SACW - 4 Sept 2018 | Myanmar: Massacre / Bangladesh: Shahidul Alam / Pakistan: / India: crackdown; Blasphemy Law; Academic Freedom / Afghan War / Krishna Reddy / Vietnam seeks US reparations / Germans march for migrant rescue

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Mon Sep 3 16:20:09 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 4 Sept 2018 - No. 2998 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Massacre in Myanmar - A Reuters Special Report
2. India: Text of Open Letter from Former Civil Servants to Punjab CM on Expansion of Blasphemy Laws
3. India: Shrinking Academic Freedoms - books Dropped From Delhi University’s history reading list
4. ‘We don’t have any fear’: India’s angry young men and its lynch mob crisis | Annie Gowen
5. India: Reminiscing ABVA’s Struggle for Gay Rights in the Twentieth Century – A Brief History of That Time | Shobha Aggarwal
6. Recent on Communalism Watch:
- Bhima Koregaon: The man who lodged FIR against Mevani and Khalid is distancing himself from ABVP
- India: For Sanatan Sanstha, all’s fair in the war for a Hindu Rashtra
- India: Hindutva extremists planned the assassination of Gauri Lankesh a year before
- India: How did the RSS become an organization with networks in every corner of the country?
- 4500-year-old DNA from Rakhigarhi reveals evidence that will unsettle Hindutva nationalists
- India: Wink not blasphemous or insult to religion, says Supreme Court
- If Pakistan shuns the term ‘Ancient India’ in its history books, is it entirely to blame? Haroon Khalid
- Can India's Patriotism Be Built on Accepting Differences?
- Hindu right wing group Sanatan Sanstha planned blast at Pune Sunburn festival - an annual electronic dance music festival
- India: Uttarakhand HC bans fatwas after panchayat asks rape victim to leave village
- Hiren Gohain: “popular political consensus” as the only guarantee for peace and normalcy in Assam 

::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
7. Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka gets six years' jail in contempt case
8. British artists join fight for release of Bangladeshi photojournalist / Shahidul files petition for HC bail
9. Indus water breakthrough - Editorial, Dawn
10. When Pakistani and Indian soldiers dance | Kamran Yousaf
11. Myanmar: Guilty verdict against Reuters journalists sends stark warning on press freedom
12. Bangladesh: Cabinet approves draft law to soften trade union regulations
13. The Afghan War Is No Place to Turn a Profit | Brad Taylor
14. India: An ecosystem of fear? Santosh Desai
15. India: No room to say ‘no’: The arrest of human rights activists is the arrest of democracy | Pritam Singh
16. India: The changing faces of the ‘Sangh parivar’ | Prayaag Akbar
17. India: BJP MPs want a men’s commission, say women are ruining marriages | Pragya Kaushika	
18. Fears about difference: Social media and the anxieties of democracies | Dipesh Chakrabarty
19. Krishna Reddy obituary | Oliver Basciano
20. The Religion of Whiteness Becomes a Suicide Cult | Pankaj Mishra
21. Germany’s politicians are now enabling the far right | Doris Akrap
22. Vietnam seeks US reparations for the chemical Agent Orange | Christina Lin 
23. Travelling to Find Out | Hanif Kureishi
24. Thousands rally in Germany to call for migrant rescue

On Sept. 2, Buddhist villagers and Myanmar troops killed 10 Rohingya men in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state. Reuters uncovered the massacre and has pieced together how it unfolded. During the reporting of this article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Myanmar police.

"The need of the hour is for all responsible stakeholders to act to reduce the space provided to religious fundamentalists of all kind – not open up space further to them."

Nandini Sundar’s Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar, 1854-2006 and Archana Prasad’s Against Ecological Romanticism: Verrier Elwin and the Making of an Anti-modern Tribal Identity recommended for removal by university’s standing committee on academic matters

If the news item appearing in Times of India on 30.08.2018 that the Standing Committee on Academic Affairs has suggested to the History department that Nandini Sundar’s Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar, 1854-2006 and Archana Prasad’s Against Ecological Romanticism: Verrier Elwin and the Making of an Anti-modern Tribal Identity should be removed from the reading list as the books are “unfit for students in DU” is true, it is a sad and shameful day for the Delhi University’s academic reputation.

It’s been a summer of rage in India. Dozens have been killed by lynch mobs, and extremist Hindus continue to assault and kill others, many of them Muslims. . . . India’s problem of male rage has roots beyond the strident Hindu nationalism embraced by the current government.

by Shobha Aggarwal
In the late eighties AIDS scare had gripped the country. ABVA (AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan/ AIDS Anti-Discrimination Movement) came into existence in 1988-1989 though it was formally christened later as more members joined the group.

- Bhima Koregaon: The man who lodged FIR against Mevani and Khalid is distancing himself from ABVP
- India: For Sanatan Sanstha, all’s fair in the war for a Hindu Rashtra
- India: Hindutva extremists planned the assassination of Gauri Lankesh a year before
- India: How did the RSS become an organization with networks in every corner of the country?
- 4500-year-old DNA from Rakhigarhi reveals evidence that will unsettle Hindutva nationalists
- India: Wink not blasphemous or insult to religion, says Supreme Court
- If Pakistan shuns the term ‘Ancient India’ in its history books, is it entirely to blame? Haroon Khalid
- Can India's Patriotism Be Built on Accepting Differences?
- Hindu right wing group Sanatan Sanstha planned blast at Pune Sunburn festival - an annual electronic dance music festival
- India: Uttarakhand HC bans fatwas after panchayat asks rape victim to leave village
- Hiren Gohain: “popular political consensus” as the only guarantee for peace and normalcy in Assam

-> available via:

::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
08 Aug 2018

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan court on Wednesday handed a six-year jail term to a Buddhist monk accused of inciting violence against Muslims, holding him guilty of contempt just months after he was convicted of intimidating the wife of a missing journalist.

The monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, leads the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or "Buddhist Power Force", which government ministers and Muslims have accused of stirring up violence against Muslims and Christians, allegations he has denied.

The court sentenced him to six years' rigorous imprisonment over a 2016 incident when Gnanasara interrupted a court hearing on the abduction of the journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, in which military intelligence officials were accused.

He shouted at the judge and lawyers because the military officials had not been given bail, and threatened Eknaligoda’s wife.

"The convict intentionally committed the offence to undermine the judiciary," Preethi Padman Surasena, the president of the court of appeal, said in delivering Wednesday's judgment, adding, "Found guilty of all charges beyond reasonable doubt."

The monk was convicted on four counts of contempt of court, receiving terms of four years each on the first and the second counts, six years on the third and five for the fourth, all to run concurrently.

A BBS official told Reuters the group would appeal against Wednesday's ruling.

"We feel there is an attempt by interested parties to have judicial process targeting Gnanasara, therefore, though we do not agree with the judgment, we accept the sentence, and we will appeal," said Dilantha Vithanage, the group's chief executive.

Gnanasara, who is being treated in hospital for an ailment, was not in court for the ruling. He has been on bail since filing an appeal against a conviction in a separate case on June 14.

In that case, he received two concurrent jail terms of six months, a fine of 1,500 rupees (US$9.39), and a compensation payment of 50,000 rupees (US$313) for having threatened the journalist's wife, Sandhya Eknaligoda.

Since 2014, the monk has faced accusations in cases regarding anti-Muslim violence, hate speech, and defaming the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

That year Gnanasara signed a pact with Myanmar's Ashin Wirathu, who once described himself as "the Burmese bin Laden", in what the duo called a bid to counter regional conversion efforts by Islamists.

(US$1=159.7000 Sri Lankan rupees)

(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
Source: Reuters


Niece of Shahidul Alam adds major names to letter demanding justice for crusading photographer
Vanessa Thorpe
The Observer
2 September 2018

Shahidul Alam was arrested in Dhaka on 5 August and remains in jail. Photograph: Alamy

Leading British artists and curators have stepped up pressure on the Bangladeshi government to release the crusading photographer Shahidul Alam from jail in Dhaka.

