SACW - 6 March 2018 | Sri Lanka: Populism / Bangladesh attack on Muhammad Zafar Iqbal / Pakistan: Comrade Jam Saqi passes on / Afghan Taleban School Takeover / India: Left loses Tripura; RSS playing temple politics again / Nobel Laureates Letter to Erdogan /

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Mon Mar 5 15:23:00 EST 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 6 March 2018 - No. 2975 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Sri Lanka: The Rajapaksa Populism | Ahilan Kadirgamar 
2. Bangladesh: An attack on us all | Taqbir Huda
3. What the Merger of Nepal’s Communist Parties Means for Their Two Leaders and India | Vishnu Sharma
4. India’s Bank of Baroda Played a Key Role in South Africa’s Gupta Scandal | Khadija Sharife and Josy Joseph
5. SherAli Tareen’s Book Review of Muslim Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Empire by Seema Alvi
6. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India's North-East saffronised
 - India: Appointment of Riot-Tainted DGP in Bihar
 - India: It’s High Time Gujarat Government Recognises the Communal Elephant in the Room ] Nidhi Tambi (The Wire)
 - India: Suspect in Gauri Lankesh Murder is linked to Hindutva Far Right
 - India: Ram Rajya Rath Yatra - Road to Power | Ram Puniyani
 - India: The coming elections are the main political reasons for Ram rajya rath yatra - report in Frontline
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
7. Pakistan: Comrade Jam Saqi passes away
8. Afghanistan: Action Pledged On Taleban School Takeover
9. India: The saffron breeze in the Northeast | Subir Bhaumik
10. India: The disconnect between society and politics in the Northeast is dangerous for democracy | Shashi Shekhar
11. Modi playing with fire, driving J&K to despair | Bharat Bhushan
11.1 Lokpal is a dubious idea to begin with – excluding Opposition will make it more so | Shoaib Daniyal
12. An Indian Nightmare: Is New Delhi Ready for the Twenty-First Century? | Milan Vaishnav
13. Sarin on Linstrum, Psychology and Empire
14. An open letter to President Erdogan from 38 Nobel laureates
15. Plenty of Sex & Nowhere to Sit | Kevin Jackson
16. The untenable technophobia of the Left | Simona Levi and Xnet 
17. Putin promises guns and butter in his state of the nation speech | Ben Aris
18. Why the Kremlin publishes uncensored translations of Western news | Fred Weir

The local government elections last month and their aftermath continue to have their reverberations. While some politicians and political analysts critical of the Rajapaksa camp find solace in the fact that the Rajapaksa-backed SLPP got less than 50% of the vote, I believe it was a significant victory for the former President-backed party, and one with serious consequences. The dangers are not so much about whether Mahinda Rajapaksa will make a comeback, or what is in store for the national elections ahead. Rather, it is about the Rajapaksas setting the agenda of politics and the Government.

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, one of the leading progressive intellectuals and educationists of the country, was stabbed multiple times by a bearded man while on stage at an event he was attending as chief guest in Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (Sust) campus, Sylhet.

The long-awaited unification of Nepal’s two big communist parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), has concluded. The two parties have signed a seven-point agreement that accepts Marxism and Leninism as guiding principle and calls for establishing the party’s hegemony through peaceful means.

India’s state-owned Bank of Baroda — one of the country’s largest — played a crucial role in the financial machinations of South Africa’s politically influential Gupta family, allowing them to move hundreds of millions of dollars originating in alleged dirty deals into offshore accounts, an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project (OCCRP) and The Hindu has found.

 review of Seema Alavi’s book on Muslim Cosmopolitanism. ’At the crux of Seema Alavi’s Muslim Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Empire is an argument for decentering the normative claims and aspirations of British colonial modernity. This it seeks to do by reorienting our understanding of the modern career of Islam in South Asia.’

 - India's North-East saffronised
 - India: Appointment of Riot-Tainted DGP in Bihar
 - India: It’s High Time Gujarat Government Recognises the Communal Elephant in the Room ] Nidhi Tambi (The Wire)
 - India: Suspect in Gauri Lankesh Murder is linked to Hindutva Far Right
 - India: Ram Rajya Rath Yatra - Road to Power | Ram Puniyani
 - India: The coming elections are the main political reasons for Ram rajya rath yatra - report in Frontline

 -> available via:
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::

Geo TV - Geo News - 5 March 2018

Renowned politician and leftist leader Jam Saqi passes away

A renowned rights activist, social worker and political leader, Jam Saqi, passed away from a protracted illness on Monday. He was 73.

His funeral prayers will be held in Naseem Nagar, Hyderabad at 3pm.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir, among others, posted a tribute to the activist and politician on Twitter. 

Mir shared a picture of when slain prime minister and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Benazir Bhutto appeared as a witness in a military court case against Jam Saqi in Hyderabad.  

Jam Mohammad was born on October 31, 1944 in Tharparkar. He remained the president of the Sindh National Students Federation in the 1960s. Jam Saqi is remembered as the leading advocate against the one-unit formula.

In the 1970s, he became a member of Comrade Haider Baksh Jatoi’s Sindh Hari Committee and was joint secretary of the National Awami Party.

Afterward, he joined the Communist Party of Pakistan and became its secretary general. 
Senior journalist and rights activist shares an anecdote on Jam Saqi's death

He remained detained during the General Ziaul Haq government for eight years on charges of treason. In his political career, he spent around 15 years behind bars in total.

Jam Saqi left the communist party in 1991 and joined the Pakistan Peoples Party in 1993. He authored seven books.

He married twice and has left behind six bereaved family members. 

Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Officials vow to address concerns over insurgent influence on education.
By IWPR Afghanistan

An IWPR report that revealed how the Taleban were attempting to impose their own curriculum in schools in Logar province has made headline news across Afghanistan.

(See Taleban Impose Changes on Afghan Curriculum).

Local officials said that, having been alerted to the issue by IWPR, they would now act to prevent the insurgents from forcing their own version of religious study onto students.

In a number of areas of the eastern province, IWPR found that the Taleban had banned lessons on cultural subjects, such as music, and those being taught around issues of terrorism and extremism. They had also inserted their own programme of religious study into schools, often taught by their own members.

Saleem Saleh, the spokesman of Logar’s governor, said that the IWPR story had already made a difference, helping focus local efforts on vital educational work.

“After the publication of your report concerning the teaching of the Taleban’s curriculum in school, Logar’s local government has become more committed to solve the problems which exist in the education department,” said. “We are trying to rescue the areas mentioned in your report from the influence of the Taleban.”

Mohammad Zahid Sultani, a reporter for the Bakhtar news agency, said that the IWPR story had been picked up by much of the local and national media and was an illustration of how reporters could act to hold the government to account on such serious social issues.

“If the media is utilised properly to publish factual reports then it makes the government face its problems,” he said. “With the release of such reports, fundamental reforms can be implemented and the gap between the government and people reduced”.

Mohammad Nasim Samadai, a reporter with Zinat Radio, also said that the IWPR story would impel the education department to improve its performance.

“The media has a major role in social reforms and in solving the issues people face,” he continued. “I can say that if such reports are published, it will be unlikely that problems will persist in our community.”

Officials agreed that the story had raised important issues which they would now follow up on.

“This report had a significant impact,” said Mohammad Akbar Stanikzai, Logar’s director of education. “We have not heard anything like that in the districts and centre, but we will still investigate.”

However, he rejected claims by the Taleban in the original story that they sent their own religious scholars to district schools in order to teach students.

Stanikzai said that the curriculum was “taught equally in the districts including the centre, Pul-e-Alam, and we will not allow anyone to alter or interfere with it”.

Kabir Haqmal, the director general of communications at the ministry of education, said that they had also been unaware of the problem before reading the IWPR article.

“The curriculum of the ministry of education is an Islamic, Afghan and standards-based curriculum,” he said. “There is nothing in this curriculum that violates Afghan and Islamic principles. The position and policy of the ministry of education is to promote only the Afghan education curriculum and we will not allow others to disseminate another curriculum.”

In some areas, local elders had negotiated compromise agreements with Taleban leaders over the amount of influence they were allowed to have over the curriculum. But security officials said that a new offensive was planned when the weather improved that would further reduce insurgent influence in Logar.

Logar police chief Esmatullah Alizai said, “Security in Logar province has improved compared to the past and at the beginning of spring we plan to increase our operations against the Taleban - who prevent the implementation of the ministry of education’s training programmes as well as government development projects -  and clear the remaining areas of Taleban presence so that they won’t be able to teach their own curriculum in schools.”

