SACW - 31 July 2018 | Sri Lanka: hanging drug dealers / Pakistan: July 2018 elections / India: Writers under attack; Arunachal conversions, Assam citizenship; intolerance in food / Germany: left competing with right / Regression in Eastern and central Europe / South Africa: death threats via Indian firm

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Tue Jul 31 07:22:30 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 31 July 2018 - No. 2994 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. July 2018 Elections in Pakistan: Select Commentary
2. Writers and Rationalists under continued attack in India
3. Announcement: Course on Methods in Historical Research on Labour during September 10-14, 2018 [New Delhi]
4. From Velvet Revolution to Velvet Dictatorship: Reflections on Democratic Regression | Adam Michnik
5. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - Alternative legal redress systems are welcome but remember that in UK sharia councils are the preserves of clerics who are intolerant of women’s equality
 - India: Alwar lynching shows the government has put the burden of ending mob killings on victims themselves
 - Announcement: Freedom From Hatred And Violence - Join The Protest on 9 August, 2018 (New Delhi)
 - India - Muzaffarnagar riots: This graphic narrative tells the story of the courage of seven rape survivors |
 - Baba Ramdev - The Billionaire Yogi Behind Modi’s Rise | Robert F. Worth
 - India: The Special Marriage Act is dated needs reform to protect freedoms
 - India: manufactured Hindu fury, How cow vigilantes are shaped ? report by Rama Lakshmi
 - India: Inter-religious marriage in Karnataka with protection of court
 - India: Gauri Lankesh was Number 2 on the Hindutva far right hit list, Girish Karnad was No 1 ...
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
6. Bangladesh: Militancy will never win - Editorial, Dhaka Tribune
7. Hardline Islamists push religion to centre of Pakistan election | Reuters
8. Transient triumphs | Rajmohan Gandhi
9. India: A lesson from Arunachal Pradesh | Sanjib Baruah
10. ‘Muslim’ meal on Air India to protect Hindus from ‘halal’ | Saeed Naqvi
11. Sri Lanka to begin hanging drug dealers to 'replicate success of Philippines' | Peter Beaumont
12. How intolerance has left India’s culinary culture poorer | Nandita Haksar
13. South Africa: Indian coal company's local allies issue death threat to Mpumalanga greens | John Yeld
14. Review: Why Buddhists Are Violent | Mark Juergensmeyer
15. Germany's left and right vie to turn politics upside down | Philip Oltermann
16. Today, I Am Ashamed to Be an Israeli | Daniel Barenboim
17. Spain & Pan European invention of tradition -- that would make General Franco a happy man
18. Central Europe is a lesson to liberals: don’t be anti-nationalist | Ivan Krastev
19. Don’t imagine you’re smarter | Neal Ascherson

comments / statements by Jeffrey Gettleman, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Faraz Ahmad, Tariq Ali, Pervez Hoodbhoy, HRCP and an editorial in Le Monde

Anger and revulsion in Goa, as news emerged that beloved Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo, was compelled to accept police security cover after his name was found on a list of targets with the alleged killers of journalist, Gauri Lankesh.

The thugs policing our cultural fraternity have struck again. In response to the violent threats against his family, Malayalam writer S Hareesh has now withdrawn his novel Meesa (Moustache) being serialised by Mathrubhumi, stating that he will publish it when “the climate is congenial”.

While they might have succeeded in silencing some of the voices, there is no dearth of activists who have refused to be cowed down and will fight against these forces to make sure that the voices of reason are heard.

V.V. Giri National Labour Institute jointly with Association of Indian Labour Historians is organising a Course on Methods in Historical Research on Labour during September 10-14, 2018 at the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute.

Let me start by describing how communism died. The first thing to perish was the communist faith. And this faith had two dimensions. It was a faith in the project of a just world, a world of solidarity and freedom. And it was a conviction that people had finally deciphered the secret of world history — a belief that communism was an inevitable stage of human progress. This faith died gradually as it encountered communist realities. The first rebellions against  (...)
 - Alternative legal redress systems are welcome but remember that in UK sharia councils are the preserves of clerics who are intolerant of women’s equality
 - India: Alwar lynching shows the government has put the burden of ending mob killings on victims themselves
 - Announcement: Freedom From Hatred And Violence - Join The Protest on 9 August, 2018 (New Delhi)
 - India - Muzaffarnagar riots: This graphic narrative tells the story of the courage of seven rape survivors |
 - Report on Four Years of Modi sarkar - Dismantling India
 - Baba Ramdev - The Billionaire Yogi Behind Modi’s Rise | Robert F. Worth
 - India: The Special Marriage Act is dated needs reform to protect freedoms
 - India: manufactured Hindu fury, How cow vigilantes are shaped ? report by Rama Lakshmi
 - India: Inter-religious marriage in Karnataka with protection of court
 - India: Gauri Lankesh was Number 2 on the Hindutva far right hit list, Girish Karnad was No 1 ...
 - India: Meet the men from BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal who beat up Swami Agnivesh
 - India: select news report on the Alwar Lynching
 - Mobs are killing Muslims in India. Why is no one stopping them? Rana Ayyub
 - India: Cartoon by Surendra on the killiers in the name of the cow
 - Another day, another lynching: cow vigilantism in India’s culture of impunity | Angshuman Choudhury
 - Sandwiched Nehru: Religious Minorities and Indian Secularism | M Christhu Doss
 - Need to uphold Pluralism in India

 -> available via:
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Dhaka Tribune
July 28th, 2018

It is commendable that the government has not only put in the efforts to eliminate terror, but also to prevent it

Thanks to a concerted and organized effort by the government and our law enforcement agencies, the threat of militancy is now under control.

The Holey Artisan attack, in which over 20 innocent people tragically lost their lives in a most brutal manner, no doubt acted as a wake-up call, not just for the government, but for all Bangladeshis. 

It asked difficult questions of us all, questions for which perhaps we did not have answers at the time. 

But, from the ashes of that tragedy, through resilience and determination, Bangladesh has continued to fight against the forces of terror, and move forward and prosper as a nation. 

This would not have been possible without the pro-active approach taken by our government, which realized the potential threat facing the nation, and made it a priority to root it out. 

Through various raids carried out following the tragedy, our brave law enforcement officers were able to eliminate numerous active terrorist cells operating in the country, and now, as a result, Bangladesh faces no major terrorist threat.

But that is not the only area in which we have remained active. It is commendable that the government has not only put in the efforts to eliminate terror, but also to prevent it. Through various initiatives which focus on deradicalization, rehabilitation, and counselling for militants, the youth especially are being engaged in activities which take them away from a life of violence. 

Various institutions and smaller organizations have also been working with each other, while simultaneously conducting nationwide social awareness campaigns, to ensure that militancy is not given the breathing space it needs to grow. 

In the war against militancy, there is no doubt that Bangladesh is winning. But, moving forward, it is imperative that we continue to fight as we have done so far, by engaging the youth and ensuring that our values of democracy and secularism are not hijacked by those who do not understand what Bangladesh truly stands for. 

Dhaka Tribune
July 22nd, 2018

Hardline Islamists push

Liberal and secular-minded Pakistanis say the sheer number of religious party candidates, combined with their ultra-conservative rhetoric, has already shifted the agenda in their direction

Pakistani cleric Hafiz Saeed is one of the United States’ most-wanted terrorist suspects, accused over the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. At home, his charities are banned, as is a new Islamist political party launched by his followers.

None of that has stopped Saeed from hitting the campaign trail for Pakistan’s July 25 general election, denouncing the outgoing government as “traitors” and whipping up support for the more than 200 candidates he backs.

“The politics of the American servants is coming to an end!” Saeed thundered at a rally this month in the eastern city of Lahore, where supporters showered him with rose petals.

The main race in Wednesday’s vote is between the party of now-jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which is seeking a second consecutive term despite its leader’s downfall on corruption charges, and the party of former cricket star Imran Khan, perceived as the favourite of the powerful military.

But a bumper crop of ultra-Islamist groups are also contesting the poll, with the potential to reshape the political landscape of the nuclear-armed Muslim country of 208 million people with anti-Western rhetoric and calls for ever-stricter interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law.

The proliferation of religious parties appears to be a fulfillment of a proposal made by Pakistan’s military to “mainstream” armed Islamists and other extremists into politics, though the parties and the army deny any links.

Even if, as expected, they win few seats, liberal and secular-minded Pakistanis say the sheer number of religious party candidates, combined with their ultra-conservative rhetoric, has already shifted the agenda in their direction.

With the new parties routinely accusing opponents of blasphemy or treason, mainstream parties have echoed their language in attacking Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

“The ostensible attempt to mainstream the religious right-wing is not making these parties take relatively moderate positions,” said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch. “But rather, it’s radicalizing the mainstream.”

Violent rhetoric 

Religious parties – some new, others established – are fielding more than 1,500 candidates for national and provincial assemblies, compared with a few hundred in 2013.

While Pakistan has always had Islamist parties, the new entries are notable for their alleged links to militants and their rhetorical attacks on mainstream politicians’ piety or patriotism.

Pakistan’s three main parties all stress devotion to Islam, but the new religious parties portray them – especially the PML-N – as leading Pakistan down a Western-inspired path away from the country’s Islamic values.

One new party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, campaigns under the rallying cry “death to blasphemers” and is fielding 566 candidates.

Its candidates rail against the PML-N as blasphemers for a small abortive change last year to election law, which was quickly reversed after nationwide protests in which at least seven people were killed.

The change was to the swearing-in oath for candidates – from a religious vow to a simple declaration – stating the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last messenger, a central tenet of Islam.

In May, a man police identified as a Labaik supporter shot and wounded then-Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal as he left a meeting. He told interrogators Iqbal had to die because he was a blasphemer.

Tehreek-e-Labaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi condemned Iqbal’s shooting. But this month, he said the party could not be held responsible.

“We didn’t instigate anyone. These are the emotions of the nation,” Rizvi told Reuters, adding. “In a way, it rightly happened.”

Leaders of the mainstream opposition parties all condemned the attack on Iqbal.

Still, Imran Khan has also invoked the blasphemy controversy in campaign speeches, defending such language in a recent interview with Reuters.

“You cannot be a Muslim if you don’t believe that the Prophet, our Prophet, is the last prophet,” Khan said. “So to reiterate and support it is just standing with your faith.”

Banned groups 

While Tehreek-e-Labaik is a legally registered party, other movements fielding candidates are officially banned in Pakistan but have bypassed the legal restrictions.

