Sunday, January 10, 2016

Three Key Factors in Political & Cultural Clashes around the World

2015, certainly saw a sharpening of the divide, and a more polarised climate of debate on many of the social and political issues across the globe including India. The "Rising Intolerance in Modi's India" was a good indicator of how polarised and stark the debates have become around the world.

There was plenty to debate during 2015, from climate change to net neutrality, but here are a few which impacted large sections of people in the west as well as in India and caught my attention.

1) A general disaffection with the political class and the rise of populism: Despite having been a long time politician, Narendra Modi's win in 2014 was in some sense a victory for an outsider to the Lutyen's Delhi Establishment. Arvind Kejriwal and AAP's meteoric rise and stunning win in Delhi in 2015 was also a victory of populist politics coupled with a deep resentment against the politics of status-quo of established parties. We are seeing similar trends across the western world. Donald Trump has taken US politics by storm with his incredible lead in the Republican nominee polls. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed "socialist", a hitherto almost unheard of term in US politics is the primary challenger to Hillary Clinton among the Democrats and polling quite well. Jeremy Corbyn, became the Labour Leader with a huge majority within his party, despite his far left background. We are seeing other examples too. Marine Le Pen in France on the right, and Podemos in Spain on the left, are illustrations of populist parties gaining more traction. And despite winning just 1 seat, Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party got 12.7% of the popular vote in the 2015 elections and was placed third in vote share.

2) The increasing importance of identity in politics: India's long running debate on secularism and cultural nationalism is now increasingly mirrored in the West as it confronts its multicultural present and future. The long continuing trend of mass immigration (especially in Europe), the refugee crisis in Syria and the return of terrorist attacks to mainland Europe this year have meant that immigration in general has become a major emotive issue in both Europe & US, and not just an economic one. While the multicultural left and progressives are shouting Islamophobia at any and every statement made by someone outside the liberal consensus, someone like Trump is making the other extreme case of shutting down the US to Muslims, temporarily. There are indeed very difficult questions to answer with regard to Muslims in the US for example, as this article by Victor Davis Hanson points out, but which mainstream politicians rarely discuss with honesty. However, identity based conflicts was not only limited to Muslims. Far less talked about but extremely disturbing is the case of rising Anti-Semitism in Europe now, while in Barack Obama's America, #BlackLivesMatter has become a serious movement. 

3) The limits of Political correctness and free speech: Standing up for Free Speech is the right and noble thing to do as many people in power and influence seem to point out, but very few will actually stand for it though and we saw that time and again in 2015. The shootings of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, brought out many apologists for the victims and political correctness meant that Charlie Hebdo got called racist, while of course the terrorists had no religionMeanwhile, in western colleges, free speech is being shut down in the name of "emotional well-being"; trigger warnings and micro aggressions have become part of the vocabulary. Recently, secular activist Maryam Nawazie was banned from speaking on fears of inciting hatred against Muslim students, while in India JNU students rallied around to oppose Baba Ramdev speaking at their campus. And so when, progressives around the world made political correctness into a bad word, it was again left to someone like Donald Trump to combat it. Trump, who has made being anti-politically correct one of his main planks, has found a voice that resonates with people because the establishment politicians and media will not talk about what is considered politically incorrect. 

How do all these things come together? On one hand, the rise of the far left in Europe through the likes of Corbyn, Podemos or Tsipras in Greece, shows a degree of discontent with globalization and neo-liberal economics, as these are resistance movements against rising inequality and austerity. Nationalist, populist right wingers are providing another alternative to this discontent with globalization. Globalization has provided twin challenges to western countries - one with jobs moving out of the countries and two, with more free movement of labour forces - increased competition for jobs at home from immigrants. And so as the once dominant population groups (whites) face increased competition in the job market, see the welfare state keep having to accommodate more and more immigrant populations, societal changes that they do not welcome and live with the fear of increased crime and terrorism. Combine all these factors and it is easy to see how the populist right wing is also gaining support. Angela Merkel, Germany's leader and a center right politician herself, faces difficulty within her own party after having provided refuge to a very large number of asylum seekers. The far left and the far right, both are trying to capture this market of discontent, with their respective spin.

With all these factors at play, as western societies are getting more diverse, their politics are also becoming more and more vote-bank oriented, a road which we have traveled a lot in India already.  The rise in Muslim populations and the current climate of fear with terrorism generally and ISIS in particular, around has meant that a lot of the debate surrounding Islam - whether it is related to terrorism, immigration, political correctness and limits of free speech, or indeed mere co-existence in the same society, has been extremely divisive and not very helpful. Take the recent unfortunate case of the mass atrocities on women across Europe, which demonstrated at once both how even a country like Germany is on the brink with the recent levels of mass immigration; while also simultaneously showing how parts of the establishment and politically correct media simply wanted to shut down any coverage and later a meaningful debate on this topic.  (The parallel with the Malda riots on shutting down coverage are there for everyone to see).