The Hindu,
March 05, 2018

Most regional parties prefer the BJP as their national partner, but managing contradictions won’t be easy

Of the three States whose Assembly election results were declared on March 3, Tripura’s was doubtlessly the most stunning. Tripura has been the safest Left bastion since the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front first swept to power in 1978. Only once since then, in 1988, did the Left Front lose to the Congress-TUJS (Tripura Upajati Juba Samity) alliance, but it returned to power in 1993. Since then it has been in power, with Manik Sarkar as Chief Minister since 1998. So for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to emerge out of nowhere and score a spectacular victory by getting a majority in the Assembly on its own is nothing short of a miracle. Beneath this surprise lies a cobweb of contradictions that the BJP’s election managers, especially Sunil Deodhar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll manager in Varanasi, seem to have managed so well.
The Tripura manoeuvre

By striking an alliance with the tribal Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) which demands a separate tribal State of Twipraland it wants carved out of the autonomous district council of the State, the BJP assured itself of a sweep in the 20 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes. The IPFT has close connect to the separatist National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), and the CPI(M) cadre is no match for the armed guerrillas who back the IPFT’s young militant cadres in the remote hill interiors. But by not endorsing the Twipraland demand and by not giving the IPFT the majority of the ST reserved seats (11 contested by the BJP, nine by the IPFT), the BJP sent a clear message it would not be a junior partner to its ally, as in Jammu and Kashmir. That got the BJP much of the tribal backing, and also of Bengalis in rural remote interiors who saw support to the BJP as their safest security option.

Then by absorbing almost the entire Congress-turned Trinamool Congress leadership in its fold, the BJP ensured that it ran away with the 30% Congress votebank. In Tripura, the fight has always tended to be between the Left and the anti-Left. With the Congress decimated and seen as the B-team of the Left, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi avoiding any attack against Mr. Sarkar, the anti-Left voter had no option but to go with the BJP as it was seen as the only viable option to dethrone the Left. The middle class Bengali vote swung the saffron way because of the Left’s poor track record in employment generation, forcing Tripura’s best brains to seek jobs in Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Mr. Sarkar’s refusal to meet the captains of IT industry during a 2015 Tripura Conclave organised to leverage Agartala’s emergence as India’s third Internet gateway did not go down well with GenNext, tribals and Bengalis alike. That explains the BJP sweep in Agartala and other urban areas. So with the tribal vote and the middle class urban Bengali vote swinging its way, all that the BJP needed was a small swing in the rural Bengali vote.

While much of that remained with the Left (which is marginally behind the BJP in overall vote share), in the deep interiors dominated by the IPFT’s militant cadre, the Bengali settlers seem to have voted against the Left, as it was seen to be no longer capable of defending them in the event of a resurgent tribal insurgency.

Fear of the unknown always haunts the rural Bengalis who have borne the brunt of tribal insurgency since the violence of 1980 — and a dominant BJP with a majority of its own was their best bet to tame the IPFT and nip the Twipraland demand in the bud. Politics is the art of managing the contradictions. It now seems those who swear by Kautilya seem to handle it better than those who preach Marx and Engels, at least in India.
A bid for all three

The BJP parliamentary board has expressed the hope that despite not getting a clear majority in Nagaland and also the Congress emerging as the single largest party in Meghalaya, the BJP will form the government in both these Christian-majority States. Again, the BJP seems to have managed the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) — NSCN (IM) — to back its bid for power with its new found ally and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) may join in as well, all apparently to pave the way for a final settlement of the Naga imbroglio. Failure to deliver a final settlement more than two years after signing the Framework Agreement would have normally jeopardised the poll prospects of the BJP, especially after it fell out with the ruling NPF, but party general secretary Ram Madhav’s political engineering in triggering a successful split and then taming the main NPF and the NSCN is something that would have done Kautilya proud.

But now the challenges. In Tripura, the BJP has to deliver on its development promise — the new Chief Minister may do well to go for roadshows to attract big ticket investments to leverage the IT gateway and may consider, for instance, decommissioning the 10MW Gumti hydel project to reclaim thousands of acres of fertile tribal land that the project submerged nearly four decades ago. While IT investments would appeal to the young, both tribals and Bengalis, the dam decommissioning may open the path for ethnic reconciliation which the Marxists overlooked at their own peril by trying to play the wild card of Bengali chauvinism.

In Nagaland, the BJP has to deliver a final settlement in a way that pleases most, if not all, rebel and political factions. This is no easy task in a very divided tribal society.

In Meghalaya, where the BJP appears to have managed to dethrone Chief Minister Mukul Sangma (who led the Congress to emerge as the single largest party), it would have to hold together a coalition of disparate regional players; ensuring the survival of such a coalition will not be easy in Meghalaya’s ‘aya ram gaya ram’ politics.
Message for West Bengal

Most regional parties in Northeast now prefer the BJP as their national partner, and not the Congress which has a tribal base, but managing the contradictions will be a a full-time task. Meanwhile, the Tripura results will definitely worry one Chief Minister in particular — Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. It is easy to see why she spoke of Left arrogance and Congress missteps in not aligning with her party in Tripura. She seems to know that she will be the next to face the saffron fire.

Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC bureau chief for East and Northeast India, is editorial consultant with Myanmar’s Mizzima Media

Hindustan Times, 
March 05, 2018

Can such an assembly be considered a fair representation of an entire population where women haven’t yet found their rightful place? Has the politics of vested interests not worked against the region’s socio-cultural traditions?

The brand of politics being practised these days has begun to alienate the people from the democratic process. A good example of this is the just-concluded elections in the three Northeastern states. Here, I will desist from analysing the victory or loss of any particular party or leader and, instead, focus on analysing the tendencies that have nurtured the gun-tantra (culture of guns) and dealt a number of blows to ganatantra (the republic).

Let me begin with Nagaland. This extremely-sensitive part of India has been struggling to overcome poverty and backwardness. The annual per capita income here is Rs 89,607 as compared to the national per capita income of Rs 1,11,782. Now consider the average wealth of candidates from Nagaland. Of the 196 poll warriors in the fray, 114 are crorepatis with an average personal wealth of Rs 3.76 crore. As many as 60 candidates have personal assets of more than Rs 50 lakh.

The story doesn’t end there. Only five of the 196 candidates who filed nominations for the 60-seat assembly are women. An indicator of the sorry state of women in the state’s politics is that not a single woman candidate has been elected for the assembly, ever. Rano M Shaiza did become the state’s only parliamentarian in 1977 but no other woman has had this honour since. In a state that believes in giving equal rights to women, there was fierce resistance to reserving 33% seats for women in the municipal elections.

The condition of Meghalaya and Tripura, part of the Seven Sisters, isn’t any better. There’s a predominance of the Khasi community in Meghalaya. It is a matrilineal society that believes in the pre-eminence of women in society. In the Khasi community, the husband has to move into the wife’s ancestral home after marriage and their progeny take the mother’s name. Not just this, the recipient of ancestral property is the family’s youngest daughter. If a daughter is not born in a family, they adopt a girl child. There cannot be a better place in the country to be a woman, but look at the number of women in politics: Just 33 of the 372 candidates who fought the assembly elections are women. Here too, the candidates included 152 crorepatis with an average income of Rs 3.5 crore. The richest among these is Ngaitlang Dhar, the National People’s Party candidate from the Umroi constituency, with assets worth Rs 290 crore (he lost). Researchers from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) say that Tripura is better than other states in this regard. Only 35 of the 297 candidates are crorepatis and the average wealth is Rs 46.92 lakh. But representation of women is negligible here, too. Just 24 women candidates filed nominations for the assembly polls.

The results are actually irrelevant. The question is: Can such an assembly be considered a fair representation of an entire population? Has the politics of vested interests not worked against the region’s socio-cultural traditions? How can an assembly full of crorepati legislators hope to take decisions in favour of the downtrodden? The disconnect between society and politics is dangerous for democracy.

These three states are also teeming with the germs of separatism. Therefore, for a long time, power from the gun has ruled in the name of democracy. While travelling through the remote areas of Manipur and Nagaland in the 1990s, I discovered that billions of rupees allotted by the Centre were not utilised for development; instead, they lined the pockets of bureaucrats and politicians. Rather than stopping them, the local police and paramilitary personnel were in cahoots with the corrupt. Clearly, when it comes to profit and loss, guns don’t differentiate between separatist groups and those in uniform.

That’s why the issue of equality for tribal rights has been relegated to the background in the Northeast by the power brokers. If you so desire, you can compare this pristine region to Kashmir, known as heaven on earth. Here too, ‘gun-tantra’ or the culture of guns has trampled on the rights of the common man in equal measure. The consequences are clear. Indian democracy has a bad record when it comes to helping women and the poor get their rights. But the conditions in these states, located in the lap of the Himalayas, are going from bad to worse.

So, before I congratulate the newly-elected legislators from the Northeast, I’d like to ask them: What will they do to change things? It is politicians who’ve pushed these states into this quagmire. Only they can pull the Northeast out of this morass.

Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan

The Asian Age, March 2, 2018

Pakistan has tended to concentrate its fire downwards of Poonch on the LoC where it has an advantage over India and across the international boundary.

Instead of carrying forward the legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions have seriously eroded the constituency for peace, dialogue and reconciliation in Jammu and Kashmir.

The border with Pakistan has been deliberately heated up. The argument for an offensive posture is that the Pakistan Army must pay a cost for promoting terrorism through proxies. Since last year, there has been a heightened exchange of fire across the Line of Control (LoC) segments running through the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region as well as the international boundary.

Pakistan has tended to concentrate its fire downwards of Poonch on the LoC where it has an advantage over India and across the international boundary. In Uri, however, India has an advantageous position. It is here that the conflict was escalated from small arms fire and mortar shelling to heavy artillery fire exchange on February 22 and 24 between the two armies. As the positions of military advantage of the two sides are almost balanced equally, the increased firing eventually evens out, making it a pointless exercise.

However, the “surgical strikes” of September 2016 and the Army’s Operation All Out against militants in Kashmir indicated a definite shift from earlier strategies. The unexpectedly muscular response on the border was primarily aimed at Mr Modi’s radical Hindutva constituency. In Kashmir itself, terrorist attacks, including by suicide fidayeen, have increased; a greater number of security forces’ personnel were killed for every militant death; and militant recruitment increased. According to the state government, 280 local youngsters joined militancy in the last three years with 126 joining in 2017 alone — up from a mere six in 2013.

Nevertheless, having failed to deliver on the economic front, given the mess created by demonetisation and the hasty implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, increasing agrarian distress and rising unemployment, Mr Modi needed to rejig the nationalist narrative to maintain and expand the structure of his communalised politics.

One of the tropes in this reinvented nationalism is to paint Pakistan as the source of all Indian woes in the Kashmir Valley. A supine mainstream media played the cheerleader in creating a nationalist paranoia to suit Mr Modi’s political ends.

Why didn’t Pakistan withdraw its hand? Perhaps the Pakistan Army too had to signal to its domestic constituency that it was being tough on India, when international pressure was mounting against Pakistan for its role in Afghanistan and for using Islamic terrorist groups as its strategic instruments.

The communal configuration of the border is also pertinent to understanding the decisions of the Indian and Pakistani security forces. In the Kashmir Valley the villages on the LoC, such as in the Haji Pir sector in Uri, are Muslim villages. A heightened conflict here leads to Muslim migration, putting Pakistan at a disadvantage vis-à-vis what it sees as a potential political constituency. The Indian Army focuses its fire on Pakistan in this area.

In Jammu, barring a few Muslim Gujjar villages, the border villages have Hindu populations, especially in Poonch, Rajouri and Nowshera. By concentrating fire on Hindu majority villages, it appears that the Pakistan Army wants to inflict political damage on the the Bharatiya Janata Party by precipitating Hindu migration from the border.

Mr Modi’s policy of heating up the border with Pakistan, however, has little purchase within J&K. While the presence of Pakistani terrorists in the state and their continued infiltration is undeniable, it is equally true that there is also an autonomous growth in militancy.

This has little to do with Pakistan and much to do with India. Kashmiri society is filled with anger over the denial of free speech; constitutional rights and justice. Lack of opportunities for the youth and discrimination both within the state and outside it further contribute to the simmering anger. Kashmiri youngsters feel that nothing has changed for four generations.

Mr Modi has, however, chosen to ignore the political dimension of the Kashmir issue and deliberately converted it into a problem of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. This leads to the branding of all Kashmiris as pro-Pakistan.

The rest of India must understand that the people of the state of J&K have no role in either initiating the conflict on the border or ending it. What happens on the LoC is as much news to them as it is for the rest of India. It may affect the people of north Kashmir to the extent that they become unwitting collateral victims of the conflict, but for those in south Kashmir — where militancy is most acute — it makes no difference.

The government’s approach has eroded both a healthy federal relationship between the state and the Centre as well as the social base for a peaceful settlement. Within Kashmir, independent political voices have become muted with fear. Without space for peaceful political protests, political groups like the Hurriyat are no longer able to urge the youth to shun violence. Even parents have lost moral control over their boys who take up arms. Their heroes are Burhan Wani, now dead, and Zakir Musa, whose regular video messages have a large viewership among the young.

Mr Modi’s politics of polarisation has also set Jammu on fire. The rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakkarwal Muslim girl Asifa has been communalised. BJP leaders are framing the issue as nationalists versus anti-nationals. The BJP and the Hindu Ekata Manch led a protest using the tricolour against the arrest of the alleged rapist and murderer, a special police officer and a Hindu. Such opportunist communalisation of Jammu will destroy its social fabric and provide further reasons for the growth of militancy in the Valley.

Prime Minister Modi’s politics in J&K might save him in the rest of India but it is setting the state on fire, besides raising military tensions with Pakistan. He and his military commanders may think that they can carefully calibrate their “jaw-breaking response” (“munh tod jawab”) but these processes could easily slip out of control.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

5 March 2018

The Big Story: Misplaced idealism

In 2013, anti-corruption protests broke out in Delhi. The numbers of demonstators were not remarkable for India, where even an everyday rally can result in a turnout of millions. But the movement captured the imagination of the country’s voluble middle class, so national politicians could not ignore it completely. The protests resulted in India’s Parliament passing the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act which provides for the establishment of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in the states – ombudsmen with both executive and judicial powers to investigate corruption.

In theory, the Lokpal would have a significant amount of power, being allowed to receive and act on allegations of corruption against civil servants as well as elected politicians as well as any organisation that receives substantial foreign donations. The Lokpal is selected by a small body consisting of the Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (or a sitting Supreme Court judge nominated by him) and an eminent jurist to be nominated by the first four members of the selection committee.

There has been little movement on the Lokpal since the act was passed. However, on Thursday, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge declined to attend the Lokpal selection committee meeting as a “special invitee”. The current Lok Sabha does not have a leader of Opposition because the Congress – the principal Opposition party – does not have enough members in the House. As a result, Kharge was not invited as a member of the selection committee but only as a “special invitee”, without voting rights.

More than anything, that a selection committee can be constituted without any Opposition voices highlights the dangers of a Lokpal. The body is invested with significant powers. Fighting corruption is a noble intention – however, as needs bear repetition, that is exactly the substance with which the road to hell is constructed.

The anti-corruption agenda has captured the imagination of India’s middle classes. However, there are sobering examples of how it can lead to bad governance (and, therefore, have results that maybe even worse than corruption). The partisan use of the Central Bureau of Investigation is a case in point. The party in power often uses allegations of corruption against Opposition parties to achieve blatantly political ends – so much so that the Supreme Court one called the CBI a “caged parrot”. In Pakistan, corruption charges led to the courts actually dismissing a popularly elected prime minister. It is a move that commentators see as being driven by the powerful military – a “judicial coup” given that a real one is unviable in today’s political climate.

The Aam Aadmi Party that arose out of the anti-corruption protests of 2013 is now in shambles, its legislators accused last month of assaulting a bureaucrat. The noble intentions of 2013 led to little actual political change in the form of AAP.

The intention of removing corruption is laudable – but that cannot be an excuse for getting rid of the checks and balances of democracy. The Lokpal is a dangerously undemocratic body that would, when constituted, have significant powers, without Parliamentary or judicial checks. That the present government can further squeeze the selection committee to even exclude the largest Opposition party is a pointer to how risky the setting up of such a body could be.

Foreign Affairs
March 1, 2018

If the end of the twentieth century heralded the dramatic rise of China, many believe that it is India’s turn to claim the spotlight at the dawn of the twenty-first. In January, the World Bank loudly proclaimed that India was set to be the fastest-growing major economy in the world in 2018, overtaking its slowing Chinese rival for the top spot. The global consulting giant McKinsey has called the emerging Indian middle class a “bird of gold,” harking back to an ancient aphorism about the country’s dynamic marketplace. IBM simply refers to the coming age as the “Indian Century.”  

Despite these glowing projections, India’s future is by no means assured. With the right mix of economic reforms, administrative savvy, and political leadership (not to mention sheer luck), there is no doubt that India could enjoy widespread prosperity in the coming century. Yet absent such conditions—by no means a given—it faces an unnerving dystopia: one in which the aspirations of hundreds of millions of Indians are foiled rather than fulfilled, with potentially explosive implications for the country’s social fabric. This grim scenario is the subject of Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World, a harrowing new book by the Indian journalist Snigdha Poonam.


Predictions of a coming Indian golden age are typically based on two trends. The first is urbanization. Between 2010 and 2050, India’s urban population will grow by as much as 500 million—the largest projected urban population growth in world history. Historically, urbanization has been linked with rising literacy, the establishment of a middle class, economic dynamism, and increasing cosmopolitanism.