Pakistan’s Election Commission this year rejected Saeed’s Islamic charity’s application to register a political party, the Milli Muslim League, but the group later registered candidates under the name of an existing party, Allahu Akbar Tehreek, which now campaigns with Saeed’s image on its posters.

Saeed is accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks on India’s financial capital. The United States offers a $10 million reward for his conviction over the attacks, in which several Americans were killed. Saeed denies any involvement.

Another party, the Sunni extremist Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), is also fielding dozens of candidates under a different name, even though it is banned as the political wing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has killed hundreds of minority Shi’ite Muslims. The party denies links with LeJ.

Last month, ASWJ leader Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi’s name was removed by a caretaker government from Pakistan’s terrorism watchlist, cementing his own candidacy.

A spokesman for the Election Commission of Pakistan, Altaf Khan, asked about the banned groups’ candidates, said no illegal group had been registered.

“If some political party is registered with us, and it has come through the (legal) process, what’s wrong in it?” Khan said.

He added that the commission was investigating complaints of banned parties campaigning under different names.

A military spokesman declined to comment on religious parties. The army denies interfering in politics.

However, the military did propose “mainstreaming” militant-linked groups into politics in a 2016 National Security meeting, military and government sources have told Reuters. The plan was pitched as a way to reduce violence and extremism under the model of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Critics say the real goal is for new ultra-religious parties to cut into the conservative base of Sharif’s party and confer legitimacy to Islamist militants the army has long been accused of nurturing as proxies in its rivalry with India.

“They have to be taken care of,” political commentator Raza Rumi said of such groups. “So this election is a test case as to how far the goal of mainstreaming these groups can be achieved.”

Analysts say even with the increase in candidates, Islamists are unlikely to win more than a dozen or so seats in parliament.

But that might not be the point. Pakistani author and analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, a longtime critic of the military, believes the army, tired of civilian governments challenging its grip on foreign policy and large chunks of the economy, is seeking to weaken mainstream parties.

“The military wants to alter, engineer the national discourse,” Siddiqa said. “They want to build a new nationalism. They want a new identity, and that is Islamic identity.”

History reveals that popularity of authoritarian leaders and majoritarian agendas is a transitory phenomenon

Written by Rajmohan Gandhi
The Indian Express
July 25, 2018

The law of transience does not work at desired speed. Yet one may be allowed to hope, as far as India is concerned, that the elections due before the end of May 2019 will hasten its operation.

Most historical triumphs, we know, are transient. Only recently globalisation appeared an inexorable climax of history. Now it looks to have collapsed. So, it seems, has globalisation’s apparent twin, celebrating diversity within nations. Two other prestigious values, democracy in the polity and equality in society, have also been hit hard.

As if from nowhere, men like Donald Trump and Narendra Modi surfaced to deliver these unanticipated blows, while authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan found new acceptability.

History’s march was reversed. Walls were erected between nations, races and communities, and also between citizens and rulers. While a Modi, Xi, Trump or Putin spoke to audiences of millions, no journalist, let alone a citizen, was permitted to probe the ruler. Not long ago, democratic convention required prime ministers and presidents to let interviewers ask searching questions. However, Modi and Trump (and Putin and Xi) have ensured that no such opportunities arise.

Even more troubling than the setbacks mentioned above has been the falsification of facts. Control over the flow of information by influential rulers and their allies in the old media, and concerted activity by followers in the social media, have enabled fake news to triumph. Thus, to recall a well-known example, a good percentage of white Americans continue to think that Obama was not born in the US.

Similarly, if India’s schoolchildren are prevented from learning that Hindu extremists killed Mahatma Gandhi, or that Jawaharlal Nehru helped lay the foundations for democratic rights and for science education, or that, in earlier periods, Rajput nobles were part of every Mughal ruler’s establishment, will that not ease the path to a theocratic Hindu state?

Fortunately, fake history too is subject to the law of transience. The Hitlers and Stalins of our world controlled what the public was allowed to hear, what children were taught in schools, and what audiences saw on stage or screen, yet we know the reputation today of Hitler and Stalin, including in the eyes of the ordinary German and Russian.

Years had to be gone through before the truth regarding these tyrants was admitted, and a heavy price was paid. Not having to confront a fraction of what counterparts in Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany faced, Indian defenders of democracy, equality and inclusion are fortunate.

The law of transience does not work at desired speed. Yet one may be allowed to hope, as far as India is concerned, that the elections due before the end of May 2019 will hasten its operation.

I am inclined to agree with the insightful thought expressed elsewhere by Alok Rai that this time a coalition of opposition parties will be more than a strategy. A coalition across India will be an ideology in itself, a conscious recognition that despite differing points of view and backgrounds Indians have to come together.

It is also possible that this time the electorate may come to see the choice before it as one between a broad coalition of the Indian people on the one hand and, on the other, a coterie of clever leaders with deep pockets, a fanatical following, and medieval ideas. Central among their backward-looking ideas is the notion that India’s future success lies in a reminder of India’s supposed feats in an ancient past, when the nation was guided solely by priests with the aid of a warrior caste, and society was shielded from the risky ideas of equality and liberty.

Joined to this worship of an imagined past free of contamination is the steady implementation of a plan to harden an Indian hierarchy, where some command and others obey, with severe penalties for disobedience. Openly articulated one day, this plan is denied the next day with a wink to followers not to take the denial seriously, and there is also an attempt to mask the plan with a rhetoric of development.

The groups that must be put down are sometimes named but don’t have to be. Everyone knows who they are. The nation’s well-known “enemies” are to be the sole political and electoral issue. The promises that clinched the 2014 victory should be forgotten, as also that “daring” 2016 move, notebandi, which left the people cashless and exhausted and the corrupt free. However, there will be room in the ruling party’s campaign for one additional point, which is that no one in the Opposition competes with Modi’s reach and image: There is no alternative. Will such strategies work when large sections of the Indian population feel the pinch of joblessness, debts and rising prices, and are troubled by the leaders’ silence over brutal attacks on the innocent?

It is natural at this juncture to recall the 1977 election that Indira Gandhi thought was in her bag. She was strong, she seemed popular, she had put “the nation’s enemies” in their place, and there was no visible alternative.

It would be technically incorrect to liken what India faces today to the Emergency that was imposed between 1975 and 1977. Yet it is worth remembering that whereas that Emergency ended in 19 months, the present regime, widely seen as having undermined democratic institutions, has lasted for more than four years. In 1977, diverse parties and individuals came together for democratic rights and won the nation’s confidence. That something similar can happen in 2019 looks more than possible. If it happens, India might help shorten the world’s relapse into walls, curbs and unfairness.

The writer is a research professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Indian Express, July 20, 2018

Debate over the state’s anti-conversion law points to the need to give more attention to religious change from the perspective of the ‘converted’.

Arunachal Pradesh is unlike the other states with anti-conversion laws. Christians constitute more than 30 per cent of the state’s population. (Illustration: CR Sasikumar)

The statement by the BJP Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu, that he would move to repeal the state’s freedom of religion or anti-conversion law at the next assembly session has drawn significant national attention. The announcement was later modified following BJP general secretary Ram Madhav’s tweet that questioned the report’s accuracy. He said that Chief Minister Khandu had not promised anything more than “a wide-ranging consultation” about the anti-conversion law’s efficacy. Subsequently, Arunachal’s information minister said that Khandu did not say that the law would be repealed. Apparently, the plan all along had been for the Cabinet to examine the anti-conversion law, consult stakeholders, and discuss the matter in the state assembly before deciding if it needs to be repealed.

Nonetheless, it may be rewarding to pay attention to the context in which Khandu made the suggestion, and to his public reasoning in favour of repeal. The chief minister made the announcement at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the death of the pioneer Catholic missionary, Henry Gaikwad — popularly known as Prembhai — who travelled and preached in the remote mountain villages of Arunachal in the 1980s and 1990s. The austere lifestyle, service, and self-sacrifice of this man from distant Maharashtra endeared him to many Arunachalis. Khandu, a Buddhist, described Prembhai as a “saint” who brought tremendous changes in the lives of the Nyishi people — one of the state’s largest communities distributed across five districts as well as parts of Assam. Through 25 years of humanitarian service to the state, he said, Prembhai earned the respect of people far beyond his faith.

A number of other important political figures of the state attended the event. Among them were former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, a Catholic, and Nabam Rebia, former speaker of the Arunachal assembly and Khandu’s cabinet colleague. Rebia describes himself as a “non-baptised Christian”, following a familiar pattern of conduct that adapts to Indian conditions: Churchless Christianity, that is accepting Christianity but rejecting the Church as an institution. Another speaker, the president of the Congress, Sanjay Takam, has long been critical of the state’s anti-conversion law.

Arunachal Pradesh is unlike the other states with anti-conversion laws. Christians constitute more than 30 per cent of the state’s population. By contrast, in four other states with such laws — Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand — Christians are less than one per cent. In Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand, where similar laws exist, they are between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. In Tamil Nadu, where an anti-conversion ordinance was in place for a while, the percentage of Christians is higher: 6 per cent. The fact that the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa withdrew the ordinance following the defeat of the NDA-AIADMK alliance in the 2004 general election is telling.

It is hardly surprising that a law that has a history of mobilising majorities at the cost of alienating tiny and politically marginal minorities would face a different set of challenges in Arunachal Pradesh.

Khandu observed at the memorial meeting for Prembhai that the anti-conversion law is “probably targeted towards Christians”. He expressed the fear that the “chief minister, chief secretary or DGP (director general police)” can easily misuse this law and that it “could trigger largescale violence in the state and could break Arunachal into pieces”. The concern for public order should be familiar to students of India’s anti-conversion laws. When the Supreme Court in 1977 upheld the constitutionality of the anti-conversion laws of Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, it relied on the public order exception of Article 25 of the Constitution that permits restriction on “the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. Khandu has the same concern. However, he wisely foresees that the challenge to public order might take a very different form in Arunachal Pradesh than in these other states.

As would be evident by now, Christians in Arunachal Pradesh include prominent members of the political elite. As in the rest of Northeast India, they include all sections of society. The dominant Indian discourse on conversion, which is focused on the supposed gullibility of our poor and underprivileged countrymen, and the fear that they may fall prey to the machinations of foreign missionaries, is unsustainable in this region. It is hard to think of your colleagues and friends as passive converts who were tricked into conversion by material inducements. This has important lessons for the rest of India.

