Saturday Special: Smartphones Destroying This Generation’s Mental Health

Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens. In just the seven years between 2010 and 2017, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased by 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.

In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background – more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

All signs point to the screen

Because the years between 2010 to 2015 were a period of steady economic growth and falling unemployment, it’s unlikely that economic malaise was a factor. Income inequality was (and still is) an issue, but it didn’t suddenly appear in the early 2010s: This gap between the rich and poor had been widening for decades. We found that the time teens spent on homework barely budged between 2010 and 2015, effectively ruling out academic pressure as a cause.

However, according to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 – right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone.

Not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time spent online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets. We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Of course, it’s possible that instead of time online causing depression, depression causes more time online. But three other studies show that is unlikely (at least, when viewed through social media use).

Two followed people over time, with both studies finding that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more social media use. A thirdrandomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for a week versus continuing their usual use. Those who avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.

The argument that depression might cause people to spend more time online doesn’t also explain why depression increased so suddenly after 2012. Under that scenario, more teens became depressed for an unknown reason and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.

Even if online time doesn’t directly harm mental health, it could still adversely affect it in indirect ways, especially if time online crowds out time for other activities.

For example, while conducting research for my book on iGen, I found that teens now spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012, that’s what has occurred en masse: Teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in-person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).

Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely to not be getting enough sleep. Not sleeping enough is a major risk factor for depression, so if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Depression and suicide have many causes: Genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma can all play a role. Some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in.

But some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

It’s not too early to think about limiting screen time; let’s hope it’s not too late.

An Environmental Lesson from California Almond Growers

Working together to learn new practices and remain committed to the environment is the only way to grow.

As Delhi pollution levels skyrocket after the brazen stubble burning by Punjab and Haryana farmers, choking and coughing in this air, I cannot help thinking back admiringly of the California almond farmers I visited on a recent trip.

In a lesser-evil equivalent to the smoke that stubble burning causes here, the production of almonds creates a haze of dust. The Californian farmers follow practices to minimize it and to reduce the impact of this in neighbouring areas, even if it means extra work for them. And, what do our rice farmers in Punjab and Haryana do? Well, just go ahead, set the fire and brazen it out!

When the almond-producers of California faced drought, what do you think they did? Sit back and pray? No, they decided to take fate into their own hands and thought of ways to make the most of their resources.

They formed a community of almond growing farmers, and pooling their resources went in for scientific research and studies. The Almond Board of California takes dollars from the farmers and gets them don the leadership robes and find environmentally friendly solutions and farming techniques. As a result the almond farmers have improved their production practices and water saving technologies to the extent that they are themselves a case study today. Rather than flood their fields with water they go in for micro-irrigation and during times of rest between production, they actually flood their fields to replenish their groundwater. Over the last 20 years their almonds need 33 percent lesser water than they did earlier.

What a lesson in a community working together for mutual benefit! The farmers hire machines and farmhands from each other, thus augmenting incomes. The honeybees required for pollination are carried around from farm to farm, creating another much-in-demand industry. They grow together because they work together and are committed to not harming the environment and developing cleaner air.

The landscape reflects the grit and determination of a people who have spun gold out of their land – making the California Gold dream take on a whole new meaning. Rough and craggy in most parts, it is also the land out of which emerge rivers and gorgeous flower fields. Emerald green patches dot the mostly brownish-golden countryside in sudden surprising eruptions. The almond trees are a beautiful sight by themselves.

As I stood admiring the vista of laden almond trees in an orchard, a machine drove up and stopped next to a tree. Two arms with pincers extended from the machine and gripped the trunk. What followed next was a revelation. The tree shook like a shimmy dancer in overdrive for a few seconds, setting off a cloud of dust. The machine, appropriately called ‘The Shaker’ moved on to the next tree, leaving behind the shaken and stirred tree that had shed all its bounty of almonds onto the ground.

This then is how almonds are harvested in California, the region responsible for producing 80 per cent of the nut. What do you think is the Indian equivalent of ‘The Shaker’? Well, we do it manually here. Rather than shaking the trees, we beat them with a stick, forcing them to part with their almonds. But of course India doesn’t produce enough almonds even for our own consumption. We need to import these. And we eat almonds more for the sake of tradition and promises of improved looks rather than for the sake of health or as a snack. Another revelation was that India alone cares for the look of an almond, refusing a chipped nut, while the rest of the world doesn’t care about broken or chipped almonds!

Ah yes, here is another lesson perhaps Punjab and Haryana can learn from California! Danielle Veenstra’s eyebrows shot up past her hairline when I asked if she had an equal share as her brothers in her father’s farm. Danielle is a third generation almond farmer, who grew up on the farm and is a specialist in agricultural and environment affairs. “You bet I do!” she exclaimed, the idea of it not being so totally alien to her…

Imperatives of Pakistan being so desperate

Bilateral ties between India and Pakistan always generate a lot of heat and controversy in both the countries, and leaders and their supporters strive to project themselves as ‘anti’ Pakistan or India, as the case may be, in a bid to ‘mollify’ their backers. Some months ago, Indian foreign minister Swaraj and Pakistani foreign minister Qureshi were slated to meet in New York. India cancelled the meeting at the last minute. Pakistan was outraged..

Just now, Pakistan invited Swaraj to Pakistan, but she bowed out, sending in her stead two junior ministers. Her deputy, VK Singh, says that she cannot travel to Pakistan because of elections in Madhya Pradesh as well as because of her poor health.

Come off it, Mr. Singh. Pakistan is closer to Swaraj’s home in Delhi than MP is. And how can the lady campaign in poor health. It’s clear that India doesn’t want Swaraj meeting Qureshi. And it’s equally clear that Pakistan is desperate for this meeting to take place. Why is this so?

Politics in the subcontinent is a ringa ringa roses game. Round and round we go. It’s clear what India wants from Pakistan. Be allowed a seat at the Afghan end-game table. It’s equally clear that Pakistan is desperate to deny India the same.

Pakistan wants to keep the insurgency alive in Kashmir. India says, please, come off it. But Pakistan is convinced that if it stops supporting the insurgency, India will not talk to Pakistan about resolving Kashmir. This is the case that Pakistan has made to world powers like the US and China.

The US frankly doesn’t care. All it wants is India’s big market. Kashmir can go to hell in its considered opinion. China cares but only to the point of providing lip service to Pakistan.

So Pakistan is stuck in keeping the flames alive in Kashmir. It believes that after the Afghan endgame is over, it will be further able to fan the flames in Kashmir with the support of the Taliban. India is convinced that were it to make peace with the Taliban, Pakistan’s support for Kashmir will naturally peter out.

So why is Pakistan so desperate to have a photo-op with Swaraj? Well, that makes it look good in front of world powers without having to invite India to the Afghan end table. Russia is taking the lead in the Afghan endgame. Imagine the irony! After being themselves thrashed by the Afghans, the Russians are attempting to make the Americans stop getting thrashed by the Afghans.

For a while, it seemed that Russia was getting close to Pakistan, but India’s purchase of five billion dollars worth of missiles from the Russians have kept them in hock to India. Pakistan perforce has to pivot away from the Russians. To the Chinese? Nah, the Americans do not trust them.

So India has scuppered the Afghan endgame. If I am not allowed to the party, I will make sure that the party will not happen.

If India needs to get off its high horse, Pakistan needs to stop playing games. Curb the insurgency in Kashmir, and give India a chance to talk to you honestly. Four honest men, in varying degrees, Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Musharraf, and Nawaz Sharif were almost able to pull off a coup by resolving Kashmir. The formulae are many, just the will should be there.

Modi has left no stone unturned to befriend Pakistan, as Omar Abdullah himself has acknowledged. For perhaps not inconceivable reasons, PM Modi is intensely disliked in Pakistan. Anyone pro-India in Pakistan is instantly dubbed Modi ka yaar as Nawaz Sharif was dubbed by Imran Khan. Still, Modi is not going anywhere anytime soon. Pakistan must learn to deal with him.

The election of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister in August saw the former skipper significantly tone down his previous anti-India sentiments, which were intense and evident throughout the election campaign.

And naturally, with elections due in April-May next year in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be expected to sharpen verbal attacks on his Pakistani counterpart over the coming months, and refuse to be seen as someone who is comfortable with Imran Khan.

Of course, the fact is that the erstwhile Pakistani skipper still has a strong following at least among Indian cricket fans, many of who soft-pedal on his anti-India sentiments as mere politicking.

But during the run-up to the elections in Pakistan, Khan had lashed out at his rival Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of reaching out to Modi.

The Indian prime minister’s relationship with Pakistan has seen several ups and downs. For his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014, Modi invited all leaders from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and then Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif was one of the key participants.

More than a year later Modi made a surprise landing in Lahore en route from Kabul to wish Sharif on his birthday and to attend his grand-daughter’s engagement ceremony. The Indian prime minister has been projected as being close to his then Pakistani counterpart.

Khan has often referred to the close ties between Modi and Sharif; during the election campaign, he had accused the two leaders of disrupting law and order in Pakistan and creating border tensions to ensure “a favourable environment” for the PML-N. “Beginning to wonder why whenever Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, there is increased tension along Pakistan’s borders and a rise in terrorist acts? Is it mere coincidence?” Khan had tweeted in July.

Of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has hit back at the Congress for the close ties of some of its leaders with Khan’s party. Former cricketer and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu (who was also a BJP member of parliament before joining the Congress) was criticised by the BJP for accepting the invitation to be present Khan’s swearing-in ceremony and for being hugged by the Pakistani army chief. While the BJP and even Modi have been critical of Sidhu’s ‘collusion’ with Pakistan, even Amarinder Singh, the outspoken Congress chief minister of Punjab -Sidhu is a minister in his cabinet — had lashed out at him for his ‘hugplomacy.

While improving ties with Pakistan ranks way down on the list of priorities for the Modi government facing the electorate in a few months, even for Mr Khan it is quite low in terms of priorities. The Pakistani premier said recently that he believes the reason for the ‘anti-Pakistan rhetoric’ in India was the forthcoming general elections in the neighbouring country. He said talks with India might resume only after the elections.

Importantly, the Pakistani premier is also engaged in a deepening row with the Donald Trump regime in the US and has been involved in a fierce twitter battle with the American leader.

Trump, in an interview with his favourite Fox News, had condemned Pakistan, accusing the government of not doing “a damn thing for us”.

A high-ranking American diplomat was summoned by Pakistan’s foreign secretary last week to lodge a strong protest against Trump’s “unwarranted and unsubstantiated” hitting out at Islamabad. Khan is now involved in a twitter-warfare with Trump, and both leaders are exchanging bitter notes that have sidelined other issues.

And in recent days, Khan — who has been travelling to different countries including China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia — has been rather gentle on ties with India. He reiterated Pakistan’s moves to improve ties with its neighbour and to settle outstanding disputes between the two countries.

At an interactive session of the Future Investment Initiative held in Riyadh last month, Khan said peace with India was important for both the countries. “The money that should be diverted to human resources ends up in non-productive arms race,” he told the gathering. Peace with India and Afghanistan was important for Pakistan, he added.

India is also hoping that Khan would help develop business and trade ties between the two countries. While India has already granted the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan, it wants the Khan-led government to bestow the same status to it soon. Let us trust the imperatives of hate change according to economic realities.

Weekend Special: Are We Born Fearing Spiders and Snakes?

Showing photos of these animals to infants yielded surprising results about the origin of these common phobias. BABIES CONFIRM: FEAR OF SNAKES AND SPIDERS IS HARDWIRED WATCH: A study of babies’ perception provides evidence that people have a hard-wired fear of spiders and snakes.

Many people squirm at the thought of a spider dangling above them or a snake slithering underfoot. In fact, research shows that at least five percent of the population has a strong, inhibiting fear of spiders and snakes.

But do we learn this fear, or is it something we’re born with? A group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden decided to find out by testing a segment of the population least likely to show fear: babies.

Forty-eight six-month-old infants were tested at the institute to analyze how they reacted to images the researchers predicted might be frightening. While sitting on their parents’ laps, infants were shown images of spiders and snakes on white backgrounds for five seconds. To prevent parents from inadvertently influencing their infants’ reactions, they were given opaque sunglasses during the experiment that prevented them from viewing whatever image was shown.

When the babies saw pictures of the snakes and spiders, they consistently reacted with larger pupils than when they were shown control images of flowers and fish. This finding, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, suggested that a fear of these creatures could be innate.

That’s because dilated pupils are associated with activity in the noradrenergic system in the brain, the same system that processes stress. Closely measuring changes in pupil size has been used in previous studies to determine a variety of mental and emotional stress in adults.

“There was a definite stress response in the brain,” said lead researcher Stefanie Hoehl. She noted that it’s difficult to characterize the exact nature of the type of stress infants experienced, but dilated pupils show heightened states of arousal and mental processing. Rather than indicating fear in particular, the study says this shows an intense focus.

“The current work, and indeed no existing work, has provided evidence that fear of snakes or spiders is innate,” said David Rakison, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University who researches early infant development.

“Infants possess a specialized fear mechanism that means that they are ‘prepared’ to learn quickly that snakes and spiders are associated with a specific emotional or behavioral response,” he noted.

To explain this innate focus, Hoehl points to a human evolution that has coincided with historically dangerous snakes and spiders.


“It’s a very long period of coevolution—nearly 40 to 60 million years of it, that early human ancestors and spiders and snakes have interacted,” Hoehl explained. A venomous bite from one of these creatures lurking hidden in the grass could have left early human ancestors incapacitated or dead. Therefore, Hoehl’s study claimed, humans’ innate fear of these animals could serve as a defense mechanism..

This claim is supported by previous studies in adults and children that have claimed to indicate an innate evolutionary fear of spiders or snakes.

In 2001, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology asked a group of university students to identify photos that depicted sources of fear. Consistently, students identified snakes and spiders as more dangerous than other photos of mammals or fungi.

“Snakes have provided a recurrent threat throughout mammalian evolution. Individuals who have been good at identifying and recruiting defense responses to snakes have left more offspring than individuals with less efficient defense systems,” the study’s coauthor, Arne Öhman, told National Geographic at the time.

A study published in 2008 in the journal Cognition, and another in 2014 in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, also point to an inherited fear of spiders and snakes.


If we’re born with an innate feeling of stress toward spiders and snakes, that doesn’t account for why some people grow up to have a crippling fear of these creatures while others keep them as pets.

Not all studies have concluded that fear of spiders and snakes is innate. A paper published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that seven-month-old infants noticed images of snakes more quickly but didn’t show signs of fear. This indicated children may not have innate fears of these creatures but could identify them more readily.

Social learning partly accounts for this discrepancy, said Hoehl. Infants in the study were specifically capped around six months of age before they learned to crawl and walk. As babies become more mobile, they begin to learn about their natural surroundings. Research performed at New York University’s Infant Action Lab in 2015 found that infants begin to learn how to tackle heights as they become more familiar with their environments and develop better depth perception.

Parental reinforcement plays a big part in how much fear grows, said Hoehl. While a baby bitten by a snake or spider might develop a strong association between the animals and danger, how a parent reacts to these creatures would also influence their child.

In future studies, Hoehl hopes to test how temperament influences spider and snake phobias and if certain parts of the animal trigger a more stressed response.

Earth’s gravimagnetic field and the mind

In the Hindu epic Ramayana there is the story of a devoted son, Shravan Kumar, who carried his aged and blind parents in two baskets hanging from his shoulders, taking them to various holy places on pilgrimage. The story also says that when Shravan Kumar reached close to Meerut (Hastinapur), suddenly, negative thoughts came to his mind regarding his parents. He began to wonder why he was wasting his life ferrying his aged parents; that he should abandon them, and so on. Only when he left the area did these thoughts vanish.

Changes in the earth’s gravitational and magnetic field, the gravimagnetic field, could affect the mind. The brain produces low level electromagnetic (EM) field as a part of its thinking process. We live in an electric age engulfed by EM fields. Whether they are from our cell phones, overhead high voltage wires, microwave ovens, or MRI scans, all the time, we are bombarded, so to speak, by EM fields. These human-made fields together with fluctuations in earth’s magnetic fields created by solar storms provide a number of possibilities of impacting the human thought process. The exact mechanism of how this happens is not presently understood.

Nevertheless, scientists have used magnetic fields – both static and dynamic – for treating brain disorders. Hence, depression, and some forms of fits and headaches have been treated by applying a small amount of static and dynamic magnetic fields on the human skull. Such cranial treatments reportedly enable sleep and reduction in anxiety.

The functioning of the brain of astronauts who stay for long time in microgravity environment of outer space is reported to have been adversely affected. Tests done on them after they return to earth show reduction in their response time and sharpness of mind. How this happens is still not understood.

Some indication on how gravity affects thought can be seen in the interaction of alpha waves with earth. Alpha waves are produced in the brain when we are in meditation or relaxation mode. These waves are generally in the range of 8-12Hz frequency. The earth’s diameter (~ 12,800 km) is such that it can have a standing half-wave of 11.7Hz (very close to 12Hz). Is it therefore possible that our brain evolved in such a manner that the earth’s geometry (and hence its gravity) influenced the alpha wave production?

Incidentally scientists have also discovered that before major earthquakes an electromagnetic wave of 0.01-10Hz emerges from deep inside the earth. This wave is sometimes sensed by animals and could be the basis of their premonition of a coming quake.

The relationship between alpha waves and earth’s gravity may have other implications. Practitioners of Bhakti Yoga (devotional yoga) and Buddhist traditions have always stressed the need to allow full flow of thought waves without any interference from ego or sense of identity for achieving samadhi. One should completely sublimate the ego by abandoning oneself to God or Universal Consciousness. Perhaps this enables the mind to get tuned to the gravitational field of the earth, resulting in meditation and samadhi.

Also, both gravitational and magnetic fields of the earth, world over, vary slightly from their mean values. Since they can affect the working of the brain, it is possible that some places may be more conducive to creating deep thought and creativity. In ancient times this could have been one of the criteria of site selection for locating places of worship and meditation centres.

Contain China with the Quad

There’s good news for India from the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives. And it comes primarily in the form of its new president, Ibrahim Solih, being sworn in last Saturday after defeating the incumbent, Abdulla Yameen, against all odds. Solih, upon taking up presidentship, almost immediately sought a review of China-backed projects in the archipelago nation.

After Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Maldives is another country in the region whose people have expressed its opposition to their country’s leadership signing up for projects with China under the latter’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has led to a debt trap. Change in the Maldivian regime, however, isn’t going to bring any relief to countries that have taken substantial Chinese loans already and cannot service the debt.

Sri Lanka already lost the Hambantota port when it signed a lease agreement with China on a 99-year lease for $1.12 billion. Projects like the ‘Friendship Bridge’ in Male have already been completed, and others are underway. Already, over 70% of Maldives’ foreign debt is owed to China, of which the loan interest alone is more than 20% of the country’s budget.

Malaysia cancelled all its projects with China before they could reach a stage where pullout was impossible. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad described the decision to avoid “a new version of colonialism”. His statement quite appropriately sums up what China has been doing in countries that have signed up for BRI. This presents a problem for other powers such as India whose security is undermined by China’s ‘debt trap’ strategy.

There are genuine requirements in many countries to improve their infrastructure and boost economic growth. But lack of resources and requisite knowhow hold them back. Many rely on foreign funding and companies to do this. China uses its economic muscle to pursue its ambitious BRI, reportedly a $1 trillion project. Its capacity to execute large projects at a fast pace makes ‘joining’ attractive for some countries.

India, the US, Japan and Australia who form the Quadrilateral — Quad —have pledged to help infrastructure and connectivity projects, and to keep the oceans free and open. In July, the US, Japan and Australia announced a trilateral partnership to build infrastructure, address development challenges, increase connectivity and promote economic growth.

India has extended line of credit to several countries, and has also executed infrastructure and capacity-building projects. India and Japan signed the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) with four main components: development and cooperation projects, quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, capacity and skill enhancement, and people-to-people partnerships to promote growth and development. India has also initiated talks with the US to partner it in joint investment in infrastructure development, energy, transport, tourism and technology.

While members of the Quad either on their own, or in bilateral or trilateral forms, have announced funds to assist countries in the region, they need to come together as a group to synergise the effort. It is India’s opposition — due to its undue respect for Chinese sensitivities — which has so far prevented this. India should shed this fear.

The Quad will have to deepen its engagement with the smaller countries to understand their needs and aspirations that have been exploited by China so far. India faces issues in its neighbourhood, just like Australia has, of late, realised that it had neglected and failed to understand the needs of its neighbouring Pacific island nations — till the possibility of a Chinese military base there made it see reason.

The Quad must work together on infrastructure and connectivity projects, and capacity building for better synergies to avoid duplication of work and waste of resources. It should involve the private sector that invests and develops a sustainable business model. This will ensure investments or loans are viable, and not become white elephants for the recipient country. The Quad should also encourage tourism from the member countries to the places where joint projects are executed. It needs to encourage and strengthen democracy in the region, too. Remember, it’s democracy that has led to the backlash against Chinese projects.

India, the US, Japan and Australia should together work on helping smaller countries with their existing debt. It can be by grants, loans or through international lending institutes.

They can promote trade that helps these countries’ economy and fund their own needs in the long term. It is imperative for the Quad to formalise a joint strategy of investments and project execution. Without an effective alternative, smaller countries of the region will continue to line up before China, despite the recent ‘reverses’.

Australia’s India Vision

President Ram Nath Kovind was in Australia last week. The government took advantage of the opportunity to begin implementing parts of an ambitious strategy for engaging with India called An India Economic Strategy to 2035. This was developed by Peter Varghese, a former foreign secretary (2012-16) and high commissioner to India (2009-12) who is widely admired for his exceptional intellectual heft to go with his professional career as a consummate diplomat.
Varghese’s optimistic take on India’s transformational economic turnaround rests on the scale of India’s changes, the complementarity between the two economies and the need for Australia to diversify its trade dependent economy. The structural drivers of India’s economic transformation are urbanisation, the shift away from an informal to a formal economy, the youth based demographic dividend, and the substantial upgrade of infrastructure.
The three key goals for 2035 should be to treble exports to make India Australia’s third largest export market, lift India to the third largest Australian outward investment destination in Asia, and bring India into the inner circle of Australia’s strategic partnerships. Australia should focus on ten Indian states in particular and give strategic priority to education, agribusiness, resources and ¬energy, and tourism as the sectors in which it can do especially well in deepening relations with India to reciprocal benefits.
The context for the strengthening bilateral relationship is the broad structural shifts underway in global order. Against the backdrop of the relative waning of US power and the sustained rise of China as a comprehensive national power, the frame increasingly used in Australia, for example in last year’s Foreign Policy White Paper, to define the strategic arc connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans through Southeast Asia is ‘Indo-Pacific’.
Although the main driver of the deepening Australia-India engagement is the changing regional geopolitical equation, this is buttressed by economic engagement, people movements and shared political values that provide ballast and texture to the security underpinnings. India will not surpass China, Japan or the US anytime soon as Australia’s most critical bilateral partner on any single dimension such as trade, investment or security. On the contrary, India will not come close to the security importance of the US or the economic weight of China to Australia.
Rather, owing both to India’s scale and the low base from which the relationship starts, India could emerge as the single most critical Indo-Pacific country for Australia in the quantum of growth across the broad front of relations, with deepening content on most dimensions of the relationship with the world’s fastest growing major economy. In turn the deepening and consolidation of Australia-India economic, security and cultural relations could prove a game changer in the balance of power around the Indo-Pacific.
All this said, India has a unique capacity to look every opportunity firmly in the eye, turn around, and walk resolutely away in the opposite direction. Should its commitment to economic reforms soften, its growth trajectory will stall, the demographic dividend of a young population will turn into a public policy nightmare of mass youth unemployment and discontentment, and the world will again lose interest. Echoing in many ways the lost decade of the Manmohan Singh government, the Modi government’s tenure too has been shaped more by vote seeking political calculations rather than long term economic strategy, punctuated by the occasional burst of voodoo economics as with demonetisation.
PM Scott Morrison noted that the Varghese report provides a roadmap for the future of Australia’s bilateral relations with India. On the sidelines of President Kovind’s visit, the two countries concluded several agreements to promote scientific and agricultural research and education cooperation.
The most important lesson in all this for India, however, is not in the empirical details of the bilateral agreements and statistics. Rather, it is in the importance of articulating an organising principle for the conduct of foreign policy (in this case, Australia’s India policy) and then structuring engagement with the country in line with the guiding principle and long term vision.

Electro Culture- An Innovative Food Production Discovery of China

The country with the world’s largest population also has the largest number of mouths to feed. That calls for increased food production. But increased food production means increased use of resources – soil-based nutrients, water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Or does it?

Researchers in China have made a breakthrough that means more food can be grown without placing a burden on these finite resources. It all hinges on the introduction of one key component: electricity.

According to the South China Morning Post, experiments by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, involving farms across the country, found that vegetable crop yields could be increased by 20 to 30%. That’s despite using substantially less pesticide (a decrease of between 70 and 100%) and a 20% reduction in fertilizer consumption.

In a series of large greenhouses, with a combined area of 3,600 hectares (8,895 acres), bare copper wires have been suspended three metres above ground level. The cables run the full length of the greenhouses and carry rapid pulses of positive charge, up to 50,000 volts. These high-voltage bursts kill bacteria and viral plant diseases both in the air and the soil. They also affect the surface tension of any water droplets on the leaves of plants, accelerating vaporization.

The introduction of electricity into the plants’ immediate environment is also credited with helping assist the transportation of naturally charged particles, such as bicarbonate and calcium ions, within the plants.

It also seems to speed up metabolic activities like carbon dioxide absorption and photosynthesis, the process whereby sunlight enables plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose, generating oxygen as a byproduct.

The study’s encouraging results are leading to an increase in the use of electro culture throughout China, with an extra 1,000 to 1,300 hectares of growing space being added each year. At current rates of growth, that represents a 40% increase year-on-year.