Creative voices, including the film-maker and artist Steve McQueen, the dancer and choreographer Akram Khan, and the artists Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor, have joined an international call for justice and transparency about Alam’s alleged crimes, ahead of a bail hearing scheduled for 3 September. A British exhibition of his work is also being planned in support of the cause.

On 5 August the 63-year-old, who launched his career in Britain, was abducted by more than 30 members of the Dhaka metropolitan police and arrested for damaging “the image of the nation”. The arrest follows the photographer’s vocal support for student protesters in the city, many of whom were also arrested after taking part in a demonstration in response to the killing of two students by a speeding bus.

An open letter written by his niece, the architect Sofia Karim, who lives in Britain, has garnered signatures from 47 leading names in the art world in just a week. “Alam’s crime, we are told, is to have contravened the Information and Communication Technology Act. Described as ‘draconian’ by Human Rights Watch, the act has become an infamous means of clamping down on freedom of expression in Bangladesh,” the letter reads. “Given that Bangladesh presents itself as a democracy, the state should respect the right of Dr Alam, and all other citizens, to freedom of expression. Instead, he has suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of the police and judicial system.”

Leading curators, such as the Tate’s Frances Morris, Nicholas Cullinan, the director of London’s National Portrait Gallery, Sarah Munro, director of Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and Sophie Wright of Magnum Photos, have also put their names behind the cause. “Freedom of speech, artistic expression and talking truth to power are vital barometers of civilisation. Whatever is done to one person against these central pillars of a fair and tolerant society is done to all of us,” said Cullinan.

“I always felt that artists would sign the letter, but it’s been very heartening that leaders of our largest cultural institutions have also publicly supported my uncle so warmly, simply from our personal appeals,” said Karim.

The morning after the arrest, Alam was produced in court, shouting that he had been assaulted and threatened with further violence. He was initially remanded for seven days, but then sent to prison before the week was up; neither Alam nor his lawyer was informed or called before the judge.

Alam’s photography focuses on exposing abuses of power, including images of the genocide of the 1971 Bangladeshi war of liberation. He has also chronicled the use of state death squads and the plight of the Rohingya refugees. He founded the picture agencies Drik and Majority World, and the photography school Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.

“When they told my uncle in jail that exhibitions around the world were being held for him, he smiled and said, ‘A big thank you’,” said Karim. “He is in great physical and mental pain at the moment.”

o o o

The Daily Star
August 30, 2018

Bangladeshi Photographer Shahidul Alam seeks high court bail Shahidul Alam. Photo Courtesy: Rahnuma Ahmed
Staff Correspondent

Internationally-acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam on Tuesday filed a bail petition with the High Court in a case against him under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.

Shahidul submitted the petition through his lawyers Sara Hossain and Jyotirmoy Barua.

The petition stated that he may be granted bail as he is physically ill, adding that he will, however, face the trial proceedings and, if granted bail, will not leave the country.

The HC may hold a hearing on the bail petition next week, his lawyers told The Daily Star yesterday.

Citing from the bail petition, Sarah said separate petitions were filed twice, with the lower courts concerned, seeking bail for Shahidul, but the courts hadn't allowed them to move the petitions.

The petition was included in yesterday's hearing list of the HC bench of Justice Md Ruhul Quddus and Khandaker Diliruzzaman.

Justice Ruhul told the lawyers that they (court judges) would examine the decisions of the HC and Appellate Division in such cases, and asked them to move Shahidul's bail petition next week.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam represented the government in the courtroom.

The photographer was sent behind bars on charges of “spreading propaganda and false information against the government”.

Shahidul, 63, was picked up by law enforcers on the night of August 5 from his home in the capital's Dhanmondi area.

The following day, he was placed on a seven-day remand after police had produced him before a court seeking a 10-day remand. He told the court that he was tortured in custody, but police denied the allegation.

Upon completion of his remand, he was sent to jail on August 13.

Meanwhile, Dr Pabitra Sarkar, former vice chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, and poet Subodh Sarkar, chairman Pashchimbanga Kabita Academy, criticised the Bangladesh government over the arrest of Shahidul Alam.

While speaking to The Daily Star on Tuesday, they said they hoped for Shahidul's quick release.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ICT affairs adviser and son Sajeeb Wazed Joy today called “appropriate” photographer Shahidul Alam's arrest and claimed that Shahidul had spread rumours instigating violence during last month's student protests for road safety, reports BSS.

In a signed article in the US-based RealClearPolitics (RCP) media outlet, Joy wrote that Shahidul was one of those responsible for turning a peaceful protest into a violent one.

He added Alam was arrested for “inciting violence, which, because of his celebrity [status] and despite the facts, led to an international outcry on his behalf.

“Police arrested Mr. Alam not because he held a contrary view but because his latest pronouncements caused real harm. Mr. Alam's words helped transformed a peaceful protest into lawless violence,” Joy wrote.

He added that hijacking a protest by young students and endangering their lives, along with those of many other Bangladeshis, was not politics but rather a form of terrorism.

September 1, 2018


After many years, a small but significant breakthrough seems to have been made in the talks between the Pakistani and Indian water commissioners.

The talks had been largely stalled since 2014 so the latest agreement by the Indian side to permit an inspection of two of the facilities being built on the Chenab river is a step forward. Even in the latest round of the Permanent Indus Commission talks, the first day seemed to lead to a cul-de-sac. It was only at the end of the second day that news of the breakthrough emerged.

It would have been better for both sides had they jointly briefed the media, or if that were not possible, issued a joint press release. Ending the talks without any public word is counterproductive as it creates an impression that runs contrary to the positive news emerging of an agreement for inspections. Now that it seems a deal has been struck for inspection, the next step is for Pakistan to make the most of the opportunity.

At issue are two hydropower projects that India is building on its side of the Chenab river whose waters belong to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty. The same treaty, however, gives India the right to build hydroelectric projects on the river provided that it does not divert water for agricultural purposes. One other project on the same river, the so-called Baglihar dam, had already been the subject of a bitter feud between the two countries around a decade ago when the matter was sent to a neutral expert for settlement. The results of that exercise were mixed, with both sides claiming victory once the neutral expert’s verdict came in.

The two projects this time round are the Pakal Dul dam and the Lower Kalnai hydroelectric project. The former is a large project totalling some 1,000MW, while the latter is smaller at about 48MW. But both of them involve the diversion of waters from tributaries that feed the Chenab, much like their cousin built on the Neelum river, the Kishenganga Dam.

This is a different design configuration that involves the diversion of water from one tributary to another to take advantage of the water head, but the same water is returned to the river at a different spot further downstream. As such, its technical evaluation becomes more difficult, and the Indian side should honour its agreement in full by allowing the Pakistani delegation to visit the entire area where the project is spread out.

Both sides should make an effort to ensure that resorting to arbitration is avoided. Almost every Indian project on the Chenab and Neelum is landing up at the altar of the World Bank, portending an unhealthy trend with regard to both countries that appear unable to resolve their mutual differences.

by Kamran Yousaf
The Express Tribune
September 3, 2018

The writer is Senior Journalist and host of ‘Capital Connection’ on Tribune24/7. He tweets @Kamran_Yousaf

It should have been a big breaking story. But there was a near-complete blackout on this side of the border. The coverage was not prominent either on the other side of the frontier too. Perhaps, the story does not fit into the narratives the two neighbours pursue for their respective domestic audiences. Nevertheless, in this day and age where social media is more powerful, the story of Pakistani and Indian soldiers dancing together was bound to attract attention and even trigger debate. The venue was Russia where Pakistani and Indian troops were participating in the joint military drills under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

On the second last day of the anti-terror exercises codenamed “Peaceful Mission 2018” Indian army invited troops from the participating countries, including Pakistan, to celebrate the “India Day”. The event soon turned into a meeting ground for soldiers from both countries who were seen testing their dancing skills on Bollywood tunes. Some on social media began to question what would have happened had politicians from the two countries danced together. Their loyalty to the country would have certainly been questioned as had happened recently with former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu after he hugged Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Sidhu faced tough time from his countrymen, who described his act as treacherous.