The Naga leader Angami Zapu Phizo had famously said, “We do not take Christianity as foreign religion any more than we consider the light of the sun as foreign.” Western missionaries may have pioneered proselytisation and conversion during British colonial rule. But for a long time, the agents of proselytisation have been locals and other Indians. Among Christian denominations that have a significant presence in Northeast India are some that emphasise missionary work as an essential part of the Christian faith. Thus many Rabhas of western Assam converted to Baptist Christianity because of the efforts by Mizo missionaries. Ironically, their conversion occurred only after the Indian government expelled a group of Australian missionaries working among them. It is not surprising that Mizo missionaries — regional neighbours of the Rabhas — were far more successful proselytisers than their Australian forerunners.

Northeasterners today account for a significant number of Christian missionaries in India. Their commitment to missionary work has taken some of them to other parts of the world as well.

In their book on Christianity, colonialism, and consciousness in South Africa, anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff have observed that, “the very use of ‘conversion’ as a noun leads, unwittingly, to the reification of religious ‘belief.’” It “makes spiritual commitment into a choice among competing faiths, and ‘belief systems’ into doctrines torn free of all cultural embeddedness.” Other scholars studying religious change have noted that the word “conversion” says more about the intentions of missionaries than about the experience and consciousness of the converted.

In India, it is common to hear the expression “they were converted”. But we don’t hear “they converted” as often. One hears “we converted” or “I converted” even less. For a person who decides to turn to a new religion, the switch probably does not need an explanation, or at least not a this-worldly explanation. It is unlikely he or she would talk about it with someone outside his or her faith.

The fact that changing nationality comes so naturally to many Indians while changing religion becomes so controversial probably intrigues many outsiders.

James C Scott, author of a number of influential books based on Southeast Asian history, suggests that the appeal of Christianity in the hill societies of the region — including Northeast India — is that it constitutes “a powerful, alternate and to some degree oppositional, modernity”. The phenomenon, he suggests, is best understood in the context of a long prior history of these societies adopting religious identities at variance with those of the people of the valley states whose cultures have long stigmatised them.

It is about time we give more attention to religious change from the perspective of the “converted” and give up the illusion that the possession of free will and autonomy are the exclusive prerogatives of mainstream elites.
The writer is Professor of Political Studies, Bard College, New York

o o o


by Saeed Naqvi
New Age [ Bangladesh]
July 22,2018

ON AN Air India flight from London, the hostess walked down the aisle taking orders for dinner. She leaned over and asked almost conspiratorially.
‘May I serve you your Muslim meal now?’
‘Muslim meal?’ I asked with a start, casting a glance at my equally puzzled wife.
The hostess was embarrassed. A new detail had been added to her hospitality protocol and she was not accustomed to it.
The damage, it turned out, had been done in my office. Responding to a column on dietary preferences, the person responsible for air reservation had hunted high and low for a simple non-vegetarian meal. No such meal was listed. Then he spotted ‘Muslim meal’. The explanatory paragraph clarified that ‘all non vegetarian meals are suitable for Muslims and are prepared in accordance with halal method.’
The journalist in me took over.
‘Fair enough, you have identified us as Muslim, but surely there are others on the flight who are non vegetarians but not Muslim?’
Of course, there are non-vegetarians on Air India but they would not accept the odium of Muslim ancestry simply to indulge their dietary preference. They want to eat meat but as thoroughbred Hindus.
Two consequences follow. Obstacles in the way of non-vegetarianism depresses the demand for non vegetarian food. By the same token Hindu passengers feel they are being short-changed. This was reverse discrimination. They see themselves being pushed to the lower end of the culinary caste system. The demand for non-veg, therefore, gains in decibel levels: we want non veg, that’s for sure, but one which is neither ‘Muslim’ nor ‘halal’.
A three-way dietary division evolves: (1) Hindus not fussy about labels: ‘Muslim’ or ‘halal’ accept whatever is available. (2) Those for whom realisation has been abrupt that what they have been eating for generations was ‘Muslim’ — halal. Ignorance is bliss but not now that enlightenment has come riding on an Air India menu. (3) Simple vegetarians whose tribe, by the way, is growing by leaps and bounds in India as elsewhere face no problem whatsoever.
For the authors of the ‘Muslim meal’ idea, the first category is the most disruptive because it has skewed the process of data collection on how potentially vegetarian or otherwise, India is. This is the key research required for advancing the aspect of Hindutva concerned with promoting non-Muslim dietary practices. If this category can stand its ground despite the disincentive of being called Muslims and halal eaters, this non veg constituency might just stabilize, even grow. God forbid, it may come in the way of full spectrum Hindutva, vegetarianism et al.
The second category is demanding a non vegetarian meal which is unsullied by Muslim-halal connotations. This is a new demand. This clientele does not quite know what it wants; it knows what it does not want in the non-veg arena. It has clearly asked the catering department of Air India a question which is not easy to answer: ‘what non-veg fare can you serve which is not Muslim-halal?’
Here the discussion acquires exactly the potential for which it was initiated — to polarise and, as a trial run, divide the aircraft cabin between vegetarians and non vegetarians who, the perpetrators hope, would not like to be grouped as halal-eating Muslims. The cabin is, in this instance, a microcosm of the meat-mukt India of Hindutva’s dreams.
A quick answer to halal is jhatka, the method of severing the animal’s head with one stroke, favoured by Sikhs. The jhatka-halal debate is custom made for an Arnab Goswami show. Have a devout Sikh, a muscular Mullah and a Bajrang Bali Bhakt, peer out of three windows. Extract all the gory details on jhatka and halal from the spokesmen of two distinct schools of slaughter. A possible walkout by the abstemious Bajrangi may well spur Hindu consolidation on an unprecedented scale.
On a more practical note, the ‘shosha’ (mischief) started by Air India can be put to some constructive use. A new approach to cuisine may involve drastic change: a non veg cuisine developed over centuries as a near art form may have to be jettisoned from official banquets and national carriers. The problem will, of course, arise when lynch mobs on the lookout for a cause, enter restaurants advertising non veg fare. Individual non vegetarians may also incur the wrath of the lynch mobs. In fact a malicious rumour has been floated that the monkeys that have been let loose on Delhi’s citizenry are an animal-loving minister’s project directed against non-veg addicts. The monkeys, says the rumour, are being trained on the Ridge to block entry of meat into non-veg kitchens. The producer of super hit Bajrangi Bhaijan, has threatened to go on hunger strike if the avatars of Bajrang Bali are involved in operations which have anything, negative or positive, to do with meat
The hypocrisy around the cuisine at official banquets at Hyderabad House or even the Rashtrapti Bhawan until the other day, has always bordered on the pathetic. There was an insistence on tasteless fare called Mughlai food at a time when streets named after the dynasty were under assault. The banquets begin with a bogus ‘toast’ of some flat cola. This then is a good time to take a hard look at the rampaging Vegan movement globally. Climate change, animal care, fear of artificially inflated livestock for the table is turning the world to organic, vegetarian food. Jeremy Corbyn, who may well be Britain’s prime minister one day, is a vegetarian.
The core idea of the Nouvelle cuisine Air India should be searching for (and not just creating communal trouble) was available in the ‘prasada’ or ‘offering’ cooked each day in gigantic vessels at the Dargah in Ajmer. The daily fare followed one golden principle: it should be acceptable to widest possible range of pilgrims. The ‘prasada’ was free even of onion, garlic, mushrooms, potatoes or any vegetable which grows underground. This principle is followed in all major Hindu and Sikh places of worship. Somewhere here is the answer to Air India’s quest. To monitor strict vegetarianism in flight, a free ticket may be considered for a representative of the lynch mob on every Air India flight.

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

The Guardian
11 July 2018

Government says executions will resume after moratorium of almost 50 years, citing Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs

Maithripala Sirisena, the Sri Lankan president, has told his cabinet he is ‘ready to sign the death warrants’ of serial drug offenders. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AFP/Getty Images

Sri Lanka will begin hanging drug dealers, ending a near-half-century moratorium on executions, as officials promised explicitly to “replicate the success” of the Philippines’ grisly war on drugs.

Sri Lanka’s decision to cite the Philippines as its model is certain to draw criticism. Under president Rodrigo Duterte 4,200 drug suspects have been killed in the Philippines, although rights groups say the true number could be at least triple that figure.

Announcing his decision to follow Duterte’s example, the Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, had told his cabinet he “was ready to sign the death warrants” of repeat drug offenders, according to his spokesman Rajitha Senaratne.

“From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences,” he said.

Sri Lanka has commuted death sentences for serious crimes to life in prison since 1976, when the last execution took place.

Senaratne said there were 19 drug offenders whose death sentences had been commuted to life. Local media reports quote Senaratne as saying that they would now face execution.

Authorities say a tougher approach is needed to combat what they report as an increase in drug-related crime.
'I want the world to know': Tamil men accuse Sri Lanka of rape and torture
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Senaratne cited a case this week in which a convicted drug dealer, whose death sentence had been commuted to life, had arranged the import of 100kg of heroin from behind bars.

“We were told that the Philippines has been successful in deploying the army and dealing with this problem. We will try to replicate their success,” Senaratne said.

Sri Lankan ministers have cited a growing drugs problem in the country for the decision. They say the country has become an increasingly important transhipment point for smuggling narcotics.

In 2016 Sri Lanka’s Police Narcotics Bureau seized more than 900kg of cocaine from an Indian-bound ship in Colombo, reportedly one of the largest seizures of the drug in the region.

Sri Lanka’s defence minister, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, suggested that the country’s armed forces be drafted in for a limited period to be used for drug enforcement.

The decision to end the moratorium on executions in Sri Lanka comes despite efforts by local human rights groups in 2016 to persuade the current president to formally revoke the death penalty.

Nandita Haksar
21 July 2018

An excerpt from ‘The Flavours of Nationalism’, in which human-rights lawyer and writer Nandita Haksar explores love and hate through the lens of food.

I do not remember going out for a meal during my childhood except for an occasional visit to Moti Mahal. It was there that I heard of a dish called butter chicken.

Butter chicken was in fact an invention of Kundan Lal Gujral, a Punjabi refugee from Lahore who came to India during the Partition. In his new home in Delhi, Gujral founded the famous restaurant, Moti Mahal, in Daryaganj. The lack of refrigeration apparently led Gujral to put unsold tandoori tikkas into a rich tomato gravy full of butter and cream and the butter chicken was born.