The second trend is what economists refer to as the “demographic dividend,” or the economic benefits that accrue to an economy when a massive influx of young people enter the labor force, triggering increases in both economic productivity and the savings rate. At a time when other major economies are graying, nearly one million Indians will join the work force every month

[ . . . ]

 Erik Linstrum. Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. 309 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-08866-5.

Reviewed by Madhu Sarin (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-Asia (March, 2018)
Commissioned by Sumit Guha (The University of Texas at Austin)

In this book, Linstrum attempts to show the dialectic between the aspiration of British colonizers to control and regulate their imperial subjects by innovations in psychology at the turn of the last century and the subversive potential of such an undertaking: "The gap that opened up between far-reaching aspirations and disillusioned realities is a central theme of this book" (p. 2). Unlike other scholars who have written about the use of psychology in the establishment of empire, he highlights a paradox at the heart of this enterprise. The investigation and attempt to understand the inner lives of their colonial subjects generated interest, curiosity, respect, admiration, and empathy for the "natives" and called into question the civilizational motives of their imperial overlords. This disrupted the primary goal of this project, namely to better regulate, subjugate, and dominate them.

Linstrum shows how the new techniques of psychological testing, laboratory experiments, and psychoanalysis were used in a dual way to both challenge and confirm racial hierarchies. Colonialists hoped to use psychology to "strengthen British control by improving efficiency and governing emotions"; to ensure the smooth running of factories and armies; to recruit talent for government jobs and limited school placements; to combat anticolonial movements and to remold families, economies, and societies (p. 2).

But these techniques also served to "expose pathologies at the root of the relationship between colonizer and colonized"(p. 1). In the attempt to reconcile human diversity with a universalist model of the mind, psychologists had to confront, and account for, the assumptions and prejudices that fed imperial rule, as well as the needs of colonial regimes. Researchers learned to respect local practices, became skeptical of plans for total control, and began to question the positive benefits of imperial rule. Psychological knowledge complicated rather than reinforced the project of empire.

Well researched, rivetingly written, and with revealing photographs which document the work of colonial researchers foregrounded with their subjects on the margin, Linstrum's central concern differentiates his work from that of other scholars who have written about the intersection of modernity, psychology, and empire. The latter have tended to focus more on the use of the human sciences and psychology to highlight cultural difference in order to stigmatize and put down those they sought to rule, thereby valorizing imperial values and upholding empire. Linstrum on the other shows that science and research can swing either way—and can dislocate rather than buttress such values. 

He shows how from one end of the globe to the other, government bureaucrats, academics, missionaries, and anthropologists used personality and intelligence testing, as well as the theories of Jung and Freud to try to research, rationalize, "modernize," and control their subjects. He has conducted a vast survey of primary and secondary source material to make his case. Using archival material from cities on five continents, he divides them into three categories: "Minds,"  "Tests," and "Experts."

The section titled "Minds" begins with the psychological activities of the Torres Strait expedition, led by William H. R. Rivers and continues with Charles G. Seligman's work on dreams. The story starts in 1898-99 with the study of perception in the Torres Strait expedition, in which Cambridge researchers strove to determine whether the tools of Western science could be usefully applied far from the place of their invention. Their findings—that colonized minds were intelligent, adaptable, and diverse—was unexpected and unsettling. The section titled "Tests" deals with missionaries' and educators' enthusiasm for the new intelligence tests, also covering the application of aptitude tests for the army and colonial labor markets. The section titled "Experts" describes the various psychological activities employed to suppress the growing independence movements and examines psychological mechanisms for the continuation of Western hegemony in the former British colonies.

Jack Meserve, who wrote about Linstrum's work in New York magazine's blog "The Cut," gets it precisely right. He argues that the fundamental tension Linstrum unearths in Ruling Minds is still with us today. The social scientists and psychologist whose stories and experiences he documents in this book were doing something innovative and reformative: "They were often the only ones arguing, No, there's no such thing as 'martial races' and Yes, mental states really are identical in Africans and Europeans.... But they were also working, formally or informally, for an empire that treated their subjects as subhuman.... The history of this tension—between embracing science's ability to improve people's lives and being aware of its tendency to reinforce existing hierarchies—is a reminder that the line isn't always so clear."[1]


[1]. Jack Meserve, "How Psychology Helped Support—and Subvert—the British Empire," blog post, The Cut website, February 16, 2016, (accessed February 28, 2018).

The Guardian, 
28 February 2018

Until Turkey frees detained writers and returns to the rule of law, it cannot claim to be a member of the free world

Dear President Erdoğan,

We wish to draw your attention to the damage being done to the Republic of Turkey, to its reputation and the dignity and wellbeing of its citizens, through what leading authorities on freedom of expression deem to be the unlawful detention and wrongful conviction of writers and thinkers.

In a Memorandum on the Freedom of Expression in Turkey (2017), Nils Muižnieks, then Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights, warned:

“The space for democratic debate in Turkey has shrunk alarmingly following increased judicial harassment of large strata of society, including journalists, members of parliament, academics and ordinary citizens, and government action which has reduced pluralism and led to self-censorship. This deterioration came about in a very difficult context, but neither the attempted coup, nor other terrorist threats faced by Turkey, can justify measures that infringe media freedom and disavow the rule of law to such an extent.

“The authorities should urgently change course by overhauling criminal legislation and practice, redevelop judicial independence and reaffirm their commitment to protect free speech.”

There is no clearer example of the commissioner’s concern that the detention in September 2016 of Ahmet Altan, a bestselling novelist and columnist; Mehmet Altan, his brother, professor of economics and essayist; and Nazlı Ilıcak, a prominent journalist – all as part of a wave of arrests following the failed July 2016 coup. These writers were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence or force. The prosecutors originally wanted to charge them with giving “subliminal messages” to coup supporters while appearing on a television panel show. The ensuing tide of public ridicule made them change that accusation to using rhetoric “evocative of a coup”. Indeed, Turkey’s official Anatolia News Agency called the case “The Coup Evocation Trial”.

As noted in the commissioner’s report, the evidence considered by the judge in Ahmet Altan’s case was limited to a story dating from 2010 in Taraf newspaper (of which Ahmet Altan had been the editor-in-chief until 2012), three of his op-ed columns and a TV appearance. The evidence against the other defendants was equally insubstantial. All these writers had spent their careers opposing coups and militarism of any sort, and yet were charged with aiding an armed terrorist organisation and staging a coup.

The commissioner saw the detention and prosecution of Altan brothers as part of a broader pattern of repression in Turkey against those expressing dissent or criticism of the authorities. He considered such detentions and prosecutions to have violated human rights and undermined the rule of law. David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, concurred and dubbed the legal proceedings a “show trial”.

Turkey’s own constitutional court concurred with this criticism. On 11 January this year, it ruled that Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist Şahin Alpay’s rights were being violated by pre-trial detention, and that they should be released. Yet the first-degree courts refused to implement the higher constitutional court’s decision, thus placing the judicial system in criminal violation of the constitution. Mr President, you must surely be concerned that the lower criminal court’s defiance and this non-legal decision was backed by the spokesperson of your government.

On 16 February 2018, the Altan brothers and Ilıcak were sentenced to aggravated life sentences, precluding them from any prospect of a future amnesty.

President Erdoğan, we the undersigned share the following opinion of David Kaye: “The court decision condemning journalists to aggravated life in prison for their work, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the coup attempt or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey”.

In April 1998, you yourself were stripped of your position as mayor of Istanbul, banned from political office, and sentenced to prison for 10 months, for reciting a poem during a public speech in December 1997 through the same article 312 of the penal code. This was unjust, unlawful and cruel. Many human rights organisations – which defended you then – are appalled at the violations now occurring in your country. Amnesty International, PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19, and Reporters Without Borders are among those who oppose the recent court decision.

During a ceremony in honour of Çetin Altan, on 2 February 2009, you declared publicly that “Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison – this era is gone for ever.” Among the audience were Çetin Altan’s two sons: Ahmet and Mehmet. Nine years later, they are sentenced to life; isn’t that a fundamental contradiction?

Under these circumstances, we voice the concern of many inside Turkey itself, of its allies and of the multilateral organisations of which it is a member. We call for the abrogation of the state of emergency, a quick return to the rule of law and for full freedom of speech and expression. Such a move would result in the speedy acquittal on appeal of Ms Ilıcak and the Altan brothers, and the immediate release of others wrongfully detained. Better still, it would make Turkey again a proud member of the free world.