Despite hostility at the government level, the fact remains that people of both countries by and large go along nicely with each other. And this is true even in the case of men in uniform. For years, Pakistan and Indian troops have been part of the UN peacekeeping missions and they go about their business without any hassle. However, unfortunately that private bonhomie is rarely reflected in our bilateral ties. The reasons are obvious. The two neighbours have a long history of bitter relationship because of the unresolved disputes, including longstanding Kashmir. But the question is for how long the two neighbours would avoid each other and how long the people of the two countries would be held hostage to the false egos of their respective governments.

Today, relations between the two countries have reached a level where media would feel reluctant to run stories that may give some positive vibes. But someone somewhere has to break that logjam. Pakistan has a new government. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already offered an olive branch to India for restarting the dialogue process. The good news is that for the first time in many years, Pakistan has a Prime Minister who enjoys the backing of all state institutions. The unprecedented welcome given to him during his visit to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was seen as refreshing change. The top brass standing in queue and saluting the elected Prime Minister was not an ordinary event. He was also seen presiding over the meeting at the GHQ, something his predecessors could only wish for. The icing on the cake is that the Army Chief stated in categorical terms that the armed forces like other state institutions are bound to follow the elected government. Some may say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. However, let’s not doubt the intention of the Army Chief and take his statement at its face value. The newly-elected Prime Minister has a historic opportunity to take some of the difficult decisions. India must take him seriously when he offered a hand of friendship. Unlike, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Khan is seen as someone who cannot betray and compromise on the national interest. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also enjoys the same status in his country. This may present a glimmer of hope for the two countries for a new beginning. But for now, we must applaud the dance performance of our men in uniform.

Amnesty International

Dhaka Tribune
Tribune Desk
September 3rd, 2018

Labour Act 2018
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina chairs a regular cabinet meeting where the draft Bangladesh Labour Act 2018 was approved yesterday FOCUS BANGLA

In the case of natural death, the family of the worker concerned will get Tk2 lakh as compensation, up from Tk1 lakh in the previous law

Factory workers will be able to form a trade union with the support of only one in five of their colleagues and can go on strike with a simple majority in favour under new legislation approved by the Cabinet yesterday. 

Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam said that under the draft Bangladesh Labour Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, the percentage of workers' participation required for forming trade unions in factories will be reduced to 20% from the existing 30%, reports UNB.

Other features of the act approved in principle at the weekly Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday include new maternity and compensation facilities for workers. 

"The amended law will be a labour-friendly one," the Cabinet Secretary said. "Under the proposed law, no child will be allowed to work in factories. If anybody employs child workers, then he or she will have to pay a fine of Tk5,000.”

In the draft bill, punishments for violating laws have been halved, with both owners and workers now facing a one-year jail term and a fine of Tk10,000 for misconduct, which was two years in the previous law.

According to section 47 of the draft, any female worker who gives birth to a baby will be allowed an eight-week period of leave within three days of informing the authorities. 

If the factory authorities do not allow her to go on leave, they will be fined Tk 25,000.

Any worker who reports for duty during a festival will be given one day of leave and wages for two days after the festival.

In the case of natural death, the family of the worker concerned will get Tk2 lakh as compensation, up from Tk1 lakh in the previous law. In the case of injury, they will get Tk2.50 lakh, double the current rate of Tk1.25 lakh.

As per the draft law, the government will have to give registration to a trade union within 55 days from receiving the application - down from 60 days in the previous law.

“The support of 51% workers is needed against the present two-thirds of total workers to call a strike,” Shafiul Alam said. "Illegal enforcement of strike will also be considered as misconduct."

If anyone is found to be a member of a number of trade unions at the same time, he or she will be sentenced to one month's imprisonment which was six months in the previous law.

The draft bill has been prepared and updated following the observation of the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

“According to the ILO convention, the draft law has a scope to form a tripartite advisory council consisting of the government, owners and workers,” Shafiul Alam said.

Under the draft law, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment has been upgraded to the level of Directorate. 

Shafiul Alam said the post of the chief inspector of the department is now inspector general, while deputy director general is additional inspector general, and the post of labour director has been upgraded to the rank of director general.

Once the proposed bill is passed in Parliament, the Labour Court will have to deliver judgment in a case within 90 days from the date of filing it.

If it is not possible to announce the verdict in the stipulated time, the court must deliver its judgment in the next 90 days.

by Brad Taylor
30 August 2018

Erik Prince thinks 6,000 mercenaries can do what 110,000 troops could not. That’s a deadly mistake.

Brad Taylor is the author of the Pike Logan series of military thrillers including the forthcoming "Daughter of War." He served for more than 20 years as a U.S. Army officer in various special operations positions.

The idea of “privatizing” the war in Afghanistan is back. Erik Prince, the founder of the now-defunct security firm Blackwater Worldwide, is making the rounds in a self-described “aggressive media air campaign” to make the case that 6,000 private military contractors can do what 110,000 uniformed soldiers couldn’t. Anonymous White House sources have said President Donald Trump has shown interest.

This would be a terrible mistake. I’m a capitalist at heart, but capitalism has no business in a war zone. Privatizing our fighting forces would ultimately cause any national strategic objectives to be subsumed by profit motive.

How do I know this? Because after serving more than 20 years in the Army, most of that time in Special Forces, I retired and became a private military contractor. I was one of the first soldiers in Afghanistan after 9/11, fought in Iraq, and I’ve seen it from both sides. Trust me, the U.S. doesn’t want a company looking to turn a profit running national policy.

One of Prince’s favorite talking points is that small teams of Special Forces and CIA operatives overthrew the Taliban in lightning speed in 2001, then the conventional forces took over, and 17 years later we’re at a stalemate. Thus, the argument goes, it’s time to go back to an unconventional campaign.

This makes a great sound bite, but is a completely flawed comparison. At the outset of the war, we were fighting an established government with a standing army; now, we are defending an established government while training a standing army. When we entered, we, along with the Northern Alliance, were the insurgents; now, we’re fighting a Taliban insurgency. The strategies required for the two tasks are diametrically opposite.

Much of the debate over bringing in contractors has focused on legality, chains of command and integration of private forces with uniformed ones — and rightly so. But the idea falls short well before we even get to those nitty-gritty details.

Taking a close look Blackwater's role in Iraq shows why: profit over policy. While the company was initially formed with vetted Navy SEALs, over time the need to ramp up operations led to the firm hiring just about anyone who’d held a gun in a war zone. The result: the Nisour Square massacre, in which Blackwater employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians.

This debacle not only set back the nationwide counterinsurgency mission America’s uniformed soldiers were attempting to accomplish, it also led to Prince changing the name of his firm to Academi to get out from under the cloud.

I have worked with half a dozen private military companies, and I’m not saying that they are all evil. Far from it. Some have our nation’s interests at heart, and I continue to work with them. But eventually, the bigger they get, the more the profit motive takes hold. Taking over an entire country’s military strategy for the U.S. government? About the worst I can think of.

For instance, Triple Canopy — a company christened for the nickname of the three tabs worn by elite Army troops: Special Forces, Ranger and Airborne — initially only hired the best of the best and paid very well for the talent. But as the war in Iraq ground on and the company expanded rapidly, things got lax. Last year, based on a former employee’s lawsuit claiming fraud, it paid the Defense Department a $2.6 million settlement for hiring Ugandan soldiers who had never qualified on a rifle to guard al-Asad airbase.

Prince says his plan is to embed only “professional ex-Special Operations soldiers” with the Afghanistan army, and that they would operate in-country for years, solidifying their knowledge of the terrain and friendly and enemy forces. Doing so would halt the constant rotation and the inevitable re-learning that happens with the U.S. military’s current tours.

This is an admirable goal, and makes sense on the surface. But where will these ex-Special Forces troops be found? Who is qualified to carry out the mission? Me, and people like me. People who have been at war for over a decade. People with families they haven’t seen, birthdays missed, anniversaries lost, and holidays spent eating cold spaghetti out of a bag in the field while dodging bullets.