Experiments involving the effect of electricity on plant growth are not a new phenomenon. The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences has been working on them since the 1990s, and in 1985 the New York Times reported on experiments being conducted at Imperial College London involving tiny doses of electricity being given to plant cells. And as far back as 1902 observations have been made about the way electricity appeared to affect plants, when a Professor S Lemstroem noticed plants growing under the aurora borealis were actually growing more rapidly than the same plants in warmer climates. Earlier electrical experiments on plants, from the 18th and 19th centuries rarely provided conclusive results, though this is likely to be due to the unreliability of the equipment involved and the rudimentary understanding of electricity.

That China is now conducting these experiments in functioning farms, growing crops – rather than purely in laboratory conditions – gives a clearer indication of the results’ reliability. And with greenhouses covering more than nearly 1 trillion yuan worth of vegetables each year, the implications o4 million hectares, producing f these experiments are enormous too. Producing more food without putting exponential pressure on resources, or using prohibitively high levels of chemicals is likely to be one of the 21st century’s abiding themes.

Between 2015 and 2050, half of the world’s population growth is expected to be in just nine countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

China’s population is expected to peak at around 1.4 billion by the year 2030, before gradually declining. By 2030, the United Nations estimates that the global population will reach 8.5 billion, up from 7.3 billion today. At that point, China is likely to have been replaced as the world’s most populous country by India, and Nigeria will be well on its way to becoming the third-largest country in the world, by population size

The New Theory of Consciousness

Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?

These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It’s resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.

The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it’s generally known as the “hard problem” of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmerscoined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”

Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called “hard” in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the “easy” problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they’re not actually easy at all. But his point was that they’re relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter.

Over the last decade, University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and I have developed what we call a “resonance theory of consciousness.” We suggest that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up – it’s all vibrations, man! – but stick with me.

All about the vibrations

All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Resonance is a type of motion, characterized by oscillation between two states. And ultimately all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields. As such, at every scale, all of nature vibrates.

Something interesting happens when different vibrating things come together: They will often start, after a little while, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They “sync up,” sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.

Mathematician Steven Strogatz provides various examples from physics, biology, chemistry and neuroscience to illustrate “sync” – his term for resonance – in his 2003 book “Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life,” including:

When fireflies of certain species come together in large gatherings, they start flashing in sync, in ways that can still seem a little mystifying.Lasers are produced when photons of the same power and frequency sync up.The moon’s rotation is exactly synced with its orbit around the Earth such that we always see the same face.

Examining resonance leads to potentially deep insights about the nature of consciousness and about the universe more generally.

Sync inside your skull

Neuroscientists have identified sync in their research, too. Large-scale neuron firing occurs in human brains at measurable frequencies, with mammalian consciousness thought to be commonly associated with various kinds of neuronal sync.

For example, German neurophysiologist Pascal Fries has explored the ways in which various electrical patterns sync in the brain to produce different types of human consciousness.

Fries focuses on gamma, beta and theta waves. These labels refer to the speed of electrical oscillations in the brain, measured by electrodes placed on the outside of the skull. Groups of neurons produce these oscillations as they use electrochemical impulses to communicate with each other. It’s the speed and voltage of these signals that, when averaged, produce EEG waves that can be measured at signature cycles per second.

Gamma waves are associated with large-scale coordinated activities like perception, meditation or focused consciousness; beta with maximum brain activity or arousal; and theta with relaxation or daydreaming. These three wave types work together to produce, or at least facilitate, various types of human consciousness, according to Fries. But the exact relationship between electrical brain waves and consciousness is still very much up for debate.

Fries calls his concept “communication through coherence.” For him, it’s all about neuronal synchronization. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for smooth communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without this kind of synchronized coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication. 

A resonance theory of consciousness

Our resonance theory builds upon the work of Fries and many others, with a broader approach that can help to explain not only human and mammalian consciousness, but also consciousness more broadly.

Based on the observed behavior of the entities that surround us, from electrons to atoms to molecules, to bacteria to mice, bats, rats, and on, we suggest that all things may be viewed as at least a little conscious. This sounds strange at first blush, but “panpsychism” – the view that all matter has some associated consciousness – is an increasingly accepted position with respect to the nature of consciousness.

The panpsychist argues that consciousness did not emerge at some point during evolution. Rather, it’s always associated with matter and vice versa – they’re two sides of the same coin. But the large majority of the mind associated with the various types of matter in our universe is extremely rudimentary. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoys just a tiny amount of consciousness. But as matter becomes more interconnected and rich, so does the mind, and vice versa, according to this way of thinking.

Biological organisms can quickly exchange information through various biophysical pathways, both electrical and electrochemical. Non-biological structures can only exchange information internally using heat/thermal pathways – much slower and far less rich in information in comparison. Living things leverage their speedier information flows into larger-scale consciousness than what would occur in similar-size things like boulders or piles of sand, for example. There’s much greater internal connection and thus far more “going on” in biological structures than in a boulder or a pile of sand.

Under our approach, boulders and piles of sand are “mere aggregates,” just collections of highly rudimentary conscious entities at the atomic or molecular level only. That’s in contrast to what happens in biological life forms where the combinations of these micro-conscious entities together create a higher level macro-conscious entity. For us, this combination process is the hallmark of biological life.

The central thesis of our approach is this: the particular linkages that allow for large-scale consciousness – like those humans and other mammals enjoy – result from a shared resonance among many smaller constituents. The speed of the resonant waves that are present is the limiting factor that determines the size of each conscious entity in each moment.

As a particular shared resonance expands to more and more constituents, the new conscious entity that results from this resonance and combination grows larger and more complex. So the shared resonance in a human brain that achieves gamma synchrony, for example, includes a far larger number of neurons and neuronal connections than is the case for beta or theta rhythms alone.

What about larger inter-organism resonance like the cloud of fireflies with their little lights flashing in sync? Researchers think their bioluminescent resonance arises due to internal biological oscillators that automatically result in each firefly syncing up with its neighbors.

Is this group of fireflies enjoying a higher level of group consciousness? Probably not, since we can explain the phenomenon without recourse to any intelligence or consciousness. But in biological structures with the right kind of information pathways and processing power, these tendencies toward self-organization can and often do produce larger-scale conscious entities.

Our resonance theory of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience, as well as more fundamental questions of neurobiology and biophysics, and also the philosophy of mind. It gets to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.

It is all about vibrations, but it’s also about the type of vibrations and, most importantly, about shared vibrations.

European Vision of a Combined Military Takes A Quantum Jump

Defense ministers and foreign ministers from 25 European Union member nations took a “big step forward” on November 19 in the direction of a European military, initiating 17 new European defense projects, including a shared school for spies.

The projects on the official list are from the November 19 agreement and the previous March 6 agreement, all facilitated under Europe’s Permanent Structured Cooperation pact, which is a framework for increased military cooperation and development among EU member states.

Every aspect of military preparedness is covered by the project, from training, logistics, command and control to drone warfare, air and naval warfare, space and cybertechnology. Among the specific projects is an EU training school for spies, an upgrade program for Europe’s attack helicopters, new maritime and space surveillance systems, a new long-endurance drone program, and a scheme for EU nations to share bases in Europe and abroad.

All of this sounds incredibly ambitious, especially with so few results from previous similar agreements. Some critics are dismissing this as another program that will not progress much beyond the drawing board. However, given the growing rift between Europe and America, and the calls for a “true” European army, this time could be different. These projects are following more detailed and specific lines than previous projects.

Germany and France, both prominent in recent calls for a real European army, play a leading role in many of the projects. Germany will lead a drone program and the helicopter upgrade program. France is responsible for the agreement of EU states to share military bases and is also leading the development of a new battlefield missile system, among other projects.

One important proposal from November 19 was the establishment of a school to train spies and other EU members of the intelligence community. Brexit has now opened a pathway for European intelligence officials to take “a big step forward” toward integrating more closely with each other. The United Kingdom has traditionally opposed EU intelligence initiatives, preferring to rely on the Five Eyes network instead. Now that Britain is soon to leave the EU, it cannot slow EU integration in this area. With this major roadblock bypassed, the EU now has an easier road ahead to forming a stronger intelligence network.

Some EU nations are concerned that the two leaders of the spy training program, Greece and Cyprus, are tied too closely to Russia and may compromise EU security.

The possibility of Russian interference or belligerence appears to be a major motivation for tighter military cooperation in the EU. The addition of programs aimed at creating cyber-secure navigation technology is one example. This technology would render global positioning systems less likely to be jammed or hacked. After Russia cyberattacked Finland and jammed GPS signals during the recent NATO war games, this is an urgent need. Appropriately, Finland is one of the nations tasked with developing this new technology, as are Latvia and Estonia, which have also experienced Russian cyberattacks.

The EU also decided to hold “a Europe-wide major civil-military crisis management exercise” with NATO, to simulate cyberattacks on energy, health and communications systems by “a country that is not very far away from the European Union and is having stability problems.” This likely refers to Russia, given its track record and proximity to the EU.

With Russia’s unpredictability and the United States and Britain withdrawing from the world scene, European leaders are starting to chart a new course. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, “The path we have taken leads step by step to an ‘army of Europeans.’ That means military forces that remain national responsibilities, but that are closely linked, uniformly equipped, and trained and ready for joint operations.”

The 100 years between 1815 and when World War i started in 1914 were one of Europe’s greatest periods of peace ever. But that isn’t to say it was peaceful.

Consider what happened during those years: France invaded Spain; Russia fought Turkey; various German states fought with Denmark, Austria and France; Britain and Turkey fought Russia; and Greece fought Turkey. Those are just the “highlights”—and they don’t include the numerous internal conflicts, uprisings, declarations of independence and other political unrest that occurred. Even Switzerland had a civil war.

That is what “peace” in Europe looked like before the latter half of the 20th century.

The states of Europe spent 75 percent of the 17th century at war with each other, 50 percent of the 18th century, and 25 percent of the 19th. The periods of war became shorter—but more than made up for it with devastatingly more effective weapons.

This is why many are skeptical of the creation of a “European army.” How can a continent with such a long history of war and division form a united military force?

Such an effort has failed, many times. France blocked an attempt to form the “European Defense Community” in the 1950s. More recently, in 2011, Britain vetoed plans for a military headquarters. The threat of a British veto has thwarted many more attempts.

A Real Danger

This subject is not merely of academic interest. Napoleon Bonaparte, Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler have all engulfed the world in war through their plans of conquest. Since World War ii, Europe has been comparatively demilitarized. It is a legitimate concern whether a militarily revitalized Europe would return to its old ways.

Experts on geopolitics certainly think so. “A federal Europe would constitute an agglomeration of force that would completely alter our significance as an Atlantic power and greatly weaken our position in the Western Hemisphere,” warned Yale professor of international relations Nicholas Spykman in the 1940s.

“[A]lready one can see that the more united Europe becomes, the greater its tensions with the United States,” writes bestselling author Robert Kaplan. “A true European superstate with armed forces and a single foreign policy at its command would be both a staunch competitor of the U.S. and possibly the dominant outside power in the equidistant zone of southern South America.”

If Europe unites military, the world would have another superpower. Until now Europe has generally followed on with U.S. policy. It has had little choice: America has been its primary source of protection. But a Europe with a united military is a Europe that is both independent of the U.S. and capable of threatening world peace.

Is such a Europe possible?

The Latest Push

The latest push toward a European military began with the Paris attack on Nov. 13, 2015. Why should this push be any different from the failures in the past?

Several factors have come together, making this new push more likely than ever to succeed:

  1. Brexit: Until now, Britain’s veto has prevented any meaningful progress toward a European military. When the British voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, discussion in Europe about the opportunity to proceed with militarization was immediately kick-started.
  2. The migration crisis: The Schengen Area comprises 26 European nations that have abolished passport and other border controls. These nations share a border but do not currently share any means of protecting that border. It is now clear that a weakness in the border of one state affects the whole area. For Schengen to hold together in the long term, Europe needs some means of shared protection.
  3. Terrorism: From 2014 to 2017, European member states suffered more than 19 attacks, killing over 370 people—and foiled another 45-plus attempts at bombings, stabbings and shootings. Rising terrorism draws attention to the dangers inherent in a shared border. But it also demonstrates how an unstable Middle East and North Africa threaten Europe.
  4. The withdrawal of America: Until recently, thanks to American security guarantees, Europe hasn’t needed much of a military. But under U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, America has withdrawn significantly from the world. European leaders have spoken with greater and greater boldness over the need this creates for more robust European militarization.
  5. The rise of Russia: Nations in Central and Eastern Europe especially are looking to Germany for protection as their fear grows over the aggressive neighbor to their east.

 Dramatic Progress

Given all of these pressures, it is easy to see why Europe has taken dramatic steps toward creating a shared military in the last couple of years—and the pace of these steps is accelerating. The list is quite stunning:

  • Nov. 13, 2015: Terrorists kill 130 in Paris. France invokes Europe’s self-defense clause for the first time.
  • March 17, 2016: The Dutch 43rd Mechanized Brigade joins the German Army, putting two thirds of the Dutch Army’s command structure under German leadership.
  • March 17, 2016: German defense minister says Germany will set up a multinational panzer division to be the “nucleus of a European army.”
  • April 6, 2016: French President François Hollande tells Germany’s Bild magazine, “Let’s not rely on another power, even a friendly one, to do away with terrorism,” referring to the U.S.
  • June 23, 2016: British citizens vote to leave the European Union.
  • June 24, 2016: French and German foreign ministers set out their vision of the European Union without Britain, proposing “a European Security Compact which encompasses all aspects of security and defense.”
  • June 28, 2016: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini publishes her long-awaited report on European foreign affairs—it calls for “a stronger Europe” and military cooperation.
  • July 13, 2016: Germany publishes a 10-year review of its military, announcing that the nation “is striving to achieve the long-term goal of a common European Security and Defense Union.” It recommends the creation of an EU military headquarters and a council of defense ministers, and it calls for EU nations to produce and share military equipment.
  • Sept. 14, 2016: In his “state of the union” speech, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker calls for an EU military as part of a solution to Europe’s “existential crisis.”
  • Sept. 16, 2016: EU nations (minus Britain) agree on a timeline for developing military cooperation.
  • Oct. 6, 2016: The European Border and Coast Guard Agency is established. The force starts with 1,500 personnel and will be able to deploy in any member of the Schengen border-free zone even without the host nation’s permission.
  • Nov. 8, 2016: Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. Many in Europe respond by demanding accelerated European military cooperation in order to end Europe’s dependence on America.
  • Nov. 30, 2016: The EU Commission announces plans for the EU to spend nearly $6 billion a year developing new military equipment and up to half a billion a year on research.
  • Dec. 15, 2016: Europe’s satellite navigation system, Galileo, goes live. Support for EU military missions is a major motivation for the project.
  • Feb. 7, 2017: Jarosław Kaczyński, head of Poland’s ruling party, says Poland would “would welcome an EU nuclear superpower” and that the EU should “be prepared for huge expenditures” on its military.
  • Feb. 16, 2017: The Czech Republic and Romania agree to integrate brigades from their militaries into the Germany Army.
  • Feb. 16, 2017: Defense ministers from Belgium, Germany and Norway sign a declaration of intent to join a fleet of refueling aircraft created by the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
  • March 6, 2017: EU leaders approve the creation of a new military headquarters. The headquarters will initially command only training missions, but as the EU Observer reported, some see the new HQ as “the nucleus of a future European army.”
  • April 10, 2017: France and Germany sign an agreement to operate a joint fleet of transport aircraft.

Never in history has Europe achieved so many concrete results in the push for a unified military.

The launch of the Coast Guard Agency is especially historic. EU representatives in Brussels can now legally deploy armed soldiers within EU territory even against that nation’s wishes. This represents a genuine erosion of one of the most fundamental aspects of national sovereignty: a state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, something Encyclopedia Britannica calls “a defining characteristic of the modern state.” The Coast Guard and Border Force makes clear that European states are no longer fully sovereign. As a principle, this is a huge concession and a major step toward a shared military.

Alongside these grand European gestures, Germany has been making rapid progress on another front. In 2013, then German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière grew impatient with efforts to create an EU military through a long-imagined grand treaty of some sort. So he announced a different approach. Germany would build an EU military one nation at a time. It would work with its neighbors, integrating their forces into the German Army one by one. Once a handful or so of nations had signed up, the multinational force could form the core of a larger EU military. Germany would build an EU military one nation at a time. It would work with its neighbors, integrating their forces into the German Army one by one.

The Dutch were the first to sign up, integrating two thirds of their Army’s command structures into the German Army. In 2017, the Czech Republic agreed that two combat brigades would join the German Army. The Romanians are also transferring a brigade to Germany.

European nations have already made vastly more progress toward a united European military than they have in the past 50 years combined.

These steps are just a start, but an important one. Europe has huge power potential. America is pressuring Germany to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its military. If Germany follows through, it will have a military budget much larger than Russia’s. Start combining that with other nations and you have a force to be reckoned with. The European Union has an economy roughly the same size as America’s. France is already a nuclear power. The Netherlands, Germany and Italy host American nuclear bombs.

A War-Making Union

Simple self-preservation provides a powerful motivation to watch Europe for any sign of a unified military power.

Yes, the unification project on the European continent will have serious obstacles. The Continent that has been repeatedly riven by warfare will not readily come together nor will it ever be a picture of harmony. In fact, even once its unification into a single empire is complete, the 10 nations of this superpower “will be a mixture and will not remain united.

Though Europe has much to do before its military union is fully formed, Europeans are under great pressure. Major crises are driving this push for a European military. That is why it must be taken seriously, despite all past failed rhetoric. Terrorist attacks, the migrant crisis, Russia’s increasing aggression—none of these problems are going away. If Europe’s efforts stall, one or more of these forces will push Europe again toward its prophesied destiny: a superstate whose individual nations lose sovereignty but gain the power projection of a 21st-century superpower.

The arrival of an independent European military force will be one of the most radical developments in decades. At the same time, Germany is emerging as a clear leader in this drive to form an army.

Though, at present, many nations support Europe’s efforts to expand its military power, biblical prophecy shows that this trend is one of the most dangerous happening in the world today!

The Ancient Technique of Kirigami Inspires Future Technology

After a few decades of electronics developing at a dizzying pace – from personal computers and flip phones to wearable devices, smartphones and tablets – there are signs technological breakthroughs are stalling. For instance, your new iPhone really isn’t that much different from the previous one. And laptop computers pretty much all look – and work – alike.

Engineers need new inspirations for innovations. One source, believe it or not, is ancient arts. The kirigami, a lesser-known cousin of the folding art of origami is one of them. You may even have done kirigami as a child, folding and cutting to make paper snowflakes. Materials inspired by these arts can be used to improve smart clothing, build bendable smartphones and make prosthetics lighter.

Cutting paper

The word kirigami is the English name for the art of paper cutting. Archeologists say kirigami can be traced back before the 17th century in Japan. It is still a popular folk art in Asian countries, where people make kirigami to celebrate the lunar new year, newborn babies, marriage and other significant events.

Typically, kirigami starts with a folded paper base, which is cut, unfolded and flattened to make the final art piece. The intricate patterns create beautiful works of art based on math and design principles that can change the mechanical behaviors of the material being cut. For example, a particular pattern can make the paper stronger or more stretchable.

An engineering idea

Just as kirigami practitioners cut and fold paper, engineers can cut and fold materials that in turn can be incorporated into electronic devices.

Recent innovations in energy-efficient electronics have created portable electronic devices, high-performance electronic-ink paper, artificial electronic skin and smart fabrics. But many of these creations depend, at least in part, on traditionally printed circuit boards, which are typically made of silicon and metals. They’re hard and brittle – not a good match for the human body. People need clothes and paper and items that can handle bends and curves.

The research community, as well as tech and apparel companies, is eager to make electronic devices as flexible and bendable as possible. The trick is to make sure the flexibility of these gadgets does not limit their ability to handle electricity.

Turning to electronics

Recently, a research group at the University at Buffalo fabricated a novel kirigami-inspired stretchable electronic device. Made of self-assembled polymers and nanowires, the device is a centimeter wide. On its own it could stretch slightly – to just 1.06 centimeters. But when cut with lasers in a pattern inspired by kirigami, the same device can stretch up to 20 centimeters, 2,000 percent larger than its unstretched form. The material’s innate elasticity helps, but the pattern and orientation of the cuts is the major factor in how the device deforms.

Moreover, the cutting made the device 3,000 times more conductive of electricity, meaning the electronics can run faster, or take less time to charge.

There are many other electronics researchers inspired by kirigami. As our groups and others refine these sorts of materials, they can eventually be incorporated into electronic skin – akin to temporary tattoos – to improve the feel of prosthetics and robots. Hospitals can also use e-skin patches to wirelessly monitor patients’ vital signs, replacing those annoying wires that can get tangled or prevent people from sleeping while resting in bed.

Stretchable electronics are also key to Samsung’s plans to release a bendable smartphone. And they could be central to smart clothing, an industry that analysts project could be worth US$4 billion by 2024. Thanks to artistic innovations hundreds of years ago, clothes and bandages may one day be able to help athletes maximize performance, monitor the health of people with chronic illnesses, and give soldiers and emergency workers important information about themselves and those in their care.

A Decade Since 26/11 & Indo Pak Relation Remain Stuck in Quagmire

It was exactly ten years back that India became a victim of a dastardly terror attack. Ten years have passed, but is the situation any better? Bruce Riedel, a senior adviser to four US presidents and an expert on South Asia has written in his book ‘Avoiding Armageddon ‘that ‘Pakistan has become a centre of terror, a victim and patron of terror at the same time’.

Riedel, no friend of Pakistan though has acknowledged that Pakistan is also a victim of terror, an assertion corroborated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his caustic response to Donald Trump’s twitter blast. Imran replied saying that Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in the war on terror and lost 123 billion dollars while the US aid was a minuscule 20 billion dollars.

The reaction from across the border in India to Imran Khan’s lament would be ‘why did you do it’? Why do you fight other’s wars?Why does Pakistan suffer this death wish, this suicidal tendency of cutting it’s nose to spite the face and that too frequently? And why have they become a ‘centre’ and a ‘patron ‘of terror?

At the time of partition, Pakistan was much ahead of India but in these seven decades it seems to have become lost and much against his declared wish, Imran Khan has to travel to various capitals of the world carrying a ‘bheekh ka katora’ and that too not very successfully. At the moment Pakistan is short of money, water, food and electricity. The rupee has lost 30 percent of its value while less than one million of 200 million Pakistanis pay taxes. The country is on the verge of a population explosion and since the former cricketer took over the only talk coming out of Pakistan is about it’s financial plight.

There are many sane voices in Pakistan that have been warning against it’s wrong policies and distorted vision but they have been drowned in the cacophony of fundamentalists. Islamabad’s writ has disappeared from 60 percent of Pakistan’s territory, writes Pakistani journalist Khaled Ahmed. He also warns that Pakistan is falling apart. Shahzad Raza writes, “If the worst is over, the worst is yet to come “.

I must admit though that the Pakistani media has some very brave people who continue to perform their dharma despite the many attacks, disappearances and murder. But the real question is what went wrong? And what next?

One is reminded of a couplet of Abdul Hamid Adam, Sirf ik qadam utha tha galat rah-e-shauq mein, manzil tamam umr mujhe dhundhati rahee. Translated it means, one wrong step and the destination kept trying to find me my entire life.

26/11 is the 10th anniversary of the attack on Mumbai. Ten terrorists came on a boat from Karachi, hijacked an Indian boat and landed at Mumbai. Equipped with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades they attacked the city at multiple points. Stunned, India saw it live on their TV sets. Mumbai lay bleeding. By the time the mayhem ended 166 people were dead, 9 terrorists had been killed and Ajmal Kasab had been captured. Pakistan initially denied any culpability but had to admit that he was their man when it’s own media traced Kasab to his village.

Mumbai is no ordinary city for India. It is not only the commercial capital but also the city of dreams. And it was brazenly attacked. Since then things haven’t been the same with Pakistan. It was India’s 9/11.

Why was Mumbai attacked? Bruce Riedel says elements in Pakistan wanted to provoke war. At that time India and Pakistan were haltingly moving towards normalising relations. PM Manmohan Singh had very optimistically spoken of his desire to have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. This put paid to all his culinary dreams and set relations back for many, many years. It didn’t help matters that Pakistan didn’t take any meaningful action against Hafiz Saeed or Zaki Rehman Lakhvi whom Kasab had named as conspirators and planners. Nor was any meaningful action taken to proscribe LeT. Hafiz Saeed is still going around threatening India. What has become clear since 26/11 is that they are much more to do with India having succeeded, in her bumbling, chaotic way, to have become a responsible modern nation while Pakistan continues to teeter on the verge of being a failed state. It will remain that way as long as it continues to believe that the solution to all its problems is Islam.

That Islam remains the core of Pakistan is sadly evident from Imran Khan’s assertion that the ‘new Pakistan’ he wants to build will use the Prophet Mohammad’s Medina as a model. Already, mullahs baying for the blood of Aasia Bibi have mocked him for this in their speeches by saying he has no idea what Medina was like. When he tried to defend the acquittal of this tragically ill-fated woman, they brought thousands of their followers into the streets to demand that she be handed to them so that she could be hanged publicly.

In India, we have our own problems with religion and caste but they do not come close to the problems Pakistan faces. We might be ruled currently by the political party of Hindutva but Narendra Modi needs to remember that he won in 2014 because he promised ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’, not a temple in Ayodhya or a movement to stop cow slaughter. If he loses next year it will be because he has failed to bring the change and development he promised.

When it comes to relations with Pakistan though, it has to be said in fairness to him that he tried from day one to work towards peace. If he has failed on this front it is because of betrayals by the military men next door, not for want of his personal sincerity. As someone who has closely observed the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, may I say there was a time when I believed half the blame lay with India.