I remember Papa driving us to Moti Mahal. He dropped us at the restaurant, Amma and I got down from the car and he drove off to park it opposite the paanwala without realizing that Amma had fallen into a manhole as she stepped out of the car. She was rescued and we all had a laugh.

The restaurant has attracted world leaders, including Zakir Hussain, Jawaharlal Nehru, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Freedom fighter and independent India’s first education minister, Maulana Azad reportedly even told the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, that while in India he must make two visits – to the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Moti Mahal in Delhi. And the Shah followed his advice, adding his name to some of the most renowned patrons of Moti Mahal. More recently, Moti Mahal was visited by none other than renowned master chef Gordon Ramsay.
Amma was quite happy to go to Moti Mahal but would never have admitted that butter chicken could compare to anything like the food in Lucknow. In any case, she never ate butter chicken.

I must have imbibed these prejudices from my mother. Long after I had graduated, I took some friends to dine at Karim’s at Jama Masjid. A family was sitting at the table next to us and I heard a child order butter chicken. Without thinking I told them that this was not the place for butter chicken. They should go to a restaurant serving Punjabi food.

I half expected the family to tell me to mind my own business but a young man turned to me and apologized: ‘The children do not know.’

The waiter came to me and said they had to put butter chicken on their menu after repeated demands from their Punjabi customers who did not know the difference between Old Delhi’s Mughlai food and Punjabi food.

Although Kashmiri Pandits are traditionally meateaters, there are many men and women who were vegetarians. Both my Masi – my mother’s older sister – and my Chacha – Papa’s younger brother – were strict vegetarians. But neither of them ever objected to anyone in the family eating meat, and in both their homes, meat was cooked and relished by other family members.

But in recent times this tolerant attitude is all but gone. A very different kind of vegetarianism is creeping into the culture of the Kashmiris – those who have had to leave their homes in the Valley in the aftermath of the insurgency in 1989, and even the downstairs Kashmiris, like my family. I was shocked when I invited an aunt to my home and she told me on the phone: ‘Don’t order food from the Muslim place in JNU; we can have vegetarian food.’ I knew my Mamu liked the food from Mughal Darbar, a popular restaurant inside Jawaharlal Nehru University. The kebab-roti reminded Mamu and me of the delicious kebabs with rumali roti and biryani Nana used to bring for us from the Gymkhana Club in Lucknow. Besides, Kashmiri Pandits always bought halal meat from Muslim butchers. My aunt’s intolerance is a reflection of the present times; an intolerance based on the false belief that upper-caste Hindus did not eat meat in the past. But every historian has stated that our ancestors were predominantly non-vegetarian. Not only did she not want to eat food cooked by Muslim hands, she also wanted to impose her distorted, bigoted ideas on us.

As I grow older, I sometimes long to taste our traditional Kashmiri food. Sometimes the longing is almost painful. It is not only the food, but also the smells from the kitchen that I long for; something familiar that will remind me of those days when we gathered together as a family. But then the family has drifted apart – I meet them once a year, if that. I think it was the food that bound us together and now the food has disappeared. Kashmiri men no longer know how to cook, and many of them have married women from non-Kashmiri communities who do not enjoy cooking or eating Kashmiri food. Now, when we meet sometimes my cousins offer a Subway sandwich or a simple meal low on calories and also on taste. Besides, everyone has become very conscious of their health; almost no one eats red meat.

Gone are the bowls of meat and vegetables rich in calories and taste. There is not that sense of plenty, and the warmth of hospitality has been replaced with obsessive concerns about health.

There are a few weddings but we have to stand in queue and serve ourselves at the buffet. Buffets do not allow you to sit down and suck out the marrow or chew the bones. Most times we eat with a fork and spoon rather than make luqmas with our hands.

The slow disappearance of our culture and cuisine began long ago, even before we realized what we were losing. By the time my younger sister got married in May 2001, there was only one professional cook who cooked for weddings, Topaji. He, along with many Kashmiri Pandit families, had already left his ancestral home in Old Delhi and settled down in Gurgaon. And much of his knowledge of cooking he claimed was from Bua’s book, which was just a home cook’s collection of recipes. I noticed she does not give the recipe for khhatti kaleji.

Some of my aunts and uncles had trained their servants to cook basic Kashmiri food. The most famous was Moti, Dada’s cook. But all these men (and they were all men) had disappeared from our lives one by one.

In our home at least the loss had to do with the disappearance of our meatwala.

Every single day, Muslim meatwala cycled all the way from Jama Masjid to Race Course Road where we lived, and later to Shanti Niketan. This meant he cycled 15 kilometres to our home and then 15 kilometres back to Jama Masjid. He came on his cycle with a blue wooden box tied to the pillion. It had a net around it, not just to keep away the flies, but also to keep the meat fresh. He announced his coming with a ring of his bicycle bell and Amma would call out to the cook: ‘Dekho, meatwala aa gaya.’ And then she would have to decide what kind of meat we wanted. Each meat dish had a different cut.

On some days I would stand and watch him cut the meat. Painstakingly, he would remove the fat and the white membranes, and then if we wanted pasandas, he would take each piece and beat it with the back of the knife, or if it was mince, he would mince it in the mincer he carried. It was all done quietly and politely. He never let us down, no matter what the season.

Then, one day he did not come. He had told us he was afraid because there were accusations that he and other meatwalas were selling beef. But he kept coming, till the day he did not turn up. He disappeared from our lives. In those days there were no mobile numbers or even phone numbers for the meatwala. Now I realize we did not even know his name; at least I do not remember ever calling him by name.

And it was from then on that our cuisine was diminished – we never had pasandas. Now I realize how much more we lost.

Excerpted with permission from The Flavours of Nationalism: Recipes for Love, Hate and Friendship, Nandita Haksar, Speaking Tiger.

by John Yeld
Coal mine opponents targeted on social media

By GroundUp• 24 July 2018

Coal mining is a very dirty business. And as a stream of abuse on social media against those challenging a new coal mining venture in one of South Africa’s most critical and formally protected water catchment areas confirms, the dirt isn’t always in the coal dust.

Twitter accusations against a coalition of eight environmental and social justice groups and their lawyers seeking to block the planned Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine development at Mabola in Mpumalanga, include treason, economic sabotage, extortion, bribery, blackmail, duplicity, dishonesty and lies.

They are further accused of being “anti-national, anti-people, anti-development”, and a comparison to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels has been thrown in for good measure.

As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s no laughing matter, and suggests that a Bell Pottinger-style social media harassment strategy may be under way against opponents of the mine project.

Particularly worrying was a thinly veiled death threat made on Facebook last month, aimed at local farmer Oubaas Malan who also opposes the Yzermyn mine but is not involved in the comprehensive legal challenges currently under way by the coalition.

The threat was posted by Thabiso Nene, who heads The Voice Community Representative Council, a registered NPO billed as “a community-based organisation that stands for radical economic transformation” in the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme local municipality where the would-be mine is located.

What particularly incenses Nene, Tripathi and other supporters of Atha Africa is that an open coal mine, Loskop, has been operating on Malan’s family farm on the same area. However, Malan has countered by pointing out that this is an old mine started in the 1980s – three decades before the Mabola Protected Area was proclaimed – and that he doesn’t own the mining right to it. Although he concedes negotiating a fee from the mining company that most recently owned the mining right and attempted to work the mine, now effectively abandoned, he says it reneged on payments to him and has caused severe environmental damage.

Last month, Malan boasted to the Saturday Star newspaper about his tenacity in tackling Atha Africa. “I’m like a Jack Russell terrier fighting a boerbul. I won’t let go,” he was quoted as saying.

Nene’s lengthy Facebook response included what can be interpreted as a death threat: “As Oubaas say ‘I’m like Jack Russell terrier fighting boerboel. I just won’t let go’ he should watch our community lays Jack Russell terrier to permanent sleep. We r masters in resting dogs with rabies. Obaas can take dat to de bank.”

A formal complaint about the death threat – that now appears to have been removed from Facebook was made to the South African Human Rights Commission. The commission described the threat as “naked criminality” but declined to investigate, suggesting instead that the police should handle the matter because of the violence implicit in it.

Many of the offending tweets in the social media campaign against the coalition have been made by Praveer Tripathi, senior vice-president of the Atha Africa Ventures mining company that plans to develop Yzermyn. It acquired a mining right in 2015 but the granting of this right and various environmental approvals are now being challenged by the coalition.

Tripathi also retweeted, without comment, a tweet by @Madlokovu15 that had in turn repeated the Facebook death threat word-for-word.

Tripathi’s Twitter profile distances him from his employer, suggesting his comments should not be read as signifying his professional position as a senior executive of Atha Africa, a subsidiary of the India-based international mining company Atha Group. The company has also attempted to distance itself from his highly controversial remarks. “Mr Tripathi’s posts on his personal account, are his own personal views and do not mirror the views and opinions of Atha Africa. Accordingly, Atha Africa is not responsible for these comments.”

However, the company has not publicly condemned any of Tripathi’s comments, but asked that questions on the matter be directed to the executive himself.

Screen capture from Praveer Tripathi’s Twitter account.

A formal complaint about Tripathi’s earlier social media comments has been lodged with Minerals Council South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines) by the Centre for Environmental Rights, a public interest group of attorneys that represents the coalition. Atha Africa Ventures is a Council member and as such is bound by the Council’s mandatory code of ethical business conduct and guiding principles. The Council has yet to respond to the Centre’s complaint.

Tripathi, who has just 70 Twitter followers, last week failed to respond to emailed questions asking him to explain the accusations in his tweets and to comment on their possible consequences. Instead, he posted correspondence from this writer on his Twitter timeline, accompanied by derogatory comments. His posts prompted some of his followers to post their own abusive tweets.

The proposed Yzermyn coal mine lies within the water-rich, protected grasslands of the Ekangala/Drakensberg strategic water source area – one of 22 such areas that collectively comprise just 8% of South Africa’s land yet provide half of all surface run-off water in the form of wetlands, streams and rivers.

Environmentalists argue that coal mining is highly destructive and poisonous to the environment, and is not compatible with biodiversity conservation of pristine areas like Mabola that provide invaluable “ecosystem services” like water. If the project is allowed to continue, the proposed coal mine in Mabola will set a dangerous precedent that will expose all of South Africa’s protected environments to encroachment from mining and other destructive and non-sustainable land uses, they say.

But Mabola is also within an area marked by extreme poverty and unemployment where many local residents are desperate for jobs. So it’s understandable that the possibility of some 500 work opportunities – albeit unskilled – at the proposed mine is highly attractive to some of them.