Does Prince really believe there are 6,000 Lawrence of Arabia types willing to spend a decade embedded in an Afghan army unit with no rotation — after most have spent nearly two decades embedded in Afghan and Iraqi army units already? Unlikely. But he has contacts all over the world to provide manpower, perhaps the equivalent of those hapless Ugandans. 

Hiring private contractors in a war zone makes sense when there is a specific and limited goal, such as building wells, electrical grids and schools. But it makes no sense on such an overarching scale: A profit motive runs contradictory to the national strategic goals of the mission in Afghanistan. Why would the company that wins this billion-dollar contract ever want the war to end? In so doing, it would put itself out of business. At the worst, the profit motive could lead the company to subconsciously thwart any effort at reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government.  Fortunately, the Pentagon brass understands this: On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis restated his opposition to the idea.

Afghanistan is an intractable problem, no doubt, and we have slogged our way through 17 years of war with little to show for it. But turning it over to a private army won’t accomplish any of our strategic aims, unless the goal is simply to leave and let Erik Prince get rich.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Brad Taylor at Brad at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw at

The Times of India
September 3, 2018

The arrest of several rights activists across the country on charges of having Maoist links has created deep disquiet among many commentators. Accompanied as it is, by a new label- ‘Urban Naxals’, it is being seen as a sign that this government is determined to act against all signs of dissent and build a narrative of the country being under threat from organised internal forces.

And yet, there are those that argue that nothing dramatically new is happening. The law under which the action has been taken was strengthened by the UPA government, and some like Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira have been imprisoned even under previous regimes. Also, the fact that so many commentators have been able to criticise the government in the harshest possible terms is being pointed to as a sign that the freedom of expression is alive and well.

While it is true that previous governments also have a poor track record when it comes to dealing with dissent, there is no question that there is a difference today. That there is a clear attempt to create an atmosphere of fear, is possible to discern when one examines all the actions taken by the government. The production of fear at scale is being achieved not only through harsh punitive measures, but through a complex and elaborate network of actions, real and symbolic.

The case of media is illustrative. Media, for instance, has been subject to pressure and arm-twisting before. The raid on NDTV apart, most other actions deemed coercive, including the removal of key voices critical of the government, have been taken by the owners of media platforms and not by the state directly. One can infer that the state was indirectly responsible for the same, but the question is, why should media owners, hardly unused to facing political pressure give in this time around? There is no special leverage that this government has that previous regimes didn’t. But the clear feeling among media circles is that this time around, the sense of threat is more palpable. This government is deemed capable of much more than what it has actually done; the fear is evoked by latent violence in the body language of the government rather than in its actions alone. ‘Violence in the air’ is a more effective way of fostering self-censorship than any direct method.

But there is another variable at work. In the case of media, the problem does not stem only from fear, but also from greed. The taming of media is largely a voluntary phenomenon, guided by a desire to cater to one’s commercial self-interest by deferring to the needs of the market. When one outlet of the same media house can take an ideological line completely at odds with another, it is clear that fear alone is not at work. Market segmentation is. The state uses both levers, fear and greed to get most of media in line.

And then there is social media where keyboard warriors create a new vocabulary of fear with predictable regularity. Individuals are targeted, new labels are created, lists are generated and campaigns are launched to build a narrative of fear. The reward for these non-official soldiers is a dizzying rise from obscurity and in some cases, the promise of official recognition and rewards. Even bureaucrats and serving officers have an incentive to speak and act on behalf of the government. The differential treatment meted out to those that amplify the government’s line and those that don’t is stark.

The orchestration of fear is carried out with finesse. Fear reproduces itself thanks to the elegant design of the ecosystem of intimidation that is in place today. The more commentators connect the dots and discern larger intent from everyday actions, the more actively they participate in the production of fear. Showing signs of fear itself becomes proof- unless you are an anti-national, why should you be afraid?

The calibrated use of reward and punishment, the taking of action against victims rather than perpetrators, the penetration of virtually every institution that matters, the creation of voluntary and vocal cheerleaders for the actions of the state, the regular encouragement given from the highest level of the government to those that carry out intimidation, the periodic acts of brutal violence that indicate that the threats are not only symbolic in nature, the breeding of several kinds of private armies that publicly display their muscle, the succession of violently intemperate statements made by minor party leaders, and actions like the arrest of activists on charges that that align with the larger narrative that is being built- these are all part of this ecosystem of fear.

The electoral advantages of such a strategy are unclear. The fear of ‘Urban Naxals’ is unlikely to galvanise a significant number of voters, for it is difficult to correlate this with any observed experiences in our everyday lives. The argument that the nation is under threat from such forces, is one that might have great resonance with a small group of diehard supporters, but is unlikely to connect with a wider audience. The conspiracy outlined is far-fetched even by the standards of contemporary political discourse. From the perspective of voters, the ‘enemies’ identified have neither currency nor deep emotional resonance. As a political gambit, it is weak given that it leaves out most key opposition parties from this line of attack. The production of fear might have been carried out very effectively, but it looks unlikely to deliver great electoral effect.

Those that believe that things will change if the BJP is defeated might be deluding themselves. It does not matter who is in power; what matters is who sets the agenda. The power of a negative agenda is that even when one counters it, only more negativity is produced. The fear that has got manufactured does not come with an expiry date. That might well be the abiding legacy left by this government.

Pritam Singh
The Tribune
August 30, 2018

What’s to fear? The crackdown shows the vulnerability and meanness of the State.

The coordinated action in many cities of India on August 28 to arrest rights activists marks a qualitative scaling up of attack on human rights and democracy. States all over the world dislike critics and dissidents because such dissenters bring to light many misdeeds of those who control and misuse power. The dissemination of knowledge about State’s misdeeds empowers those who are adversely affected by the actions of the State. Such empowerment is especially of critical importance in strengthening democracy in developing societies, where there is a significant cultural and educational gap between the rulers and the ruled. Rights defenders and democracy activists thus become intermediaries between the State and the powerless masses by siding with the masses. 

The sporadic attacks on human rights, civil liberties and democracy have been a constant feature of the Indian republic but a systemic onslaught took place during the Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi. The latest crackdown will go down as the second most extensive attack on rights, although in intensity, the 1984 and the 2002 riots mark the darkest spots in the history of post-colonial India. The guilty have not been brought to book, and this impunity adds to the lurking dangers behind the August 28 arrests.

Among the arrested, the names of five individuals that have featured prominently are: Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer-cum-trade unionist; Gautam Navlakha, a journalist and civil liberties activist; Varavara Rao, a radical poet and intellectual; Vernon Gonsalves, a rights lawyer, and Arun Ferreira, a rights activist and lawyer. 
I know Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha; have reviewed books by Varavara Rao, and have some knowledge, though limited, of the work of Gonsalves and Ferreira.

I know Sudha since her childhood. She is the daughter of the late Prof Krishna Bharadwaj, who was my research supervisor at JNU and the founder of JNU’s Centre for Economic Studies and Planning. Professor Bharadwaj was an internationally known historian of economic thought who worked at Cambridge University with Piero Sraffa, one of the most distinguished theoretical economists of the 20th century. Sudha was a school student when she would sometimes participate in the discussions between Prof Bharadwaj and me and make observations reflecting a sharp sensitivity to socio-economic issues. I had thought that she would also become an economist because she could easily get a scholarship for doctoral work at one of the leading universities in the Western world, but she decided to devote her talents to defend the workers’ rights by participating in trade union work and trained herself as a lawyer specialising in labour laws. She chose to work in Chhattisgarh, one of the most underdeveloped regions of India. A good society should be proud of such young people who choose to abandon the life of privilege and devote themselves to defending those who are the most vulnerable. 

The big corporate interests want to have unquestioned access to exploit the human and rich natural resources of regions such as Chhattisgarh. The legal expertise and moral commitment of people like Sudha is a hurdle to the exploitative designs of corporate capital. To what extent the corporate capital can go to pursue its goals can be judged by the fact that Shankar Guha Niyogi, who founded the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), a labour union, was killed in 1991. Sudha has been working with the CMM and defending Adivasis, Dalits and Christians in areas under attack from Hindutva activists. Her arrest is to terrorise activists like her who defend the defenceless and extend the space for assertion of democracy. 