We should have ensured that our prime ministers did not make the mistakes they have made, and continue to make, in Kashmir. I do not share the view of people in the Hindutva camp that all our problems in the Valley exist only because of Pakistan. The truth is that the armed insurgency that began in the late-Eighties happened entirely because of mistakes made in Delhi. Islamabad was taken by surprise and became involved only after young Kashmiri men lost faith in democracy and crossed the border for terrorist training.

This is something that Pakistan’s military men are very good at. By the late-Eighties they had gained considerable practice with training young Indians to become skilled terrorists, having already done this with young Sikhs who fled after Operation Blue Star. So can there ever be peace with a country that continues to send jihadist killers into India? Can there be peace with a country that continues to try and break India in every way possible?

Not easy after 26/11. Not until Pakistan’s military men admit that the men who came to Mumbai 10 years ago were not ‘non-State actors’. Nobody who listened to the conversations between them and their handlers in Pakistan on those awful two days 10 years ago would say this. Nobody who has listened to the confessions of David Headley would say this. But somehow, 26/11 is not central to the conversations our leaders seem to have with those who rule Pakistan. Why do they continue to allow Pakistan’s leaders to talk about Kashmir after it has become so clear after 26/11 that it is not about Kashmir any more?

Pakistan has devised a new form of warfare. Last year, around exactly this time, I pointed out in this column that if there was a similar attack, India’s security forces would probably be taken as much by surprise as they were last time. This remains true. It is possible that trained counter-terrorism commandos would not take as long to get to Mumbai as they did last time. It is possible that Navy commandos may be better prepared to defend our coastline. But as an honorary citizen of Mumbai, I can report that most security measures in this city remain stupidly cosmetic. What is worse is that they seem concentrated on protecting VIPs and not ordinary citizens. This is not just not good enough, it is also deeply shameful since the victims are nearly always ordinary citizens.

Practically every prime minister of India has had his hands burnt trying to normalise relations with Pakistan. Vajpayee tried with his bus trip to Lahore. I was there at the Governor House in Lahore when he famously said that you can change your friend but not your neighbour. The entire Lahore seemed to have applauded him but he got the Kargil misadventure in return. Modi tried with his visit to Lahore to participate in PM Nawaz Sharif’s family function, next week Pathankot airbase was attacked. Now it will be a very brave Indian leader who would take unilateral action to normalise relations with Pakistan.

The 26/11 attack on Mumbai will however remain a watershed in India -Pakistan relations. No government in India can ignore the Mumbai attack while dealing with Pakistan. More importantly common people are not ready to forget this brutal and unprovoked attacked on their favourite city and Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators. Attack on Pathankot airbase served only as a reminder.

But these frequent attacks have not been able to derail India‘s economic growth which remains the fastest growing economy, having overtaken France and expected to better U K next year. Yes, we have made a mess in Kashmir what with the ‘faulty’ fax machine and Ram Madhav’s irresponsible utterance. But even if the Kashmiri may be disgruntled, he is certainly not itching to join Pakistan and the Valley is not the entire J&K. Shahid Afridi was not very off the mark when he advised that Pakistan should look after its four provinces and not worry about Kashmir.

Imran Khan had promised a ‘Naya Pakistan ‘but he must have realised that it’s easier said than done. The Pakistan PM has been naïve about his assessment of the problems his country is facing. He has acerbic relations with Trump’s US which has withdrawn security assistance to Pakistan. His visit to China has not been successful despite the rhetoric about oceans and mountains. Adnan Rasool has written in the Dawn that ‘ the closest ally has cooled off on Pakistan and wants it to set it’s house in order…Pakistan is not as important as it thinks.’

Pakistan probably also realises now that its geographical situation what Hussain Haqqani calls ‘locational narcissism ‘, is no longer paying dividends. It can no longer play one benefactor against another. Cold calculating Chinese whose consulate in Karachi has been attacked recently certainly are not prepared to play this game.

Imran Khan has said that he would hold talks with India after 2019 elections but for any dialogue to be meaningful he will have to fundamentally change his country’s policy towards India. The open presence of Khalistani elements at the sacred Gurdwaras in Pakistan and denial of access to our diplomats does not help relations. At the moment Pakistan does not have good relations with three of its neighbours. For the sake of it’s survival this has to change but will the other stakeholders especially the army allow him to take another U-turn, this one for the future of the country? 

Europe & India Coming Full Circle

Indian soldiers were crucial to two World Wars. A hundred years later, India, Europe need each other again

One of the important ways in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has altered India’s thinking about international affairs is the long overdue revision of Delhi’s position on the two World Wars. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu’s participation at the centennial ceremonies to mark the end of World War I completes that change.

One consequence of the new thinking is the wider appreciation of India’s contribution to the making of the modern world. It has also laid the foundation of a new military partnership between India and Europe amidst the current tectonic shifts in global power structure. After Independence, Delhi was reluctant to acknowledge India’s role in the two wars. During World War I, nearly 1.2 million Indians were recruited for service in the army. When it ended, about 9,50,000 Indian troops were serving overseas. Nearly 75,000 Indian soldiers were killed in what came to be known as the Great War.

In World War II, the Indian army saw action on fronts ranging from Italy and North Africa to East Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. In Southeast Asia alone, 7,00,000 troops joined the effort to oust Japanese armies from Burma, Malaya and Indo-China. By the time the war ended, the Indian army numbered 2.5 million men, the largest all-volunteer force the world had ever seen.

To cut a long and complicated story short, Delhi’s argument after Independence was that the contributions were by a colonial army; therefore, independent India should have nothing do with it. India’s political class had no problem in simply re-branding the “colonial” army as the “national” army after Independence. But it was too embarrassed to accept the history of these armed forces. The problem was managed with a compromise — the armed forces would mark their history in the cantonments, but there would be no political participation in these events.

The first break in this deliberate forgetting of India’s role in the two World Wars came under the UPA government when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the guest of honour in France’s Bastille Day celebrations in July 2009. The then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was eager to celebrate the new strategic partnership with India by reminding his nation of the Indian role in defending France in the First World War.

A contingent of 400 Indian troops marched down Champs Elysees but it did not result in changing the way Delhi thought about the two World Wars. Then came Modi’s visit to Paris in the spring of 2015. He traveled to a war memorial in northern France and paid respects to the Indian soldiers. Addressing the Indian diaspora in Paris, the PM wove a broader narrative around the Indian contributions to international peace and security through the 20th century — in the two World Wars as well as the international peace keeping operations in the post-War world. Three months later, a unit of the Indian army joined the Victory Day parade in Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of the German surrender in the Second World War.

When he traveled to Israel in 2017, Modi marked the role of the Indian army in liberating Haifa and during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to India in January 2018, the Teen Murti Chowk in Central Delhi was renamed as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk. The three figures in the chowk represented the cavalry regiments from Mysore, Hyderabad and Jodhpur who participated in the Haifa operations in 1918.

To be sure, the two World Wars were politically contentious for the Indian national movement. But a century after the conclusion of the First World War and nearly 80 years after the beginning of the Second, it’s about time India came to terms with the complex history of its role in the two world wars.

Mahatma Gandhi, for example, volunteered to join the Indian Army during First World War. But a group of radical nationalists, led by Raja Mahendra Pratap and Maulana Barkatullah set up a provisional government in Kabul in December 1915 with the help of Germany, Britain’s rival in the Great War.

The divisions were much sharper in the Second World War. The Congress refused to support the War, the communist left joined the war effort after initial opposition, and Subhas Chandra Bose set up the Azad Hind government in exile with the help of the axis powers. These divisions reflected the difficult choices the national movement confronted at the intersection of the anti-colonial struggle and the great power conflict. To add to the complexity, there was the question of rising Fascism and how the Indian national movement should think about it in the inter-war period.

Like the rival European powers who now jointly commemorate the Wars, it is sensible for India to recall and reflect on its role on both sides of the great divide. That is what Modi has done in the last few years. When he addressed the Afghan parliament in December 2015, Modi thanked Kabul for its support to Raja Pratap’s government. Last month he joined ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of Subhas Bose’s Indian National Army. If there is one thing that Modi has missed out it is to invoke the contribution of the rest of South Asia to the two Wars.

As we reflect on the two Wars, one thing stands out: Indian resources were critical in shaping the final outcomes. Ending India’s amnesia about the two Wars must now be followed by a more purposeful engagement with Europe in reordering the security architecture of Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific. As America signals potential retrenchment from its alliance commitments to Europe — witness the unbending arguments between Trump’s emphasis on “America First” and the European drift towards “strategic autonomy” — India and Europe will need each other again.

France was the first to see the value of a partnership between Delhi and Paris in the Indo-Pacific. Britain, which is breaking from the European Union (EU), wants to reconnect with India bilaterally as well as through the Commonwealth. The EU is about to unveil an India strategy this month that is expected to highlight among other things, collaboration between Delhi and Europe’s emerging security structures. Meanwhile, India’s leading partner in the east, Japan, is eager to draw France, Britain and Germany into the Indo-Pacific.

In the first half of the 20th century, the subcontinent’s colonial armies as well as nationalist forces were inevitably drawn into Europe’s wars. In the 21st century, India, as a coherent independent actor, can and must work with Europe in shaping the global security order.

Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Diplomacy in the Digital Age depends on how diplomats understand and transform online influence into tangible offline diplomatic influence.

The core mission of diplomacy in the Digital Age is still about finding the middle ground among the broadest possible audience but it needs several prerequisites. This ARI analyses three case studies that show that successful digital diplomacy requires a keen understanding of the online space in which the digital diplomat operates, a competent strategy to building and managing a well-designed ‘network of networks’ of followers and influencers, and a pro-active approach to connecting digital diplomatic outputs to tangible foreign policy outcomes so that online influence could be successfully converted into offline diplomatic influence (actions and policies).  

Commenting on the challenges that the Digital Age has generated for the craft of diplomacy, the former U.S. Secretary, John Kerry, provocatively remarked that “the term digital diplomacy is almost redundant –it’s just diplomacy, period.” For Kerry, digital technologies in general, and social media, do help advance states’ foreign policy objectives, bridge gaps between people across the globe, and engage with people around the world, but ultimately, they fulfil the same core diplomatic function that is, to create dialogue and find common ground among the broadest possible audience. After all, he claimed, “that’s what diplomacy’s all about”.1

Interestingly, Kerry made this remark in 2013 before the ‘dark side’ of digital technologies had the chance to disclose itself in various forms of digital disinformation, propaganda and info war. Five years later, it is worth asking whether Kerry’s statement still resonates: is digital diplomacy still capable of finding the common ground, and if so, how exactly? Three issues need to be unpacked to address this question. First, what are the main features of the process of digital transformation and why shall we take them seriously? Second, how these features have influenced the practice of diplomacy, both for better and for worse? And third, what lessons can we draw from existing cases of good practices of digital diplomacy and to what extent these lessons can be generalised to the digital activities of other embassies and Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA)?

The rise of digital diplomacy in the past decade cannot be separated from the technological context in which it has developed. Three features of the process of digital transformation stand out, among others, for understanding the evolution of digital diplomacy and the challenges it continues to face under the influence of the changing technological landscape. Speed is the first one and refers to the fast rate at which new digital technologies enter the market and the swiftness by which they are adopted by individuals, companies and institutions. For example, it has taken the telephone 75 years to reach 100 million users worldwide, but only 16 years and 4 ½ years to the mobile phone and its most popular app, Facebook, to pass the same milestone respectively.2 It is worth recalling that the mass adoption of smartphones and the spread of mobile internet was made possible by the launch of the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology (3G) in early 2000. With the arrival of the 5G technology in the next few years, a fresh stream of digital technologies (mixed reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, digital twinning) are expected to become widely available and to accelerate the pace of information exchange, social interaction, digital innovation, and public entrepreneurship.

The second important feature refers to the cognitive impact of the process of digital transformation. More specifically, the way we use digital technologies to interact with others is not limited to an instrumental, means-ends mode of engagement, but it also reshapes the cognitive settings that we rely on for defining our own social identities and even for making sense of the social reality. In fact, the digital medium represents a completely new language in which the semantic function of traditional nouns, adjectives, or verbs is now played by the type of data we share, the growing role of emotions and visuals, together with Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) simulations in the near future, in framing the messages that we communicate and the (opaque) patterns by which algorithms structure our interactions with online audiences. By intimately influencing the way in which social relations are conducted online, the digital medium thus has a potentially transformative impact on the offline interests and values of social actors, and in extreme situations on their epistemological understandings of social reality, as evidenced by the unsettling ascent of ‘post-truth’ politics in the recent years.

Third, Big Data, the ‘bloodstream’ of the digital revolution, has become the most valuable commodity of our age due to its capacity to capture, predict and potentially shape behavioural patterns. It is expected, for instance that by 2025 the global data sphere will grow to 163 zettabytes (a trillion gigabytes), which represents ten times the 16.1ZB of data generated in 2016.3 To put things into perspective, every two days we create as much information, the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt once claimed, as we had done from the dawn of civilisation up until 2003, roughly five exabytes of data (or 0.005 ZB).4 Big data analytics can provide a better understanding of the main issues of concern for the online audiences, of the cognitive frames and emotional undertones that enable audiences to connect with a particular message, as well as of the dominant patterns of formation and evolution of online communities. At the same time, this massive process of data generation increases the competitiveness for attention in the online space and stimulates demand for new skills and algorithmic tools necessary for filtering, processing and interpreting relevant data.

Institutional adaptation

Driven by the opportunities that the digital revolution has created for engaging with millions of people, in real time, and at minimal costs, foreign ministries, embassies and diplomats have developed a constellation of new tools and methods in support of their activities. They range from the use of dedicated platforms for engaging with foreign publics and diaspora communities, to communication with nationals in times of international crises, and to the development of consular applications for smartphones.5 Intriguingly, but not entirely unpredictable, the features that have enabled the ‘digital turn’ in diplomacy, have also generated several challenges for its practice. The access costs to the public space have been dramatically decreased by the arrival of digital platforms to the extent that MFAs need now to compete for the public’s attention with a wide range of state and non-state actors, not all of them friendly. Digital tools facilitate engagement between MFAs and embassies and foreign publics, but, at the same time, their adoption and use without a strategic compass runs the risk of digital public diplomacy becoming decoupled from foreign policy. Digital platforms also create conditions for more rigorous assessment of the online impact of digital strategies, but that may prove misleading for understanding the broader implications and levels of success of foreign policy.

It is also important to recognize that digital platforms do not simply add value to pre-designed communication strategies, but they subtlety inform and re-shape the norms of communication, engagement, and decision-making based on which diplomats conduct their work. Transparency, decentralisation, informality, interactivity, real-time management are critical norms for ensuring the effectiveness of digital activity, but they do not always sit well with MFAs’ institutionally entrenched preferences for confidentiality, hierarchy, instrumentality and top-down decision making. In addition, while diplomatic communication has been traditionally embedded in a text-oriented culture that has favoured ‘constructive ambiguity’ over precision, politeness over frankness, reason over passion, and confidentiality over transparency, the arrival of digital technologies has infused the public sphere in which diplomacy operates with a set of new features (e.g., direct and concise language, visual storytelling, emotional framing, algorithmic navigation), which challenges the way in which diplomatic engagement is expected to take place.

Like many other technologies, social media platforms also come with a dual-use challenge, that is, they can be used for peace or war, for offense or defence, for good or evil. By allowing for the decentralization and diffusion of power away from traditional stakeholders (states and governments), digital technologies can serve to empower the powerless, such as happened during the Arab Spring, or they can be deliberately weaponized to undermine the social fabric of modern societies, as in the cases of foreign electoral subversion or via the hate-speech of extremist groups. Algorithmic dissemination of content and the circumvention of traditional media filters and opinion-formation gatekeepers, makes disinformation spread faster, reach deeper, be more emotionally charged, and most importantly, be more resilient due to the confirmation bias that online echo-chambers enable and reinforce.6 To contain the ‘dark side’ of digital technologies and create a normative environment conducive to reconciliation, MFAs and embassies need to collaborate with tech-companies with the goal to support media literacy and source criticism, encourage institutional resilience, and promote clear and coherent strategic narratives capable of containing the corrosive effect of disinformation and post-truth politics.    

From theory to practice

To better understand the influence of the digital medium on diplomatic communication, let us compare and examine the activity of three prominent digital diplomats: Dave Sharma, the Australian Ambassador to Israel between 2013 and 2017; Euripides L. Evriviades, the High Commissioner for the Republic of Cyprus to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since 2013; and Jorge Heine, the Chilean Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China between 2014 and 2017. All three diplomats have used social media platforms, especially Twitter, quite extensively in their work and with considerable success as illustrated, for instance, by their large number of followers and the intensity of digital interaction (number of likes, retweets, and responses). What makes their case particularly interesting is that all three diplomats represent medium-size countries, which means they need to do extra work to receive a similar level of attention from the online public to their American, Russian, British, French, or Chinese colleagues, who organically benefit from the long diplomatic shadow and global influence of their countries. Is therefore important to investigate how the three diplomats have used digital platforms in their work and how well they have managed to cope with the competitive pressure of the digital environment. For reasons of space, the following discussion is going to focus only on the Twitter activity of the three diplomats. It is also worth mentioning the three diplomats have personally managed their Twitter accounts, a fact that highlights the importance they have attached to this channel of communication.7

The first observation to note is the consistency of their digital agenda (see figure 1), which mainly covers diplomatic, economic and cultural issues. This is exactly what diplomats are supposed to talk about when they are posted abroad, so this finding is not particularly surprising. The interesting aspect is, perhaps, the different weight the three diplomats assign to these topics, which gives indication of the specific priorities they face. The High Commissioner Evriviades is more interested, for instance, in political and diplomatic affairs, which makes good sense in the context of the ongoing Brexit negotiations and the current regional security concerns for Cyprus. Ambassadors Heine and Sharma take a more balanced approach and comment on additional issues (tourism, environment, science, technology), alongside political and economic aspects, as a basis for developing the diplomatic partnership with the host country. 

A key component of digital influence is the ‘network of networks’ that digital diplomats are expected to build and manage online so that they can firmly establish and enhance and their online presence. The “network of networks” may include policy makers, journalists, academics, diplomats, business people and diaspora leaders, who take an active interest in the positions and policies of the country represented by the embassy. The more diverse, the larger and the more connected these networks are, the stronger their ability to extend themselves in multiple configurations and by extension, the greater the influence of digital diplomats.8 From a network perspective, all three diplomats enjoy a rather diverse group of followers, but they seem to engage rather differently with their audience (see figure 2). Ambassador Sharma pays primary attention to the media, the High Commissioner Evriviades engages preferentially with fellow diplomats, while Ambassador Heine seems to enjoy the online company of academics. These approaches are reflective of the preferred strategies of each individual to develop his broader network of contacts and influencers by relying on a personal strength: communication skills in the case of Ambassador Sharma, networking abilities in the case of the High Commissioner Evriviades and a well-respected academic profile in the case of Ambassador Heine.

The digital style of the three diplomats is also important to examine as it may provide useful clues about the conditions for success or failure in adapting diplomatic communication to the characteristics of the digital medium discussed above. All three diplomats have clearly understood the importance of visuals in digital communication as they have relied on images for emphasising points in 60-80% of the time (see figure 3). To a lesser degree, they have also grasped the role of emotions, as illustrated by their moderate use of positive and occasionally uplifting language in their messages. Ambassador Sharma stands out for the use of humour and original tweets in his communication, an approach that resonates well with his audience. The High Commissioner Evriviades interestingly favours tweets with sophisticated intellectual content, which appears to serve the function of sending indirect signals to target audiences on controversial topics. Finally, Ambassador Heine is the only one that tweets bilingually, in English and Spanish, with the purpose of ensuring that the domestic audiences back home stay well informed about his diplomatic activity so that they continue supporting his mandate in the Chinese capital

Echoing Secretary Kerry’s observation, we can conclude that the core mission of diplomacy in the Digital Age is still about finding the middle ground. What has changed is the context in which this mission is supposed to be accomplished as new digital technologies significantly broaden the spectrum of actors that can take part and influence the diplomatic conversation, reshape the “grammar rules” and institutional norms to guide online diplomatic engagement, and opens the door to the use of digital tools for disrupting the middle ground via disinformation and propaganda. As the three case studies have shown, successful digital diplomacy requires a keen understanding of the online space in which the digital diplomat operates, a competent strategy to building and managing a well-designed ‘network of networks’ of followers and influencers, and a pro-active approach to connecting digital diplomatic outputs to tangible foreign policy outcomes so that online influence could be successfully converted into offline diplomatic influence (actions and policies).

Sunday Special: Why Pakistan Shies Away from the term ‘Ancient India’

 I was invited by Gen. Musharraf to visit Pakistan and give advice regarding water management. During this visit, I also visited a newly-opened museum in Lahore that, along with sections on Partition and the contemporary history of Pakistan, also included an exhibit on its ancient and pre-colonial history. It was titled “Ancient Pakistan” and included references to the Indus Valley civilisation, the Mauryan Empire, the Kushan dynasty and even the Khalsa Empire of Ranjit Singh.

While there were certain conscious inclusions and exclusions in the exhibit, possibly to align with the current nationalist discourse in the country, the title of the section stood out as a little odd.

It felt like a modern category had been imposed on the ancient, a trend increasingly on the rise across South Asia. The generally used term “Ancient India” perhaps would have not evoked a similar reaction.

The overarching nationalistic tilt of the museum might explain why its curators were reluctant to use the term “Ancient India” for its exhibits.

In such a nationalistic framework, there is only one India — the Republic of India. In this narrative, the nuance of the term “Ancient India” — which, in addition to including parts of contemporary India, also includes areas of Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh — is lost.

In this simplistic framework, contemporary India becomes the modern-day incarnation of the ancient civilisation that is India.

However, this phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan and its nationalist discourse. The Republic of India, which emerged after the Partition of British India, embraced its ancient Indian heritage, becoming the visible successor of Ancient India.

What helped its cause was the continuity in the names — India. While on one hand, the contemporary Indian state drew historical continuity from its ancient past, on the other hand, its exclusive use of the name “India” also helped spread the perception globally that it was the only rightful inheritor of the legacy of Ancient India.

India vs Hindustan

A couple of weeks ago Shoaib Daniyal wrote an incisive pieceon in which he pointed out that for a brief moment in the history of South Asia, Muhammad Ali Jinnah objected to the use of the name “India” by the new country, arguing that it should be referred to as Hindustan.

Nothing came of that conflict, but there are contesting theories as to why Jinnah raised the issue in the first place. Perhaps he saw both India and Pakistan as the successors of historical British India.

As opposed to being a universal name for the entire Indian subcontinent, the name “India” was picked by the British after the formation of their Empire. It has Greek roots. The Greeks referred to the land across the Indus as India.

Once the name took root, the history of the land began to be referred to as Indian history. In all academic discourse, the pre-Partition history of Pakistan and Bangladesh continue to be referred to as “Indian history”.

Maybe Jinnah anticipated that the Republic of India’s use of the name “India” might gradually exclude Pakistan from this collective Indian heritage.

What also did not help was the subsequent attitude of the Pakistani state toward its Indian heritage. Slowly, as relations between the two neighbours began deteriorating, in Pakistan, the term “India” stopped being associated with a larger peninsular identity, but was solely identified with the modern state.

Pakistan began distancing itself from its own history, allowing its antagonistic relationship with India to shape its attitude and perception of its Indian heritage.

Pakistan’s history came to be defined in opposition to India’s history. A celebration of Muslim rulers ensued — divorced from the political realities that dictated their actions — while all other history and heritage of the Indian subcontinent began to be ignored.

Where’s Pakistan in the big picture?

A fairly complicated situation exists today. In global academia, the term “Indian history” encapsulates the history of the entire region.

But in the popular imagination, Ancient India ends up being reduced to relating to the past of Independent India. For example, the demand that the British return the Kohinoor diamond to modern-day India shows how historical India and contemporary India are seen as an extension of each other, with Pakistan and Bangladesh completely sidelined.

On the other hand, within Pakistan, there has increasingly been some acknowledgement of this past. The bone of contention, however, has been how to refer to it and package it.

While calling Pakistan part of the broader Ancient India is bound to have political repercussions, referring to it as “Ancient Pakistan” also has the potential to mislead.

However, even if Pakistan today decides to change its attitude towards its Indian heritage and chooses to accommodate it in its identity, it would find it difficult to shape the global narrative that it is indeed one of the successors of Ancient India, along with Bangladesh and India.

The situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future and it seems the term “Ancient India” will continue to be associated with contemporary India exclusively

Differentiating a Patriot & a Psuedo-Nationalist

I recently watched the movie Thor: Ragnarok. It was uninteresting and without nuance but the ending made me sit up. It was written by someone with a sense of history.

Ragnarok is a word taken from the Icelandic Norse myth book called the Edda (there is a terrific translation by Penguin Black Classics) and it means something like “a history of the ending of the gods” or doomsday. I won’t bore you with the particulars of this movie’s plot, not that I was able to follow it myself, but it ended badly for the planet concerned, which indeed found doom. However, its population escaped on spaceships. This is why I say it was written by someone with a sense of history. In the Nordic text so far as I remember it, doomsday comes to all, man and god and almost nothing remains.

But in the movie, the people survive and they do so by convincing themselves that a nation is ultimately its people. This idea is first expressed by Herodotus, the Greek historian who wrote about 450 years before Christ. Herodotus tells the story of the Persian invasion of Greece under Xerxes the Great, in 480 BC (Herodotus probably witnessed the invasion first hand). It was a successful invasion, carried out to avenge a previous, less successful one a decade earlier by Xerxes’s father Darius the Great. Darius is stopped at Marathon, some 40km from Athens (we get the word for the race from an epic run after that battle).

Xerxes ploughed into Athens and destroyed it. The Greeks varnished their defeat over by making up a cock-and-bull story about 300 Spartan martyrs temporarily holding the Persian army at Thermopylae. In reality, the Persian army was too powerful and the Greeks understood it. They went to the oracle who told them to take to “the wooden walls”. They understood this to mean ships and sailed away from their city to preserve themselves, and rightly.