Residents of Mabola get water from a spring. Photo supplied

The social media invective against coalition members and its lawyers has increased significantly over the past two months as several of the legal challenges to the coal project approach adjudication. The first, an appeal to the Water Tribunal to overturn the water licence granted to Yzermyn, is set down for hearing from Tuesday to Thursday this week.

On 29 June, Nene’s The Voice organised a public meeting in Volksrust that was billed as an open forum debate “to clear misconceptions about the proposed mining project near Wakkerstroom”. Nene posted on Facebook that an invitation had been extended to the management of Atha Africa and that it had confirmed its attendance. “That very progressive Atha management,” he said approvingly.

An invitation was also extended to members of the coalition and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) but it was declined. The Centre told Mining Weekly it would not be appropriate for it to take part in a public debate because of the extensive pending litigation in the matter.

Its refusal prompted a string of Twitter insults from Tripathi, including: “Is the Cenre (sic) for Environmental Rights afraid that it’s lies would be nailed in the #communitywantstoknow initiative by the community? They said the mine will threaten Gauteng and have national and intntnl (sic) impacts. Why don’t they explain the ‘how’ to the community?”

After the meeting, attended by some 1,400 people, Tripathi congratulated Nene for “exposing” the “foreign-funded” and “treasonous” organisations “who have no sympathies and respect for the community”. This allegation of treason was picked up and repeated several times.

However, the only “evidence” they produced to back the allegation was publicly available documents from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) detailing some funding for two of the organisations in the coalition. SIDA is an official Swedish government agency of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, responsible for the bulk of Sweden’s official development assistance to developing countries and civil society groups – including South Africa’s democratic government.

The tactic of social media harassment is becoming increasingly common in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, where vulnerable communities and civil society organisations have been working to protect and promote environmental and social justice in the face of strong-arm and bullying tactics by some governments and big business – notably mining interests.

Threats and intimidation create an emotionally charged atmosphere that makes it harder for communities to achieve resolution, and in some scenarios can result in physical violence, injury, destruction of property and even murder.

A case in point is the tragic death in March 2016 of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe at Mbizana in Pondoland, who was leading opposition to the attempt by Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd to mine mineral sands at Xolobeni. Although the Hawks have not made any progress in their investigation into Radebe’s murder – this was confirmed by spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi last week – it’s widely believed that he was assassinated because of his opposition to the mining proposal.

And as recently as this month, two activists opposing the relocation of a community in KwaDube in KwaZulu-Natal, supposedly to accommodate onshore mining operations between Mthunzini and Richards Bay, were also shot dead execution-style within days of each other.

Murray Hunter of the Right2Know Campaign says threats and attacks from mining companies are part of a bigger trend of corporations trying to bully their critics into silence. “We know from bitter experience that those who go up against big-money mining projects often face worse than threats in the end.”

And Melissa Fourie of the Cape Town-based Centre for Environmental Rights – one of the main targets of the Yzermyn invective – says it’s a common pattern in South Africa. “Within our network of environmental rights activists and defenders, we see threats and intimidation of activists every day, most of these not reported or recorded.”

Neither Tripathi nor Nene responded to a question by this writer when asked whether they considered their respective tweets and/or Facebook posts to be inflammatory or possibly fuelling tensions with potentially dangerous consequences.

However, Tripathi responded on social media to a letter that was sent to Atha Africa’s attorney by the Centre for Environmental Rights, drawing attention to Tripathi’s “inaccurate and defamatory” statements about the Centre. The Centre’s letter noted: “Particularly concerning is that some statements are threatening, and have the potential to incite violence.”

On Twitter, Tripathi accused the CER of being defamatory and of “costing South Africa tens of thousands of jobs and development opportunities” – “The responsibility sits on you,” he charged.

On 5 July, Nene posted a statement on Facebook: “If it’s war they want, it (sic) war they will get”, and added a response to several replies to this statement: “They are busy blocking development that’s suppose to change the life’s. They should just return the damn land once, & they should refrain from threatening us with civil war or economic meltdown.”

Jen Gleason of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide says attacks on people who stand up for vulnerable communities and the environment are on the rise around the world, and that her organisation works with public interest lawyers around the world who are putting themselves at risk daily.

“Powerful interests, inside and outside government, use violence, threats, prosecution, slander, regulatory burdens and more to cut off those defending human rights,” she says. This exposes grass roots advocates “to great personal risk”.

Hunter of Right2Know says it rejects the “corporate bullyism” of Atha-Africa. “We need to protect… critical voices, not just for the sake of environmental governance, but to ensure that corporations working in South Africa respect free speech and freedom of association.” DM

In case you missed this series in The Guardian in the UK over the weekend – here is a section that features Xolobeni activist Nonhle Mbuthuma:
For those of you who haven’t seen this statement by R2K last week:

Mark Juergensmeyer
The Wire
21 July 2018

Without being a hatchet job, Michael Jerryson's latest book makes it clear that, like all religious traditions, Buddhism wears many faces. 

Buddhist monks take part in a protest in Yangon in Myanmar in 2015. Credit: Soe Zela Tun/Reuters

What is there about Buddhism that leads so naturally to violence? This is a question that I posed to a group of startled policy professionals in Washington DC at a seminar where the topic was Muslim violence. The question for the session was to explain what about Islam seemed to lead naturally to acts of bloodshed.

But how about Buddhism, I asked. If they could explain to me what there was about Buddhism that could lead angry followers of the 969 Movement in Myanmar and the Bodu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka to attack and kill innocent Muslims — even setting fire to their homes and burning them alive — then maybe I could explain the violence related to Islam, and for that matter Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Violence related to religion, it seems, is an equal opportunity employer. No religious tradition is free from its awful touch.

In an arresting and well researched book, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road: Buddhism, Politics, and Violence, Michael Jerryson has taken up my question about Buddhism. What he has found is that Buddhists texts, legends and tradition have justified and promoted particular acts of violence, usually legitimised as defending the faith. In that sense it is no different than any other religious tradition.

This is a startling conclusion in large part because of our superficial assumptions about the Buddhist tradition. We have been persuaded that the dictum of nonviolence is absolute and universal throughout Buddhist societies.

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road: Buddhism, Politics, and Violence
Michael K. Jerryson
Oxford University Press, 2018

Because we assume that Buddhism is by nature nonviolent, the famous saying that provides the title of Jerryson’s book is mean to be startling: “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This comment, attributed to the ninth-century Chinese Buddhist monk Linji Yixuan, is meant to be ironic. Why would an apostle of nonviolence be killed, and why would a faithful follower want to kill him?

The answer that is usually given is a metaphorical one. You must destroy the notion of a physical Buddha outside oneself in order to seek enlightenment, and instead look to the Buddha within.

It is a comforting response and a way of domesticating the disturbing image of violence associated with the central figure of a major faith. Yet it is no different than the Christian insistence of displaying prominently on church altars or even as jewellery to be worn around the neck an execution device – a cross, often with the dying Jesus still nailed to it, oozing life. Similarly, pious Hindus will see bloody images of Shiva’s destruction to be restorative, and Sikhs who portray images of battle and severed heads in martyrdom will understand this to be testimonies to faith. Religious traditions portray violence as a way of conquering it.

Yet the violent images persist. They present a counterpoint to the insistence of the leaders of every religious tradition that their mission is ultimately only about peace. And sometimes they can be associated with real acts of violence..

Recently I was in the town of Mandalay in Myanmar where I was able to interview Ashin Wirathu, the fiery Buddhist monk who has incited riots against Muslims, and who was portrayed on the cover of Time magazine with the caption “the Buddhist face of terror.” At first he was all smiles. 

“Do I look like a terrorist,” he asked me, chuckling at what he knew would be the answer.

“Yes,” I wanted to say, “you look like all of the other terrorists I’ve interviewed, totally banal.”

But I didn’t say that, since I wanted to hear his take on the situation. “Why,” I wanted to know, “were his Buddhist followers so violence?”

“We Buddhists believe in nonviolence,” he said carefully, as if speaking to a small child. And then he launched into a lengthy discourse on the nonviolence of Buddhist teachings.

Again I asked him my question, and again he repeated his insistence on the nonviolence of the Buddhist tradition.

“But sometimes Buddhism has to be defended,” I suggested.

“Yes,” he agreed.

Finding an opening I plunged on. “Defended from whom,” I asked?

“From its enemies – those Muslims,” he shouted, his voice rising. This began a lengthy rant about the threat of Muslim culture and people to the religious and ethnic purity of Burmese Buddhism.

Michael Jerryson. Courtesy: YSU Philosophy and Religious Studies

“Look at the map of the world,” he said, explaining that “there is a great expanse of Christianity and Islam, but only a tiny speak of Burmese Buddhism.” And then he added darkly, “and it is threatened with being forever dashed away.”

He spoke of Burmese Buddhism as if it were a separate religion, though it is as much an ethnicity as it is a religious tradition. In Wirathu’s mind, he was protecting both a community of people as well as the purity of Buddhist teachings, and he and his fire-brand followers saw themselves engaged in a fight to the death.

In Jerryson’s book about Buddhist violence he discusses Wirathu and the role that the figure of a monk plays in legitimising public roles and actions. He notes that Wirathu does not try to justify his prejudice against Muslims through scripture or tradition, other than the implication carried in the name of the movement, 969, that he is defending the nine qualities of the Buddha himself, the six principles of Dhamma, and the nine special attributes of the Sangha.

But, as Jerryson points out, the very presence of a monk taking such a position gives it credibility. What Jerryson describes as “monastic cultural authority” carries as much or more weight than scripture in most Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhist societies. As Jerryson puts it, “cultural authority trumps orthodoxy” (Jerryson, p. 185).

Not all forms of Buddhist violence involve attacks on Muslim shops and homes, setting fire to the buildings, and burning people alive. Nor is the tragic plight of the Rohingya, the displaced persons of northwestern Myanmar, the only instance of victims of a rampant Buddhist cultural violence.

Jerryson also explores forms of Buddhist violence – the violence employed by Buddhists against other Buddhists, for instance. He examines the way that Buddhist religious precepts have been used to marginalise and control women. And he also looks at the role of state-sanctioned violence where Buddhist precepts are used to justify punishment, violent control, and warfare.

His approach is respectful to the tradition, and his book is not a hatchet job. Jerryson is not blaming Buddhism for the violence committed in its name, any more than one might blame Christianity for the murderous assault of Andres Breivik on a youth camp in Norway, or Hinduism for the riots against Muslims in Ahmedabad. He is simply pointing out what is increasingly becoming obvious to everyone, that Buddhism is no different from any other religion in the way that some of its adherents justify their violence in its name.