Gautam Navlakha has done sterling work on defending civil liberties. For years he has reported in Economic and Political Weekly, internationally the most respected social science journal from India, the results of his enquiries on rights violations in Kashmir and areas where the Adivasis have been resisting the encroachment of corporate capital. Prof David Harvey, Marxist geographer, has theorised this form of exploitation as ‘accumulation by dispossession’ where the original owners of the natural resources are dispossessed to enable corporate control of these resources. The role of violence facilitated by State power in this strategy leads to extensive rights violations. Attempt to silence the critics of such dispossession strategies is behind the arrest of Navlakha. 

Varavara Rao, a popular Telugu poet, has been an inspiring figure in the struggle for the defence of the most exploited sections of society. He has also edited an excellent book on the struggles of nationalities in different regions of India. That a regime can fear even a poet, who is 77, to the extent that it decides to arrest him shows both the vulnerability and the meanness of the regime.

Both Gonsalves and Ferreira have been providing legal assistance to social and political activists. When a regime starts arresting even the lawyers defending political opponents of the State, it is a sign that it is entering a qualitatively new and higher level of repression of legal and democratic rights.

The attack on rights activists may further shrink the democratic space in India, but it is equally probable that it may provoke a backlash against the increasing authoritarian tendencies of this regime. Irrespective of the domestic response, internationally this crackdown on lawyers, journalists and poets will certainly further tarnish the image of this regime.

Pritam Singh
Professor of Economics, Oxford Brookes University

August 31 2018

How did the RSS become an organization with networks in every corner of the country? A new analysis of its journey over the last three decades throws light on its working methods

RSS volunteers at a camp in Shimla last year.

Walter Andersen and Shridhar Damle’s extensive analysis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), perhaps the most fascinating political organization in contemporary India, begins at an appropriate juncture. The RSS: A View To The Inside looks at the vast network of affiliate organizations—collectively known as the Sangh Parivar—that has enabled the Hindu nationalist body to spread its influence and outreach to, now, almost every corner of the nation. It is through these organizations that the RSS derives its unique, multivariate strength. The duo seeks to demonstrate how these various affiliates, each differing in scope, size and mission, have a bearing on the national policy decisions made by the Sangh Parivar’s best-known member—the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Further, they want to show how seriously the BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes the inputs of the RSS, especially compared to the government of his forebear, A.B. Vajpayee.

[The RSS—A View To The Inside: By Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle, Penguin Random House, 400 pages, ₹699.]
Click here for enlarge
When Modi assumed power, the prevailing wisdom held that he and BJP chief Amit Shah would rule alone, as they apparently had in Gujarat, because Modi’s overwhelming electoral triumph meant he would not need the elders of the RSS. There was even talk of the BJP’s emancipation from its parent. An early signal to both the organization and the nation came during Modi’s televised 2014 victory address, given on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, where he tearfully evoked the role of the RSS in his ascent. Once again, much of India’s English-language media had failed to properly understand Modi—and the RSS.

Andersen and Damle show that the RSS has grown with stunning speed in the last three decades, standing now as “one of the world’s largest non-governmental associations”—an amusing characterization, given the BJP government’s 2017 “crackdown” on NGOs. In 1989, the RSS carried out 5,000 service projects; in 1998, it had reached 50,000; in 2012, the number stood at 140,000; and in 2015, 165,000. What explains this remarkable growth?

The authors identify the role of Madhukar Deoras, who ran the RSS from 1973-94, as crucial to this. One of their key insights pertains to how this expansion reflects in the internal tensions and debates the RSS is now able to accommodate, such as the shift towards economic liberalism. Far from being the intransigent top-led organization that it is often believed to be, Andersen and Damle liken the Sangh Parivar’s current shape to that ascribed to the Congress decades ago by the political scientist Rajni Kothari—that of a party of consensus, with a clear left, centre and right, accommodating distinct groups as they seek to influence the policy process. This portrayal is convincing to an extent, but it does create the impression of a wider range of debate than the RSS genuinely allows.

Yet the authors’ discussion on the RSS and economic self-sufficiency, which gets its own chapter, is compelling. The drive towards economic liberalization, frequently championed by Modi at international fora such as the World Economic Forum at Davos, is sharply opposed by important RSS affiliates like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (which premises its calls for redistributive policies on its reading of Advaita Vedanta), and the Sangh’s farmer union—the largest union in India—the Bharatiya Mazdoor Kisan Sangh. At first the Modi government seemed determined to ignore them. Andersen and Damle find that Mohan Bhagwat’s crucial Vijay Dashami speech, in October, to the RSS faithful “catalysed a populist turn in the Modi government’s economic policies”. Hence the discernible thrust of the 2018 Union Budget, which prompted virulent criticism from economist and former NITI Aayog chairman Arvind Panagariya, where duties on a range of consumer imports were increased. The authors suggest that Modi, after the sobering results of the 2017 Gujarat state election, listened to the feedback-networks the Sangh organizations provided.

[RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (centre) addressing a rally.]

The RSS is host to other intellectual conflicts, such as on the issues of conversion of non-Hindus (homecoming, or ghar wapsi, in RSS terminology), though the authors undercut their central argument here, showing that there is not any argument about whether there is actually a need to “re-convert” religious minorities to Hinduism—which is certainly the crux of the matter, but about which there seems to be little internal debate. Instead, this argument focuses on the political practicability of the movement, and the problems such far-right ideologies cause to the BJP’s goal of retaining power at the centre. This is similar to the different stances it has adopted on cow protection, depending on the political and cultural context of the region in which it is operating. There is no genuine ideological debate on the right of religious and caste minorities to eat what they like; the RSS’ ideological flexibility is predicated on the need for political success, via the BJP. Yet the authors show, convincingly, that this explains partly at least its increased strength in areas where it did not operate three decades ago.

To wit, research on the spread of the RSS in the North-East makes for fascinating reading. It shows how the BJP’s recent electoral success in Assam is linked to the RSS’ vast organizational imprint, including service projects, shakhas (branches) and schools. Twenty-one RSS affiliates operate in the state now. In Meghalaya, one of the three Christian-majority states in the North-East, the RSS has been operating since 1972, but has never sought to challenge the absence of restrictions on cow slaughter and the consumption of beef. Instead, it has quietly, shrewdly, grown its base: “The RSS…had in 2016 over 6000 swayamsevaks in Meghalaya, ran fifty schools located in all eleven districts of the state and managed medical camps in about 1000 villages.”

One review of the book centres on Damle’s close association with American affiliates of the RSS and argues it is biased because the authors are insufficiently distanced from the subject matter. It also raises the pertinent question of why this association was not declared in the text. The authors’ portrayal of the RSS as a meeting ground of ideas does seem overblown—while there might be affiliates with a left-leaning focus in economic or some social aspects, they are still adherents of a larger, nativist, right-wing ideology that cannot accommodate, for instance, Muslim or Dalit self-assertion, but instead hopes to subsume such politics in a blatantly paternalist manner. Certainly, the organization does not encompass the wide range of ideas that would accommodate a genuine national left, right and centre.

But the great learning from this new study is how fundamentally the organization has transformed itself between the authors’ last work, published in 1987, and today. Perhaps most crucial is the RSS’ current understanding that the electoral success of the BJP strengthens its ability to attract recruits and promote its ideology. The BJP’s primacy all over the country is now a vital goal of the RSS.

It also examines how the vast Sangh Parivar manages to stay together. It has been surprisingly responsive, in the last three decades, to change in India (think of its decision to drop the iconic short pants after social media mockery). Within the umbrella of Hindu high- and middle-caste political action, it has come to occupy the role that the Congress once did, and replaced the Congress’ national grass-roots structure, gutted over the years as it became a family outfit, with a saffron-inflected one of its own.