They justified this by saying that a city is its people and not its buildings or anything else.

There is a lesson for us here, and something to consider. In India, our fierce nationalism — and it has become more feral in recent years — is concentrated on an imagined India and does not accommodate other Indians. This is a nationalism in which the nation is abstract, and can include bits of land that are actually not today in India and haven’t been since 1947.

The great anthem of Indian nationalism is Ae Mere Watan ke Logon, written by Pradeep and sung by Lata Mangeshkar. There is a line in it which illustrates what I mean, and it goes:

Jab ghayal hua Himalaya

Khatre mein padi azadi”

Meaning that the Himalaya was wounded (by the presence of the Chinese) and our freedom was endangered. It is this insistence that the nation is mountain and river, and not so much its people, that has been our refrain. It is true that this is a sentiment that is neither unusual nor limited to us, and not even something that is modern.

The Roman poet Horace, writing in the century before Christ, said “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s fatherland). It is a powerful line but lacking all nuance. A hundred years ago, the poet-soldier Wilfred Owen wrote one of the most devastating critiques of militant nationalism in a brief poem whose title is taken from Horace’s line.

Writing at the same time as Owen, the poet-soldier Rupert Brooke gave us this line: “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England.” He conflates land, person and nation in an elegant way, I think.

Brooke, who was 27, and Owen, 25, both died fighting in the First World War, possibly the most useless conflict in history. The nations of Europe are marking its centenary in sombre and reflective fashion (you may have seen the red poppy badges that many British leaders and news presenters sport).

What is unique to us is the fact that there is a total disregard for the human aspect. Our nationalism is exclusively about the land and the imagery of the motherland. It does not even accommodate culture. Attacking the ban on singer T M Krishna from performing in Delhi, Ramachandra Guha wrote that “Krishna carries the true greatness of Indian culture and Indian civilisation in himself and in his art.”

That is, in the India of our time, not an acceptable substitute for slogan shouting, which alone is the vocabulary of nationalism. It is remarkable but it is true.

Ultimately, love for one’s nation must mean love for its people, because a nation is its people. If you don’t understand that you’re not really a patriot and you’re a fraud nationalist.

Germany & France Dream & Act to Create A European Empire

The French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said in an interview published on November 12 in Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper that the European Union must become a “form of empire, like China and the U.S.” Le Maire’s comments come just days after French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe needs a “real army” to defend itself.

“I use the term to sharpen awareness that we are going into a world where power matters,” Le Maire said. “Europe should no longer shrink from deploying its power.”

“It’s going to be all about power … technological power, economic, financial, monetary, cultural power—all will be decisive,” he said. “Europe cannot be shy any longer about using its power”.

Evidently, France is ready for a European empire. That is according to What bold statements from France! After decades of Europe talking about sophistication, diplomacy and “soft power,” and shunning phrases like colonialism, power projection and especially “empire,” here are France’s top leaders demanding a literal empire.

Europe is openly, boldly and unapologetically seeking power and unity in all these areas—economic power, cultural power, military power. Does this sound familiar?

The political, economic and military integration could lead to a massive European empire. Europe’s economic union is already established. The basis for a close political union is there. The beginnings of a military union are already in operation. The only thing this potential empire lacks is a strong, confidence-inspiring leader.

“We have talked about it for a long time,” said Le Maire. “Now it’s time for decisions.”

However, the leader of the coming European empire will not be French, but German. France is already looking to Germany to carry out these dreams of empire.

In his interview with Handelsblatt, Le Maire said that the ball is in Berlin’s court, effectively saying, Look, Germany—we want you to take the lead!

However, as Handelsblatt pointed out: “Without Germany’s support in all these issues, Le Maire will find it difficult to turn Europe into an ‘empire.’ Franco-German agreement has been the engine of European integration and without it the Continent is more impotent than powerful.”

Europe needs German leadership in order to form a real empire.

But what is the state of that German leadership?

On October 29, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would not seek reelection for the chancellorship and would step down as leader of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). On November 12, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced he also would step down from leadership of his party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to the CDU.

The Spectator noted this week that as France is suddenly stepping up to oppose the United States and calling for a European military, Germany is enduring a massive change in leadership. With both of these prominent conservative leaders stepping down at once, the German government will undergo a sea change within the next few months.

“The German politicians who were once larger-than-life figures, dominating their political parties as easily as they dominated Germany’s political discourse, are fast becoming dinosaurs,” the Spectator wrote. “If future party officials of the CDU,CSU andSDP [Social Democratic Party] don’t move quickly in a comprehensive effort to improve their reputations, regain the trust of the voters, and convince them that Germany’s major parties aren’t stewards of defective governance, each of them will be treading perilous waters.”

Who can Germany turn to for political stability? The nation is in massive political upheaval right now, even as France is saying, We need an empire. We need an army. We need a leader. We need Germany.

We need to watch individuals like former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. This former superstar of the German government isn’t involved in politics right now, but that could change in a hurry. With the current political turmoil in Germany, his lack of involvement likely serves as an advantage. Is this the man who could be the catalyst for political unity in Germany and Europe? Seehofer has tried to persuade Guttenberg to get back into politics. Now that his nation is facing a crisis in leadership, will it finally persuade the former defense minister to return to the political scene?. This European power will be anti-American. Le Maire said in his interview: “Everybody knows it takes guts to stand in the way of Donald Trump’s administration. The people of Europe have had enough of the babble from Brussels. They want to see action.”

This rising monster is turning against the United States. President Donald Trump tweeted this week: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two—How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for nato or not!”

Even recent history shows that a German-led European empire has never meant good things for Britain. Now French leaders are calling for a European army—and they are going to get one.

While Europeans openly talk about building an empire to oppose the U.S., we are focusing on domestic issues: voter recounts, drama over a White House press pass, and other events that are perhaps more sensational.

There is another push toward a European superstate going on right now that has received less attention. On Friday, France and Germany agreed on new plans for a eurozone budget. EU finance ministers met on Monday. They agreed in principle with the proposals, while not backing all of the details. The EU aims to have a final agreement on the budget proposal next month. Mario Centeno, who chaired the meeting, called it a “breakthrough.” And it is.

Think about what Europe needs to do to transform into a United States of Europe—acting almost as one massive nation like the U.S.A. It needs an army. It needs a single leader. Both things we’ve discussed in recent weeks. But it also needs a single budget—a taxation and spending policy that covers the whole block. This has always been a fundamental part of any union. It’s not as eye-catching as a common army, but it is a fundamental part of the foundation to work together. It enables things like an EU army to be funded, and it makes it much harder for the different parts of the union to break off and go their separate ways.

The Franco-German plan would see this new budget financed by special EU taxes, as well as funds from national governments. It would be used to help with investment, infrastructure and maybe even national unemployment plans. France and Germany want it in place by 2021.

Over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Berlin. Macron spoke of a “Franco-German responsibility in preparing for the future and the refounding of Europe.” This budget plan is very much part of this “refounding of Europe.”

It is very controversial. This is about sharing money between nation-states, and no taxpayer is enthusiastic about having his money spent on other countries. So expect a lot of debates. It may well start small. But this is an important step toward this superpower.

We’re watching that empire build before our eyes. There are key components of that empire yet to come—an emperor, for example—but keep watching.

Saturday Special: Help Children Build a Positive Online Presence

While digital footprints are considered to be a liability, if managed well they can be an asset. Rather than just teaching children about internet safety and reducing their digital footprint, we should also encourage them to curate a positive digital footprint which will be an asset for them in their future.

Today’s children are prolific users of the internet. Concern has been raised about the future impact of the digital footprints they are generating. While much discussion of this issue focuses on keeping children safe, little is known about how children manage their digital footprints.

While digital footprints are considered to be a liability, if managed well they can be an asset. Digital footprints can showcase identity, skills and interests. This is important in an era where employers “google” candidates to check their identity and verify their suitability. In this context, having no digital footprint can be as much of a disadvantage as having a poorly managed one.

What children know and do about digital footprints:

While children use the internet for a variety of purposes (such as homework, gaming, watching videos), communicating with friends was the most popular online activity.

·        The children knew what digital footprints were:

·        what you put online stays online

·        people could find you if you left identifying information, such as your address or full name

·        employers would check your social media.

They talked about password security, not putting personal details online (such as their name, address and date of birth), blocking people who harassed them, getting advice from parents, not clicking on anything silly, not posting pictures of their faces. They showed awareness of the potential consequences of their actions.

The implications of their digital footprint awareness led them to try to minimise theirs, to try to be invisible online. They mainly communicated with one another via Instagram, using it as a messaging service. All but one child had their account set to private, and very few posted photos. They used it just to talk.

While the children in the study had a high level of digital footprint awareness, they are only aware of this as a liability. Their responses did not include any discussion of the benefits offered by digital footprints. Their re-purposing of Instagram as a messaging service suggests a savvy and pragmatic approach to the problem of, in the words of one girl in the study, the “internet always keeping it”. Educative interventions should be designed to empower and protect children, to supplement their existing digital footprint management strategies.

How to teach for positive digital footprints

Children could be taught how to curate their online presence. That is, they could be explicitly taught not all they do online needs to be hidden. Curation is about knowing what to display publicly and what should remain private.

While it’s appropriate conversations with their friends not be public, children could be taught that digital artefacts which demonstrate their interests, achievements and skill could be both public and identifiable. School projects, awards, pieces of writing, and digital artworks are examples of suitable things to be attributed to them.

Teaching children to curate their achievements, skills and some aspects of their digital identity would help prepare them for the greater online freedom that will come with high school.

When should positive digital footprint education begin?

There are four reasons the two final years of primary school would be an ideal time to begin to teach children about positive digital footprints:

1. they are lacking this information and were not aware a digital footprint could be a positive asset for their future

2. children at this age are transitioning from predominantly game playing and video watching to more creative and generative uses of the internet and social media

3. different parenting styles means not all children will get this information at home

4. the strength of the cyber safety message they’re getting from schools suggests this knowledge could be built upon so children are given options about which online activities should remain invisible and which would be beneficial to have out there.

When asked what would you like to know about the internet, one girl in the study asked:

How can it change your future?

This gets to the heart of what’s at stake. Digital footprints can be an asset or a liability for children. Building on their knowledge by giving them guidance in curating a positive online presence could go a long way to help children shape their own future

Decoding Chinese submarine ‘sightings’ in South Asia

Last month, the Indian navy spotted a People’s Liberation Army navy (PLAN) submarine in the Indian Ocean, the first sighting of a Chinese sub in the region since the Doklam crisis last year, and the eighth such deployment in the region since 2013, supposedly for anti-piracy duties. Expectedly, it generated some anxiety in India’s strategic community where many viewed the development with exasperation and a growing sense of helplessness.

While China’s counterpiracy contingents have been a regular presence in the Indian Ocean region for over a decade, PLAN submarines were until recently a relatively uncommon occurrence. The rise in Chinese undersea deployments in recent years shows that Beijing is now thinking strategically about the Indian Ocean. As on many previous occasions, the PLAN submarine sighted last month was a Yuan class sub (with air independent propulsion). Accompanying it was a submarine search and rescue tender – another regular companion with PLAN submarines visiting the Indian Ocean region.

Indian observers say Chinese submarine deployments appear aimed at studying the Indian Ocean’s operating environment, a prerequisite for sustained operations in an alien space. Chinese crews, reportedly, spend considerable effort collecting hydrological and bathymetric data, seemingly to fine-tune standard operating procedures, developing the skill and expertise needed for sustained presence in the regional littorals. Far from performing an anti-piracy function, Indian watchers say PLAN subs mark far-seas presence, attempting to project strategic capability. Not surprisingly, they add, Chinese naval deployments appear to complement Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in whose exclusive economic zones PLAN subs have often been sighted.

Beyond strategic posturing, the tactical context to China’s undersea forays is equally relevant. Unlike the surface and air assets, submarines stay undetected for long periods, providing a psychological advantage to a dominant power in a contested littoral. Consequently, an adversary’s inability to track a submarine in its near-seas is seen as a tactical setback. This perhaps explains why after first detection in India’s near-seas, Chinese submarines practically disappear.

To be sure, the Indian navy devotes considerable resource and effort in tracking PLAN subs. Days after first sighting a Yuan class sub in the Arabian Sea, for instance, Indian naval P-8I reconnaissance aircraft performed an anti-submarine warfare exercise with its US P-8A counterpart in the Arabian Sea. One reason India stands poised to sign a maritime pactt with Japan is to expand ‘domain awareness’ that would help their navies share information in real time about unfriendly platforms in common maritime spaces.

None of this implies Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean are inherently provocative. With extensive overseas interests, China is entitled to secure its economic investment in the Indian Ocean. Even so, the political and operational consequences of Chinese naval presence in South Asia are worrisome, especially since there is the perception of declining Indian influence in the regional commons.

What is more disconcerting for Indian observers is the delay in India’s own indigenous submarine programme, notwithstanding INS Arihant. The Scorpenes submarine programme is five years behind schedule, and the follow-on P-751 yet to take off. In contrast, China has already built up a fleet of over 60 conventional submarines, and is even helping other South and Southeast Asian states beef up their undersea defenses. Indeed, more disconcerting for Indian observers is the delay in India’s own indigenous submarine programme, notwithstanding INS Arihant. The Scorpenes submarine programme is five years behind schedule, and the follow-on P-751 yet to take off. In contrast, China has already built up a fleet of over 60 conventional submarines, and is even helping other South and Southeast Asian states beef up their undersea defenses.

One way to deter China from deploying submarines in South Asia is to erect an area-denial/ anti-access complex, possibly on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For any balancing strategy to be viable, however, New Delhi would need to affect a deeper strategic convergence with Washington, Tokyo, Jakarta and Canberra. While India’s strategic elite appreciate the logic of military partnerships in the Indian Ocean, the political establishment in New Delhi has been hesitant to expand military engagement to a quadrilateral format, involving Japan, Australia and the US. Operational engagement with Southeast Asian neighbours too remains vastly under par.

India’s China-watchers often draw attention to the intensifying Pakistan-China nexus. Beijing’s military partnership with Pakistan – which now includes an offer of eight-Yuan class Chinese submarines – is indeed worrisome. But Indian analysts do not recognise enough the reality that China’s real sensitivities lie in the Western Pacific, where India must plan for a greater counter-presence. China’s submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean undercut the logic of India as a net security provider in South Asia. The attempt at eroding New Delhi’s strategic primacy in its own backyard makes the latter’s need for a counterstrategy in the wider Indo-Pacific region urgent and imperative.

Nationalism: Its Meaning Alters As Per Your Perception

A few weeks back, two chosen gentlemen, had an argument on the sidelines of the scenic Seine. One was from the land where stands the iconic statue of Liberty, the other from the land that made it. The immediate occasion was commemorating the end of the WWI, and homage to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives. There arose the mention of “patriotism”, — a word that implies a series of psychological tricks to motivate a man to give up his life as a surrogate, because he is so gullible to the theme, though the cause be real.

There are memorials as special burial places for those who spilled their provocative hatred and ambitions, to cause the blood-shed, but visiting those would be politically incorrect.

Before further discussion, please be informed, that inasmuch as a French is a French, an American is an American. If the two occupy the top spots, you can’t have a more intense verbal confrontation, and a rather meaning full one too.

In came the discussion of the differing acceptance of the implications between “patriotism” and “nationalism”.

The expression was introduced by the French President Mr Macron, and the backdrop, truly was the issue of the spreading US global influence, its ability to leverage fruitful treaties with other biggies as Russia, China, Japan, be the top arms seller, and still retain its interests in terms of trade, trade blocks, and immigration permits for work. India’s travails on the Raffaele deal could be a clandestine thorn in his crown.

The further mention of dismantling NATO, and allowing EU to set up its own defences, permitting it to rev-up its defence industry (competitive, if on the civilian side you consider the Boeing-Airbus market share), was a bit offensive to the American President. Though it is accepted that finally it was the US that brought a turn-around in the war, though the final abhorrible bombing of Hiroshima is always suppressed as a contributing factor.

Sentiments expressed to an all-time ally during and after the War, having sacrificed so many of its soldiers on the D Day, 101st Airborne, and many more in the Pacific sector, where Japan dominated, were a bit hurting to Mr Trump. American stories of bravado, are generally true.

The issue that Mr Macron stressed in his “nationalism” was regarding the US nationalism, which he almost conveyed as self-centred, curtailing others’ freedom to manufacture and trade. The present economic situation, particularly the final stamp of supremacy as OBOR by the wise Mr Xi, are buttressing EU growth, and finding them difficult to approach world markets, and increase their manufacturing base.

The economic hegemony of China, concealed in OBOR with pressures from its ally, leave the EU in a non-action situation, where they can’t openly embrace OBOR, and there are problems in rejecting it totally. So, it was a bugle for some self- interaction in an open market field as open markets were enunciated. At the cost of repetition, the US post-war protection as NATO is undeniable. However, In today’s geopolitical world over-indulgence in Chinese trade has helped the US ( maybe on the downside now), but little percolated to the EU.

The US, just as it acts as a global cop, would do well to keep an economic balance in the EU, by continuing a section of their trade that may not be the cheapest, but in the process builds economic and political bonds. Without intending at anything adverse, the overdraft with China is not a very comfortable situation either.

Coming to “nationalism” Mr Macron was bringing out the difference between giving life for your country (patriotism), and additional responsibilities that come as a “nation”. He specifically mentioned, “America First”, the many one-sided restrictions it put on its allies and finally taking up the issue of being given a pseudo-solace, by an outdated tattered shield called NATO. Nationalism, according to him is not expressed for any inner strife in France, racialism, Human Rights violation or undue victimization. That anyway is a matter of the Internal Ministry. His comments on “nationalism”, as he perceives are economically self-centred policies of the US.

If nationalism was meant to convey France as France, and no other language but French, first response at a public counter to a person speaking in French, then that’s it. No qualms about it!

For a developing India, coming down for the first time on to real economics, trade backlogs, regional divineness on custom, creed, language, is a job to be completed. India is the only country that has a legitimate Communist party, not washed away by our own McCarthyism. It is at the cost of a Maoist pocket, in India’s richest mineral area. Serial killers and those who back them, may engage in their welfare. I wonder how Human Rights issues come there! Even, the upcoming stand-off between the government that wants more liquidity vs the Central Bank, that wants bad loan recovery first, is welcome. The wisdom of either party, or a negotiated settlement, shall soon be out. There is no doubt that regulated liquidity and ongoing business only can erase off old deficits and sins.

“Nationalism” as a long -used word fell into pits, post war, due to race between countries, consumerism, as being portrayed, racism. Scholars like Tagore derided the term, as he saw inconsistencies in each global government, and build- of weaponry. The Mahatma, however, fought for a single nation. That was his nationalism.

Finally, there is no alternative, but to call a country a nation. Nationalism may be sparingly used today, because it eventually came from the times, post war with a racial and communal blemish (conflicts of Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia), where government being formed displayed the baser human tendencies as is common in politics. Today it has intra nation divisive connotations, and imparts a similar message to the uninitiated.

Finally, I think Mr Macron got the upper hand on a split verdict. He hd a compliment in store from an ex-US President!

“Every man has two countries. His own and France”


Weekend Special: Guru Nanak’s Real Birthday was on Vaisakhi, Not Today

Vaisakhi is celebrated as the day when the Khalsa was created. As a matter of fact, most of the people are not aware that it is also the birthday of the first Guru of the Sikhs- Guru Nanak who was born this day in 1469.

I am amazed that under mistaken notions, his birthday is celebrated almost seven months after his real birthday. In fact, the day presumed to be his birthday is the day of his enlightenment. And that is why it is called Parkash Utsav- The day of light which is sign of enlightenment. This was the day Nanak got enlightened. But it is a fact that it was the celebration of Vaiskhi that witnessed birth of Nanak- his father being Kalyan Chand Das Bedi, popularly shortened to Pita Kalu and his mother, Mata Tripta.

There has been no eye-witness record of the date of Guru Nanak’s birthday. However, Gyan Ratnavali (1712) of Bhai Mani Singh and Mehma Parkash (1776) of Sarup Das Bhalla, recorded April as his date of birth. Further, recent historians have calculated Guru Nanak’s birthday from his death records.

The date of Guru Nanak’s passing is inscribed on the stone memorializing his death, and it was recorded in other historical documents. The number of days Guru Nanak lived on this earth is also known. Bhai Santokh Singh, a highly learned Sikh biographer, recorded the total age of Guru Nanak as 70 years, five months and 7 days. From this data, the distinguished contemporary Sikh historian, Karam Singh, calculated Guru Nanak’s age from the date of his death and established mid- April as Guru Nanak’s birthday.

Presently, prominent historians such as Macauliffe, McLeod, Kahn Singh Nabha, Indu Bhushan Banerji, Khushwant Singh, Kirpal Singh, Ganda Singh, Harbans Singh, H.R. Gupta, Principal Satbir Singh, and others accept April as the date of the birth of Guru Nanak. Thus, April 2019 will be Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. Guru Nanak’s birth day is not the same as his Prakash day.

At his birth, Guru Nanak’s destiny to spread Divine Wisdom was not recognized either by his parents or the community around him; except for Rai Bullar who was the head administrator of the town where Guru Nanak was born.

The nine Gurus who followed Guru traditionally celebrated Guru Nanak’s birthday on Vaisakhi in a variety of ways. The Gurus, themselves, designated Vaisakhi day to meet and greet Sikh congregations from distant places and to inaugurate a variety of programs throughout their ministry. Maybe, this was the reason that Gobind Singh chose Vaisakhi to launch Khalsa.

Their ministry expanded for nearly two centuries. The Vaisakhi of Guru Gobind Singh remains the most memorable celebration today. Maharaja Ranjit Singh chose this day for his coronation which he celebrated at both Nanakana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace, and in Lahore in 1801.

Guru Nanak’s birthday contrasts with Guru Nanak’s Parkash Day that falls in the month of October-November (Katik or Kartik) on the full moon (pooranmashi) night. The word Prakash is derived from the Sanskrit word “prakāśa”, literally meaning “Bright light” or “Sun light” or “Moonlight” or simply “Light.”

In the case of Guru Nanak, the Parkash refers to the event when Guru Nanak’s inner Light manifested in his form and identity, initiating a period in history when the Pure Light of Universal Wisdom spread to the communities Guru Nanak visited and touched.

In 1496, after a lifetime of spiritual curiosity, exploration, study and devotion, Guru Nanak entered a deep meditative trance where he experienced the truth of Creation. He saw the Cosmos, the Creator, and the human being intimately linked in a dance of learning and of consciousness. He was 27 years old.

The vision he received went beyond the ideology of any particular religious faith, but rather recognized that all people undertake a common journey in life. It was this commonality that ignited Guru Nanak’s heart. He developed a sovereign relationship with the Divine – directly hearing the Song of Universal Truth and sharing it in many different languages throughout his life.

At the time of his enlightenment experience, Guru Nanak was a 27-year old man, employed as a business manager of the store and the properties of one Daulat Khan, a Muslim, who was also the head of the town of Sultanpur Lodhi.

The Kali Vein River has been given a special historical significance in North India because it provided the venue where Guru Nanak experienced his enlightenment. The 160-kilometer long river springs from Dhanao village and merges in the confluence of the Beas and Ravi rivers. The base spring was considered holy by the local Dhanao people. Mogul Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) ordered it brick-lined for preservation and pilgrimage.

Halfway in the Kali Bein’s journey toward the confluence lies the town of Sultanpur Lodhi, an old Muslim settlement on the riverbanks, now regarded as sacred by the Sikhs. There in the town stands a gurdwara commemorating Guru Nanak’s spiritual awakening. Several other monuments in the town memorialize the Guru’s dialogues with the community of scholars and religious leaders. They are the evidence that Guru Nanak was the first among the religious leaders to initiate and popularized the interfaith dialogues.

The Guru visited the river daily for his bath and meditation in the early hours of the morning. After that, while on his way to work in town, he often visited with a Muslim holy man for a chat. It is during one of these early morning meditations that his awareness expanded and he communicated with the Creator. The story goes as follows.

One morning, Guru Nanak disappeared into the river and spent, it is said, three days in meditation. He re-emerged in a divine trance, reportedly, and as soon as he came out of that trance, he said he had a vision, a revelation. The revelation inspired him to teach the world that a Divine Presence permeates the universe. That religions were only man-made and should not be employed to profile and divide people. This reference was about Hindus and Muslim, the two major religions in the area.

It was the night of the full moon in November 1496 (some historians report the year to be 1499) that he emerged from his meditation.

The day of Guru Nanak’s enlightenment known as Guru Nanak’s Parkash Divas is celebrated every year. Thousands of devotee flock to the holy town of Sultanpur Lodi to pay their homage. In 2005, the President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited this memorial of enlightenment as it is called today, and in 2006 the Government of India, encouraging Indian tourists to visit this city, declared it a holy city to be preserved as part of the Sikh heritage.

On this day Guru Nanak began to claim in more than one way that the Creator had summoned him and assigned him the mission of sharing this divine message to all humanity. He claimed to have received the message directly from the ONE in a state of heightened consciousness, and he taught it to people by singing it in inspired hymns. There are many famous verses of his pronouncements including the commencing verse of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, popularly known as Mool Mantar. This hymn begins with a symbol to serve as Sikh insignia. The symbol of Ek Onkaar is popularly translated as the One Reality (Force) that is manifested in all creation.

The Guru said that he would transcribe the divine message for people of all times. The formal pronouncement of his mission startled the town’s people, although they had known him as a spiritually enlightened person. Those vested in the old beliefs went to the authorities to complain that Nanak was claiming to be a new prophet.

When the town authorities heard complaints against Nanak, the town’s head Daulat Khan summoned him for a high-level dialogue. Khan also invited his chief religious’ advisor, a Muslim Imam, leading a group of imams and other Muslim scholars, to interrogate Nanak about his prophetic experience.

