state are in place in China now.
Even though his control appears solid, Xi is launching China into future laden with storm warnings.
The perpetual growth of the Chinese economy is now the only source of legitimacy for the CCP. But it is no longer certain that the party can continue to deliver the advances in the standard of living that the country’s 1.3 billion people have come to expect. Export markets for manufactured goods have dwindled, Chinese labour costs are now higher than for many of its neighbours, and the revolution in production technologies is making Chinese factory labour superfluous.
There are also grave questions about the cost and practicality of Xi’s signature “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure project, which aims to establish land and sea links between China and markets in the rest of Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Working very much in Xi’s favour, however, is the dwindling willingness of the U.S. to play its traditional role of international arbiter and global policeman — a trend of which the Trump regime and the dysfunctional Congress are mere symptoms.