Full list of Nobel laureate signatories:

Svetlana Alexievich, Philip W Anderson, Aaron Ciechanover, JM Coetzee, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Elias J Corey, Gerhard Ertl, Albert Fert, Edmond H Fischer, Andrew Z Fire, Andre Geim, Sheldon Glashow, Serge Haroche, Leland H Hartwell, Oliver Hart, Richard Henderson, Dudley Herschbach, Avram Hershko, Roald Hoffmann, Robert Huber, Tim Hunt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elfriede Jelinek, Eric S Maskin, Hartmut Michel, Herta Müller, VS Naipaul, William D Phillips, John C Polanyi, Richard J Roberts, Randy W Schekman, Wole Soyinka, Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas C Südhof, Jack W Szostak, Mario Vargas Llosa, J Robin Warren, Eric F Wieschaus

15. PLENTY OF SEX & NOWHERE TO SIT | Kevin Jackson
Literary Review
March 2018

Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris 1940–50
By Agnès Poirier
Bloomsbury 377pp £21.99

For a book that is crammed with adulteries, alcoholism, betrayals, broken friendships, deportations, deprivation, drug addiction, executions, humiliation, illicit abortions, imprisonment, murder, Nazi atrocities, starvation, torture chambers (on the avenue Hoche, passers-by could hear the screams coming up from the cellars’ air vents), treason and worse, Agnès Poirier’s Left Bank is a remarkably exhilarating read.

Above all, it has a terrific cast, with, as leading players, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The novelist, jazz musician and pataphysician Boris Vian, Samuel Beckett and the resident aliens Picasso and Giacometti also feature, as do brilliant African-American musicians and writers such as Miles Davis, James Baldwin and Richard Wright, the vehemently anti-communist Hungarian writer and wife-beater Arthur Koestler and, among the occupiers, the sinister but fascinating German Ernst Jünger, aesthete, entomologist and polymath.

Left Bank is an enchanting account of how these exceptionally talented and original people not merely endured these harsh years but also found pleasure, and even a kind of joy, in creating small pockets of private utopia. During the occupation, a leading German commander, Sonderführer Gerhard Heller, shared in this paradoxical pleasure and many years later recalled, ‘I lived in a kind of blessed island, in the middle of an ocean of mud and blood.’ Over the course of a decade, both during the occupation and then in the postwar years of austerity, the boldest and brightest Parisians took every opportunity to seize the day.

If strict rationing – 1,300 calories a day, if you were lucky – meant it was hard for these Parisians to make merry with the traditional eating and drinking, there were other sources of cheer: easy-going sex (which also kept you warm in unheated rooms), popular music, dancing, artistic creation and endless intense conversations, fuelled by as many cigarettes as the black market could supply. Richard Wright said that the first time he attended an editorial meeting of Sartre’s journal Les Temps modernes, the cigarette smoke was so thick that initially he could not even make out the figure of Simone de Beauvoir in her trademark turban. 

As the historian Tony Judt once pointed out, the consequence of this pressure-cooker atmosphere was that Paris became more important to the rest of the world in the late 1940s and early 1950s than it had been at any time since the Battle of Waterloo. The free and freed nations soon became fascinated by everything Parisian, from Sartre’s existentialism to Dior’s New Look, and young people from the United States were among the keenest fans.

Often funded by government grants to ex-servicemen, budding North American writers found Paris as irresistible in the years immediately after the Second World War as their forebears had in the 1920s, when the dollar had ridden high against the franc. Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren (one of Simone de Beauvoir’s lovers), Irwin Shaw and Art Buchwald all set up in the City of Light, though not all of them liked it. Bellow, who, among other things, claimed that he hated French promiscuity, lapsed into serious depression: ‘Paris is the seat of a highly developed humanity, and one thus witnesses highly developed forms of suffering there. Witnesses and, sometimes, experiences. Sadness is a daily levy that civilization imposes in Paris. Gay Paris? Gay, my foot!’

By French standards, these visitors were astonishingly well fed and well dressed; by American standards, the Parisians were skinny, shabby and shockingly impoverished. The visitors could hardly believe that world-famous artists and intellectuals could be so poor that they lived in small rooms in cheap hotels and worked in cafes, not because they were bohemians (though they were) but because cafes were warm.

Few Americans could resist the temptation to go native. As de Beauvoir wrote to Algren, ‘Young existentialist boys now grow a beard; American intellectual tourists grow beards too. All these beards are awfully ugly! But the existentialist caves are a wonderful success. It is funny, just two blocks – that is all Saint-German-des-Prés – but within those two blocks you cannot find a place to sit down, neither in the bars, cafes, night-clubs nor even on the pavement. Then all around it is just darkness and death.’

Poirier is acute and witty on the love–hate relationship between Paris and America, which is one of the major themes of her book. Although left-wing thinkers of every political hue from red to pink were sceptical about American capitalism (incidentally, the French Communist Party hated Sartre and his crowd, and did its best to crush them), their attitude towards both high and low American culture was usually one of frank hero worship. As de Beauvoir commented, ‘American literature, jazz and films had nurtured our youth.’ When Camus asked Sartre if he would like to go to America on behalf of his journal, Combat, Sartre almost jumped for joy. ‘I never saw him so happy,’ Camus reported. The later pages of the book sing the praises of the Marshall Plan, which Poirier regards, justly, as one of America’s greatest achievements.

Another of her themes is the unprecedented significance of women in this milieu. In many works of cultural history, women appear simply as wives and daughters, mistresses and muses. But here are the bookshop owners Sylvia Beach (who had published Ulysses in 1922) and Adrienne Monnier, the actresses Maria Casarès (who played Death in Cocteau’s Orphée), Arletty, star of Les Enfants du paradis, notorious for sleeping with the enemy, Brigitte Bardot and Delphine Seyrig. The singers include Juliette Gréco, for whom both Sartre and Raymond Queneau wrote lyrics, and many writers: the novelist Marguerite Duras, the poet Anne-Marie Cazalis, the Horizon representative Sonia Brownell (soon to marry the dying George Orwell), who had been forced to abort Koestler’s child during the Blitz, the novelist and biographer Edith Thomas, Janet Flanner, who reported on Paris for the New Yorker, and Dominique Aury, who wrote Histoire d’O under the pseudonym Pauline Réage.

Above all, there is de Beauvoir, who, now that the dust has settled, should be seen as the most permanently influential of all these remarkable women and, come to that, men. The Second Sex, written during this period, has surely touched the lives of countless millions, which can hardly be said of Being and Nothingness. Poirier credits de Beauvoir with, among other accomplishments, being the woman whose writings, example and spirit created the likes of Françoise Sagan and Bardot, who were adolescents on the brink of fame in the summer of 1949.

Poirier has an enviably clear prose style, as well as a gift for making her characters vivid and, where appropriate, sympathetic. Sartre, for instance, comes across as a much more appealing character here than in many biographical studies. She has a lynx’s eye for telling details, from the ghastly ersatz coffee that Parisians had to choke down to the brands of amphetamine freely available in pharmacies – Luminax, Leviton, Tranquidex, Psychotron (!), Lidepran and Sartre’s excitant of choice, Orthédrine.

And she is very good on the stories behind stories, such as the bafflement with which the publisher Gallimard reacted when, three weeks after its publication, Sartre’s seven-hundred-page Being and Nothingness became a freak bestseller. Explanation? ‘It turned out that since the book weighed exactly one kilogram, people were simply using it as a weight, since the usual copper weights had disappeared to be sold on the black market or melted down to make ammunition.’ Perhaps Poirier’s most remarkable achievement is to make her cast seem so interesting and their concerns so urgent that, despite all the horror and the squalor, this Parisian decade can be regarded as a dawn in which for some it was bliss to be alive, and to be young was even better.

Simona Levi and Xnet 
Open Democracy
2 March 2018

On hate speech, fake news, anonymity and "new" politics. A warning. Español

lead lead Own goal? Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena during celebration of the 13th UEFA Championship in Madrid, June, 2017. Alter Photos/ Press Association. All rights reservedAt least in Spain, the conservative Right tries to censor and jail as many Twitter users as it can. Fair enough. That is their goal: why would the Right not want to suppress rights and freedoms? It wouldn’t be the Right after all.

But what permits them to do this is the Left, whose conservatism and ideological dogma prevent them from embarking on a genuine upgrade and adaptation to the new –. This Left must be held responsible. In the digital age the overwhelming technophobia of the Left leads us towards disaster and unbridled repression.

Let's see.

It isn't much fun to have a neo-Nazi and xenophobic police force. As my favorite Twitter user puts it, "being a cop and a Nazi is as incompatible as being a surgeon and smoking at work". As it happens, a PRIVATE WhatsApp chat got leaked in which some policemen wrote that they wanted to kill black people and also Madrid's mayor. Not to be outdone, Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena, champion of the nation's Left and the new hope of its inflexible institutionalised representatives (Podemos), declared that she will sue the policemen for hate crime.