Pragya Kaushika		
The Print
3 September, 2018

The two MPs call for an amendment to anti-dowry law, say men are scared of marriage and that’s why they prefer live-in relationships.

New Delhi: Two BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh, Harinarayan Rajbhar and Anshul Verma, are demanding a statutory commission for men, on the lines of the National Commission for Women (NCW), claiming that wives are increasingly foisting false cases against husbands under Section 498A, commonly called the ‘anti-dowry’ law.

The two MPs claim that such is the widespread ‘abuse’ of Section 498A, that young men are ‘scared’ of marriage.

“It is why young men increasingly prefer live-in relationships these days. The law needs an amendment as law enforcement agencies are reluctant to verify the veracity of complaints and end up harassing husbands,” said Verma, who is also a member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice.

Also read: India’s lopsided adultery law: Adverse impact of patriarchy on men or women?

While the two MPs will be in New Delhi on 23 September, to raise the pitch for a ‘Purush Aayog’ (men’s commission), the BJP has distanced itself from their ‘individual demand’ and refused to comment on the issue.
‘498A stalling Mallya, Modi extradition’

Verma, the MP from Hardoi, also said that Section 498A is one of the laws stalling the extradition of absconding Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi. He blamed overcrowding of Indian prisons because of 498A, and claimed that a large number of ‘targeted husbands’ are being lodged as undertrials in poorly-maintained prisons across the country.

“The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that approximately 1.5 lakh husbands and their relatives were lodged as undertrials in prisons between 1998 and 2015. There have been 27 lakh arrests under Section 498A during this period. Of these, 6.5 lakh are women,” Verma said.

“The capacity of the prisons is much lesser than that. People like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi are contesting their extraditions by citing these unliveable conditions brought on by overcrowding in prisons”.

The BJP had called for an amendment to Section 498A, claiming that the laws in the country are “blindly” stacked in favour of women.

Section 498A deals with domestic abuse and cruelty against women in their marital homes. In 2017, the Supreme Court had issued guidelines preventing the immediate arrests of those accused, with activists terming it as a ‘dilution’ of the law. The apex court has, however, agreed to reconsider the decision.
‘Damage to institution of family’

Verma claimed there are gangs operating in Uttar Pradesh where women zero in on potential husbands, extort money and lodge fake cases against them. This, he says has made men afraid of getting married and hence the family as an institution is losing its sheen for many of them.

“The institution of marriage rests on trust and with wives threatening to file cases against husbands, it is certain that it will collapse in times to come. The foundation of society will crumble,” he said.

To strengthen his argument, Verma cited the movie Martyrs of Marriage, which he claims is based on a true incident.

“It is a Deepika Bhardwaj movie where a man is happily married but falls ill and his son is tested for DNA. He finds that the son is not his,” he said.

“The wife and her family slap a case under Section 498A. The case goes in favour of the woman and the man commits suicide on video,” said Verma, who is working on a draft proposing amendments to the ‘anti-dowry’ law.

Also read: Maneka Gandhi joins pushback against 498-A, calls anti-dowry law ‘strange’

The BJP MP further said that cases that go to court are never resolved amicably and called for mediation and counselling to be strengthened. “The chances of reconciliation increase when it is done through counselling and not in courtrooms,” Verma said.

Dipesh Chakrabarty
The Telegraph
Aug 30, 2018

In The Great Indian Phone Book (2013), Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron wondered if the cell phone equalled democracy. Five or so years later, however, cell-phone technology is no longer an unquestioned blessing. Phones now come with the capacity to install free apps. From the land of Donald Trump to that of Narendra Modi, all kinds of anxious questions are being asked about the relationship between these apps, in particular Facebook and WhatsApp, and the purveying of false or fake news. These applications are undeniably useful. You can keep in touch with your dispersed family, colleagues and friends for free, thanks to these apps. Anyone with access to and some understanding of how a smart phone works can now originate or relay information. The sheer amount and variety of information we process everyday make it impossible for us to check the veracity of all that comes our way. But the concerns voiced - even at the level of the Supreme Court in India - are not really about information as such; they are about how these little computers we carry on our persons could harm our polities and society by encouraging trends that undermine democracies. Commentators and public intellectuals write on the ostensibly 'post-truth' age that digital technology has helped create. As a lead character in the Australian television series, Secret City, remarks, the distinction between truth and plausibility is what matters now. If we can make something seem plausible, it can indeed trump (pun intended) truth!

These complaints sound similar across nations. But there remain some fascinating differences distinguishing Western democracies from the likes of the Indian one. Fears about authoritarianism in the West grow out of two major concerns: citizens' desire to protect their privacy, and the fear that governments and political parties could unfairly influence electoral outcomes by getting access to their personal information. The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook data that made news a few months ago is a good example of this second fear. Personal information about tens of millions of Facebook users, many of them in the United States of America, were reportedly fished out by Cambridge Analytica and used for targeted political campaigns. Now, one could always ask whether personal data collected by various apps that we download for free can ever be fully protected from the ravages of capitalism. As a friend remarked once, "if you are getting a product free under capitalism, then you yourself must be the product that somebody wants." But, however illusory this desire to keep politics away from sales intelligence, the Western anxieties arise out of a value promoted vigorously in the 19th century and re-emphasized when totalitarian regimes arose in the 20th century: that the citizens' right to privacy was something sacrosanct.

The complaints about social and big data in India speak of fears that are different. It is, of course, true that a big-data operation like the Aadhaar project has led to concerns about how safely guarded such data might be in the hands of a government not otherwise known for efficiency. But this concern hinges on a basic question of trust: can one trust the government with the safe-keeping of one's personal information? It is the end-use of the data that is in question, not the principle of its collection. This is, indeed, why the recent attempt by the chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, R.S. Sharma, to reassure the public of the 'safety' of Aadhaar data by making his personal Aadhaar number public boomeranged. It allowed many to dig up his mobile number, date of birth, (old) residential address, chat threads and so on. Sharma's insistence that people would still not be able to harm him with such data points to the real issue in this debate. The fear expressed here is about possible material losses, and not reflective of any deep commitment to some 'outworn' liberal idea of the inviolability of the personal.

Trust and mistrust are key words here. True, Indians are a deeply social - and not privacy-oriented - people. More than sharing practical information, my South Asian friends and I use WhatsApp, for instance, to forward video clips, photos, cartoons, write-ups and so on. If I had to watch all the video clips that are sent to me, I would spend a good 45 minutes to an hour, maybe even more, everyday doing just that. Our sociality knows no time - anytime is good for a joke, song, or story.

But issues of trust and mistrust have always qualified the sense of the social in South Asia. Even among my highly-educated friends in WhatsApp groups, issues of social trust and mistrust turn up sometimes. I have been sent material asserting, for example - and on flimsy grounds - that West Bengal is on the verge of a Muslim takeover, thanks to certain policies of the state government. My friends were entirely civil in discussing the issue but some expressed the fear that this might be true and referred to their personal experiences. But it left me wondering if the language of 'experience' - as distinct from the language of statistics bearing on the actual state of Muslims in West Bengal - was not itself a pointer to the issue of trust and mistrust. We often do not trust statistics. Perhaps state or nation-wide statistics stand for some inclusively imagined space of the social that probably does not exist beyond academic discussions. The question of the Muslim in Hindu-majority West Bengal is perhaps always at its root a question of trust. Can 'we' trust the Muslim?

The fear of those who seem different makes up a deep part of our sense of the social. I remember growing up as a child in Calcutta with the fear of the child-kidnapper (the chheledhora, literally a boy-catcher). The first fridge my parents bought in the 1960s came with locking device in its door, for there was the fear of domestic servants stealing. The West has tried - with very partial success - to tame this dangerous aspect of the social by developing the idea of cosmopolitanism, an outlook that embraces diversity. We are an intensely diverse people but our cosmopolitanism is weak. Applications such as WhatsApp can be used to stoke and intensify the fear of the stranger in our midst. This stranger could be the non-political figure of the child-kidnapper; it could also be the politicized figure of the beef-eating Muslim. At such moments - aided no doubt by interested political parties and the liberal use of money - the social can take the form of a lynch mob, regardless of the target of its violence. The stranger then is just like vermin, there to be exterminated.