A public debate took place, taking almost a week to conclude. Many questions were asked, many issues were raised. Guru Nanak answered them all and made many pronouncements during the dialogue.

At the end of the dialogue-meeting, much to the Imam’s befuddlement, Khan declared that Nanak had indeed received a divine vision and had been given the responsibility and authority to share that vision with humanity.

The following excerpt taken from the oldest written record available describes Khan’s judgment:

ਤਬ ਕਾਜੀ ਹੈਰਾਨ ਹੋਇ ਰਹਿਆ – ਤਬ ਖਾਨੁ ਕਹਿਆ ਕਾਜੀ ਇਸ ਕਉ ਪੁਛਣਾ ਤਕਸੀਰ ਹੈ ਏਹੁ ਖਦਾਇ ਕਾ ਕੋਈ ਉਲੀਯਾ ਹੈ

The Imam, the chief interrogator, was wonderstruck. Then, Khan, the head of the town, told the Imam that further questioning would be arrogant, and declared that this person is an aulia (saint- prophet) of Khudaa (Islamic term for God). (B 40 Janamsakhi)

This public acknowledgment of Nanak as God’s messenger clearly earned him the title of the prophet or aulia in the Muslim tradition and the title of the Guru in the non-Muslim traditions of India.

Thus, the day Guru Nanak shared his divine vision and announced his mission to teach what he had learned became known and celebrated as Guru Nanak’s Parkash Day.

Mixing of Guru Nanak’s Birth Day and Parkash Day

There is no denying that over a period of time, the Sikh community has forgotten the distinction between the celebration of Guru Nanak’s birthday, and Guru Nanak’s Parkash Day. How did this happen?

How Parkash Day Come to be Celebrated? Until the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780 –1839), only Guru Nanak’s human birthday was celebrated both at Nankana Sahib and other towns with significant Sikh populations. It always occurred in the middle April at the time of harvest and other Hindu religious festivals. These events divided the Indian population and the attendance at the major gurdwaras was scanty. The Sikh clergy were always on the lookout to find an occasion when the community might be exclusively attracted to sacred Sikh places, particularly at Amritsar. The story goes as follows.

There lived in the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Bhai Sant Singh Giyani, who was held in high estimation by the monarch and who lived in Amritsar. Bhai Sant Singh would search for ways to bring Hindus and Sikhs to Amritsar for a celebration after they sold their crops and had plenty of money in their pockets. That period was usually around Diwali which is Hindu new year.

Some five miles from Amritsar is an old lake called Ram Tirath. It is a pilgrimage place of Lord Ram for the Hindu community. At that place, a Hindu fair was and still is held at the time of the full moon in the month of Kartik. All the monetary donations from the earnings of the people would go to that place.

The pilgrimage place is essentially Hindu, and it had the further demerit in the eyes of Bhai Sant Singh of having been restored by Lakhpat, the prime minister of Zakaria Khan, the inhuman prosecutor of the Sikhs.

Bhai Sant Singh desired to establish a competitive fair in Amritsar on the same date, and to divert the Hindus and Sikhs from making the pilgrimage to Ram Tirath. To that end, he adopted the Handali date of Guru Nanak’s Parkash and proclaimed that his new fair at Amritsar on the full moon in the month of Kartik was to honor the nativity of Guru Nanak. It is recorded that Bhai Sant Singh obtained both permission and patronage from Maharaja Ranjit Singh to do so.

In conclusion let me summarize as per historians like Arthur Macauliffe and other, there is no doubt that Guru Nanak was born in Vaishakh month. All the older Janamsakhis give that as Guru Nanak’s natal month. As late as the Sambat 1872 it was in Baisakh that the anniversary fair of Guru Nanak’s birth was always celebrated at Nankana. And finally, the Nanak Parkash gives the full moon in Kartik Sambat 1526, as the time of Guru Nanak’s Enlightenment or Parkash; and the tenth of the dark half of Assu, Sambat 1596, as the date of his death. The Nanak Parkash states that he lived seventy years five months and seven days. This total is irreconcilable if one equates the Parkash date with Guru Nanak’s physical birthday. But the total is very nearly reconcilable with the date of the Guru’s birth given in the old Janamsakhi. ” (Max Arthur Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, first edition 1909CE, reprinted by Low Price Publications. Delhi 1996 p.lxxxiv.).

Thus, the month of April is Guru Nanak’s birth month and the month of October-November is when Guru Nanak’s Parkash or enlightenment recognized.

The Parkash Day of Guru Nanak was the day when Guru Nanak began to share the Divine Vision he received during his enlightenment with others, and a new Light began to shine in the world. It is then that Guru Nanak began to impact humanity and the stories of that impact began to be told for posterity.

#MeToo Emerges in White House

So finally the #MeToo avalanche has hit the White House. And John Kelly is going to get stowed away. All because he got in the way of Melania Trump and ignored her demands.

Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook exhorts American women to Lean In. Melania’s foreign origins perhaps made for delayed action on her part, but her actions are in full bloom right now.

First, she spanked Donald Trump’s hand, letting all the world to see that she was no wallflower. Then after Donald showed his usual insensitivity to everything, she visited children separated from their parents at multiple detention camps.

Trump called Africa full of shit-hole countries. Well that was enough to make Melaniavisit those same shit-holes. And in a practice perfected by Lady Di, she clung to little black children as if she was their Madonna. It sure makes for a pretty picture when a beautiful white woman clings to black children, something like Madonna and child. The photo-op is amazing; ratings go sky-high.

And now she’s fired a national security council staffer under the very nose of John Bolton. Bolton got into a scrap with Kelly, so she’s making it even stevens by firing Kelly. Who’s next on the Melania mission?

Trump must have surely got an earful from her regarding Stormy Daniels. So he lets her do what she wants. Who knows what else she knows?

What about Javanka, who famously had it in for Kelly? Well, Jarred Kushner and Ivanka Trump must be grateful that step-mom is taking care of their enemies. Ivanka looks so so much like Melania’s daughter, what with their common EasternEuropean heritage, but isn’t. What relationship Ivanka has with Melania is unclear; Melania seems mostly concerned with her own son, Barron.

Many expected that Melania would be this dumb, stupid, glam doll who Trump would wear on his sleeve. She’s proving to be far otherwise. She has already said that the West Wing contains people Trump cannot trust and she knows who they are. If I were them, and I knew who I was, I would quickly start leaning into the East Wing.

Bill Clinton disdained India as much as Donald Trump does. Hillary came over many years before Bill set foot in India. Lean In, India. Lean In into MelaniaTrump. She can do such wonders for the Indo-US relationship that even the Donald cannot.

And surely she doesn’t think India of as a shit-hole country.

The United Nations Obsession With Rights is Hedgmonistic

 UN is an organization with obsessive concern with rights and sustainability to the extent of denying individual freedom. To me, the United Nations was the benevolent organization dedicated to pressuring the world community in the direction of peace, and to operating charitable programs to help the struggling, impoverished peoples of the world. But it is not so.

Although there was a socialistic thread in its founding document, the United Nations was formed based on a vision of human rights presented in the “UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights” (UDHR) which placed the concept of rights at the forefront for the progress of the world body. And rights are the mainstay for uplifting human freedom and the dignity of the individual. The UDHRdocument followed many amazing documents that presented rights as the central concept of the post-feudal world: the English Declaration (or Bill) of Rights 1689, the U.S. Declaration of Independence with its important and forceful assertion of inalienable natural rights, the powerful U.S. Bill of Rights enacted in 1791, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and theCitizen (1789). 

The word “rights” appears in almost every sentence of the 1869-word UN document. The document is literally obsessed with rights, and one must assume they are likewise obsessed with the rights successes as manifested in theUnited Kingdom, the U.S., and France. However, there are some deviations from the rights usage we are all familiar with. In Article 3, Instead of the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”found in our Declaration of Independence, the UN declares everyone’s right to”life, liberty and security of person.” Are they implying that security will bring happiness? Or are they implying that happiness is too ephemeral value, and too Western? Perhaps more mundane survival goals are needed by most of the world.

We see a reprise of items from our Bill of Rights such as the condemnation of cruel and unusual punishment (Article 5), due process (Articles 6,7,8,9, 10, 11, 14,17), illegal search and seizure (Article 12), and freedom of speech and assembly (Articles 19,20). But there are new rights introduced which, as early as 1945, were pointing the way towards intervention by the UN in the daily lives of people throughout the world. Throughout the document, they assert the right to food, clothing, medical care, social services, unemployment and disability benefits, child care, and free education, plus the right to”full development of the personality,” (imagine, the UN says I have the right to be me) and the “right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community… and to enjoy the arts” (we each have the right to enjoy a painting or a movie). However, they do not state the right to appear on the “Tonight Show” or “Saturday Night Live”, so there were limits to their largesse. 

In 2015, seventy years after their original rights-based document, the UN took the giant step towards the global government that was only hinted at in their first organizing document. They issued a document entitled “Transforming OurWorld: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” This document has 91numbered sections of the UN’s program for world government. The UDHR is only referenced once in the entire document in Article 19. Unlike the original”mother document” that was under 1900 words, this document is 14,883words. The 91 items are addressing issues under the five headings of People,Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership. Additionally, the document provides17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to improve life on the planet. 

What is meant by the term “sustainable?” The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development:”sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The earlier ideas and ideals of rights, freedom, equality, and justice are subsumed under meeting of needs and an explicit environmentalism which emphasizes preventing the depletion of scarce planetary resources. Of course, the takeoff is the Marxist axiom that society should be organized around the idea of “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” Thus, Marxism is implicit in sustainability but is nuanced by its alliance with seemingly scientific adjustments and goals related to environmentalism. A technical jargon is welded to Marxist intentionality to produce a sense of fittingness and modern progress. 

The entire “Transforming Our World” document is cast in a stream of consciousness of pious platitudes for a utopian future. It is an outsize utopian dream. Five of the 17 items pertain to the environment. There are goals for the cities, for women, for the poor, and even for life under the water. Absolutely no sphere of human activity is exempt from control by the UN. The key word of course is no longer “rights” except the oblique reference in Article 19. In fact, this writer did not see the word rights even once in this document even though that word appeared in practically every sentence of the original UN document. 

The one-worlders of the 1950s and early 1960s are now in the UN driver’s seat, and they have made their move. The overlay of Marxist talk about “meeting needs” has moved to center stage. The UN has assigned itself a time frame for moving forward in its plan for planetary hegemony. 

This projected transformation detailing (yet without details) a new world order of environmental responsibility and a significant reduction of poverty and hunger never speaks to the practical dimension of vast manipulations of people by cynical leaders and ignorant bureaucrats who hold their positions through terrorism and bribery. They never discuss incompetence and corruption, twin brothers in the family of venality. The document portrays a sincere world where all those in power want to help humanity despite the daily evidence of the selfishness, corruption, murderous intents, devilish manipulations, thefts, personal immoralities, hatreds, and utter depravity of many governmental leaders in every country in the world, and among the leaders of business as well. Is not the Agenda for Sustainable Development itself one of those devilish manipulations?

The sustainability ideal is evidence of fact that individual liberty is submerged in a scientifically determined collectivist mindset with final decisions in the hands of the devilish, all-knowing Big Brothers. The relevance of the individual is downplayed. It is being put forward by a UN that is no longer pro-western, a much larger body that existed in 1945. Will you accept it, or is it time, more than ever before, to begin rethinking our membership in that unsustainable body?

Preparing for a Growing Cyber Risk Challenge

A positive outlook for the global economy shouldn’t engender complacency. As described in the Global Risks Report 2018, the rapidly shifting global risks landscape

A positive outlook for the global economy shouldn’t engender complacency. As described in the Global Risks Report 2018, the rapidly shifting global risks landscape presents a challenging operating and investment environment for businesses.

The pace of change has been increasing, characterized by rapid technological advances, seismic shifts in the geopolitical landscape and growing sources of social instability. The broad range of potential shocks that could emerge in this context demands a strategy that puts a premium on resilience.

The average time companies spend in the S&P 500 index has already decreased from approximately 60 years in the 1950s to 12 years today. The velocity of change in the current environment, creating both new opportunities and new threats, will likely drive down this figure even further.

The growing challenge of cyber

One place where many of these issues come together is cyber-risk. Cyberattacks are perceived as the global risk of highest concern to business leaders in advanced economies. Cyber is also viewed by the wider risk community as the risk most likely to intensify in 2018, according to the risk perception survey that underpins the Global Risks Report.

  Exposure to risks from cyber is growing as firms become more dependent on technology. The explosive growth of interconnected devices expands the size of the surface open to cyberattack for organizations — and the number of interconnected devices in the world is expected to jump from 8.4 billion today to 20 billion in 2020. Increased use of artificial intelligence in business processes also heightens exposure to cyber-risks.

At the same time, geopolitical friction is contributing to a surge in the scale and sophistication of cyberattacks, particularly from well-resourced efforts with state backing. Firms, large ones in particular, need to anticipate attacker objectives that range from theft and business interruption to extortion, economic espionage, reputational damage and the infiltration of critical infrastructure and services. This highly diverse and very active set of adversaries makes cyber a very challenging risk to manage.

An under-resourced risk

Awareness of this challenge is growing and investment in cyber-risk management is increasing. However, cyber is still under-resourced in comparison to the potential scale of the threat, a view that’s even more compelling when considered in the context of a more familiar issue — natural catastrophes.

Analysis suggests that the takedown of a single cloud provider could cause $50 billion to $120 billion of economic damage — a loss somewhere between Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. And while it’s not exactly apples to apples, the annual economic cost of cybercrime is now estimated at north of $1 trillion, a multiple of 2017’s record-year aggregate cost of approximately $300 billion from natural disasters.

Although cyber-risk management is improving, business and governments need to invest far more in resilience efforts to prevent the same “protection gap” between economic and insured losses that we see for natural catastrophes.

The supportive infrastructure to manage and mitigate cyber-risk is not nearly at the same scale as the one in place for natural catastrophes. National cyber agencies, although expanding, don’t have the same capacity as the public and voluntary sector agencies ready to respond to natural disasters — such as FEMA in the US. Additionally, international protocols for sharing intelligence and mitigating impact, curbing malicious endeavours and forestalling escalation and retaliation are only starting to emerge — and are only endorsed by few countries at the moment, with no sanctions for non-compliance.

Businesses also need to focus on their resilience to cyber events and generally need to rebalance their initiatives from prevention to response. While companies in at risk areas often have rigorously developed response plans for extreme weather events, this is rarely the case for cyberattacks. Indeed, research suggests that only one third of companies have prepared an incident response plan for a major cyberattack.

New imperatives for risk management

One clear takeaway from this year’s Global Risks Report is that there’s a wide array of potential shocks that could emerge at this time of rapid technological, political and societal change. With firms more leveraged than they were a few years ago — the debt-to-equity ratio has nearly doubled since 2010 for the median S&P 1500 company — their stability is even more vulnerable to these potential shocks and surprises.

Innovation and growth need to be reconciled with risk and stability. More than ever, business leaders need to chart a course for their companies that has a bold strategic ambition to capture emerging opportunities and rigorous resilience planning that matches up against the complex set of risks in the current global landscape.

Indo-Pacific Moves to the Centre of Major Power Rivalries

From the Maldives to Papua New Guinea, the rise of China has pushed the Indo-Pacific back to the centre of major power rivalries. Simultaneous developments last week in different corners of the Indo-Pacific — from the Maldives to Papua NewGuinea — remind us of the renewed geopolitical importance of the island states. Connecting these diverse developments is China’s push for greater influence in the Indo-Pacific and the belated resistance from rival powers — includingIndia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.

At the dawn of the modern maritime age four centuries ago, control of critically-located islands became an important part of the rivalry between European powers in the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. Islands helped the replenishment of supplies, positioning of troops and ammunition as well as for the host ship to do repair and maintenance. Island dominance was the key to securing the sea lines of communication.

The Anglo-American maritime dominance over the last two centuries helped limit the contestation for the islands. The one brief exception was imperial Japan’s challenge in the decades before the Second World War. Today, the rise of China has pitchforked the island states back to the centre stage of major power politics.

No wonder, Prime Minister Narendra Modi found time during the busy election season to travel all the way south to Male, the capital of the Maldives, for a visit that lasted less than four hours. For both Delhi and Male, the PM’s visit was about signalling India’s enduring importance for the Maldives. Modi’s presence at the swearing-in of the new president of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, underlined the renewed warmth in the relations between the two countries.

Under Solih’s predecessor, Abdulla Yameen, India’s relations with the Maldives rapidly deteriorated even as China’s influence began to rise. The contestation between Delhi and Beijing in the Maldives inevitably got intertwined with the democratic struggle of the opposition parties to end Yameen’s autocracy. They kept demanding an Indian intervention as Yameen trampled over the parliament and judiciary, but Delhi held back.

The intersection of Sino-Indian rivalry with domestic politics has also come to the fore in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Like much of the international community, India too was surprised late last month, when the Sri Lankan President MaithripalaSirisena dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the head of government.

Even before the rest of the world could absorb the meaning of Sirisena’s political coup, the Chinese ambassador in Colombo showed up at Rajapaksa’s office to congratulate him and convey the best wishes of President Xi. India, the US and EU, in contrast, emphasised the importance of due constitutional process and letting parliament test which party had the majority.

If China is widely seen as the loser — at least for the moment — from the elections in the Maldives, it was seen as a winner in Rajapaksa’s return to power. During his decade-long rule of Sri Lanka (2004-15), Colombo seemed to steadily drift into China’s orbit. Symbolising China’s new influence in Lanka were the strategic contracts it won to build the Colombo port city and the construction of a new port at Hambantota in the southern part of the island. India, in turn, appeared to lose its historic primacy in the island state.

Looking further east, last week saw the island state of Papua New Guinea host the annual summit of the forum for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. How did the poorest member of the forum venture to host the summit that brings leaders from 20-odd countries from America to China, Malaysia to Japan and Canada to Chile? Well, the Chinese and Australians have lent generous assistance.

As in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the last few years have seen a spectacular rise in Chinese commercial and political presence in Papua New Guinea. As speculation mounted that China might be in quest of a military base in Papua New Guinea, Australia and the US moved in last week and announced that they will fund the development of the port facilities in the Manus Island to the north-east of the main island. Imperial Japan — Canberra and Washington have not forgotten — had occupied Manus and built a military base there in 1942.

Earlier this year, Canberra nudged Beijing out of a deal to build an under-sea internet cable between Papua, Australia and the Solomon Islands. This week, Australia joined the US, Japan and New Zealand in unveiling a project to provide electricity to 70 percent of the Papua New Guinea population by 2030.

Like Delhi in the Indian Ocean, Canberra and Wellington had underestimated the scale and speed of China’s power projection into their South Pacific neighbourhood. So did the US, which failed to react in time to China’s push to gain control of the small rocks and islands of the South China Sea at the beginning of this decade.

The unfolding contestation for influence in the island states of the Indo-Pacific has just begun. It is unlikely to end any time soon — for one setback in the Maldives or Papua does not diminish China’s growing weight in the Indo-Pacificor its determination to project power far beyond its shores.

Unlike the European colonial powers, which could easily prevail over natives of the strategic island territories, today’s major powers have to deal with the more complex domestic politics of the island nations. The ruling regimes in these islands have agency and the capacity to play one power against the other. That promises to make the battle for the islands a prolonged and exciting political spectacle in the Indo-Pacific

Thought Process of Successful People is Different

Successful people come from all walks of life, yet they all have one thing in common: where others see impenetrable barriers, they see challenges to embrace and obstacles to overcome.

Their confidence in the face of hardship is driven by their ability to let go of the negativity that holds so many otherwise sensible people back.

Obstacles do not block the path; they are the path.

This perspective helps successful people to think differently to everyone else, which is important, because if you think like everyone else, no matter how smart or experienced you are, you’ll hit the same ceiling. By thinking outside the box and going against the grain, successful people rise above their limitations.

We all know how important it is to approach problems with radical optimism and creativity, but this is easier said than done. In a study conducted at Adobe, 96% of employees identified creativity as essential to their success, both in terms of their income and the value they bring to the world. What’s more, 78% wished they were capable of thinking differently, believing that they would progress through their careers more quickly if they did.

Too often we attribute creative and “different” thinking to natural, innate characteristics that belong only to the lucky. The truth is that you can study how ridiculously successful people think and incorporate their approach into your repertoire.

They’re confident. If only we knew of all the great ideas that never came to fruition because people lacked the confidence to put them into action. Successful people confidently act on their ideas, because they know that a failed idea is not a reflection of their ability; instead, they see it as a wonderful learning opportunity.

They’re composed. Ultra-successful people are composed, because they constantly monitor their emotions and understand them and they use this knowledge in the moment to react with self-control to challenging situations. When things go downhill, they are persistently calm and frustratingly content (frustrating to those who aren’t, at least). They know that no matter how good or bad things get, everything changes with time. All they can do is to adapt and adjust to stay happy and in control.

They’re honest. Super-successful people trust that honesty and integrity, though painful at times, always work out for the best in the long run. They know that honesty allows for genuine connections with people and that lying always comes back to bite you in the end. In fact, a Notre Dame study showed that people who often lied experienced more mental health problems than their more honest counterparts.

They seek out small victories. Successful people like to challenge themselves and to compete, even when their efforts yield only small victories. Small victories build new androgen receptors in the areas of the brain responsible for reward and motivation. This increase in androgen receptors enhances the influence of testosterone, which further increases their confidence and eagerness to tackle challenges. When you achieve a series of small victories, the boost in your confidence can last for months.

They’re always learning. Super-successful people often know more than others do, because they’re constantly trying to learn. They vow to constantly grow, and they fill every spare moment with self-education. They don’t do this because it’s “the right thing to do”; they do it because it’s their passion. They’re always looking for opportunities to improve and new things to learn about themselves and the world around them. Instead of succumbing to their fear of looking stupid, truly exceptional people just ask the questions on their mind, because they would rather learn something new than appear smart.

They expose themselves to a variety of people. There’s no easier way to learn to think differently than spending time with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses or whose ideas are radically different from your own. This exposure sparks new ideas and makes you well rounded. This is why we see so many great companies with co-founders who stand in stark contrast to each other. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak from Apple were a prime example. Neither could have succeeded without the other.

They keep an open mind. Exposing yourself to a variety of people is useless if you spend that time disagreeing with them and comforting yourself with your own opinions. Successful people recognize that every perspective provides an opportunity for growth. You need to practice empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can understand how their perspective makes sense (at least, to them). A great way to keep an open mind is to try to glean at least one interesting or useful thing from every conversation you have.

They’re fearless. Fear is nothing more than a lingering emotion that’s fueled by your imagination. Danger is real. Danger is the uncomfortable rush of adrenaline you get when you almost step in front of a bus; fear is a choice. Exceptional people know this better than anyone does, so they flip fear on its head. Instead of letting fear take over, they’re addicted to the euphoric feeling they get from conquering their fears.

They turn tedious tasks into games. Every job entails some degree of tedium. For most people, tedium leads to sloppy, rushed work. Only the most successful people find ways to make the tedious interesting. By turning tedious work into a game, they challenge themselves and produce high-quality work, making things interesting in the process.

They dream big but remain grounded. Successful people reach for the seemingly impossible, but they do so in a way that is actionable and realistic. While you may not know exactly how you’re going to achieve your dream, you need to make progress no matter how small the steps. For example, Elon Musk’s goal at SpacEx is to “Occupy Mars.” While this is a big dream, Musk keeps it realistic by engaging in regular steps that, some day, may get him there. SpacEx just landed a rocket upright on a boat in the ocean for the first time ever. It’s a far cry from colonizing Mars, but it’s an essential step in the process

Remaining relevant in the future of work

The half-life of a skill has dropped from 30 years to an average of 6 years. This holds true even for fresh university graduates. This means that the model of “learn at school” and “do at work” is no longer sustainable and constant reskilling and lifelong learning will be a way of life at work. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, reskilling is the top priority for organizations looking at their future workforce strategy. And with working lives getting longer, reskilling is important for all workers, not just the young.

Individuals, companies, and educational institutions must find collective and elegant solutions that work for everyone and must push for smart ways to promote fairness and progressive thinking at work. Governments and policy makers can play a role in this new paradigm by showing bolder leadership in education and labor market regulations and by developing standards that enable and accelerate future of work opportunities. A collective response will create the platforms that enable and empower individuals to reinvent themselves to embark on new pathways and progress their careers.

Business leaders can no longer be passive consumers of ready-made human capital. They need to put talent development and workforce strategy front and center in their growth plans. This requires a new mindset to understand the challenges workers face and evolve talent programmes and models that unlock their potential.

Challenging Week for Theresa May

Outside of Westminster, the emergency EU-UK Brexit summit is now scheduled in Brussels this Sunday. With a number of crunch points after that, it is possible the political drama could extend into the spring with the EU parliament possibly not signing off (or rejecting) the deal itself till as late as March 11-14.

With such a monumentally busy and precarious period ahead for the UK, many are starting to appreciate one of the great ironies of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.  The effort and time London has needed to devote to the Brussels-based club, as it seeks to negotiate the terms of its departure, is more than perhaps all previous post-war UK administrations did before the Brexit vote.

Following Thursday’s dramatic cabinet resignations, the UK’s draft EU exit deal looks to be in significant jeopardy.  Moreover, Theresa May’s entire premiership is hanging again in the balance too as she prepares for an emergency summit with the EU this week.

While it is still too early to count her out, she is now facing a hugely uncertain few weeks leading up to the UK’s scheduled withdrawal from the EU in late March. Not only could she soon face a leadership challenge from within the ruling Conservative Party, she must try to navigate the deal through ratification in the House of Commons without a majority in the chamber.

This looks to be exceptionally politically difficult, not least because public opinion appears to be opposed to the deal. For instance, a YouGov study released on Thursday found that 42% of UK citizens oppose the draft deal, 19% are in favour, with 39% not sure.