Perhaps nowhere has Buddhism been more closely aligned with militant state policy than in Thailand. In an earlier book of Jerryson’s, the cover photo portrayed a young Buddhist monk, standing on the open area of a Buddhist monastery, defending it with what appears to be a loaded revolver that he is holding in his hand.

When this picture was portrayed in a review of the book that appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement, the outcry was deafening. “How could this be?” asked angry readers of the TLS, “since as everyone knows Buddhism is the religion of nonviolence?”

Though everyone may think that they know this, because of Jerryson’s work, including this most recent addition to his impressive ouvre on Buddhist-related violence, we also know that the truth is more complicated than our popular assumptions.. Like all religious traditions, Buddhism wears many faces.   

Mark Juergensmeyer is a professor of sociology and global studies, affiliate professor of religious studies, and the Kundan Kaur Kapany professor of global and Sikh Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Opponents adopt each other’s policy angles as left launches movement to counter AfD

Philip Oltermann
The Guardian
22 July 2018

Die Link’s chairwoman, Sahra Wagenknecht, will spearhead the as yet unnamed populist movement. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Leftwing politicians are singing the praises of border control while rightwingers call for expanding the welfare state. Old political certainties could be turned upside down in Germany this summer as the far ends of the country’s political spectrum both moot a “national social” turn.

A new leftwing movement soft-launching in Germany in August aims to part ways with what one of its founders calls the “moralising” tendency of the left, in an attempt to win back working-class voters from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

The as-yet-unnamed new populist movement, partly inspired by the British Labour party’s Momentum and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, and spearheaded by the leftwing party Die Linke’s chairwoman, Sahra Wagenknecht, will include former and current members of the Social Democratic and Green parties, and prominent academics such as the sociologist Wolfgang Streeck.

According to one of the movement’s founders, its defining feature is likely to be its adherence to “the materialist left, not the moral left”.

“When people live in social conditions that make them feel secure, they are usually prepared to act generously and tolerantly,” said Bernd Stegemann, an author and dramatist at the prestigious Berliner Ensemble theatre who is working with Wagenknecht on the movement’s programme.

“When they live in increasingly precarious and atomised conditions, however, they are also likely to react to challenges in a tougher and colder manner. Brecht summarised it wonderfully. Grub comes first, then ethics.”

As well as rallying around traditional leftwing causes such as disarmament and a reversal of Germany’s Hartz IV labour market reforms, an unsigned position paper circulating around Berlin political circles in recent weeks suggests the movement will also advocate law and order policies and a tougher stance on immigration. “Open borders in Europe means more competition for badly paid jobs,” says the paper, which is headed “fairland”.

Stegemann, who is not a member of any political party, said he was frustrated with middle-class leftwing intellectuals lecturing working-class Germans for their sceptical reaction to Angela Merkel’s decisions at the height of the refugee crisis.

    We are dealing with an absurd situation when the winners of neoliberalism tell the losers that they must be more humane 

“We are dealing with an absurd situation when the winners of neoliberalism tell the losers that they must be more humane. And it galls me when politicians think it is enough to pass down moral judgments. No, politics must act.”

The launch of the new movement, which will start as an online forum where supporters can upload and visualise policy proposals, comes as the AfD is trying to win over disappointed Die Linke supporters in the former states of East Germany. It is doing so by occupying positions on social welfare usually associated with the left.

With three crucial state elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia coming up next year, east German branches of the AfD have started to part ways from the party’s economically liberal roots. A new pension plan unveiled this month by the Thuringian AfD MP Jürgen Pohl proposes stabilising pension levels at around 50% of earned income, outdoing proposals made by Die Linke, the Social Democrats or the Greens.

Non-Germans are largely excluded from the AfD’s newly discovered welfare initiatives. A proposed “state resident’s pension” of €190 a month could only be claimed by German citizens who have worked in the country for more than 35 years.
AfD politician says Germany should stop atoning for Nazi crimes
Read more

Björn Höcke, the far-right politician who has emerged as the leading architect of AfD’s “national social” identity in the east, has argued that “the German social question of the 21st century” is not primarily the redistribution of national wealth from top to bottom, or old to young, but “inside to outside”.

For both Die Linke and the AfD, the new “national social” formations – as a recent article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dubbed the new political initiative – face opposition from within their own parties. There are fears among the former’s strategists and activists that the new movement’s launch proper in early September could backfire and destroy Die Linke’s already low chances of entering parliament at Bavarian state elections in October.

Wagenknecht is a widely recognised politician whose rhetorical gifts have made hera regular presence on Germany’s political talkshows, but critics inside her own party say her popularity is an illusion. Unlike Labour’s Momentum, her new movement has so far mainly attracted older white men. In terms of policy, she runs counter to the successful socially liberal, pro-refugee Berlin branch of Die Linke, which is leading polls for state elections in 2021.

Inside Alternative für Deutschland, calls for higher pensions and rallying cries against labour market deregulation clash with the official positions of the party’s upper ranks, where its leader, Alice Weidel, advocates Swiss-style pension funds as the model for Germany to follow, and its deputy leader, Beatrix von Storch, rails against high taxes on Twitter.

New research, however, suggests that political realignments are not only taking place in party headquarters but across the country at large. Sociologist Klaus Dörre’s in-depth study of a new “workers’ movement on the right”, based on more than 70 interviews across Germany, reveals rapidly increasing support for the AfD’s “exclusive solidarity” among functionaries and members at Germany’s unions.

Manual workers who used to vote for the far right or far left in protestare increasingly solidifying their identification with the AfD, Dörre said. “They used to be a fluctuating protest movement, but now they follow the party line.”

One of the anonymous case studies quoted in the study, a previously “exemplary” union activist who had fought for solidarity with Czech temporary workers, expressed views that crossed over from “national social” to national socialism: “In my view, the refugees have to go away ... I wouldn’t have a problem if they opened up Buchenwald again, put barbed wire around it, them inside, us outside.”

Daniel Barenboim
July 22, 2018

The founding fathers of the State of Israel considered the principle of equality and the pursuit of peace as the bedrock of the society they were building. What happened?

[photo] Israeli right-wing activists shout slogans during a rally against a Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike, in Ashkelon, southern Israel. Aug. 16, 2015 AP

In 2004 I gave a speech at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in which I spoke about the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel. I called it "a source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis."

I went on to say that, "this remarkable document expressed the commitment: "The State of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people; it will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel; it will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex; it will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.""
On a road sign in the West Bank pointing to Jerusalem, the Arabic has been crossed out.

Those who want to delete Arabic as an official language in Israel should learn from the Revionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky.Motti Milrod

The founding fathers of the State of Israel who signed the Declaration considered the principle of equality as the bedrock of the society they were building. They also committed themselves, and us, "to pursue peace and good relations with all neighboring states and people."

70 years later, the Israeli government has just passed a new law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism.
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It fills me with deep sorrow that I must today ask the very same questions which I asked 14 years ago when addressing the Knesset:  Can we ignore the intolerable gap between what the Declaration of Independence promised and what was fulfilled, the gap between the idea and the realities of Israel?

Does the condition of occupation and domination over another people fit the Declaration of Independence? Is there any sense in the independence of one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other?

Can the Jewish people whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighboring people?
A Palestinian woman holds Kuwaiti flag during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, June 1, 2018.
A Palestinian woman holds Kuwaiti flag during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, June 1, 2018. Khalil Hamra/AP

Can the State of Israel allow itself an unrealistic dream of an ideological end to the conflict instead of pursuing a pragmatic, humanitarian one based on social justice?

14 years later, I still believe that despite all the objective and subjective difficulties, the future of Israel and its position in the family of enlightened nations will depend on our ability to realize the promise of the founding fathers as they canonized it in the Declaration of Independence. 

Yet, nothing has really changed since 2004. Instead, we now have a law that confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens. It therefore is a very clear form of apartheid.

I don’t think the Jewish people survived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, on order to now become the oppressors, inflicting cruelty on others. This new law does exactly that.

That is why I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.

Daniel Barenboim is general music director of La Scala, the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Together with the late Edward Said he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians. 

Walking the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela - Invention of Tradition with the backing of the Catholic Church and the EU. General Franco would be happy.

Ivan Krastev
The Guardian
11 July 2018

The breakup of Yugoslavia fed the belief that flag-waving leads to bloodshed. But this eroded support for the centre ground and fuelled ethnic-based intolerance

Women brave Sarajevo’s ‘Sniper Alley’ in 1992. The Bosnian capital was under siege for four years during the Yugoslav wars.

Residents of Sarajevo brave ‘Sniper Alley’ in 1992. The Bosnian capital was under siege for four years during the Yugoslav wars. Photograph: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images

‘I’ve only ever been afraid of signs and symbols, never of people and things,” wrote the Romanian novelist Mihail Sebastian at the start of For Two Thousand Years, the marvellous 1934 book that captures his country’s suffocating atmosphere of antisemitism and toxic nationalism between the two world wars. Today in Europe and the US there’s a lot of talk about the 1930s returning, as fears of rising nationalism take hold. But here’s the paradox: several studies show that nationalistic attitudes, particularly anti-migration sentiment, haven’t changed much in the past 20 years. People have always been uncomfortable with the idea of foreigners settling in their country.

So the question isn’t so much about where nationalism has come from but where it’s been hiding all these years. What is there about ethno-nationalism now that rallies voters, but hasn’t done so before? Is it enough to point to the impact of the 2008-2010 financial crisis, combined with the shock caused by the refugee crisis? Might there be another, less obvious explanation?

Earlier this year, in an exhibition in Sofia by the Bulgarian artist Luchezar Boyadjiev, I came across the perfect visualisation of what has long been the politically correct version of European history. Titled On Holiday, it showed the famous statue, on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard, of the Prussian leader Frederick the Great on horseback – only without the king on the horse’s back. By removing the rider, the artist had transformed the monument of a national hero into a monument of a horse. All the complexities attached to an important but morally controversial figure of the past were suddenly eliminated. There was a double irony to Boyadjiev’s work, directed both to those who expect to see their national leaders on the horseback, and those who hope to rewrite history by simply removing a king.

What Boyadjiev was perhaps unaware of is that when historical heroes are taken off their horses, current political leaders will be tempted to jump on. This is exactly what’s happened in central Europe in recent years. Rightwing political hegemony in such countries as Poland and Hungary is the direct outcome of a void left by the divorce between liberalism and nationalism in the late 1990s.