There are various aspects of this which don’t work. But mostly, it’s a matter of greed: electoral greed, power greed and short-term greed.

Let’s take them in order:

1. Whether we like it or not, the leaked conversation is a WhatsApp chat – something even more private than a conversation in a bar. It is as private as a conversation in your home or a phone call. After so many years of fighting for the right to completely private and inviolable communications, here comes this modern Left that hasn't understood anything about the way the Internet works, asking for the police to censor the private realm. Great! You’re doing the repression job for the Right. There's no need for rightwing ideology if we have such a Left. You’re doing the repression job for the Right. There's no need for rightwing ideology if we have such a Left.

2. The outlet that leaked this information – an outlet that prides itself on being leftist – presumably takes the information from a judicial file. Once again – indeed, it has happened before to this outlet – by revealing this information, it leaves its source exposed. It happily publishes the leak, rejoicing in the prospects of the benefits such a piece of information might confer among a leftist audience, given the amazing trending topic it might trigger. They won’t be so efficient when it comes to protecting the source, the person who denounced these events – from whom they failed to ask permission or even to consult – something that would have been relatively cost-free for them – whose life is now threatened and, consequently, in need of 24-hour protection. I don’t believe you have to be a leftist to care for the protection of your sources: but it is not unusual that this Left takes advantage of a situation to become the defenders of the victims they have created.

As you all very well know, I have nothing against leaks of information which are relevant to the public – because I’m a whistleblower and a publisher myself – as long as great care is taken to avoid collateral damage and to refrain from leaving the sources defenceless by heedlessly increasing their vulnerability.

3. The officers that insulted the Mayor in a private chat are, funnily enough, municipal policemen. Thus, the Mayor is ultimately responsible for leaving the public to live and struggle with a police department whose ethics are incompatible with the Mayor’s commitment. Her job is not to denounce the events as if she was just a regular citizen, but to apologise and put protocols in place to make sure that those meant to protect us don’t walk around seeking to harm us. Her job is not to denounce the events as if she was just a regular citizen, but to... make sure that those meant to protect us don’t walk around seeking to harm us.

I have committed my life to speaking up about the Internet – the digital sphere – not as a different medium from reality but as part of reality. I’m committed to warning people that if we allow a state of emergency on the Internet, it only takes one more step to extend that to every aspect of life.

The untenable technophobia of the Left pushes us backwards in time. It leads not only to greater puritanism and an infuriating ideology of victimhood, but also to a pervasive abuse of the figure of “hate crime” to oppress and to censor on all sides. This is sweeping away freedoms of the press, satire, information and speech and even sexual freedoms.

Do we want to fight hatred? Do we want to protect those threatened systematically because of their experience of discrimination? Very much, but not like this.

Threats, insults and harassment, both in public and in private, are all crimes punishable by law. A clumsy or malicious legal interpretation of EU legislation on so-called “hate speech crimes” can kill freedom.

Given the abuse by the wealthy of crimes against personal honour – systematically employed to stop more serious crimes from being dragged out in the open – the Left should have expected to find nothing good coming via this route. But it didn’t get the message.

Because the real trap, this twisted conception of “hate speech”, was not invented by evil ministers; they have only taken advantage of it in many States like that of Spain, which has a severe democratic deficit in its value system.

“Hate speech” is a treacherous phrase: fighting against “hate speech” – where “hate” is a subordinate adjective to “speech” – means nothing other than fighting against “speech” in the first place, thereby contributing to the shrinking frame of freedom of speech, instead of fighting for an end to discrimination.

Defending freedom of speech is not only a pretty and very leftist thing to do, it is also important so that we can distinguish between what a democracy really is and what it is not. Pursuing free speech as a political and legal praxis is a characteristic of dictatorships: and this willing adherence of the Left can only send us in the opposite direction from any solutions.

Pursuing free speech as a political and legal praxis is a characteristic of dictatorships: and this willing adherence of the Left can only send us in the opposite direction from any solutions. Responding to prosecutions with an eye for an eye logic, responding to hate speech accusations with hate speech accusations, legitimates the narrative which destroys our freedom and reinforces polarization and hatred.
Legal autarchy

Spain is slowly becoming (once again) a legal autarchy, with the Minister of Interior widening the definition of hate crime as he likes in order to push the narrative which is destroying our freedoms. Meanwhile, however, the Left calls for limits to freedom of speech without any legal safeguards with its proposal of a law for LTGBI protection.

I disagree. It is by consolidating freedom of speech that those who are a minority in the ruling narrative will get to express themselves and break free of their constraints on their own. On their own, never in a supervised and victimising way thanks to the loudest voice like that of a Left that always aims to “represent” everyone, even when nobody asked them to.

This doesn’t mean avoiding head-on confrontation with oppression, but it does mean adapting the system so that it works more efficiently with the tools it has already got. As we said, there are such tools. There is no version of events in which judicial insecurity for the entire population will create a climate in which the voice of minorities and the oppressed becomes stronger. There is no version of events in which judicial insecurity for the entire population will create a climate in which the voice of minorities and the oppressed becomes stronger.We are heading towards a legal context in which one does not go on trial for the facts of a case but for one’s speech and the type of discourse. Once again, what is happening in Catalunya, with the invaluable help of a short-sighted Left permanently campaigning only to take over power, is the spearhead of what is coming.
Addictive propaganda

The last frontier of the fight for real democracy in the twenty-first century is the Internet, but not a day goes by without the Left telling us how alienating it is. Somewhere in between the advent of the digital revolution from the industrial revolution, the Left got stuck in a loop. It cannot tell the difference even if you remind them that the Gutenberg press and the mimeo were also machines and that the problem isn't the machine but the question of who owns the means of production and of life.

What's alienating is not having enough information to be able to make our own rational decisions – the Internet gives us such information (as of now). What's alienating is seeing the uni-vocal and standardised content spread by TV, political parties and governments.

Meanwhile, propaganda surges forward.

"Online" will soon mean the same as "Satan". Hate speech “online”; fake news “online”...

The Left is indulging itself in a blast of analytical euphoria when it says things like “We are trapped in the Net”, "We must be proud to live outside the Net” – as if in the times of Gutenberg people were proud of living removed from original sin, like Adam and Eve.

Shining a light over the wrong problems by criminalising the tools is just what the status-quo needs in order to hold onto the privileges that were being threatened by people's actions on and for the Internet. The dis-intermediation the Internet allows has been questioning a good deal of stuff; not only privileges but also the Left's assisting role as moral guardian.

We only need to remind those who buy into today's Left premises that it wasn't the right-wing but the left-wing who opposed women's right to vote in many parliamentary sessions throughout the world, in case women voted the “wrong" way. It's just the same here: never let people use the Internet without supervision and sensible advice, in case they start using it the "wrong" way. So the Left will even end up killing net neutrality, to the everlasting glory of the big telecom industry.

Leftist City Councils in Spain pride themselves on being the first to include "the Internet" into their "Plan of action against drugs". It seems that they don’t have the guts to include the TV as well. It won't get them as much political gain. But the fear of innovation will, you won't go wrong making good use of that.

If we demanded a minimum of scientific rigour from them, they should know that including the Internet into this plan is doubly nonsense:

1. Addictive substances can be considered as such only if one can eliminate them from one’s life without causing disorders (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.). Other so-called "addictions" may fall into the category of obsessive-compulsive disorders. But no doctor in his right mind would suggest to anyone to try to live without food, sex or Internet access. Trying to find any resemblance between the Internet and drugs is bogus. This assumption is a product of ignorance, pseudoscience, puritanism and other grave disorders;

2. To consider the Internet as something dangerous in itself gets us to one place only: saving the day for repression by the status quo and helping them to sustain their monopoly on framing our perceptions. To consider the Internet as something dangerous in itself gets us to one place only: saving the day for repression by the status quo and helping them to sustain their monopoly on framing our perceptions.
Fake news’ private garden

Governments, political parties, institutionalized groups and mainstream media outlets have always held the narrative monopoly on fake news; anyone can notice it when reading or listening to pieces about the topics in which she or he has some insight.

When Spain’s Foreign Minister said that the videos showing police charges during the Catalan referendum are “almost all of them fake”, he is fabricating fake news live on all state-managed channels who are boosting his message nice and loud. Et voilà! That’s how fake news has always been fabricated.

Fake news were not invented on or by the Internet; the State, its network of clients and partners and the outlets akin to the status quo enjoyed a monopoly over them. Unlike nowadays. Fake news lived longer because no one was in a position to challenge them.

When we criminalise the Internet as the creator of hate, fake news and Satan, we’re criminalising the whole Net, taking from people one of the few tools they have for the fightback.