However, if we do look around we will find some pieces of encouragement. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz came together to author a concise but illuminating book called Islam & the future of tolerance (This discussion about the book should get you interested). These two NYT article by Ross Douthat -The Islamic Dilemma & A Conservative Islam For a Liberal Society gives an interesting perspective on how Islam can indeed coexist in societies where it is a minority; giving up on violent Jihad seems to be the most important criteria.

One of the key issue with regard to identity politics, which has led to the rise of  a particular brand of nationalistic populism is that it is a sort of reaction to the complete rejection of any sort of nationalistic culture or pride or cherishing of "traditional values" demonstrated by the liberal elites of each country. After the loss of the Labour party in Britain in May, Nick Cohen wrote this piece on how the party would do well to stop hating the English people. The below paras aptly sum up how liberal elites who patronise Center/ Left parties look at their own cultures:
"The universities, left press, and the arts characterise the English middle-class as Mail-reading misers, who are sexist, racist and homophobic to boot. Meanwhile, they characterise the white working class as lardy Sun-reading slobs, who are, since you asked, also sexist, racist and homophobic. The national history is reduced to one long imperial crime, and the notion that the English are not such a bad bunch with many strong radical traditions worth preserving is rejected as risibly complacent. So tainted and untrustworthy are they that they must be told what they can say and how they should behave. "

You could change a few words and have the problem paraphrased for just about any country none more so than in India as I had done in this blog earlier last year. Whatever the particular details of any country, this paragraph would resonate with the folks - the so called silent majorities who are feeling left out in their own countries. 

The general trend across all and any debate is that any sort of mutual trust or respect appears to have been lost. The left will of course champion the underdog, namely the minorities, the right will attempt to provide voice to the grievance of the "silent majority". The debate about gun control is a very good example of what loss of trust can do in making seemingly solvable problems appear insolvable.  Gun owning conservatives are worried that additional new regulations would just be the first step in further control of their lives by the government and curtailment of their liberties. The actual merit or demerit of the control to be put in place is pushed to the background. 

And that in summary is the general trend of debates that we see across the world. Problems that can be solved between communities and groups elude solutions as both sides fear the very worst from their opponents and compromises are looked upon as defeats. India's parliamentary logjam is probably the starkest example of this that we witnessed in 2015. It would be interesting to see if we see a difference in this situation going into 2016.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

How Rising Islamophobia and Growing Intolerance in Modi's India is being countered

 India is seething with emboldened criminals and bullies. It is reeling under strategically ignited religious tensions, and the cultural terrorism of vigilante groups. Hindu bigotry is in an open, all-out war with pluralism. There’s unrest in Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir. Caste and gender atrocities continue unabated. Ministers and members of parliament regularly make ugly statements that don’t cost them their jobs. Cow worship and beef wars have replaced development at the top of the noise spectrum.
The above para from a leading business newspaper , only begins to describe the untold horrors being experienced within India being unleashed by India's Hindu Nationalist government and the Hitler reincarnate Narendra Modi. India, a veritable heaven of tolerance under the progressive Congress party for years, is now a bloody playground for violent Hindutva thugs and goons, causing enormous damage to India's image in the international sphere.
Shashi Tharoor, a leading MP of the Congress party, did a video for the The Guardian which provided stirring commentary effectively mixing facts with powerful rhetoric to counter the rising Islamophobia in Modi's India. It was indeed a sign of stark intolerance that the redoubtable Guardian had to change it's original headline from that in the below picture to the now mellowed down version of Narendra Modi's war on pluralism is destroying India's reputation.


In fact, the Guardian has often been a leading voice of reason against this rampant Islamophobia and rising intolerance by Modi. It's coverage during the visit of Modi to UK contained many exemplary pieces including this by Pankaj Mishra and this by Anish Kapoor . The headlines were quite orgasmic for India's marginalised liberals - constantly targetted by hate speech by online trolls.

Talibanising Hinduism

Meanwhile, despite the complete and utter suppression of dissent and free speech in India, a few pockets of resistance have been seen. Apart from #AwardWapasi by many noted intellectuals including Munawar Rana  there were others too who have tried raising their voice. The noted author Amit Chaudhuri mentioned that : Wahabi Hinduism is decimating the pluralism of the religion, No doubt he was probably beaten up by a lynch mob of angry Internet Hindus - thereby precisely proving the point that Hinduisim had become like Wahabi Islam - which had nothing to do with Islam.