Remember how nationalists and liberals were allies in the overthrow of communism in 1989. Central European liberals were aware of the political appeal of post-communist nationalism, so they did a lot to shape it and soften it. Appealing to national sentiment was critically important as a way of mobilising society against the communist regimes. Poland’s Solidarity movement was not liberal, but a mixed – social and nationalist – coalition that endorsed the values of liberal democracy.

    Central Europeans feel threatened not by migrants but by the void left by emigration over the last decade 

This alliance between nationalists and liberals came to an end during the Yugoslav wars. The violent breakup of the country persuaded liberals that nationalism was the very heart of darkness, and that flirting with it could only be sinful. Those dramatic events silenced nationalists, or made them less audible – at least for a while. The Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, a former communist, became the odious symbol of post-1989 nationalism. Unwilling to share a label with him, central and eastern Europe’s nationalist-minded politicians, most of whom were strongly anti-communist, became more muted. Their brand of nationalism simply could not speak its name.

The Yugoslav wars made it impossible for liberals to define liberalism as anything but anti-nationalism. Over time, however, the equating of liberalism with anti-nationalism came at a cost. It eroded electoral support for liberal parties, making them totally dependent on the success of economic reforms and depriving them of powerful nationalist symbols. Meanwhile, an undeclared war between liberals and nationalists led to moderate nationalists being pushed to the illiberal camp.

The example of Germany played a role. Central and eastern European liberals wanted societies to cope with their past much in the same way Germany had coped with its own. But was it realistic to expect that after 1989, we would all become Germans?

Postwar German democracy was built on the assumption that nationalism leads ineluctably to nazism. As a result, any expression of ethno-nationalism came close to being criminalised – even the national flag at football games was viewed with suspicion. Germany’s radical approach isn’t difficult to understand, given the exceptional nature of the Nazi legacy it had to deal with. But the attempt to transfer this to central Europe was bound to backfire.

That’s because central and eastern states were children of the age of nationalism that followed the breakup of Europe’s empires. But unlike German nationalists in 1945, central European nationalists in 1989 felt they’d come out the winners, not the losers, of the last war – in this case the cold war. In that sense, to “become German” was impossible: most Poles felt it absurd to stop honouring nationalist-minded leaders who had risked their lives to defend Poland against Hitler or Stalin.

Today we see the result. In the 19th century, and again in the 1970s and 80s, liberals and nationalists were able to shape a common platform – one that was inclusive, rooted in a culture of individual rights, and centred around a sense of national pride. But today’s central European nationalism has been narrowed down to ethnicism, fuelled by demographic fears and anxieties over Europe’s changing role in the world. Central European nations feel threatened not so much by migrants (who are in fact reluctant to settle in their countries) but by the void left in communities by the economic emigration over the last decade of so many of their citizens, creating a feeling of collective loss in those left behind.

Liberals may dream of defeating nationalism just as nationalism itself helped defeat communism. But that hope is fast turning into political tragedy – because while communism was a radical political experiment based on abolishing private property, nationalism – in one form or another – is an organic part of any democratic political scene. Acknowledging this must surely be part of addressing its growing influence.

• Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria; and permanent fellow at the IWM Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria

Neal Ascherson
London Review of Books
Vol. 40 No. 14 · 19 July 2018
pages 23-26 | 3670 words

Neal Ascherson was the Observer’s Central European correspondent in the 1960s, reporting from Bonn.

 My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File by Katherine Verdery
    Duke, 344 pp, £20.99, May, ISBN 978 0 8223 7081 9

Somewhere – probably in Dumfries – there must have been a secret file on ‘Burns, Robt (cover code Mossgiel). Exciseman. Adverse trace: sympathy for French Revolution. Subject is sensitive and promiscuous. See verses passim.’ Politics were one thing, but did he ever long to read what government spies thought of him as a person? ‘O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us!’ Today, several ‘Pow’rs’ are giving it, in many countries and sometimes in bulk. But their disconcerting ‘giftie’ is not at all what Burns meant.

In Germany, the Pow’r is called the Stasi Records Agency. In Poland, it’s the Instytut Pamieçi Narodowej – the Institute of National Remembrance. In Bulgaria, it’s the Dossier Commission; in Romania, the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), and so on. In those files, as I found from my own Polish dossier, it’s not only a younger half-forgotten self that you meet. It is also an unrecognisable stranger – yourself, as others have seen you. For nearly thirty years, hundreds of thousands of people have been reading their secret police files, the records of surveillance, denunciation and manipulation compiled by the spooks of communist Europe. Some archives, like the Stasi files in Germany, stay open. Some open and then hurriedly close again when the political weather changes. Some are clutched tight by governments which only use them to blacken or blackmail their opponents. But all these files contain secret portraits: women or men seen as others see them. These portraits may be the result of years of painstaking, insanely minute watching and eavesdropping by one or several security teams. Almost always, much of their detail comes from informers. Some informers won’t be identifiable. Some may be fictional, invented by idle security officers bumping up their expenses. But some will turn out to be the reader’s intimately trusted friends or lovers.

Nobody, I think, remains quite the same after reading their file. The first and best-known account of the experience in English is Timothy Garton Ash’s The File (1997), and near the end of that wise and sensitive book, he tells himself: ‘My new principle of As If is … try to live in this free country as if the Stasi were always watching you … can you live so you would not be embarrassed’ by reading your file? After reading my Polish file a few years ago, I would add: ‘From now on, can you live as if you were even for a moment unnoticed, out of sight, out of earshot, and truly alone?’

Katherine Verdery was a young, high-spirited American when she arrived in Romania in 1973, a Stanford postgraduate intending to research an anthropology thesis on Romanian village life. She came as a bit of a leftie, 1968 vintage, inclined to mock the superstitious anti-communism current in the United States. She came with bounding American optimism about ‘people’: if you were transparent and honest and friendly, said what you thought and trusted your new friends, then nothing could go badly wrong. In Ceauşescu’s Romania? Poor Kathy!

She was to work in that country, on and off, for 15 years. Over that time she learned a Romanian so fluent that she was often taken for a local and acquired wonderfully intimate knowledge of the way rural communities in her part of Romania were structured. Through sometimes heartbreaking experience, and through very hard work, she slowly learned to love and understand this extraordinary nation. She also learned, not least through reading her own Securitate file afterwards, new and unexpected ways to understand herself.

The Securitate found her suspicious in several successive ways. At first they thought she had been tasked with military spying. The reason was simple: in her first carefree months, she had flown past warning notices on her motorbike and entered a forbidden zone (it contained a secret arms factory). The Securitate opened a special file on her, a DUI (‘dossier of informational pursual’). Then she settled into the village of Aurel Vlaicu, in southern Transylvania, where her many contacts and friendships made the Securitate wonder if she was assembling evidence to blacken the name of Romania in the outside world. At this time, in the 1970s, Romania was adopting a relatively relaxed attitude to Western contacts, hoping to win hard-currency loans and diplomatic support against Soviet pressure. But in the 1980s, as the country went effectively bankrupt and East-West relations temporarily worsened, the regime returned to its old paranoia. A lapsed law requiring all contacts with Western foreigners to be reported came back into force. The Securitate tightened its grip.

Verdery was now spending much time in the city of Cluj, where she had formed a passionate friendship with the historian David Prodan. The Securitate meanwhile had decided that with a name like Verdery she must be an ethnic Hungarian (quite wrong: the family roots were French), and therefore had been planted to encourage subversion among the disaffected Magyar minority in Transylvania. Nonetheless, initially they rather admired her new friendship. Prodan’s telephone was permanently tapped and his flat bugged; the transcribing officer wrote that ‘Everyone is completely relaxed; K evidently feels good, she likes the flattery, she’s attentive, polite and deferential … They complete one another reciprocally, with humour and good taste.’
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By 1984 the spooks’ benevolent mood had changed. Verdery was starting a new project about ‘the formation of national ideology’, and they hated that. A new DUI was issued, with suggestions on how to obstruct her research and ‘lose’ her notes. Microphones were screwed into the walls of her Cluj hotel room, and a hidden video camera was trained on her bed. (Luckily it recorded nothing worse than views of her in her underclothes.)

But then this ‘Hungarian agent of the CIA’ made a dreadful mistake, with long-lasting consequences. Her first book was a social history of Vlaicu within Transylvania, and she decided to lighten it with two jokes about ethnic stereotypes – in which Romanians figured as ‘clever thieves’. Disaster! In spite of knowing the country so well, she had completely underestimated national touchiness: almost everyone she knew took violent offence. Even Professor Prodan was ‘absolutely livid’, and it took months of argument and weeping to restore friendship between them. It also genuinely upset the Securitate in Cluj. They had hoped that ‘Vera’ (one of her many codenames) was learning to love Romania, but they now proposed to ‘interrupt her stay in this country’ and opened more surveillance files.

Her files revealed that her case went all the way up to General Julian Vlad, soon to be head of the Securitate. The matter of ‘Vera’ was judged ‘very important’, and yet – for reasons not clear – she was allowed to remain. Intense pressure to inform on her activities was now applied to all her contacts. But although she knew she was being watched, Verdery made another mistake: she tried to organise a clandestine meeting with friends in Cluj, pretending it was a chance encounter. Here she was ignoring a basic rule. You may think you are more intelligent than the spooks – and you are often right. But never, ever imagine that you are smarter. They knew what she was up to before she even started, and her file thickened.

Near the end of her stay, not long before the Ceauşescu regime collapsed in late 1989, she spent time in Bucharest and got to know some prominent ‘dissident’ intellectuals. This earned her yet another hostile designation: CIA agent ‘Vera’ was now conspiring with active and open enemies of the state. Preparations to arrest and perhaps to put her on trial seem to have begun. By now she was suffering from depression and fits of paranoid distress. Her grants administrator (another snitch, needless to say) told his Secu handler that ‘she finds herself in a state of collapse, is really panicked by the fact that we have picked up on some of her games, and she reacts violently.’ And yet, in the end, nothing happened to her. She was allowed to leave the country, returning only after the December 1989 revolution had overthrown the communist state.