The bad guys aren’t strictly those to be held responsible for oppressing since they are, after all, professional experts at that job. Instead, a special responsibility lies with those who keep hovering over the opposing parties in the heat of the conflict – maintaining their equidistance.
Handling with kid gloves

The Internet as we know it is in agony and must, therefore, be defended. Full stop. And I’m not being cocky about it. I’m simply stating a fact.

Of course, the Internet serves evil too; this is a tautology. We all know the devil’s everywhere. The most nitpicky will say the printing press was a good invention but made some quite dangerous books possible. Sure, one can avoid taking sides. But whoever does will ultimately be blamed for contributing to a new inquisition. We’re seeing the same stages that occurred with the Gutenberg invention: after almost 50 years since the birth of the net we now risk living through a few centuries of darkness and repression if we don’t stop the same cycle from repeating.

Those of us working to protect the Internet have been saying it for quite some time: the net isn’t just some disposable tool. It is a philosophy, a way of organizing, a battlefield, and we must defend it. The Spanish Defense Minister got this quicker than the technophobes and so she has publicly stated before the uniformed ranks of the armed forces: “the Internet is the next battlefield”. Then again, it’s clear when an army declares war that we should consider what side of the trench we’d rather be in, since there are only two: the winning and the defeated… (and, of course, the equidistant bunch.)

Incredulity after incredulity, surprise after surprise, every time that a twitter writer or satirical outlet is accused and prosecuted, the Left will contribute to transforming the Internet into a television whose users will only be allowed to use it passively and under supervision. The end of democracy in the digital age.

That’s why every time someone claims that the Internet alienates, that it’s evil and dangerous, one more child dies and one more book is burnt.

Now you know.

Simona Levi, theatre director and activist. She is co-founder of the Spanish group Xnet and of 15MpaRato, a citizens' device to bring to court those responsible for the economic crisis in Spain.

Xnet (ex-EXGAE) is a group of activists who have worked since 2008 in different fields relating to online democracy, the fight against corruption and the creation of mechanisms for organised citizen participation and to constrain seats of power and institutions.  We defend a free and neutral Internet; the free circulation of culture, knowledge and information; citizen journalism and the right to know, to report and to be informed; the legal, technical and communications struggle against corruption and technopolitics, understood as the practice of networking and taking action for empowerment, for justice and for social transformation.

by Ben Aris
March 1, 2018


Russian President Vladimir Putin gave one of the most aggressive speeches of his career on March 1, promising the population a lot more "butter" and explicitly targeting the USA with "guns" if Washington continued to bully his country with sanctions and threaten it with missiles.

The speech was widely anticipated as the showcase for the likely policies that will dominate his next six-year presidential term. Russia goes to the polls on March 18 in an election that Putin is expected to win without a significant challenge.

But no-one was expecting the multimedia presentation that Putin delivered, replete with a series of videos showing off Russia's latest missiles, submarines and state-of-the-art fighter jets, most of which he claimed have been specifically design to defeat the US's defensive capabilities.

The speech is likely to cause a hysterical reaction in the West and might be taken as the formal start of a real Cold War II as a new arms race was the only bit missing until now.


Putin's speech is a clear conclusion to questions the Russian president raised at his famous speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 where he complained loudly about what he called the broken promises made by the West during the collapse of the Soviet Union to expand eastwards or enlarge Nato to include former Soviet vassal states.

Nato has strenuously dismissed the idea there was a promised curb on expansion as a "myth", though Gorbachev appears to have been verbally promised by Western leaders that there would be no Nato expansion, yet nothing was put down on paper.

Putin explicitly pointed to the US decision in 2002 to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which was the cornerstone of the balance of military power in Europe, and then its follow-up with the introduction of a missile defence shield, for which US-made interceptor missiles were stationed in Romania and Poland in 2017 over Russia's strenuous objections.

"We tried to talk to our partners. Russia is a major nuclear power. They kept ignoring us. No one was talking to us. So listen to us now," said Putin as Russia's new rockets flew across wall-high screens behind him.

If this speech was supposed to set the tone for the next six years then the tone is going to look a lot like a new Cold War. That term has been bandied about since Russia's annexation of the Crimea in 2014, but the two missing elements to make the clash a real Cold War - proxy wars between the US and Russia in someone else's country and an arms race - have now been restored.

However, Putin made it explicit that Russia was not going to be the aggressor and stressed that his military build up was forced on Russia, in his opinion. Ever the legalist, he stressed that the development of these weapons are compliant with all Russia's military and security commitments and also laid out in explicit terms Russia's rules of engagement for the use of nuclear weapons: in retaliation to a first strike by an enemy or if the use of conventional weapons poses an existential threat to Russian sovereignty. Putin complained that under the US new nuclear policy Washington could launch nukes in the event of a cyber attack on the country.

The optimistic reading of the speech is that Putin is trying to force the West to the table to thrash out new security arrangements that acknowledge Russia's influence in the world, and to shock the West out of its assumption that Russia is a failed state with a dying population that has no material role to play in international politics. It's a gamble and it is played into an atmosphere that is already fraught with tension and even hysteria.

Without going into details - and Putin went into a great deal of detail which is what made this speech unprecedented - the weapons on display were scarily impressive.

The main feature of the new missiles is they are designed to beat the US new missile policies and Putin suggested that this programme has been worked on for years. As bne IntelliNews reported in a cover story "Rekindling a new Cold War as Russia rearms" Russia began actively modernising its military in 2013 and former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin was sacked as early as 2011 for objecting to a massive increase in military budget slated for the 2012 budget that kicked the process off.

In particular Putin boasted about the new Sarmat missile, a heavy rocket that can carry a 200 tonne payload but flies at hypersonic speeds and is highly manoeuvrable. The key element of this missile is it is rangeless and can fly at high speeds right the way around the world, dodging defences as it goes.

Since the US withdrew from the ABM treaty its policy has been to switch development from first-strike ICBMs to developing much more sophisticated interceptor missiles (that are stationed in Romania and Poland among other places). Putin is claiming that Russia has now negated this defence capacity and so made the US vulnerable to a Russian strike.

"There is no defence against these missiles and all our missiles are now equipped with this system. Maybe in a few years [the US] will catch up, but in the meantime our guys will have thought of something new," says Putin with a satisfied smirk on his face.

In addition Putin showcased unmanned submarine drones that are "faster than any surface ship" and "hundred times smaller than a regular submarine" but can carry a full nuclear payload. The drones are undetectable and again there is no defence against a weapon like this that makes both the eastern and western US seaboards vulnerable to attack.

If these weapon systems work as billed - a big if - then they will kick off a new arms race. Certainly merely to use the speech to talk about weapons systems like this is an extremely aggressive move on Putin's part.

Russia was forced into the move, argues Putin, by the US aggression. Eleven years after Munich, Russia is now reacting to Western bullying. Putin specifically highlighted US sanctions, the latest version of which specifically target Russia's defence industry.

"[The US] has created a new arms race and imposed sanctions designed to hold us back. But [the development of the new weapons] has already happened. You were unable to hold us back," said Putin to a standing ovation by the collected Moscow elite. "Now you have to face the facts. You have to make sure I am not bluffing - and I'm not bluffing."

Putin's strongman display will clearly send chills throughout the region and senators in the audients said they told pundits after the speech they were expecting a "hysterical" response form the West as a result. Putin tried to anticipate the reaction by saying explicitly Russia was trying only to re-establish the balance of power as it was fed up with being ignored.

"Russia's military power is not threatening anyone nor will it be used to attack anyone. We don't want to take anything from anyone. We have everything we need," he added as a clear reference to suggestions that Russia wants to recreate the Soviet Union or may invade the Baltics or Ukraine. "Russia is a force for peace and wants a balance of power."

... and butter

The military hardware show came as a shock for Russia watchers who immediately questioned the veracity of the claims, as most of the video shown was computer simulations. But the irony is that this display comes as the Kremlin is clearly intending to wind down its military spending in the next six-year term and focus on the people instead.

Defence spending has already been cut hard in the 2018 budget, to the point where BSC Global Markets chief economist Vladimir Tikhomirov suggested that the cuts will drag down Russia's industrial production.

The first part of the speech was aimed at the domestic audience and suggested the Kremlin will now turn its attention to restoring the prosperity it sacrificed in the last five years to finance the military modernisation programme.

Putin hammered two themes in the first hour: improving the quality of life for the average Russian and keeping up in the technology race. The president has clearly got a bee in his bonnet for high tech solutions, which he argues is another existential threat.

"Stability forms the foundation, but it is not enough to ensure further development. We need to further improve the quality of life for our people," Putin told the adoring audience. "There is a technological revolution going on and the upcoming years will determine Russia's future. Technological change is increasing in speed and those that don't take advantage of will be buried under the technological change before eventually losing their sovereignty."

Interestingly Putin also picked up the "stability is good, but predictability is better" meme that senior Russian policymakers have been pushing since the start of this year.