When we speak of the dangers that social media poses to Indian democracy, we do not speak of protecting our right to privacy. Our real fear is that, left uncontrolled or directly encouraged, the lynch mobs can double up as fascist thugs. It is a fear that arises out of the fact that some of our politicians want to make cynical use of a deep and enduring feature of Indian society - the fear of those who seem different.

Pupil of Krishnamurti who became a world-leading printmaker and art teacher
Oliver Basciano
The Guardian
30 August 2018

Whirlpool by Krishna Reddy, 1963: the print is a frantic composition of discrete blues. Photograph: Experimenter

In the late 1950s, on moving to Paris, the Indian artist and printmaker Krishna Reddy, who has died aged 93, found himself in the heart of bohemian society. “There was one tiny little street,” Reddy recalled, “in which all the great artists gathered.” He regularly met Alberto Giacometti, and would look in on Constantin Brâncuşi every Sunday. In the cafes of Montparnasse, Reddy would discuss how the spiritualism he had learned from his first teacher, the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, had blended with European modernism. Underpinning his ideas was a technical knowhow that produced several innovations in the medium Reddy made his own.

Reddy joined Atelier 17, the studio of a fellow printmaker, Stanley William Hayter, at 17 Rue Campagne-Première, and together they developed “viscosity printing”, in which multiple colours can be applied to the same metal printing plate, each paint mixed to a different thickness with linseed oil so that it does not contaminate the others. Whirlpool, a work from 1963 held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is typical in its frantic composition of discrete blues.

His accomplishment as a printmaker, which could be seen in a 2016 show at the Met, led naturally into an equally successful career as a teacher, in particular through his establishment in 1976 of Color Print Atelier, a studio at New York University (NYU), and invitations to hold workshops from over 250 institutions globally.

Born to Nandanoor and Lakshmamma Reddy, agricultural workers, in a village on the outskirts of Chittoor in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Krishna could hardly read or write until the age of 11 and yet expressed a prodigious talent for art. Copying the mythological paintings of south Indian gods and goddesses, and inspired by Nandanoor, who made sculptures for the local temple, from the age of six the boy would paint murals.

He attended Rishi Valley school, established in nearby Madanapalle by Krishnamurti. Radically egalitarian in respect of caste, gender and religion, the school was raided in 1941, the colonial authorities seizing Marxist books and literature promoting independence. Krishna became vocal in his support of the Quit India Movement and was beaten on several occasions while protesting. In 1943, aged 16, he was sent by his parents to Santiniketan in West Bengal, where he studied at the art college founded by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore at the Visva-Bharati University. Their hopes that the move north would keep him out of trouble were frustrated: having volunteered to clear the streets of bodies during the Bengal famine of 1943, Reddy’s leftwing politics sharpened.

In 1949, after three further years of study in Chennai (then Madras), and with the help of his old teacher Krishnamurti, Reddy attended the Slade in London. There he took classes with Henry Moore and Lucian Freud, before he received a scholarship in 1951 to be apprenticed to the Russian artist Ossip Zadkine in Paris.

Soon afterwards he joined Atelier 17, and became its co-director in 1965. He produced posters in support of the Algerian revolution – which led to his being interrogated by the French police on several occasions – and witnessed the student uprisings of May 1968, a seismic event he documented in Demonstrators, a rare figurative series of prints and bronzes. Nature also fascinated him. Butterflies, trees, waves, spiders’ webs and blossom were frequent subjects, depicted in dream-like compositions that take their cue from abstraction and surrealism.

Krishna Reddy in 2011 in his studio, lined with tools. Photograph: Ram Rahman

Throughout his time in France Reddy made repeated trips across the Atlantic, initially with his first wife, Shirley Witebsky, an artist with whom he exhibited at the first International Sculpture Symposium in Montreal in 1964, and then, after Shirley’s death in 1966, with the artist Judy Blum, whom he married the following year, to teach classes at the American University, Washington DC, and the University of Wisconsin.

In 1976 the couple moved to New York. There, after establishing the Color Print Atelier, Reddy became director of graphics and printmaking in the art department at NYU, a post he held until 2002. Krishna and Judy lived on Wooster Street, in the space where George Maciunas and Yoko Ono had previously established the Fluxus collective. His studio, lined with hundreds of tools and piled high with printing plates, became a haven for young artists from all round the world, especially those new to the US.

In 1981 the Bronx Museum held a retrospective of his work, which toured various museums in India. The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City staged another survey in 1988, the year in which Reddy published his first book, the practical guide Intaglio Simultaneous Color Printmaking: Significance of Materials and Processes. The publication emerged from the classes Reddy was by then teaching at museums and schools across the US, Europe and Asia.

Regular commercial shows took place throughout the 90s, and in 2000 the British Museum acquired a cache of prints by Reddy. Tate Britain and the Kiran Nadar Museum in New Delhi also own his work.

Reddy is survived by Judy and their daughter, Aparna.

Krishna Reddy, artist, born 15 July 1925; died 22 August 2018

A wounded and swaggering identity geopolitics puts the world in grave danger.
by Pankaj Mishra
The New York Times
August 30, 2018

Mr. Mishra is a contributing opinion writer focused on ideas and politics.

“White men,” an obscure Australian academic named Charles Henry Pearson predicted in his 1893 book “National Life and Character: A Forecast,” would be “elbowed and hustled, and perhaps even thrust aside” by people they had long regarded as their inferiors — “black and yellow races.” China, in particular, would be a major threat. Pearson, prone to terrors of racial extinction while living in a settler colony in an Asian neighborhood, thought it was imperative to defend “the last part of the world, in which the higher races can live and increase freely, for the higher civilization.”

His prescriptions for racial self-defense thunderously echoed around the white Anglosphere, the community of men with shared historical ties to Britain. Theodore Roosevelt, who held a complacent 19th-century faith, buttressed by racist pseudoscience, that nonwhite peoples were hopelessly inferior, reported to Pearson the “great effect” of his book among “all our men here in Washington.”

In the years that followed, politicians and pundits in Britain and its settler colonies of Australia, Canada and the United States would jointly forge an identity geopolitics of the “higher races.” Today it has reached its final and most desperate phase, with existential fears about endangered white power feverishly circulating once again between the core and periphery of the greatest modern empire. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” President Trump said last year in a speech hailed by the British journalist Douglas Murray, the Canadian columnist Mark Steyn and the American editor Rich Lowry. More recently, Mr. Trump tweeted (falsely) about “large-scale killing” of white farmers in South Africa — a preoccupation, deepened by Rupert Murdoch’s media, of white supremacists around the world.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign appealed to those voters with existential fears about endangered white power, Pankaj Mishra writes.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

To understand the rapid mainstreaming of white supremacism in English-speaking liberal democracies today, we must examine the experience of unprecedented global migration and racial mixing in the Anglosphere in the late 19th century: countries such as the United States and Australia where, as Roosevelt wrote admiringly in 1897, “democracy, with the clear instinct of race selfishness, saw the race foe, and kept out the dangerous alien.” It is in the motherlands of democracy rather than in fascist Europe that racial hierarchies first defined the modern world. It is also where a last-ditch and potentially calamitous battle to preserve them is being fought today.

This “race selfishness” was sharpened in the late 19th century, as the elites of the “higher races” struggled to contain mass disaffection generated by the traumatic change of globalization: loss of jobs and livelihoods amid rapid economic growth and intensified movements of capital, goods and labor. For fearful ruling classes, political order depended on their ability to forge an alliance between, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “capital and mob,” between rich and powerful whites and those rendered superfluous by industrial capitalism. Exclusion or degradation of nonwhite peoples seemed one way of securing dignity for those marginalized by economic and technological shifts.