Thus the 2016 referendum that saw around 52% of the population apparently voting for cutting ties with the EU has seen May and her team devoting huge attention to Europe with a key strategic priority being developing a new relationship with the 27 other member states.  Indeed, such has been the scale of the task already that it is likely to prove the most complex and important peacetime negotiations the UK has ever faced.

Even now, with a draft exit deal agreed, there remain multiple key questions about the UK’s likely pathway toward the EU exit door.  For instance, Ireland continues to cause major challenges.

Under the draft agreement, a backstop contingency plan will come into force in the event that London and Brussels cannot agree on a new future-focused trade deal during the transition period scheduled to start in April.  The backstop would not have an expiry date or allow for unilateral exit and, if the new EU-UK trade deal is not ready by the end of the transition period, the backstop would kick in with Northern Ireland in “full alignment with those rules of [the EU’s] internal market and the customs union” which critics say amounts to a barrier down the Irish Sea.

The May government’s grasp of Brexit’s realities has been shaky from the start. May has not been able to deliver an alternative model to current EU full membership that can secure consent from Brussels, which provided the same balance of influence and advantages that the UK gets from its current full member status.

For all the EU’s flaws, and it has many that need to be better tackled, the UK has enjoyed a uniquely positive position in the world’s largest political and economic union.  For instance, it has all the benefits of the single market, but is not part of the eurozone, and it has retained a big budgetary rebate. Moreover, the stark reality is that the draft Brexit deal has key disadvantages, including the fact that it fails to provide full access to services which account for around 80% of the UK economy.

Taken overall, with the draft exit deal now in place, realisation of its flaws is growing within the UK. Despite all of her efforts, May has not been able to strike a draft exit agreement that is better for the UK national interest than one which continued membership of a reformed EU potentially offers.

Human Nature, Hedonism & Identity

There are two broader implications of artificial neuromodulators, one philosophical and the other social and political. Philosophically, we could consider that the use of ‘smart pills’ ultimately equates to a kind of hedonism. Because such drugs improve one’s mood rather than altering one’s cognition in any significant way (for now), they could be deemed a mode of seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake rather than a means to better ideas.

Within certain parameters, pleasure-seeking is fundamental to human nature, as, in addition to our fundamental survival-oriented disposition, the human brain is pre-programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This leads us to seek out and repeat actions from sensual to intellectual pursuits, or a combination of the two, which share a common basic thread: they gratify us in some way that ultimately operates at the neurochemical level.

However, a large and longstanding body of thought, from Plato and Aristotle through to Nozick, argues that pleasure is only one value among many, and warns against the dangers of pursuing it to the exclusion of all other values. This adds moral and philosophical weight to the need for greater efforts to ensure that the use of enhancers is better regulated and preferably curbed before it becomes more of a public epidemic, with the potential to do great damage. Indeed, any way of life that comes to rely upon repeatedly modifying one’s brain chemistry in order to be able to endure one’s circumstances is dangerously unhealthy. It can be life-threatening to the individual, or a threat to others, if it is manifested in deep depression or mania, for instance.

Unless it’s being used for debilitating neuro-cognitive deficits, powerfully self-modulating behavior equates to a kind of self-deception, with a concomitant loss of free will. And enacted consistently over time, these actions could in principle interfere with or even conflict with any coherent sense of identity. Ultimately, then, neuromodulation could estrange people from fundamental elements of our humanity which have helped us develop a moral compass. Fear, anxiety, negative emotions, remorse, guilt – these are all examples of unpleasant yet indispensable and educative emotions that guide us towards greater empathy, resilience and compassion for others. Inhibiting these negative emotions may be temporarily convenient, but extremely damaging in the long run.

Indeed, some apparently negative drivers of human behavior such as selfishness and competitiveness may be just as necessary for human progress and survival as positive behaviors such as cooperation, collaboration, and symbiotic co-existence. This provokes one last question: what if artificial neuromodulation were used to instill more compassion, altruism, and pro-social behavior and empathy in us? Would even too much of a good thing be bad for us?

China’s Drive for Technology Domination Behind Trade Wars

As America’s trade war with China enters its fourth month and tensions continue to mount, the tit-for-tat tariffs and counter-tariffs are drowning out a deeper conflict. Despite President Trump’s obsession about trade deficits, what is really at stake are growing American concerns about China’s theft of sensitive technology to narrow the technology gap. While ramping up tariffs on products gets headlines, the US has quietly stepped up its counter-intelligence and law-enforcement machinery to foil Beijing’s multi-directional espionage efforts aimed at challenging US hegemony.

In recent weeks, the US has highlighted several clandestine Chinese efforts to steal sensitive US technology. In an overseas sting operation, American authorities nabbed a senior officer of China’s Ministry of State Security trying to obtain engine designs from GE Aviation in Belgium. In a first move of its kind the US got a senior Chinese spy  extradited. The Departments of Commerce and Justice worked with the government of Taiwan to stop a Chinese state-owned chip maker from stealing US trade secrets.  Earlier, with the support of FBI, the US Congress introduced Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act of 2018 to prevent IP theft by spies masquerading as students. In the past, Chinese students have been accused of stealing intellectual property including sensitive dual-use research.

Testifying before the Senate, the FBI director warned that Confucius Institutes and other Chinese state-backed organisations operate as “nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting,” in large and small cities all across the United States. He charged that “they’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere.”  Vice President Mike Pence also tore into China for its comprehensive “influence operation” and for “rewarding or coercing” American businesses, movie studios, universities, think-tanks, journalists, and government officials.

The public criticism of Chinese spying and influence operations and the arrests of Chinese operatives coincide with the Trump administration’s increasing concern about Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” campaign. That programme launched in 2015 aims to achieve dominance in ten high-tech industries, including artificial intelligence, robotics, aircraft manufacturing, semiconductors, and pharmaceuticals. Trump even took the Chinese ambition to challenge US technology domination personally. He called China 2025 program “very insulting” and then went on to claim, falsely,  that China has stopped the programme  because of his being offended.

Meanwhile Trump’s hardline approach received bipartisan support from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The commission, set up by the Congress in 2000 to monitor national security implications of bilateral trade, published a report this week warning that the dominance of networking equipment manufacturing by companies like Huawei Technology and ZT Corporation threatens the security of US 5G wireless infrastructure. China’s all-out effort to achieve domination in intelligence collection, the commission cautioned, extended to use of internet-connected household devices designed and manufactured by Chinese companies. Such devices, the report said, create “numerous points of vulnerability for intelligence collection, cyberattacks, industrial control, or censorship.” It urged the US government to address this new vulnerability through better control of the supply chain used to make these devices.

The fact is that even if the Chinese suspended their subsidies for high technology industry in response to US pressure, those programmes would be taken forward by the private sector. Chinese official commentaries have charged that proposed US tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese exports was mainly aimed at disrupting China’s high-tech industry involved in the “Made in China 2025” plan . It was not only for economic benefit, a People’s Daily commentary charged it was also “to impede China’s development.” The stepped up US effort to strangle the initiative is likely to lead an ultra-nationalist China to redouble its effort.

The intensity of mutual distrust, combined with Washington’s demands that China fundamentally change its industrial policy and its overall espionage effort, forebodes a long struggle. Reaching an amicable resolution to the tariff war could lower the temperature, but it will not address the deeper tensions.

The Current American Revolution

The revolution of 1776 sought to turn a colony of Great Britain into a new independent republic based on constitutionally protected freedom. It succeeded with the creation of the United States.

The failed revolution of 1861, by a slave-owning South declaring its independence from the Union, sought to bifurcate the country, More than 600,000 dead later, slavery was abolished, a Confederacy was in in ruins, and the South was forced back into the United States largely on the conditions and terms of the victorious North.

The 1960s saw efforts to create a new progressive nation by swarming democratic and republican institutions. The sheer force of a left-wing cultural revolution would supposedly transform a nation, in everything from jeans, long hair, and pot to rock music and sexual “liberation.” It was eventually diffused by popular weariness with the extremism and violence of the radical revolutionaries, and the establishment’s agreements to end the Vietnam War, give 18-year-olds the right to vote, phase out the draft, expand civil rights to include reparatory action, legalize abortion, radicalize the university, and vastly increase the administrative state to wage a war on poverty, a war on pollution, and a war on inequality.

Our present revolution is more multifaceted. It is a war on the very Constitution of the United States that has not yet brought the Left its Holy Grail: a state-mandated equality of result overseen by an omnipotent and omniscient elite. The problem for today’s leftists is that they are not fighting Bourbon France, a reactionary Europe of 1848, or Czarist Russia, but an affluent, culturally uninhibited, and wildly free United States, where never in the history of civilization has a people attained such affluence and leisure.

Poverty is not existential as it once was, given high technology and government redistribution. The grievance is not that America is destitute (indeed, obesity not famine is our national epidemic). The poorer do not lack access to material goods (everything from iPhones to high-priced sneakers is in the reach of about everyone).

Instead, the complaint is that some have far more than others, and the government, despite its $21 trillion in debt, seems unable to guaranteed universal parity, especially when the people seem unexcited about joining “taking a knee” protests or “swarming the homes” of counter-revolutionaries. In other words, millions of Americans will never join Antifa, Black Lives Matter, or Occupy Wall Street on the barricades; nor will they worry that in Texas 59 percent of white women voted for Latino Ted Cruz while 95 percent of black women voted for white male Robert O’Rourke. They apparently prefer instead to live private lives on their own terms.

Taking a drive in a Hyundai today is far more comfortable, reliable, and safe than touring in a 1970 Rolls Royce. An inner-city youth with an iPhone has more computing power and global access in his palm than did an estate owner in 1990 with a row of mainframe computers in his basement. So revolution is not so easy anymore and requires changing the very idea of the state, the law, and the ancient institutions that uphold them.


Sovereign and secure borders do not lead to the sort of demographic upheaval that fuels progressive agendas. Measured, legal, meritocratic, and diverse immigration does not result in a vast impoverished shadow population in need of self-appointed advocacy; it enhances individual assimilation, integration, intermarriage, and Americanization.

If in the past nullification of federal laws led to the states’-rights crises involving southern states in 1828–32, 1860, or 1962, today there is apparently little worry about ignoring federal immigration statutes. We simply have allowed more than 500 municipalities, counties, and states to declare full enforcement of federal immigration law null and avoid within their jurisdictions — period.

Immigrants 1,000 miles away, intent on crashing the southern border and residing in the U.S. illegally, sue the federal government to force acceptance of their anticipated illegal entry. Again, the revolutionary idea is that progressive messaging cannot win 51 percent approval without changing the demography — and changing the demography is impossible without constitutional nullification.

Elections and Courts

Voting does not always result in the result that progressives desire. Unfortunately for the Left, more than half the country still believes America is uniquely good, blessed with a wonderful inheritance by its brave and ingenious ancestors, a beacon of freedom and security in a scary world, and constantly improving. Even a progressive media, university, Hollywood, and a progressive plutocracy, Antifa, and street theater cannot yet change that fact.

So the revolution again turns to upending the constitution and the law. In Florida, local violations of state election laws seek to warp the result and elect the more progressive candidate. More fundamentally, why does a Wyoming of 600,000 souls deserve two senators, the same number as in California with its 40 million? Are not 39,400,000 California citizens deprived of their “rights” of proportional senatorial representation?

Why is there an electoral college that violates the spirt of Athenian democratic direction elections? Why is there a Second Amendment that allows “automatic” assault weapons and “nuts” with handguns?

For that matter, why is there a counterrevolutionary First Amendment that protects “hate speech” and de facto promotes right-wing racists, homophobes, nativists, xenophobes, sexists, and climate-change deniers, allowing them to propagandize and pollute the public discourse and infect campuses with right-wing rhetoric?

The courts have become revolutionary. They now routinely overturn popular referenda, presidential executive orders, and legislative statutes, mostly on the principle that better-educated, more moral and experienced judges answer to a higher, more progressive calling and know what in the long run is best for the uneducated rabble. From now on out, every Republican-nominated Supreme Court nominee will probably result in a Kavanaugh-like circus, in which protestors in the gallery, disruptive senators themselves, and mobs in the street will attempt to create so much chaos that the wearied public will cave and just wish that conservatives would not nominate such controversial constructionists.


Today’s university is in a revolutionary spiral. The U.S. Constitution does not necessarily protect students and faculty. By that dramatic statement, I mean, free speech is all but gone. A professor who confessed opposition to affirmative action, abortion, or global warming would face ostracism and even risk physical assault and yet see his attackers all but sanctioned by a neutral or complicit administration.

Due process is nonexistent in many areas. In accusations of sexual harassment or assault, there is little left of the presumption of innocence, the right to confront and question a transparent accuser, and the appeal to be judged by a jury of one’s peers. Most of the 1960s civil-rights agenda is moribund on campus.

Racial segregation in dorms and safe spaces is unquestioned. Racial biases can result in rejected admission on the premise that there are too many of one particular race on campus — and merit-based criteria are a prejudiced construct anyway. Censorship has returned, by both banning texts and demonizing classics now deemed to need “trigger warnings.” Free assembly and expression are on life support. Speakers and guests deemed “right-wing” are shouted down, swarmed, or disinvited by a terrified Bourbon administration.

The Mob

The mob is becoming in some ways as powerful as the French rabble who cheered on the guillotine, or the adolescent crowds that spoiled affluent kids such as Bill Ayers and Jane Fonda once used as demonstration fodder. Instead, it is vast and global — and linked by instant communications on social media and the Internet, and it remains often anonymous. Post or say one wrong word, and the electronic turba comes out of the shadows, swarming to demand career-ending confessions, or offering amnesty on promises of correct reeducation. One’s entire life can be accessed in nanoseconds to root out past thought crimes and counterrevolutionary speech. Be deemed a right-wing obstructionist or activist, and everything — from one’s cell-phone number and email address to private residence and office —can become known to 7 billion.

Logging on may mean using the public airspace and thus entering the domain of a traditionally regulated public utility, but the masters of the universe at Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, by the power of their trillions of dollars and loud progressive fides, are exempt from antitrust and monopoly legislation. So when the mob targets a public enemy, correct-thinking thirtysomething geeks and nerds in Menlo Park and Palo Alto gear up to shut down, censor, and recalibrate public transmitted speech and thought.

Almost everything we have seen in just the last three months — the Kavanaugh chaos, the “caravan,” the ongoing Mueller octopus, recounting election results until they are deemed “correct,” the Beto and Gillum neo-socialism craziness, the swarming of a Fox News anchor’s home, driving public officials out of restaurants, the media circus at presidential press conferences — are symptoms of revolutionary America. In this conflict, one side believes it is not only not fair but also not allowable that it lacks the necessary power to make us all equal — but equal only in the eyes of a self-anointed elite.

A Somnambulistic Sojourn Into the Past?

It was hard not to be moved by Sunday’s global conjoining as we commemorated 100 years since the end of World War One. Endless stories of heroism from all corners in the face of impossible odds, the elation when peace was declared and the immeasurable grief and mourning that kicked in once people finally had a chance to reflect on all that had been lost. “Never again” say our leaders while bowing their heads in quiet homage. However, it seems to me that, unwittingly, we’ve taken global geo-politics broadly back to where it was just before the outbreak of World War Two, except now the stakes are even higher.

Indeed, it has forever been the folly of man to repeat his mistakes, again and again, each time with greater largess. Watching all the coverage this week, it’s hard to fathom that, barely twenty years after Armistice, we were at it again. Indeed, the second time round, the war was truly global, the casualties heavier (by multiples) and the geo-political impact far more profound.

We’ve now enjoyed almost 75 years of peacetime (if you exclude all the myriad of mini-wars around the planet that are needed to sustain the defence industry). We did have a slight wobble in the 80’s when it looked like the United States and the Soviet Union might duke it out on a nuclear scale. Thankfully the moment passed and we’re all still here. However, there are political processes and events in motion now that, I believe, are leading us to the next big flash point.

Imagine, if you will, a potential series of unfortunate events. The UK leaves the EU (“Brexit”). Italy and Spain ask to be shown the exit door too. It all gets very acrimonious and leads to a complete break up of the EU. The EU, which was in part established to ensure peace in Europe, becomes the very trigger for conflict. Russia waiting on sidelines, takes the opportunity to grab back Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine. They may even have a nibble at the outer edges of Europe. The US has by this time closed itself off. The Middle East continues to be ravaged by the proxy wars of the west. The fall of oil prices as we move to renewable energy sources further weakens the region. Plus we have two more super powers, India and China. That’s a pretty heady mix.

This is all very far fetched of course and a great deal needs to happen before we reach such a dire eventuality. However, if one examines the period leading up to WW2 to now, there’s certainly a strong correlation in themes. So here’s my quick and dirty analysis on the state of the world 1939 versus 2018:

The tough economic precursor: The period leading up to the second world war (WW2) was blighted by the longest and deepest depression of the twentieth century, leading to worldwide economic turmoil. Thereafter, apart from cyclical peaks and troughs and a few minor shocks, things were relatively sanguine until the global prime mortgage lead liquidity blowout of 2008.

Just as in the 1930s, millions of people lost their jobs and 10 years on, many governments are still forcing austerity measures on their electorates. Add to that the mass migration of refugees from the Middle East and Africa into Europe and the US, you can see pressure mounting.

The rise of nationalism and populism: Following the great depression, nationalism experienced a global resurgence in the 1930s. Germany, which had suffered the economic ravages of the depression and WW1 plus the subsequent, some would say, egregious reparation bill was desperate for a leader to revive the country’s fortunes and (as importantly) national pride. Enter stage right Adolf Hitler in 1934. This coincided with the rise of fascism and expansionism in Italy, Spain and Japan.

When President Trump recently declared himself a ‘nationalist” (ironically at the Toyota Centre in Houston), I couldn’t help but wince. From the Republicans in the US, the Conservatives in the UK, the BJP in India, right-of-centre populist governments are at firmly at the helm. Indeed, Angela Merkel’s departure (one of the few quality world leaders amongst her batch in my opinion) marks the end of a period of liberal rule in Europe. Look at this year’s shock election results in Italy.

So, just as in the lead up to 1939, more protectionism, more government intervention, more borders (materials for Trump’s Mexican wall are no doubt being sourced as you read this) and the increase in closed trading blocks.

The fight against globalisation: “Empire was the ancestor of globalization”(FT). Most of us think of globalisation as a recent phenomenon. In actual fact, the various empires of the 18th and 19th century bought together a large number of disparate economies and societies into large borderless trading zones, providing their masters with cheap raw materials and labour, way before air travel and the internet came along. However, ahead of WW2, pretty much all of the imperial nations were facing immense pressure from their existing dominions for self-rule. This meant that a re-division of the world was required. The subsequent war and victory over the Nazis set the scene for such a re-division. On the face of it, Imperialist led globalisation was over.

Today, opponents of the free market blame globalization for increased inequality – between nations and within society. The UK’s exit from the EU together with a growing trade war between the US, EU and China, signifies the end of our love affair with modern globalization, for now. It’s time to draw new lines but we need to ensure excessive protectionism doesn’t spill over into something else.

There’s also evidence that the old expansionist tendencies are well and truly intact with Russia making a grab for Ukraine not so long ago. Moreover, there are many ways to invade other nations now without rolling in the tanks. The empire may yet strike back.

An insular United States: The US didn’t get involved in WW2 until its hand was forced at the very end. Prior to WW2, the US had by and large practiced a policy of isolation from global politics.

Once again, under Trump’s administration, we see a United States that is systematically drawing in its horns. The abandonment of the Paris Climate Agreement, threats to abandon the WTO and the introduction of steel tariffs are all signs that the nation is shutting its doors.

The weakness of intergovernmental organisations: The League of Nations, set up after WW1 to resolve international disputes, failed in its task primarily because the US refused to join it. The United Nations, set up subsequently under the auspices of the US, has generally been more effective than it’s predecessor.

However, there are signs that the current administration is looking to downgrade its relationship to the peace keeping organization. This, together with very negative noises coming out of the White House about NATO, is not great news for international diplomacy.

The good, the bad and the tech: The internet of things is trying to stop us from running the planet into the ground. Tech only understands logic and the efficient allocation of resources. It doesn’t understand borders and can’t comprehend greed. “Each year, the US population spends more on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world” (Yuval Noah, Sapiens). This is where the conflict lies.

Technology has also provided us with smarter and more destructive weapons and social media has enabled the distribution of propaganda (fake news) like never before.

Lest we forget? Frankly, we need all the reminders that can be thrown at us. The present day parallels to those dark times just before WW2 are striking indeed but with one major difference – it was Roosevelt who occupied the most powerful office in the world then. Ultimately, we hope enlightened capitalist nations will realize that war destroys assets, threatens industry and hinders value creation. It seems somewhat obvious that while we waste trillions of dollars on the endless arms race, we fail to deal with potentially calamitous issues like global warming. The last thing we should all want is for future generations to face the horrors of war or worse because of the bad decisions we make today. When we say “never again” we should damn well mean it.

Sunday Special: ‘Sufism’- Fact & Myth

In a variety of Islamic political contexts around the world today, we see ‘Sufi’ ideas being invoked as a call to return to a deeper, more inward-directed (and more peaceful) mode of religious experience as compared to the one that results in outward-oriented political engagements that are often seen as negative and violent. A hundred years ago, it would not have been uncommon to hear western or West-influenced native voices condemn Islamic mysticism (often described problematically in English as ‘Sufism’) as one of the major sources of inertia and passivity within Muslim societies. Yet new political contingencies, especially after 9/11, have led to this same phenomenon being described as ‘the soft face of Islam’, with observers such as British writer William Dalrymple referring to a vaguely defined group of people called ‘the Sufis’ as ‘our’ best friends vis-à-vis the danger posed by Taliban-like forces.

We seem to be in a situation where journalistic discourse and policy debates celebrate idealised notions of Islamic mysticism with its enthralling music, inspiring poetry and the transformative/liberating potential of the ‘message’ of the great mystics. These mystics are clearly differentiated from more ‘closed-minded’ and ‘orthodox’ representatives of the faith such as preachers (mullahs), theologians (fuqaha) and other types of ulema.

On the other hand, when we trace the institutional legacy of these great mystics (walis/shaikhs) and spiritual guides (pirs) down to their present-day spiritual heirs, we find out that they are often all too well-entrenched in the social and political status quo. The degree of their sociopolitical influence has even become electorally quantifiable since the introduction of parliamentary institutions during colonial times. Pirs in Pakistan have been visible as powerful party leaders (Pir Pagara), ministers (Shah Mahmood Qureshi) and even prime ministers (Yousaf Raza Gillani). Even more traditional religious figures, such as Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi (who recently enjoyed media attention for threatening to withdraw support from the ruling party over a religious issue that unites many types of religious leaders), not only exercise considerable indirect influence over the vote but have also served as members of various legislative forums.

It is, therefore, unclear what policymakers mean when they call for investment in the concepts and traditions of ‘Sufi Islam’. Is it an appeal for the promotion of a particular kind of religious ethic through the public education system? Or is it a call for raising the public profile of little known faqirs and dervishes and for strengthening the position of existing sajjada-nishins (hereditary representatives of pirs and mystics and the custodians of their shrines), many of whom already enjoy a high level of social and political prominence and influence? Or are policymakers referring to some notion of Islamic mysticism that has remained very much at the level of poetic utterance or philosophical discourse — that is, at the level of the ideal rather than at the level of reality as lived and experienced by Muslims over centuries?

The salience of idealised notions of Islamic mysticism in various policy circles today makes it interesting to examine the historical relations that mystic groups within Islamic societies have had with the ruling classes and the guardians of religious law. What has the typical relationship among kings, ulema and mystics been, for example, in regions such as Central Asia, Anatolia, Persia and Mughal India that fall in a shared Persianate cultural and intellectual zone? Has tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism) historically been a passive or apolitical force in society, or have prominent mystics engaged with politics and society in ways that are broadly comparable to the way other kinds of religious representatives have done so?

It is instructive to turn first to the life of an Islamic mystic who is perhaps more celebrated and widely recognised than any other: Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273). He lived in Konya in modern-day Turkey. The fame of his mystic verse has travelled far and wide, but what is less widely known is that he had received a thorough training in fiqh (Islamic law).

Historical accounts show that he had studied the Quran and fiqh at a very high level in some of the most famous madrasas in Aleppo and Damascus. Later, he served as a teacher of fiqh at several madrasas. In this, he appears to have followed his father who was a religious scholar at a princely court in Anatolia and taught at an institution that blended the functions of a madrasa and those of a khanqah, demonstrating how fluid the relationship between an Islamic law college and a mystic lodge could be in Islamic societies. Even madrasas built exclusively for training ulema have often been paired with khanqahs since centuries.

Biographers have described how Rumi’s legal opinions were frequently sought on a variety of subjects. As a spiritual guide and preacher, he regularly delivered the Friday sermon (khutba), achieving popularity as an acclaimed speaker and attracting a considerable number of disciples from all parts of society. His followers included merchants and artisans as well as members of the ruling class. His lectures were attended by both women and men in Konya. For much of this while, he was also composing his renowned poetry and becoming identified with his own style of sama’a and dance, which sometimes drew criticism from other ulema, many of whom nevertheless continued to revere him.

It is evident from Rumi’s letters that he also had extremely close relations with several Seljuk rulers, even referring to one of them as ‘son’. It was not rare for him to advise these rulers on various points of statesmanship and make recommendations (for instance, on relations with infidel powers) in light of religious strictures and political expediencies. He is also known to have written letters to introduce his disciples and relatives to men of position and influence who could help them professionally or socially. Unlike his religious sermons and ecstatic poetry, these letters follow the conventions typically associated with correspondence addressed to nobles and state officials.

All this contradicts the idea that mystics (mashaikh) are always firmly resistant to interacting with rulers. The stereotypical image of mystics is one where they are far too caught up in contemplation of the divine to have anything to do with the mundane political affairs of the world. Yet in sharp contrast to this image, many prominent mystics in Islamic history have played eminent roles in society and politics.