In the aftermath of the most barbaric incident in India - the Dadri killing and moves towards wholesale banning of the single source of nutritious diet in India - beef, there was a move to create a false equivalence with the lack of reporting coverage on the death of one Hindu activist in Moodabidri. 
However, these diversionary tactics by saffron forces was completely debunked by leading news anchor in India - Rajdeep Sardesai as follows:

Well, I'll tell you why. To begin with, any killing is condemnable. But when we seek to compare two instances without even bothering to examine the political context, we are entering dangerous territory. Prashant Poojary was a Bajrang Dal activist in Moodbidri. The Bajrang Dal has self-admittedly used violence as a weapon against minorities (don't believe me, meet Babu Bajrangi in Gujarat or listen to him in a Tehelka expose). Poojary has been allegedly involved in cases of intimidation and violence in the region. He was fighting the “beef Mafia” as part of the anti-cow slaughter agitation. He didn't deserve to die under any circumstance but there is a political context to his death as there would be in Bengal when Trinamool workers clash with cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
(Note; It is mildly disappointing that he used TMC & CPI(M) as examples of violence though - secular parties like them, have rarely, if ever indulged in them).

One of the common talking points to target India's most tolerant Muslim community is to conflate them with Globally Jihadi terrorism. Global Jihadi or Islamist terrorism, which has nothing do with Islam, is a result of colonialism, globalisation, global warming, rising inequality, rampant Islamophobia etc. Recently, The Hindu carried an extremely illuminating article which dismissed India's claim to be a victim of global terrorism (which has nothing to do with Islam) and be counted on the same side as the west:
Despite its role as an easily accessible and internationally recognised site for terrorist innovation, however, Mumbai doesn’t belong in the same group as Paris, London, Madrid or New York as targets of al-Qaeda and now Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism. India isn’t a serious target for these groups despite appearing on their imaginary maps like so many other places. But instead of being thankful for this situation, a number of Indian journalists and policymakers seem anxious that the country be recognised as a victim of globalised terrorism, and so an ally of the Europeans and Americans fighting against it. This longing to join the all-white club of terrorism’s leading enemies can even be seen as a perversion of the older desire that India take her place among the great powers. 
 But more importantly, the article made an ever bigger point that the Islamist groups which are against India are actually nationalistic in nature and that nation should be grateful for that.
While India is not immune to the politics of culture, the state continues to dominate social relations there in such a way as to define, if not produce, all forms of resistance as well. But by the same token, it limits such resistance so that Islamic militancy in India remains conventional and bizarrely even “nationalist”.
Despite the massive clampdown on Freedom of Speech of political rivals, efforts are ongoing by brave, secular politicians to speak against Islamophobia. Mamata Banerjee, CM of West Bengal managed to attend a rally organised by Jamiat Ulama i Hind ( a nationalistic Islamist organization). The rally was called as a protest against rising intolerance in the country.
Rallying against Intolerance

Overall, however the condition for minorities in India remains precarious. Leading film stars, who happen to Muslim, such as Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, have time and again spoken about how the country is getting more intolerant. However they are getting bullied for speaking with Apps being uninstalled & calls for films being boycotted ! 

There are other horrors on display too. A Hindu radical (Wahabi variety) insulted the Prophet Mohammad  leading to peaceful protests by Muslim community throughout the country.  Despite extreme provocations, the community remained totally peaceful while merely demanding death against the Hindu radical, for blasphemy.

Peaceful Protests

Other disturbing signs of Islamophobia are also creeping in. Hitherto unreported incidents like this are somehow creeping into the mainstream -thereby leading to online backlash against the peaceful community. The silence of bigger media houses in such cases is appreciated but one wonders if that can be trusted for much longer. Secondly, the amount of Faking News type reports coming up in the Indian newspapers of radicalisation of young Indian Muslims is creating a false narrative. From the case of twitter warrior Mehdi Masroor , to toilet cleaning ISIS warrior Areeb Majeeb; from the disclosure of the name of the South Asian head of Al Qaeda Sanaul Haq to the unfortunate arrest of Al Qaeda operative Maulavi Abdur Rehman - there is a constant stream of vilification that is ongoing and this keeps providing fodder to the Bhakts and Sanghis.