To the Kremlin's credit some of this work has already been done. The tax system in particular has been totally overhauled and a revolutionary new IT system installed. At the same time all the regional finances are being put into the cloud to better manage their treasury operations to good effect, Svetlana Balanova, CEO of Russian software developing giant IBS, told bne IntelliNews in a recent interview. Putin called for putting all government functions online in his next term.

"The danger is not invasion but lagging behind. It's like a chronic disease that undermines the body from within. Sometimes you don't even feel it," Putin said ironically, given he was about to launch into a big military presentation.

But the welfare of the people occupied most of this section of the speech and addressed head on many of the problems average Russians face. Some 29% of the population was living in poverty in 2000 when he took over, but that had fallen to 10% by 2012. But since the oil and currency crisis in 2014 that share has started to rise again and 20mn Russians are living under the poverty line now. "The goal is to reduce this by half in the next six years," promised Putin.

He laid out other extremely ambitious goals. The number of families that move to better quality accommodation must rise from 3mn last year to 5mn. This means increasing the amount of new residential accommodation being put up from 80mn square meters to 120mn. Mortgage loans have risen from a mere 4,000 contacts in 2001 at a 30% interest rates to hundreds of thousands now at less than 10%, but Putin called for rates to be reduced to 7% to make housing even more affordable to more people.

And he talked a lot about investing into education, healthcare, infrastructure and environmental protection - much of it in tune with a liberal set of policies found in any Western country.

But that has always been Russia's problem: it has been perfectly clear what needs to be done. Where Russia always falls down is on the implementation. Amongst the most unbelievable claims the president made was to increase the size of the economy by 50% in his next term of office. That would require economic growth of around 7% per year - the best of the boom years' rates of growth. With the official forecast of growth this year of 1.8% - and even the most optimistic forecast from Goldman Sachs is for 3.3% - clearly this is not going to happen. Without a new boom the question arises how the Kremlin is going to pay for all this social spending, but Putin glossed over the problem with talk about digitilising the economy and "investment by the private sector" (also a favourite trope of Western liberal politicians).

Put another way the Soviet dilemma was always whether to produce guns or butter - you can't have both. The Soviet choice of guns over butter is what caused it to eventually collapse. What Putin promised in this speech is guns and butter.
The Christian Science Monitor
February 28, 2018

The state-sponsored InoSMI gets hundreds of thousands of Russian readers each day, who generally seem to view Western coverage of Russia as selective and simplistic. But the site also highlights how important cultural context is to understanding the news.	

February 28, 2018 Moscow — One of Russia's most popular internet news sites is one that many Russians believe to be a dedicated purveyor of “fake news.”

Yet it enjoys almost 300,000 daily readers, is consulted by editors around the country as they prepare their own news coverage, and is also reported to be heavily used by the Kremlin staff who compile Vladimir Putin's morning press summary.

The site is InoSMI (a Russian contraction meaning “foreign mass media”), which publishes a wide variety of full articles from global media translated into Russian, with a special emphasis on stories about Russia. The site routinely runs some of most critical reportage and analysis about Mr. Putin's Russia that can be found in US outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and, indeed, The Christian Science Monitor. In their Russian-language versions, those pieces often enjoy huge online readerships.

Remarkably, it's the Russian government that funds InoSMI, which was originally started in 2001 with the specific purpose of illustrating the relentless hostility and and anti-Russian bias with which Western reporters cover Russia, according to former InoSMI editor Alexey Kovalev. That still seems to be a major focus, and Russian commenters vent their displeasure on the site over the bias they see in the foreign coverage of their country.

But the criticism – which mirrors American criticism of Russia's coverage of the US in Kremlin-funded news station RT – also illustrates the limits of news translation's value without understanding the context in which the articles is published.
Sochi, Soviets, and czars: How much do you know about Russia?

“There are an immense number of misunderstandings between our countries,” says Larisa Mikhaylova, a senior researcher in the journalism department of Moscow State University and secretary of the Russian Society of American Culture Studies, “and just translating articles from the Western press can be a double-edged method.”
A window on the world

The Kremlin's sponsorship of InoSMI highlights a critically important distinction between the public mood and political savvy in today's Russia and that in the former Soviet Union – which did everything possible to block regular Soviet citizens' access to unfiltered Western reporting about their country.

“The main idea behind InoSMI is to provide the Russian-speaking audience with the widest range of information, opinion, and assessments by foreign media outlets, both Western and Eastern, concerning developments in Russia,” as well as international political, economic, scientific, social, and cultural news from around the world, says the site's current head, Alexey Dubosarsky.

This week, for example, one day's front page on InoSMI featured political articles from the Financial Times, Die Welt, the National Interest, Bloomberg, and Politico, as well as newspapers from Iran, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Turkey, and Poland.

“Statistically, our readers are most interested in articles about Russia, and these are what we primarily choose,” Mr. Dubosarsky says. The site's audience is mainly well-educated Russian men aged 25 to 45, people who are “successful in their life, decision-makers.” About 80 percent live in Russia, 8 percent in Ukraine, 7 percent in Europe, and 2 percent in America, he adds.

But although he works with the daily output of foreign correspondents in Russia, he thinks poorly of its quality and objectivity.

“Perceptions of Russia in the West are based on a variety of cliches and stereotypes, and a list of rather inappropriate assessments,” he says. “Western journalists are not apart from this. At least 80 percent of mainstream media articles are now hostile to Russia. Their analysis proves mostly shallow, with judgments that are simplistic and tendentious.”
Simplistic coverage?

Judging by comments on InoSMI, Russian readers find the analysis of Western journalists selective and simplistic, portraying Russia as a one-man dictatorship where media is totally state-controlled, dissent is suppressed, elections rigged, and which meddles aggressively in other peoples' affairs and threatens its neighbors.

If Americans want a sense of what enrages some Russian readers of InoSMI, they might comparatively tune in to RT, the Russian English-language satellite broadcaster that the US Department of Justice recently forced to register as a “foreign agent” in the US.

RT is calculated for foreign audiences, and many of its presenters are native English-speakers. But the station does carry a relentlessly unsympathetic narrative about the US: one that focuses on racism, police brutality, economic inequality, and imperialism abroad. Many Russians uncritically believe this, even as they rail in InoSMI's comments section against the one-sidedness and incomprehension of Western journalists covering Russia.

The problem may be that simply publishing articles taken straight from the Western media is not necessarily as helpful as it seems it should be because context is missing, says Ms. Mikhailova.

“If a person's knowledge of another culture is sketchy, then stereotypes are easily reinforced,” she says. “People see the tone as 'hostile' and they react against that view. It would be more scientific if these articles were accompanied by analyses that try to explain the cultural background the reporter is coming from, what he or she is trying to say, and how it might be misperceived.”
‘More like people in the West than ever’

Russians have always exhibited deep curiosity about the world beyond their country, with a special interest in how it perceives Russia. Soviet authorities tried to meet this demand with a mega-circulation weekly newspaper called Za Rubezhom (Abroad), which printed selected articles from foreign media about life and culture, as well as political and foreign policy analyses from Communist and USSR-friendly publications in other countries.

Mikhailova says she got her start translating articles by Canadian author Farley Mowat about nature, environment, and the lives of Inuit people in the Canadian north for Za Rubezhom – stories that resonated with Soviet readers. “It was something people hungered for, a connection with other parts of the world, things that were similar to our lives. It provided a window and fresh information about what was happening in other countries,” she says.

Mikhail Chernysh, deputy director of the official Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology in Moscow, says that despite the fact that Russians are now more sophisticated, well-traveled, and able to surf the internet freely, they still hanker for connections with the wider world – a mood that has probably intensified with the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the West over the past five years.

“Of course InoSMI is a selection that suits authorities, because it demonstrates how narrow-minded and unfair Western journalists can be toward Russia.” he says. “But it's not Soviet times anymore. The fact is that we are much more like [people in the West] today than we ever were.”

Indeed, Mr. Kovalev, who was editor of InoSMI for two years from 2012, notes that Russians responded positively when it expanded beyond solely reports on Western views of Russia. “I decided it would no longer be a website that only translated coverage of Russia, because there is so much interesting journalism in the world,” he says. “Our core audience wanted that, the stuff with Russia and Putin keywords, and we continued to give it to them. But after that, I was free to experiment with more diverse subjects, and our circulation grew rapidly as a result.”
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There is no US equivalent to InoSMI, but Mr. Dubosarsky points out that there are some smaller-scale attempts to provide a similar service to interested Americans, including Watching America and Worldcrunch.

“Americans are primarily focused on their own domestic affairs,” he says. “But it would be of great use for Americans and everyone else if they could see themselves through other eyes. It would only improve mutual understanding.”


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