This holds true not only for the descendants of prominent mystics who continue to wield considerable sociopolitical influence in Muslim countries such as today’s Egypt and Pakistan but also for the mashaikh in whose names various mystical orders were originally founded. These mashaikh evidently lived very much in the world, not unlike nobles and kings and many classes of the ulema.

Rumi’s life also offers evidence that the two worlds of khanqah and madrasa, often considered vastly different from each other, all too often overlap in terms of their functions. Regardless of the impressions created by mystic poetry’s derogatory allusions to the zahid (zealous ascetic), wa‘iz (preacher) or shaikh (learned religious scholar), there is little practical reason to see mystics on the whole as being fundamentally opposed to other leaders and representatives of religion. In fact, right through until modern times, we have seen ulema and mashaikh work in tandem with each other in the pursuit of shared religio-political objectives, the Khilafat movement in British India being just one such example among many of their collaborations.

Rumi’s activities are indicative of a nearly ubiquitous pattern of political involvement by prominent mystics in various Islamic societies. In Central Asia, support from the mashaikh of the Naqshbandi mystical order (tariqa) seems to have become almost indispensable by the end of the 15th century for anyone aspiring to rule since the order had acquired deep roots within the population at large. The attachment of Timurid and Mughal rulers to the Naqshbandi order is well known. The Shaybanid rulers of Uzbek origin also had deep ties with the order and Naqshbandi mashaikh tended to play a prominent role in mediating between Mughal and Uzbek rulers.

Naqshbandis are somewhat unusual among Sufi orders in their historical inclination towards involving themselves in political affairs, and for favouring fellowship (suhbat) over seclusion (khalwat), yet political interventions are not rare even among other orders.

Closer to home, Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya (d. 1262), a Suhrawardi mystic, is reported to have negotiated the peaceful surrender of Multan to the Mongols, giving 10,000 dinars in cash to the invading army’s commander in return for securing the lives and properties of the citizens. Suhrawardis, indeed, have long believed in making attempts to influence rulers to take religiously correct decisions. Bahauddin Zakariya was very close to Sultan Iltutmish of the Slave Dynasty of Delhi and was given the official post of Shaikhul Islam. He openly sided with the sultan when Nasiruddin Qabacha, the governor of Multan, conspired to overthrow him.

It is widely known that the Mughal king Jahangir was named after Shaikh Salim Chishti (d. 1572) but what is less well known is that his great-grandfather Babar’s name ‘Zahiruddin Muhammad’ was chosen by Naqshbandi shaikh Khwaja Ubaidullah Ahrar (d. 1490), who wielded tremendous political power in Central Asia. The shaikh’s son later asked Babar to defend Samarkand against the Uzbeks. When Babar fell ill in India many years later, he versified one of Khwaja Ahrar’s works in order to earn the shaikh’s blessings for his recovery.

Even after Babar lost control of his Central Asian homeland and India became his new dominion, he and his descendants maintained strong ties with Central Asian Naqshbandi orders such as Ahrars, Juybaris and Dahbidis. This affiliation was not limited to the spiritual level. It also translated into important military and administrative posts at the Mughal court being awarded to generations of descendants of Naqshbandi shaikhs.

The offspring of these shaikhs also often became favoured marriage partners for royal princesses, thus becoming merged with the nobility itself. One of Babar’s daughters as well as one of Humayun’s was given in marriage to the descendants of Naqshbandi shaikhs. The two emperors also married into the family of the shaikhs of Jam in Khurasan. Akbar’s mother, Hamida Banu (Maryam Makani), was descended from the renowned shaikh Ahmad-e-Jam (d. 1141).

In India, Mughal princes and kings also established important relationships with several other mystical orders such as the Chishtis and Qadris. In particular, the Shattari order (that originated in Persia) grew to have significant influence over certain Mughal kings. It seems to have been a common tendency among members of the Mughal household to pen hagiographical tributes to their spiritual guides. Dara Shikoh, for example, wrote tazkirahs (biographies) of his spiritual guide Mian Mir (d. 1635) and other Qadri shaikhs. His sister Jahanara wrote about the Chishti shaikhs of Delhi.

So great was the royal reverence for mystics that several Mughal emperors, like their counterparts outside India, wanted to be buried beside the graves of prominent shaikhs. Aurangzeb, for example, was buried beside a Chishti shaikh, Zainuddin Shirazi (d. 1369). Muhammad Shah’s grave in Delhi is near that of another Chishti shaikh, Nizamuddin Auliya (d. 1325).

Like several other Mughal and Islamic rulers, Aurangzeb’s life demonstrates a devotion to a number of different mystical orders (Chishtis, Shattaris and Naqshbandis) at various points in his life. The emperor is reported to have sought the blessings of Naqshbandis during his war of succession with his brother Dara Shikoh. Naqshbandi representatives not only committed themselves to stay by his side in the battle but they also vowed to visit Baghdad to pray at the tomb of Ghaus-e-Azam Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 1166) for his victory. They similarly promised to mobilise the blessings of the ulema and mashaikhliving in the holy city of Makkah in his favour.

The combined spiritual and temporal power of influential mashaikh across various Islamic societies meant that rulers were eager to seek their political support and spiritual blessings for the stability and longevity of their rule. Benefits accrued to both sides. The mashaikh’s approval and support bolstered the rulers’ political position, and financial patronage by rulers and wealthy nobles, in turn, served to strengthen the social and economic position of mashaikh who often grew to be powerful landowners. The estates and dynasties left behind by these shaikhs frequently outlasted those of their royal patrons.

This is not to say that every prominent mystic had equally intimate ties with rulers. Some mashaikh (particularly among Chishtis) are famous for refusing to meet kings and insisting on remaining aloof from the temptations of worldly power. Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya’s response to Alauddin Khilji’s repeated requests for an audience is well known: “My house has two doors. If the Sultan enters by one, I will make my exit by the other.” In effect, however, even these avowedly aloof mashaikh often benefited from access to the corridors of royal power via their disciples among the royal household and high state officials.

The relationship between sultans and mashaikh was also by no means always smooth. From time to time, there was a real breakdown in their ties. Shaikhs faced the prospect of being exiled, imprisoned or even executed if their words or actions threatened public order or if they appeared to be in a position to take over the throne. The example of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624) is famous. He was imprisoned by Jahangir for a brief period reportedly because his disquietingly elevated claims about his own spiritual rank threatened to disrupt public order. Several centuries earlier, Sidi Maula was executed by Jalaluddin Khilji, who suspected the shaikh of conspiring to seize his throne.

It is not only through influence over kings and statesmen that Islamic mystical orders have historically played a political role. Some of them are known to have launched direct military campaigns. Contrary to a general notion in contemporary popular discourse that ‘Sufism’ somehow automatically means ‘peace’, some Islamic mystical orders have had considerable military recruiting potential.

The Safaviyya mystical order of Ardabil in modern day Iranian Azerbaijan offers a prominent example of this. Over the space of almost two centuries, this originally Sunni mystical order transformed itself into a fighting force. With the help of his army of Qizilbash disciples, the first Safavid ruler Shah Ismail I established an enduring Shia empire in 16th century Iran.

In modern times, Pir Pagara’s Hurs in Sindh during the British period offer another example of a pir’s devotees becoming a trained fighting force. It is not difficult to find other examples in Islamic history of mashaikh who urged sultans to wage wars, accompanied sultans on military expeditions and inspired their disciples to fight in the armies of favoured rulers. Some are believed to have personally participated in armed warfare.

To speak of a persistent difference between the positions of ulema and mystics on the issue of war or jihad would be, thus, a clear mistake. ‘Sufism’ on the whole is hardly outside the mainstream of normative Islam on this issue, as on others.

Another popular misconception is to speak of ‘Sufism’ as something peculiar to the South Asian experience of Islam or deem it to be some indigenously developed, soft ‘variant’ of Islam that is different from the ‘harder’ forms of the religion prevalent elsewhere. Rituals associated with piri-muridi (master-disciple) relationships and visits to dargahs can, indeed, display the influence of local culture and differ significantly from mystical rituals in other countries and regions.

However, the main trends and features defining Islamic mysticism in South Asia remain pointedly similar to those characterising Islamic mysticism in the Middle East and Central Asia. As British scholar Nile Green points out, “What is often seen as being in some way a typically South Asian characteristic of Islam – the emphasis on a cult of Sufi shrines – was in fact one of the key practices and institutions of a wider Islamic cultural system to be introduced to South Asia at an early period … It is difficult to understand the history of Sufism in South Asia without reference to the several lengthy and distinct patterns of immigration into South Asia of holy men from different regions of the wider Muslim world, chiefly from Arabia, the fertile crescent, Iran and Central Asia.”

It is a fact that all the major mystical orders in South Asia have their origins outside this region. Even the Chishti order, which has come to be associated more closely with South Asia than with any other region, originated in Chisht near Herat in modern-day Afghanistan. These interregional connections have consistently been noted and celebrated by masters and disciples connected with mystic orders over time. Shaikh Ali al-Hujweri (d. circa 1072-77), who migrated from Ghazna in Afghanistan to settle in Lahore, is known and revered as Data Ganj Bakhsh. Yet this does not mean that the status of high ranking shaikhs who lived far away from the Subcontinent is lower than his in any way. Even today, the cult of Ghaus-e-Azam of Baghdad continues to be popular in South Asia.

For anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Muslim history outside the Subcontinent, it would be difficult to defend the assertion – one that we hear astoundingly often in both lay and academic settings in South Asia – that ‘Sufi Islam’ is somehow particular to Sindh or Punjab in specific or to the Indian subcontinent more broadly. It is simply not possible to understand the various strands of Islamic mysticism in our region without reference to their continual interactions with the broader Islamic world.

What is mystical experience, after all? The renowned Iranian scholar Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub defines it as an “attempt to attain direct and personal communication with the godhead” and argues that mysticism is as old as humanity itself and cannot be confined to any race or religion.

It would, therefore, be quite puzzling if Islamic mysticism had flowered only in the Indian subcontinent and in no other Muslim region, as some of our intellectuals seem to assert. Islamic mysticism in South Asia owes as much to influences from Persia, Central Asia and the Arab lands as do most other aspects of Islam in our region. These influences are impossible to ignore when we study the lives and works of the mystics themselves.

As Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (Mujaddid-e-Alf-e-Sani) wrote in the 16th-17th century: “We … Muslims of India … are so much indebted to the ulema and Sufis (mashaikh) of Transoxiana (Mawara un-Nahr) that it cannot be conveyed in words. It was the ulema of the region who strove to correct the beliefs [of Muslims] to make them consistent with the sound beliefs and opinions of the followers of the Prophet’s tradition and the community (Ahl-e-Sunna wa’l-Jama’a). It was they who reformed the religious practices [of the Muslims] according to Hanafi law. The travels of the great Sufis (may their graves be hallowed) on the path of this sublime Sufi order have been introduced to India by this blessed region.” *

These influences were not entirely one-way. We see that the Mujaddidi order (developed in India by Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi as an offshoot of the Naqshbandi order) went on to exert a considerable influence in Central Asia and Anatolia. This demonstrates once again how interconnected these regions had been at the intellectual, literary and commercial levels before the advent of colonialism.

This essay has been an attempt to dispel four myths about Islamic mysticism. The first myth is that there is a wide gap between the activities of the mystic khanqah and those of the scholarly madrasa (and that there is, thus, a vast difference between ‘Sufi’ Islam and normative/mainstream Sunni Islam). The second myth is that mystics are ‘passive’, apolitical and withdrawn from the political affairs of their time. The third myth is that mystics across the board are intrinsically ‘peaceful’ and opposed to armed jihad or warfare. The last myth is that Islamic mysticism is a phenomenon particular to, or intrinsically more suited to, the South Asian environment as compared to other Islamic lands.

All these four points are worth taking into consideration in any meaningful policy discussion of the limits and possibilities of harnessing Islamic mysticism for political interventions in Muslim societies such as today’s Pakistan. It is important to be conscious of the fact that when we make an argument for promoting mystical Islam in this region, we are in effect making an argument for the promotion of mainstream Sunni (mostly Hanafi) Islam in its historically normative form.

Trump and the Iran Fluster

New US sanctions can hurt Iran. But they also risk alienating young Iranians from America. Does that matter? Seven months after US President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum kicking off the process for America to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, new wide-ranging sanctions on Iran’s oil exports as well as its shipping and aviation industries are coming back into force. These new sanctions will have far-reaching impact for global financial businesses and world energy markets in general, and for Middle Eastern geopolitics in particular.

This is a great risk taken by Trump, who received a bloody nose in the US mid-term elections. The electoral results might mean a big political setback for the Trump administration and its hawkish agenda for Iran. However, even with a Democratic majority in the House of the Representatives, it is very unlikely that the US government would return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That said, one way or another, imposing sanctions on Iran in order to destabilise the Iranian government will not be an easy task for Trump and his collaborators.

For the time being, the sanctions have not created any dangers and difficulties for the stability of the Iranian regime. If the current measures are deemed unsuccessful, then the US will most certainly look for stronger sanctions. Moreover, the bullying attitude of the Trump administration with regard to the regime of the Ayatollahs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, will remain the same or might even take a stronger tone.

According to the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, “The Iranian regime has a choice: It can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.” This, even as the US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, asserted himself to the Iranian authorities by pointing out that the new sanctions “should make clear to the Iranian regime that they will face mounting financial isolation and economic stagnation until they fundamentally change their destabilising behaviour.”

Now, all eyes are on Iranian oil exports and the fall of oil production in Iran, though the US has granted temporary waivers to eight jurisdictions (including India) to continue importing Iranian oil. Surprisingly, Italy and Greece have received the waivers, while Germany, France and other European states did not. One reason might be that the US is trying to punish those states that seek to develop or join alternative payment systems and other means of evading any US sanction pressures. No matter what, many of the US’s allies in Europe, and competitors such as Russia and China, will overwhelmingly continue to support the JCPOA. This is one of the reasons why the Iranian authorities show a great sense of confidence in their anti-American policy.

A few days ago, in an interview to USA Today, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the possibility of any future dialogue between Iran and the Trump administration. “There has to be the foundation for a fruitful dialogue, it doesn’t have to be the next administration”, he affirmed. “It has to be a new approach, a different approach. I mean, we never negotiated in a positive atmosphere. It’s up to the Americans to decide who they want to elect as their leader. We want to see a different approach. We don’t care who is behind that approach.”

Despite talks of a defiant strategy in Tehran, the consequences will certainly be catastrophic for the Iranian economy. The continuous slogans of “Death to America” and the burning of pictures of President Trump aside, the shine of the Rouhani government has already worn off for many ordinary Iranians. It remains unclear how the Iranian population will react to the new harsh sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. Already angry that the previous sanctions on Iran have caused a fall in the country’s revenues, devaluation of the national currency and an increase in inflation and unemployment, Iranians are demoralised and depressed. There has been a deterioration of people’s overall welfare and access to everyday necessities such as nutritious food, healthcare and medicine has become more difficult, especially for the poor, patients, women and children.

Iran cannot appropriately handle the humanitarian crisis caused by sanctions and still maintain a level of its population’s enjoyment of their basic rights. However, it is not the same story for the Iranian Ayatollahs, and more specifically, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). While sanctions may theoretically serve to stop IRGC access to international financing through front companies, the real opportunities for those who control the Iranian economy lie in the black market, and lucrative smuggling in narcotics, alcohol and consumer goods. Let us not forget that illicit trade accounts for more than 10 per cent of Iran’s total exports.

From this perspective, the new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Iran will not have any immediate effects on the clandestine ownership of major Iranian enterprises by groups such as the IRGC. As in the past, tougher US sanctions will give more power to IRGC which has become a state-within-a-state. With a population of 80 million, many of them highly educated, Iran is not an easy ball to juggle.

As such, it would be a huge strategic mistake for Washington if young Iranians, traditionally among the most pro-American Middle Eastern youth, turn against the United States because of Trump’s dream of making the new Middle East

Hey men, ‘difficult’ women are there forever

I never thought it would come to this. But it has. Don’t worry. Relax. I am not going to ruin your post-Diwali high by whinging and whining about #MeTooIndia getting prematurely derailed and somewhat missing the point. Remember, nothing is over till the fat lady sings. But the bald and ugly truth is staring at us unblinkingly. We cannot duck it any longer. Across the world, one can sense anxiety and confusion as to what’s next, after the first round of calling out, naming and shaming loses its shock value. After all those passionate debates and arguments. After the rolling of powerful heads and public trials. What next, my friends? What next? Legislations and laws have failed. Punishment and strictures don’t work. There is an ocean of rage on both sides of the gender divide. Has the next World War begun already? Is it going to be the fiercest one yet? What are the weapons of choice? Of mass destruction? Words and ideas, movies and poems, paintings and fashion? Who will fire the first shot?

This is going to be a terrible tragedy for the world, with no winners at that. We really shouldn’t be expending precious energy battling one another. And yet. We cannot ignore that ‘and yet’. I keep reading reports from across the world of women losing their jobs for ‘being difficult’. Who defines ‘difficult’? What does ‘difficult’ even mean — in the workplace and at home? Instinctively, we all understand ‘difficult’. But we don’t want to accept its manifestations and implications. ‘Difficult’ cuts to the core. It is ambiguous enough for interested parties to negotiate on their terms. In reality, a difficult woman is merely a person who refuses to surrender or meekly submit to tyranny. That’s it.

One can easily identify a difficult woman when she is a young girl. She is the one who stands out and is often isolated. Other little girls don’t like her very much. Her own family is wary and suspicious, as she grows — physically and emotionally. The men she meets cannot crack her will — and get angrier and angrier as the years pass. Colleagues stay miles away and conspire behind the difficult one’s back. Our desi euphemism? “She’s not the cooperating type.” Her smallest transgressions are closely monitored. One mistake — and boom! She is pulled up by overbearing, insecure bosses — those could include her mother-in-law, sisters-in-law and other bullies in the family. Nothing provides as big a kick as watching the difficult woman getting cut down to size by mightier forces.

 So what does a difficult woman do? How much of her positive, creative energy should she waste on establishing she is not difficult? That all she wants is equality? Fair play? Especially when she observes how a different set of rules applies to men around her? How easily male colleagues get away with the very same ‘transgressions’ and slip-ups that she pays a heavy price for? We have reached that precise tipping point now. And it must be recognised for what it is — a do-or-die moment for womankind. If we back down at this crucial stage, we may as well have not started! What we achieve today — assuming we will achieve at least a few basic objectives — will impact future generations of women. If we hold back and worry about consequences, we will be short-changing our daughters and grand-daughters. That leaves our sons and grandsons. Surely, we don’t want them to be like their unworthy ‘elders’? Of course we don’t. So, how and where do we begin? The best place is home. We have to teach our young not to be afraid of difficult women. Society desperately needs many more of them.

I have seen many difficult women and I can say with complete assurance that being ‘difficult’ was an informed choice they made as a very young person. It wasn’t easy then. It isn’t any easier now. But it was the only way to be. The only way to live with oneself. No regrets. As a person keenly observing a changing world order, it is important to state a position. Women have always been reluctant to do that, fearing a backlash. This is happening in our society right now, as women who spoke up in the #MeTooIndia conversations are being systematically targeted, mocked, suspected and branded. Some of the high-profile perpetrators have chosen to keep mum, and are lying low hoping ‘all this nonsense’ will go away soon. No, it won’t! That’s just wishful thinking. Unfortunately for them, difficult women are pretty annoying and stubborn. They refuse to melt away on cue. So, gentlemen… deal with them. They are here to stay.

Saturday Special: Universities Aren’t Ivory Towers- Let Them Play Their Roles

Over the past several years, we have witnessed a growing decline in the trust people place in institutions and experts. Universities and scientists, among others, no longer command the respect they once did.

I am a strong advocate for international higher education and all the benefits universities bring to society. I am disheartened by the current world climate, where I feel that some view higher education as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. While we strive to be elite universities without being elitist, we fail to connect with many in society. The changes brought about by an increasingly global economy and rapid technological advances have diminished the prospects for some. For them, there is a growing sense of frustration and alienation.

The reasons for this alienation are being analysed and debated. In her Harvard Business Review essay, Joan C Williams writes of a culturally and economically left behind white working-class. A hard-working, hard-living, thrifty and disciplined generation is in decline, with many of them deeply resenting this change and the professionals, experts and institutions that they see as responsible for it. As Williams notes, jobs with “solid wages, great benefits, and a respected place in their communities” are both strongly desired and ever more difficult to find.

JD Vance shows how one segment of this group, working-class rural Appalachian families, face economic and cultural insecurity in his moving memoir Hillbilly Elegy. As well-paid jobs for those without degrees become scarce, the chance to progress and study at great universities, as Vance did, can feel impossibly distant. Those who make it to American universities, Williams says, can face “open insults to students of working-class origin”. Hard work no longer seems to pay, while well-educated elites thrive.

What role can universities play in this changing world? How can we help people like this find hope, confidence, opportunity and respect?

I think part of the answer is to develop new ways of collaborating and engaging with the residents of these communities. We need to create opportunities for those who are part of our universities to work personally and directly with community residents, to share knowledge, to listen to their creative ideas and to work together on projects that have practical applications within the community.

Universities understand the importance and power of collaboration. We practice it daily with academics at other universities and with our partners in government and the business community. We need to broaden our collaborative networks to more actively include those who doubt us the most, but know us the least.

Imperial’s newest campus is in London’s White City. The neighbourhood is urban, multicultural and poor. A quarter of adults have little education. Its residents live, on average, a decade less than those in the more affluent parts of London. Many don’t see themselves sitting in in our lecture halls or working in our laboratories. It is a world-leading university, but apparently it has nothing to offer them.

The staff and students now spend a lot of time listening to the neighbours to better understand their needs, and work with them to address those needs. This has already produced some exciting results.

Ramona Williams is a local mother who was born with significant visual impairment. She asked whether Imperial could design a pushchair for people with sight loss using sensors and navigation technology. It is impossible for her to use a cane and push a chair at the same time. In response, a group of second year Bioengineering students and their supervisor, Dr Ian Radcliffe, are now designing a pushchair that takes on Ramona’s ideas and meets her needs.

Another neighbour, Tieyan Eweka, who lives on the White City Estate, has set up a west African pop-up food business. She is now an official Imperial supplier and has catered numerous college events, including our open day, when thousands of potential students and their families visited.

In addition to listening, we are investing in initiatives like the Invention Rooms. This new space in White City invites members of the local community to join Imperial’s academics, students, alumni and partners to test out creative ideas, build real prototypes and share in the joy and gratification of creation and discovery.

It offers a model for regaining trust with left behind communities. This means listening to our neighbours’ needs, tapping into their talents and opening our doors. We want to forge genuine partnerships with the people of White City.

Within the Invention Rooms, we have built a Reach Out Makerspace that provides local young people hands-on experience in designing and prototyping. The space includes cutting-edge equipment such as 3D printers, laser cutters and wood and metalworking machinery, with a range of programmes designed to help young people gain a sense of excitement about turning an idea into a tangible product.

I’m a big fan of the Ikea effect. When you build something, even a small bookcase made from particleboard, you feel a sense of attachment to it and value it, because you made it.

I hope that we will bring the Ikea effect to generations of young people who take ideas, learn how to develop them, make things and do things, and leave with a totally changed view of their own capabilities. We want them to gain confidence in themselves. We want them to have a vision for their future and a new outlook about what they can do.

One initiative, the Maker Challenge, brings local 14-18 year olds together with Imperial volunteers to learn to use a range of tools and techniques to help them make their own prototypes.

Their ideas are brilliant, ambitious and varied. One is to make hearing aids both more fashionable and wearable. Others include an automated card shuffler and dealer; a foldable skateboard; a light, wearable stab-proof vest; and trainers with inbuilt speakers that convert kinetic energy into stored energy.

Because these ideas are rooted in their own lives, they gain the sense that they have something to contribute to their community, and to others. They learn that they can be part of technological revolutions, not left behind by them. They feel empowered.

The decline of trust has widespread, negative effects across all aspects of society: political, economic and social. It is one of the most important issues we face today.

Universities have an important role to play in winning back the trust that has been lost. We can lead the way by listening to and working with our neighbours. We can help them regain – and strengthen – their self-confidence, dignity and hope

The Unimportance of Being Angela Merkel

On November 11 Angela Merkel joined world leaders to mark the centenary of the end of World War I. Unlike them, however, for Merkel this historic moment has been juxtaposed with another political milestone – her announcement that her fourth term as German chancellor will be her last. The news is not just important for German domestic politics, but also Europe and the world at large. For she has become for many, after almost a decade and a half in office, the embodiment of the western liberal order that is under such significant stress right now.

This is because Merkel has not just been the most important political leader in continental Europe in the last decade. In the era of the Trump presidency, she also has claims to being the most influential leader in the Western world, not least as the longest serving G7 and EU national leader.

During a rollercoaster 13 years, so far, Merkel has helped shape Europe’s response to the trauma of the 2008 financial crash and subsequent Eurozone crises; the Arab Spring and subsequent migration challenges facing the EU; and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. And her relative political weakness now therefore threatens a vacuum of power as the bloc seeks to finalise a Brexit deal with the United Kingdom; tackle the significant ongoing migration challenge; and also the real possibility of populist parties making striking gains in next year’s European parliament elections.

To put Merkel’s longevity and importance into wider international perspective, three US presidents (George Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump), four French presidents (Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande and Emmanuel Macron), and the same number of UK prime ministers (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May) have served during her tenure as the first ever female German chancellor. And having been in office since 2005, Merkel has also already exceeded the previous record of Margaret Thatcher as Europe’s longest serving female leader which was 11 years.

Moreover, should she serve a full fourth term to 2021, she would match Helmut Kohl’s 16 years of office from 1982 to 1998 and surpass Konrad Adenauer’s service from 1949 to 1963 as Germany’s first post-war chancellor. Indeed, a full fourth term would see Merkel sit only behind Otto von Bismarck who served for almost two decades from 1871–90 during a period in which he was a dominant force in European affairs having helped previously drive unification of Germany.