Aah, yes the main problem facing the country is not radical Islam or Islamic terrorism - which as we described earlier is quite nationalistic in it's outlook. Rather it is these damn Bhakts that are the source of all and every evil. However a most wonderful development has now taken place. With the efforts of progressive, secular leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar, Salman Khurshid & Sudheendra Kulkarni - India's PM has now been forced into talks with Pakistan, And the best part is that this will provide much needed chastening to these damn Bhakts.
He has already taken the first stab at that by announcing dialogue suddenly. His hardline Hindu nationalist followers on social media and hot-headed TV news anchors — who have been building up anti-Pakistan sentiment in India and making the PM risk-averse so far — do not quite know how to react at the moment. The idea now should be to sustain the stupor of his bhakts and socialise them to the imperatives of statecraft through an active India-Pakistan process.
This will help Modi domestically — if he so wishes — as he has struggled to publicly take on his Sangh parivar allies as they stoke anti-minority sentiment, target liberals and pursue aggressive anti-beef campaigns. Anti-Pakistan discourse in the public sphere is often generated with Indian Muslims in mind to stigmatize them in society. Sustained dialogue with Pakistan can help address this as it starves the bhakts a bit of the oxygen that strained ties offered them so far. The bhakts can now pursue an anti-Muslim agenda only with the full knowledge that it embarrasses the PM they admire.
Throughout this blog, I have quoted the leading intellectual MoDawah and let us end with this final piece of wisdom from him, as we look to bring back lost tolerance to India.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Is Intolerance rising in India ?

The current meme in India : "Intolerance is rising" is if nothing else a very interesting debate. Many of India's prominent "intellectuals" are criticising the Modi government of encouraging, abetting and / or turning a blind eye to a series of violent acts that have happened in the country over the last few months (or years). There is a furious ongoing debate and a counter movement on to prove that India is tolerant. With the really long drawn and tiring Bihar elections as the backdrop, these have been terribly polarized times to be in India. It is fair to say that both sides are "having a moment".

Meanwhile, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz came together to co-author titled "Islam and the Future of Tolerance",  a book to have a dialogue about Islam, Islamism etc. "Is Islam a religion of peace ? " - is the subject of long running debates now. For instance take this debate from 2010 (probably) in which Maajid Nawaz participates to support the motion - Islam is a Religion of Peace. It seems that a post debate - dinner spat between Harris and Nawaz was the starting point to them collaborating on this book a few years later.

Maajid Nawaz's answer now is simple and makes sense:  Islam is neither a religion of peace nor a religion of war. It is simply a religion, and one that has been subject to many different interpretations over the centuries, and is still refracted in lots of different ways.

And so, if someone asks "Is India a Tolerant Country" or "Is India an Intolerant Country" this can also be answered similarly. It is neither tolerant nor intolerant. It is a country that has many different types of people with diverse opinions, who look at their identities in many different ways.

To explain further, I am not trying to compare Islam & it's problems with tolerance with the current debate in India. But the point is that to define entities like a religion or a nation-state / country in binary terms is very difficult and merely being convenient to your current political position.

Beyond the debate of communalism vs selective outrage & hypocrisy, it is true that an "India is Intolerant" narrative could become a self fulfilling prophecy. In a county where for the media, narrative trumps over data, this is even more likely.

Amidst the deluge of Op-Eds and articles, this one paragraph from V Anantha Nageswaran's article  was perhaps the one that I was able to relate the best personally.

And so, now that we know what is the game of the other side, it becomes imperative for the BJP to continue to increase it's rainbow social coalition across the country and reach out to more people with a more optimistic and positive message. I believe that it is well worth the effort for the BJP (despite the unlikely possibility of electoral gains) and the Sangh, to make efforts to reach across to minorities and strive for social cohesion proactively, without the arbitration and mediation of India's secular ayatollahs.

Economic progress, Law & Order and Justice are the only silver bullets available for a diverse country like India to maintain the peace. Education & Healthcare, too cannot be sacrificed at the altar of fiscal prudence. If we know that at least one side wants the nation to progress and stay united, a positive message for social cohesion at the grassroots level is well worth the effort. Ultimately , the oped vs oped game,  the news channel debate and Twitter & Facebook fights have limited utility. An exemplary record and a positive atmosphere is a worthy target to strive for.

"Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" was a laudable goal to strive for, it is time to concentrate on all three words of this slogan equally. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Farewell Viru

Viru Sehwag retired a few days ago. So, I have collated a few of his best test knocks in this post. Words rarely can do justice to his game, and certainly not words by me.

And if it is words that I want to read about him, I prefer them written by Jarrod Kimber, the man who coined the term Sehwagology !

His farewell tribute was great too, and this below quote is from that
When you bowled to him, you weren’t bowling to a batsman; you were bowling to a belief system.
There was comfort in his madness. Others have stopped, slowed, changed, restricted, just to survive, to thrive, to score all that they could score. Not him. Maybe he just couldn’t slow down, couldn’t hold back. He was what he was, a wild animal of batting.
I think I will keep coming back here, to see some of his batting. Farewell Viru.

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