Verdery was fortunate. And yet this story suggests that the Securitate came to find her almost too interesting to arrest or expel. Her file, when she was allowed to read it, was almost three thousand pages long. Compiling it, counting not only the watchers on foot or in cars but the transcribers of telephone calls and microphone recordings, the electronic technicians, the recruiters of local informers, the case assessors and their staff, gave work to literally hundreds of men (and a few women) over many years. Verdery reckons that there were probably almost half a million informers in Romania, while the Securitate itself numbered some fifteen thousand. For comparison, the Stasi – in a smaller country – had 93,000 full employees and 178,000 registered informers.

By the end, the Securitate felt that they had got to know ‘Vera’ (aka ‘Folklorista’ or ‘Vanessa’) very well, and they even approved of some of her opinions. Counter-intelligence services in Soviet Europe usually had both negative and positive aims. The default assumption was that a Western visitor was a spy of some kind, so the first task was to find out what sort of spy he or she was and deal with it. But if spying inquiries led nowhere much, the other task was to influence the visitor positively. That meant invisibly manipulating the foreigner’s contacts in order to sell a friendly, understanding attitude to the country’s policies, even to leave the visitor with affection and respect for the nation itself – if not for its political system.

Almost more than anything, the Securitate wanted Verdery to love Romania. Looking at my own file, I can see how often my ‘offences’ – meeting ‘hostile elements’ or writing articles mocking communist repression and censorship – were noted but tolerated because the Security Service judged that my affection for the Polish nation was real – and probably exploitable. In both ‘services’, old-fashioned patriotism could still sidle past ideology and sometimes past political security. Verdery considers that ‘Ceauşescu’s regime was not “totalitarian”, but struggled to impose itself on the populace, with only partial success.’

With a professional interest in psychology and in the development of her own inner life, Verdery seizes the chance offered by her file to explore her identity. Who was the young woman perceived by the Securitate? Could the identity they constructed actually be more authentic than the person Verdery thought she remembered? She had known of course that she was under secret scrutiny. But she had no idea of the enormous scale of the operation, of the omnipresence of this invisible army of watchers and listeners crowding around her. Perhaps they really did know more about her than she knew herself. Perhaps that ‘Vera’ really was a spy. Wasn’t ethnographic research a form of spying?

It’s deeply unnerving to realise that a team of men and women who have been studying you intimately for years know you by another name. Verdery’s avatar was called ‘Vera’; mine was ‘Grzegorz’ or ‘Cyklista’ (the Cyclist). And Katherine Verdery did indeed become a different person. But, as she puts it, this was because ‘an inner Romanian’ emerged and liberated her. She took emotional risks, followed impulses, lived dangerously as she would never have done back home. ‘Part of my new persona,’ she writes, ‘was an expanded sexuality – expanded in the sense of both kinds of partners and frequency of sexual activity … I was sexy, with a lot of vitality, and many Romanian men found me attractive; if the attraction was mutual, I was probably willing.’

This was reckless. Verdery tried to prevent thoughts of microphones from inhibiting her private life, not realising quite how efficient her watchers were. They instantly identified almost all her lovers (some of whom they probably planted), and studied the recorded bedroom noises. Czech or Polish officers would probably have used this material to blackmail her in some way, but the Romanians, interestingly, didn’t. Instead, ‘the Securitate could colonise my sexuality to gain new traction among populations where I lived.’ When persuading some friend to inform on her, they would reel off a list of her lovers in order to impress him or her with their omniscience. ‘My sexual habits were a way of giving them power over their own informer network, not to mention over the people I slept with.’

How does a file-reader, leafing through their reports in such a different political epoch, judge those informers? In post-communist times, both Garton Ash and Verdery tracked down some of them and even interviewed Stasi and Secu officers who had run their cases. Garton Ash apparently had five informers; Verdery, over a much longer period, acquired more than seventy. Both show mercy and still conceal some names; there’s no lust for ‘outing’. While Garton Ash’s book was concerned largely with finding the truth about what those individuals had done and penetrating their lies, Verdery is asking not so much ‘what’ as ‘why’. How could they justify betraying someone who trusted them? What did they tell themselves about their activity?

In my own file, the informer reports held little mystery. I knew them all, I had assumed they would be required to inform, and with one exception, found their informing harmless. Once spotted by the SB (Security Service), friends were invited to regular ‘chats’ with a Captain Kowalski, but all they told him was concocted lullaby: yes, Ascherson adored Poland, and no, he was too dumb to be a spy, and no, they had no idea who his other friends were, and he never asked about secrets. I knew they would have to do this, though we didn’t talk about it. My thought at the time was that they reckoned it was an ugly price worth paying, in order to keep in touch with somebody bringing news and views and fresh air from the West. No big deal. But today ‘true Poles’ who weren’t even born then pretend to see them as ‘collaborators’. (Only one friend turned out to have asked the SB for money, in return for inventing me as an experienced British spy. The scribbled notes on his report show that his handler thought he was just a lying con man.)

In the same way the recent fuss about Julia Kristeva boils down to nothing much, although it has suited some to inflate it into a fearful scandal. Bulgarian security files from the communist period log her as an ‘agent’ and a ‘secret collaborator’. But the reality shown in her files is trivial. After settling in Paris in 1965, she was cornered by Bulgarian spooks who pointed out to her that she still had a vulnerable family in the home country. So she agreed to regular meetings over many years, in the course of which she seems to have told her handlers nothing more than gossip about Aragon, Bataille & Co. from the Left Bank cafés – stuff they could have read in Le Canard enchaîné. Surveillance dogged everything she did and everyone she met, but the combined intelligence value of its product and her reports was almost zero. The Bulgarian security men seem to have known they were being played. But never mind: they could impress their boss by showing him a real international celeb on their books, while expense-account meals with Kristeva at the Closerie des Lilas must have been agreeable.

Verdery’s discoveries were far more painful. Men and women she had really trusted, in some cases loved, and with whom she had formed a warm intimacy through long hard times, had been informing on her continuously and voluminously, and at times telling damaging lies to impress the Secu. A few years after reading her file, she went back to Romania and told some of those friends that ‘she knew’. But why did they do it, why?

The meetings with one ‘beloved friend’ she calls ‘Beniamin’ were agonising. But Verdery decided to understand him as a victim, and to see ‘his informing not as a betrayal but as a cause of suffering for him’. He was scared, and also had the instinct to do a job – even the informer’s job – properly. ‘I am moved by his relative innocence and youth. He presents himself as fearful, and I believe it.’ The beloved woman she calls ‘Mariana’ reacted differently, at first apologetic, then almost belligerent. ‘I never felt I was an informer,’ she said, and later: ‘What a lot of harm you caused me!’ True enough: if Kathy had not been close to her, the Secu man would not have put unbearable pressure on Mariana to inform and keep informing. After days of confessing and discussing, broken by sleepless nights, Mariana and Kathy eventually reached something like reconciliation. But Verdery reflects: ‘Like viruses corrupting a healthy organism, Securitate practices subverted positive sentiment and turned it into guilt, rejection and avoidance, making me feel guilty for having loved my friends and for not protecting them enough.’

She predicts that Romanians today will be irritated by her inclination to forgive her informers as victims of the system. They will protest that as a foreigner, she can afford to be lofty and magnanimous. As Romanians who must live with these people, they cannot. (Polish attitudes are much the same.) But Verdery is right to emphasise the suffering of the informers, and their lasting sense of shame and contamination. And to me her book suggests that I may have overlooked this pain in my Polish informers. I wanted to take at face value their jaunty composure, as they fed their interrogator harmless garbage. But I begin to realise more clearly now how humiliated they must have felt.

Verdery’s meeting years later with some of her old Secu handlers confused her. She was shocked to discover not only that one or two of them were likeable, but that she actually wanted to like them. She describes her ‘intense emotional response to my officers’ – a variant of Stockholm Syndrome. She set out to confront and accuse. But ‘what has happened instead is that they have recruited me! – not to inform but to see them more positively.’ They were persuasive. Did we ever do you any real harm? They contrasted their methods with the police terror during the 1950s, when the Securitate killed, tortured, and drove thousands to be worked to death in labour camps. ‘The view of Secu cruelty, well represented by my officers,’ she writes, ‘was that in those days the organisation was full of Hungarians, Jews and Russians; getting rid of those people brought to the surface sweet and intelligent, non-brutish Romanian Secus.’ With surprising understatement she adds: ‘This kind of nationalist explanation for all manner of issues has always bothered me in my Romanian friends.’
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Nothing is morally simple in this wonderfully candid, observant and diligently self-questioning account. Cold War ‘empire of fear’ descriptions don’t quite fit Verdery’s Romania. And the ‘overthrow of communist terror by righteous democracy’? As she says, Romania today is to a large extent run by people who can be called the ‘heirs of communism’, including secret police veterans. Verdery writes: ‘As elsewhere in the former communist bloc, ex-securişti have been at the forefront of Romania’s communist-era elites in privatising and plundering its economy.’ The Securitate didn’t exactly burn away in the fire of freedom: it lay low for a while, but then most of the officers below pension age were re-hired into the new SRI intelligence service. It’s worth adding that they have carried on the same kind of work at home and in foreign countries. The novelist Herta Müller, who had escaped to the West, found that even after the fall of communism the SRI continued to spy on her in Germany, and to recruit informers. Are they still spying on Professor Verdery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore? Probably.

The crowning mercy of human relations is that we don’t know what other people are really thinking about us. They – those others – decide what redacted selection we are offered. But to read one’s police file is – suddenly – to have the curtain pulled open. The self you think you know becomes a mask, concealing a devious somebody else whose relationships are mere espionage fakes.

Verdery ends this unforgettable book by warning of ‘new forms of statecraft promising greater security through ever heightened surveillance that are developing worldwide’. How was it that Britain, of all countries, allowed a secret counter-intelligence service to take control of appointments to the main national broadcaster – the BBC? What is the difference between that, or the secret mass harvesting of political profiles by Cambridge Analytica, and the bugging of Verdery’s bedroom in Cluj?

The big difference, plainly, is that in a liberal democracy we can launch investigative journalism against MI5 and stay free, whereas we might have perished in a labour camp for trying the same with the Securitate. But the new surveillance world means that everyone can now be shadowed by invisible robots, by doppelgängers fitted together by algorithms. Many will have several of them. Every Katherine will have her ‘Vera’ and ‘Folklorista’ padding silently along beside Professor Verdery. Every Neal will be accompanied by his unseen ‘Grzegorz’ or ‘Cyklista’, both – now that politics and the market use the tools of secret intelligence – scented like night-flowers to attract buzzing vote-seekers or circling mortgage brokers. Those files told us that we had never walked alone. Now we begin to see that we never will.


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