Of all Europe’s leaders, it is perhaps fellow moderate Macron who will miss her most. Like Merkel, Macron has been outward focused during his own presidency, and – in the first year of his term alone – he visited 27 countries, spending 68 days outside France, 10 more than Hollande and 14 more than Sarkozy. At the European level, Merkel has been an ally of the French president with his proposed reforms to the EU. This includes his plans to reform the Eurozone which now look less likely to materialise, in full form at least.

Moreover at the global level, Merkel has been a friend for Macron in seeking to tame what many in West Europe and much of the rest of the world see as the wilder impulses of Donald Trump over multiple issues such as economic tariffs and trade wars, through to tackling climate change.

While Macron has formed a relationship with Trump that sometimes seems to border on a bromance, the dissonance between Merkel and the US president is clear. The personal factor here is important with her style and values colliding with those of Trump which was underlined in March 2017 when he appeared to refuse shaking her hand at a press conference, and the two did not speak for over five months in the period before March 2018. In this context, the symbolism of her leaving office will be striking, especially if Trump were to win re-election in 2020.

Taken overall, Merkel has become a weaker figure on the global stage, and could yet fall from power in Germany in 2019. Yet, she remains one of Europe’s political big beasts and her influence on key international decisions, from Ukraine to reform of the EU, will continue to be felt while she remains in office, possibly till 2021.

Three Key Dynamics Shaping Modern Careers

 The career landscape of the 21st century, characterised by work interruptions, opt-outs, and temporary contingent work assignments, requires that we think differently about linear careers. Until now, much of the career literature has been based on men in the twentieth century who had linear careers in a single corporation or industry. However, men and women in the 21st century have unique career trajectories, sometimes fulfilling the ideal of a linear career, but more often characterised by opt-outs, contingent employment contracts, and part time work.

The Kaleidoscope Career Model (the KCM) (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005, 2006) addresses the unique features of male and female careers, and takes into consideration the non-linear aspects of contingent work. The KCM posits that needs for authenticity, balance and challenge over the course of a career will be present but arise at different intensities across the life span.

The three parameters

Authenticity is defined as an individual’s need to behave and demonstrate their attitudes in accordance with their genuine inner selves, which may be in contrast to the behaviour they exhibit to survive in work surroundings. The parameter of authenticity represents the individual’s need to be true to oneself and one’s values. Often authenticity is displayed through behaviours resonant with personal or work strengths or involvement in activities for personal pleasure that genuinely reflect the inner nature of that individual. Authenticity also is manifest in refusing to go along with “politics” in organisations, following one’s passion for art or culture, or simple speaking truth to power.

Balance, defined here as a parameter of the model, represents work-family management and integration efforts on the part of employees to create a work-life intersection that constantly adjusts attention to both domains. To meet a need for balance, individuals may choose certain contingent career assignments that allow them to restrict work hours or slow down career progression to integrate family life with work. Sometimes individuals leave a job in a corporation and find work in a smaller local firm to spend more time with family members. There are several ways to rebalance work-family management priorities, such as adjusting work time through part time employment, opting out of the workforce temporarily, taking turns with spouses, arranging workloads in accordance with family situations, or finding ways to meet both demands simultaneously.

Challenge refers to the need to participate in intrinsically motivating work, to grow and develop one’s skills, and to make progress in one’s career through lateral progress, skill based programs, or linear advancement. Challenge refers to an individual’s need for stimulation, learning, and skill growth to increase personal capabilities. Challenge may be represented in a variety of ways: one’s desire to climb the career ladder, discovering opportunities to retrain and develop a new skill set, or a new set of job tasks.

While all three parameters may remain active over the course of one’s career, the model suggests a dynamic, interactive, contextual paradigm such that one parameter may rise to ascendency at a given point when dealing with a career transition. In other words, individuals may consider one parameter as the impetus for their next career move. If balance is fitful, perhaps it is time to slow down and take a job elsewhere in a smaller firm. If challenge is missing, it may be time to switch careers. If authenticity is needed, finding ways to speak truth to power or develop hobbies or outside interests might be of value. This does not mean that the remaining parameters have little influence; instead, during times of transition, one parameter may rise, but the remaining parameters represent motivations to find a better person-job-career fit as well.


Mainiero & Sullivan (2005, 2006) found that the KCM was enacted differently by men and women. Two major patterns were identified: the alpha kaleidoscope pattern, characterised by challenge in the forefront, and balance and authenticity trailing, and the beta kaleidoscope pattern, which suggested balance as the primary motivator while challenge and authenticity remained active, but at lesser levels. While most individuals “want it all” when they begin their careers, at midlife the sharpest divergence of the parameters between men and women appear.

In one recent study, the researchers attempted to examine more closely the parameters at midlife for men and for women. They found that there was variance in the three parameters across five segmented career stages by gender, with balance increasingly important in full mid career (15-25 years in the workforce) for women but of lesser importance for men. Authenticity showed a similar pattern for men and women, with authenticity rising for women and declining for men in very late career. Challenge remained consistent for men and women, declining in importance over time.

Several authors have written about the drain in women’s ambition over time. The KCM describes this differently. According to the KCM, both men and women seek challenge, balance, and authenticity over the course of their careers. But at midlife, while in transition, the difference between the parameters may be sharper, and more individuals (especially women) may prefer the beta kaleidoscope pattern, with a focus on balance in mid career, to the alpha kaleidoscope career pattern that is marked by strong challenge as well as secondary balance and authenticity.

While gender remains an important contextual factor associated with career patterns women face a double bind that is exacerbated by persistent socialised gendered schemas and may simply be enacting an updated self employed, short term horizon carer model by choice. Therefore, firms should be mindful of the changing dynamic and fluid aspects of career development in this new age of portfolio careers, protean careers, and boundaryless careers that suggest that men and women may have different needs at different points in the career cycle.


Weekend Special: Who Really Started World War I?

As I talked in my comments on 14th Nov ( of an impending World War let me make clear that despite all so-called documents to the contrary, the real culprit was no other than Germany. It was Germany that instigated both the previous world wars.

So what of it? What is the truth about World War I? Was it caused by Germany? Or Austria-Hungary? Perhaps the British, knowing they had to contain Germany before Berlin upset the power balance on the Continent? Was it the Russians—after all, didn’t they support the Serbs and mobilize their troops before Germany did? Or was it the assassination of Habsburg’s archduke in Sarajevo that prompted it all—91 years ago last month? Or was it the result of an unintended chain reaction on a continent where every country wanted peace but was tangled in alliances that had to be honored?

Even though so many records concerning events in the summer of 1914 have mysteriously disappeared (more so in Germany than anywhere else), historians over the past half century have been able to piece together evidence that gives us a clear picture of how this war came about.

A German historian in the 1960s, Fritz Fischer, was the first to compile evidence that implicated Germany’s military leaders in the outbreak of Europe’s Great War. His book, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, created such controversy that he released another book several years later to back up his findings: War of Illusions: German Policies from 1911 to 1914.

His conclusions are further substantiated in a modern volume by historian and author David Fromkin: the critically acclaimed book Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?

This book, published last year, argues that avenging the archduke’s assassination was merely a pretext for Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia—and that Austria-Hungary going to war with Serbia was merely another pretext for Germany to go to war with Russia.

Let us briefly examine this history. It is vital for us to understand the track record of a nation that is destined once more to plunge the world into war!

The facts prove that World War I was not somehow an inevitable chain of events. Rather, deliberate moves by certain countries initiated a somewhat planned chain of events. The warning signs were there. Flare-ups in the Balkans and in North Africa—along with an accelerated arms race—should have alerted Europeans to the rising danger. But then again, Europe hadn’t experienced a major war for half a century—and never a war of this magnitude.

Turn-of-the-Century Germany

Since the creation of the German Empire in the 1870s, Germany had been making attempts at continental domination. It annexed bits of French territory after the Franco-Prussian War. It attempted to rival Britain as a naval power in the early 1900s and sought colonies in other parts of the world. Unfortunately for Berlin, those parts of the world had already been colonized—so it sought to gain territories by taking them from other European powers. Though no one had Morocco yet, France had been eyeing it for a while. When Germany went after Morocco in 1911, Britain came to France’s aid—and Germany’s alliance with Italy proved no help whatsoever.

Also of no help was Austria-Hungary—which, when it had annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany had supported.

At this time, Germany’s leaders awakened to two facts. One: Its alliance with Austria-Hungary was one-sided. Berlin was prepared to back Vienna, but Vienna, it seemed, wouldn’t necessarily back Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm ii said, “If it comes to a war, we must hope that Austria is attacked so that she needs our help and not that we are attacked so that it would depend on Austria’s decision whether she will remain faithful to the alliance” (James Joll, The Idea of Freedom, 1979).

Germany also awoke to the fact that it was weaker, not stronger, than the other powers. “[T]he chief of the general staff felt that Germany ought to launch a war as soon as possible precisely because the chances of winning it would be less every year. War was necessary, in other words, not to accommodate German strength, but to accommodate German weakness” (Fromkin, op. cit.). To Germany, not liking its position in the European order, the necessity of war was a given—it was just a question of timing.

It is well documented that Germany’s army chief of staff at the time, Helmuth von Moltke, believed a European war was inevitable. Given Germany’s ambitions on the Continent, German policy-makers knew that the only path to take was war. In that sense, it was inevitable. According to the movers and shakers in Germany, the longer Berlin waited to go to war (considering the growth of Russian, British and French forces), the smaller were Germany’s chances of emerging victorious. Not only that, they realized that to improve its chances of success, Germany must somehow get Austria-Hungary onside.

After the Moroccan crisis, Germany began focusing on developing its land armaments. Its arms spending in 1913 was at record levels, but it couldn’t afford such expenditures much longer—unless, of course, it went to war.

But public opinion wasn’t ready for it, and this was important, according to Moltke. The people had to be rallied around the cause. As he said the year before war broke out, “When starting a world war one has to think very carefully” (Imanuel Geiss, July 1914—The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents, 1967; emphasis mine throughout).

Secret Conference

According to Fromkin, backing up Fischer’s research, the German kaiser convened a meeting Dec. 8, 1912. “This secret conference was drawn to the world’s attention only a half century later, when the historian Fritz Fischer showed that it could have been evidence of a deliberate plan by the kaiser and his military chiefs to bring about a European war in June 1914” (op. cit.).

The kaiser had called the meeting after hearing from his London ambassador about which side Britain would be on were Germany to attack France. The kaiser, according to one account, left the meeting extremely agitated and “in an openly war-like mood.” He realized that, if Germany went to war, it would have to plan on fighting Britain too.

Additionally, that December, during the Balkan wars, the kaiser stated publicly that Austria “must deal energetically” with Serbia, and “if Russia supports the Serbs, which she evidently does … then war would be unavoidable for us, too” (John Röhl, The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm ii and the Government of Germany, 1994). In other words, the kaiser went on record as pushing Austria to take action against Serbia—even though he knew this would result in Russia and Germany getting involved in a war!

Fromkin wrote how General Moltke said that “‘we ought to do more through the press’ to build up popular support for a war against Russia.” Even though the meeting didn’t seem to produce any concrete decisions, one German official did, in fact, transmit to the chancellor “the kaiser’s order to use the press to prepare the people for a future war with Russia” (op. cit.).

Röhl concludes about this conference, “Ever since Fritz Fischer publicized evidence of the council, historians have wondered whether it could be a coincidence that one and a half years later the war did in fact break out. (Shortly after the council ended, Wilhelm told the Swiss minister that the racial struggle ‘will probably take place in one or two years’)” (op. cit.).

It Wasn’t the Assassination

Just about every schoolchild in the West learns how World War i started with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, by a Bosnian Serb nationalist on June 28, 1914. But when you understand how Europe reacted to the news of the assassination, you see that this is faulty logic—based not just on an over-simplified explanation, but a flat-out erroneous one.

The media throughout Europe recorded little public excitement over the assassination. French papers were more interested in a scandal involving a former prime minister.

Least outraged, amazingly, was the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Emperor Franz Joseph didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with Ferdinand, the heir apparent, and didn’t want the archduke to succeed him on the throne. So, though being no friend of Serbia, the emperor in one sense considered the act a favor.

Even among the Viennese, where one might have expected the biggest outcry, the reaction was largely apathetic.

In and of itself, the assassination would not have provoked retaliation.

Enter Germany. Exploiting Austria-Hungary’s hostility toward Serbia, together with the death of the archduke, Germany encouraged Franz Joseph to take things further.

Kaiser Wilhelm ii, who had been fairly close with Ferdinand (making his actions appear all the more legitimate), gave Austria a blank check—pledging Berlin’s unconditional support for whatever Austria-Hungary’s actions against Serbia would be—even if Russia intervened. By doing so, Germany was essentially spoiling for a fight with Russia.

Had Vienna’s actions against Serbia been caused by the double murder of Ferdinand and Sophie, surely Vienna would have acted either immediately in a hasty retaliation, or much later, after a full investigation could have implicated Serbia as part of the plot. But here is what happened: One month later (at the end of July), Austria, with German backing, gave a list of demands to Serbia—demands so stringent they were practically impossible to accept. The note was composed “so that the possibility of its acceptance is practically excluded”—according to a message sent from Vienna to Berlin (Geiss, op. cit.). (Realize too that Austria had been drafting a plan to crush Serbia two weeks before the killings in Sarajevo.)

Nevertheless, Serbia more or less accepted the list of demands, sending back a marked copy that tweaked the language.

But Austria—under Germany’s influence—wasn’t planning on accepting Serbia’s response no matter what it was.

Enter the British, who tried to come to the rescue as negotiators. When they approached the Germans, Berlin forwarded London’s mediation proposals to Austria-Hungary so it wouldn’t appear to dismiss any option—all the while privately telling Austria-Hungary to ignore London’s offer. German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg said, “If we rejected every attempt at mediation, the whole world would hold us responsible for the conflagration and represent us as the real warmongers. That would also make our position impossible here in Germany, where we have got to appear as though the war had been forced upon us” (Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, 1967).

On July 28, 1914, through a telegram, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. On July 29, Russia partially mobilized in response; a day later, the Russian czar ordered a general mobilization.

Almost immediately, Germany began issuing ultimatums: one to Russia, asserting it was mobilizing against Germany, not just Austria, and ordering it to stop (Germany was hoping and waiting for Russia to mobilize for this very reason); one to France, telling it to stay neutral; and another to Belgium, ordering it to stay out of the way if Germany marched into France.

On August 1, Germany seized a railroad station in Luxembourg and—without giving St. Petersburg any time to respond to the ultimatum—declared war on Russia.

So here was Germany fighting Russia, France, Britain, Luxembourg and Belgium—all supposedly in support of Austria, while Germany was not actually fighting Serbia, the only nation Austria was at war with.

So Who Started It?

A clique of generals was plotting, long before 1914, to launch Germany into a position of power on the Continent, and war was the only way this could happen. The time would be right—for a while: Russia was weakened from a war with Japan in 1905; France, Russia’s ally, was also weak; Britain was about to erupt in civil war over Ireland. And these generals were able to rally their nation behind their grand designs.

The war was not caused, as some have described, by the system of alliances that came about before 1914. Italy—tied to Germany and Austria—remained neutral until it eventually joined the Allies. Britain, which had no alliance whatsoever with France or Russia, came to their aid.

But the key to figuring out who started it lies in the understanding that there were in fact two wars being waged—not one: Austria’s war against Serbia, and Germany’s war against Russia. The start of aggressions hinged on one possibility: If Germany could encourage Austria to declare war on Serbia and get Russia to mobilize, then Germany could declare war on Russia.

The German strategy was to get Austria involved in a war and then try to convince Vienna to change its enemy—to drop the Serbian campaign and go after the Russian Army—that is, to support the real German cause. One war did not grow into the other. Rather, one was an excuse to start the other!

The Great War of 1914 was not an inevitable chain of events that no one could have foreseen. It wasn’t dumped into the laps of leaders who only wanted peace. “A question asked throughout the 20th century … why, since ‘war had been avoided in the immediately preceding crises—1908, 1911, 1913’—was it ‘not avoided in 1914?’ One answer is that in the previous crises none of the Great Powers had wanted to have a war. In 1914, two of them did. And one reason that Germany did not want to go to war in those previous crises was that it could not count on Austria—and Germany’s generals were convinced that without Austrian troops holding back the Russians during the opening weeks of the war, they might not win” (Fromkin, op. cit.).

Paranoia—or Prophecy?

It is not paranoia and conspiracy theories that motivate me to keep reminding the world of Germany’s responsibility in both world wars. This war will not be within Europe. The world is much smaller these days, thanks to modern technology. Germany—unlike the nation of the early 20th century—has sought to rally Europe into becoming one dynamic power. Under the banner of a united Europe, Berlin already has a great deal of power on the Continent—something we will see increase dramatically. Soon, as a united continent—under one faith, led by a new pope—Europe will set its sights on world domination, which it will attain for a short time.

Within that period, it will wreak unspeakable havoc on the world—including conquering the American and British peoples.

WW1’s Forgotten Casualty: Open Borders

 The war declarations of August 1914 had far-reaching implications for modern long-distance international mass migration. For most of the preceding century, in the majority of big economies, the movement of people around the world had been largely peaceful, voluntary and propelled by market incentives. Since 1914, however, it has been mostly shaped by politically determined quotas and legal restrictions, or driven by flight from war, oppression or similarly fearsome dangers and disasters.

These changes in migration policies and patterns had happened before 1914, and were to happen again by warfare and economic upheaval in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. There had been significant refugee flows in the Franco-Prussian War and the Balkan wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After the 1918 armistice, there was the Russian Civil War, ethnic cleansing in the near East and the rise of fascism, all of which sent millions more into flight. Nearly all migration from China to America had already been halted in the 1880s by ethnically explicit legal restrictions.

However, the events of August 1914 were a turning point. The demise of the world’s open borders was signalled as soon as the lights went out all over Europe. When the powers of sea and land were engaged in conflict, Britain and Germany’s transportation of the transatlantic core of global migration gave way to blockades, torpedoes and warships. Mass international labour migration, which had bolstered urban and industrial growth across the North Atlantic for decades, declined as millions of mobilized soldiers marched to war. At either end of the dominant European front, neutral Netherlands and Switzerland became prime migration corridors for unprecedented volumes of homebound expatriates and war refugees.

At Ellis Island, arrivals fell to their lowest levels in many decades, while returnees rushed to Europe in record numbers. The giant immigrant-carrying vessels of the North Atlantic commercial shipping lines were interned, impounded and/or converted to military use, and transatlantic passenger services were cut back. By 1915, voyages from Europe to the US had fallen by more than 70% from 1913 and steerage passenger arrivals had dropped by more than 90%.

A partial resurgence of transatlantic migration to the US after 1918 was short-lived because the war also significantly changed the American economy. Public opinion in the US also changed, with support for unrestricted international migration dwindling and opposition to it increasing. German-American voters – influential supporters of open borders before 1914 – were less politically active after 1917 when the US entered the war against the Kaiser. After the war, Americans viewed foreigners in general with greater suspicion. US businesses, meanwhile, had developed lasting alternatives to overseas immigration, relying more on migrants from Canada, Mexico and rural US states, on female employees and on increased machinery itself – which, it was pointed out, was not at risk of going on strike, moving to the next town or relocating back to Europe.

Cross-border labour migration resumed in Europe after 1918, but on a limited scale. The war precipitated by an “incident in the Balkans” had led to economic balkanization in central Europe. Sizeable refugee flows continued and the new League of Nations established the first High Commission for Refugees in 1921. In the 1920s, American laws changed. Limited qualitative exclusion of migration was permanently replaced by strict quantitative limits.

Global migration, overwhelmingly governed by labour markets and family networks before 1914, has not returned since. Today’s voluntary transnational migration might be sizeable, and co-evolve with business patterns and network feedbacks as before, but it does so under mostly restrictive policies rendered less predictable by the politics of “strange-bedfellow” coalitions. Free-market advocates and multicultural progressives seek the relaxation of border restrictions, while labour unions, nativists and environmental groups are more reluctant to see those controls attenuate. Multinational corporations are laboratories of legal alternatives to mass labour relocation, while undocumented migration tends to weaken the efficacy of quotas and restrictions, without undoing them.

As salient as the 1914 policy change undoubtedly was for the history of international migration, it should not obscure important influences running in the opposite direction. Because migrant workers are often close to the pulse of an economy, their movement can serve as a barometer for major social, economic and political trends.

Modern labour migration usually reflects the segment of the workforce in temporary and cyclical employment, and transport networks are usually attentive to hiring trends for those sorts of jobs. Transatlantic shipping line agents and analysts in the early 20th century, for example, often took the level of prepaid tickets as an indication of cyclical fluctuations, which their steerage business tended to reflect in magnified form. In the US recession of 1907-08 (the sharpest downturn of the decade prior to the First World War) factory production was about 20% lower than the previous year and employment fell roughly 10%, but net migration dropped by about 150% as a large net outflow of migrants returned to Europe. The abrupt curtailment of immigration in August 1914 and subsequent outpouring of repatriates and refugees, particularly from Belgium, were early signals that the new European war could to lead to a more radical economic disturbance than prior wars had.

In his famously prescient 1919 book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes described the open borders of the then bygone first age of globalization before WW1:

“The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery on his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, [and] he could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality.”

A quarter of a century and another world war later, Keynes helped establish an institutional framework to gradually restore key components of the pre-1914 international free trade in goods, services and finance. Returning to free cross-border movement of labour has been more recent, limited and tentative, however. Today, there are powerful forces pushing migration hurdles lower, or aside – not least the ongoing information convergence in the “global village” – but opposing forces seem nearly as strong. Unlike goods and money, people are accompanied in their international travels by social, political and cultural baggage, and the act of their relocation transforms not just the places they settle in but the countries they come from.

Migration processes are often controversial, difficult to predict and dependent on fragile political compromises, especially in a world of considerable inequality.

By most indications, globalization in some form seems likely to persist for the foreseeable future, although the golden age of open borders described by Keynes does not look retrievable. Compared with their early 20th-century counterparts, early 21st-century societies face a quite different constellation of vulnerabilities with different resources and opportunities.

In the long arc of human history, half a millennium of demographic movement from Eurasia to the Americas was liable to be a one-off, regardless of geopolitics. But unfettered worldwide migration did not gradually phase out (as it had developed) over decades and centuries. To a considerable and lasting degree, it was lost following the guns of August 1914.

Monroe Doctrine, Thy Indian Incarnation is Rama Diplomacy

Monroe Doctrine made US powerful, and India has developed its own doctrine, I shall call it Rama diplomacy. India’s cultural richness and the wide expanse of its spiritual knowledge and icons are important pillars in Modi’s approach to diplomacy.

In May this year, during the customary banquet hosted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, members of the visiting delegation were surprised to find a small box next to each dinner plate. Inside each box was a small figurine, depicting a famous character of the Ramayana.

This gesture, in many ways, is reflective of the spotlight that PM Modi has been able to cast afresh, on the legacy of Lord Rama.

The same day, President Widodo and Modi had jointly inaugurated a kite exhibition in Jakarta, which featured themes from Indian texts including the Ramayana.

Indonesia, of course, is one of the members of ASEAN, with whom India has forged close links as part of its Act East policy. At the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in New Delhi in January this year, Modi said that the Ramayana continues to be a valuable shared legacy in the ASEAN region and the Indian subcontinent. He mentioned the Ramayana Festival with troupes from ASEAN countries, organised by India, to showcase our common cultural heritage.

In fact, the dance drama Rama Hari, based on the Ramayana, was also part of the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Manila, in the Philippines, in 2017.

The legend of Queen Suriratna, originally of Ayodhya, who travelled to Korea in the first century AD, and married the Korean King Suro, has been repeatedly referred to by the prime minister, both during his public engagements, as well as in private conversations with visiting Korean delegations.

In May 2015, during Modi’s visit to South Korea, this special relationship between Ayodhya and Korea became part of the joint statement issued on the occasion. The two sides agreed to upgrade the monument for Queen Suriratna in Ayodhya as a joint project. India also invited Korea to participate in a seminar on the subject “Shared Heritage as New Variable in the Indo-Korean Relations: Historicising the Legend of Princess from Ayodhya and its Legacy”.

The Ayodhya link with Korea has found mention in his interaction with Korean business leaders, as well as with the Indian community in Korea.

On a special invitation from Modi, the First Lady of the Republic of Korea, Kim Jung-Sook, was an honoured guest at the Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya this year. The occasion was also special, as it marked the ground-breaking ceremony for the new memorial of Queen Suriratna in Ayodhya.

Spiritual links between India and Nepal have been a constant factor in Modi’s interactions with the leadership of that country. His visit to Janakpur, the birthplace of Sita, in May 2018, marked the launch of the Nepal-India Ramayana Circuit, which connects Ayodhya and Janakpur with other sites associated with the Ramayana. Modi also announced Rs 100 crore for the development of Janakpur. At a civic reception, the prime minister remarked that India and Nepal have shared close ties for ages. “This is the place of Maa Janaki, without whom Ayodhya is incomplete,” he said in his remarks to the people of Janakpur. Indeed, the two towns were linked by a sister-city agreement between India and Nepal in 2014.

In Colombo, March 2015, in his address to the parliament of Sri Lanka, Modi reflected on the many strands of the relationship between the two countries. Dwelling on the spiritual links between India and Sri Lanka, he recalled the Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka.

During a pathbreaking visit to Central Asia in July 2015, the prime minister had presented to President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a set of books relating to religions born in India. Among the books was a Persian translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana in Nastaliq script. Speaking at a conference in Tehran in May 2016, on the theme “India and Iran, Two Great Civilisations,” the prime minister noted that the Ramayana has seen over a dozen translations in Persian.

Modi has been a strong proponent of the importance of soft power in the rise of nations. India’s cultural richness and the wide expanse of its spiritual knowledge and icons, are important pillars in his approach to diplomacy. And, who better than Lord Rama to connect India and the world!