The political climate was prepared by intellectuals with clear-cut racial theories, such as Brooks Adams, a Boston Brahmin friend of Roosevelt, and Charles B. Davenport, the leading American exponent of eugenics. In Australia, Pearson’s social Darwinism was amplified by media barons like Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert and a stalwart of the eugenics movement) and institutionalized in a “White Australia” policy that restricted “colored” migration for most of the 20th century. Anti-minority passions in the United States peaked with the 1924 immigration law (much admired by Hitler and, more recently, by Jeff Sessions), which impeded Jewish immigrants and barred Asians entirely. By the early 20th century, violence against indigenous peoples, immigrants and African-Americans reached a new ferocity, and nativist and racist demagogues entrenched a politics of dispossession, segregation and disenfranchisement.

Illustration of international diplomats at the Palace of Versailles for the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.CreditThe New York Times

Seeking to maintain white power globally, Roosevelt helped transform the United States into a major imperialist power. Woodrow Wilson, too, worked to preserve, as he put it, “white civilization and its domination of the planet” even as he patented the emollient rhetoric of liberal internationalism that many in the American political and media establishment still parrot. At the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference, which Wilson supervised, the leaders of Britain, the United States, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada not only humiliated the many Asians and Africans demanding self-determination; they also jointly defeated an attempt by Japan, their wartime ally, to have a racial equality clause included in the Covenant of the League of Nations.

The exposure of Nazi crimes, followed by decolonization and civil rights movements, generally discredited quasi-scientific racism and stigmatized overt expressions of white supremacism. In our own time, global capitalism has promised to build a colorblind world through economic integration. But as revolts erupt against globalization in its latest, more disruptive phase, politicians and pundits in the Anglosphere are again scrambling to rebuild political communities around what W. E.B. Du Bois in 1910 identified as “the new religion of whiteness.”

The intellectual white web originally woven in late-19th-century Australia vibrates once more with what the historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds termed “racial knowledge and technologies that animated white men’s countries and their strategies of exclusion, deportation and segregation.” Mr. Trump, for instance, has chosen Australia’s brutal but popular immigration policies as a model: “That is a good idea. We should do that too,” he said in January 2017 to Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister at the time, as he explained his tactic of locking up refugees on remote islands. “You are worse than I am,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Turnbull.

If right-wing Australian politicians were among the first to mainstream a belligerent white nationalism, the periodicals and television channels of Rupert Murdoch have worked overtime to preserve the alliance between capital and mob in the Anglosphere. Indulged by Mr. Murdoch’s newspapers, writers like Bernard Lewis, Niall Ferguson, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Roberts repeatedly urged American neoconservatives after the Sept. 11 attacks to take up the aging white man’s burden and quell mutinous natives.

A broad range of figures in the Anglosphere’s establishment, including some of Mr. Trump’s most ostentatious critics today, contributed manure to the soil in which Trumpism flourishes. Cheered on by the Murdoch press, Tony Blair tried to deepen Britain and America’s “special relationship” in Iraq. Leaders of Australia and Canada also eagerly helped with the torture, rendition and extermination of black and brown brutes.

Not surprisingly, these chieftains of white settler colonies are fierce cultural warriors; they are all affiliated with private donors who build platforms where political correctness, Islam and feminism are excoriated, the facts of injustice and inequality denied, chests thumped about a superior but sadly imperiled Western civilization, and fraternal sympathy extended to Israel, the world’s last active settler-colonialist project.

Emotional incontinence rather than style or wit marks such gilded networks of white power. For the Anglosphere originally forged and united by the slave trade and colonialism is in terminal crisis today. Whiteness denoted, as Du Bois wrote, “the ownership of the earth forever and ever.” But many descendants of the landlords of the earth find themselves besieged both at home and abroad, their authority as overlords, policemen and interpreters of the globe increasingly challenged.

Pennsylvanian white supremacists’ fear was reflected in this 1866 poster attacking the Radical Republican politician John White Geary for his support of black civil rights.CreditMPI/Getty Images

Mr. Trump appears to some of these powerful but insecure men as an able-bodied defender of the “higher races.” The Muslim-baiting British Conservative politician Boris Johnson says that he is “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump.” Mr. Murray, the British journalist, thinks Mr. Trump is “reminding the West of what is great about ourselves.” The Canadian YouTube personality Jordan Peterson claims that his loathing of “identity politics” would have driven him to vote for Mr. Trump.

Other panicky white bros not only virulently denounce identity politics and political correctness — code for historically scorned peoples’ daring to propose norms about how they are treated; they also proclaim ever more rowdily that the (white) West was, and is, best. “It is time to make the case for colonialism again,” Bruce Gilley, a Canadian academic, recently asserted and promptly shot to martyrdom in the far-right constellation as a victim of politically correct criticism. Such busy recyclers of Western supremacism, many of whom uphold a disgraced racial pseudoscience, remind us that history often repeats itself as intellectual farce.

The low comedy of charlatanry, however, should not distract us from the lethal dangers of a wounded and swaggering identity geopolitics. The war on terror reactivated the 19th century’s imperial archive of racial knowledge, according to which the swarthy enemy was subhuman, inviting extreme and lawless violence. The rapid contraction of suffrage rights witnessed in early-20th-century America is now mimicked by Republican attempts to disenfranchise nonwhite voters. The Australian lawmaker who recently urged a “final solution” for Muslim immigrants was only slightly out of tune with public debate about immigration in Australia. Hate crimes continue to rise across the United States, Britain and Canada. More ominously, demographic, economic and political decline, and the loss of intellectual hegemony, have plunged many long-term winners of history into a vengeful despair.

A century ago, the mere suspicion of being thrust aside by black and yellow peoples sparked apocalyptic visions of “race suicide.” Today, the “preponderance of China” that Pearson predicted is becoming a reality, and the religion of whiteness increasingly resembles a suicide cult. Mr. Trump’s trade wars, sanctions, border walls, deportations, denaturalizations and other 11th-hour battles seem to push us all closer to the “terrible probability” James Baldwin once outlined: that the rulers of the “higher races,” “struggling to hold on to what they have stolen from their captives, and unable to look into their mirror, will precipitate a chaos throughout the world which, if it does not bring life on this planet to an end, will bring about a racial war such as the world has never seen.”

Pankaj Mishra, a contributing opinion writer, is the author, most recently, of “Age of Anger: A History of the Present.”

Doris Akrap
The Guardian
31 August 2018

The reaction to the racist attacks in Chemnitz suggests the mainstream is appeasing extreme views. We could be heading for dark times

The far-right group “Pro Chemnitz” stage a protest at the entrance to the stadium of Chemnitz FC, where Minister President of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer will meet with members of the public on August 30, 2018 amid tensions sparked by a deadly stabbing in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. - After the fatal stabbing of a German man allegedly by a Syrian and an Iraqi, thousands of far-right protesters marched in the city of Chemnitz some chasing down people they believed were immigrants. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of Germans plan to march side by side with neo-Nazis tomorrow for the third time in a week, after the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old man last Sunday in the eastern German town of Chemnitz. Since then, innocent foreigners have been hunted down and attacked. Racist slogans have been chanted amid illegal Hitler salutes.

These shocking scenes have been all too reminiscent of events in Rostock in 1992, when neo-Nazis set fire to an apartment block containing Vietnamese refugees. I thought we had moved on from that time in Germany. Now I fear we are actually going backwards.

The most alarming aspect of the tension in Chemnitz is the sympathetic hearing the protagonists have been given. Locals tell reporters that they have nothing against foreigners, but feel unprotected by the state. So somebody has to offer that protection to those who say they “daren’t go out at night” – and it’s the far right that is offering it. Of course, we heard the same thing a hundred times in the 1990s. But what do these frightened people actually fear? Crime rates are falling, not rising.

   For the first time since the ​90s, I sense ​the liberal progress that Germany has made could be reversed 

The sizeable presence of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland in the Bundestag has changed and darkened Germany’s national conversation about migrants. Even mainstream media and politicians are giving credence to the narratives of the right, fuelling fears that refugees are violent sexual abusers and dangerous criminals. With its inflammatory statements and interventions in parliament, on talkshows and on public platforms, the AfD is setting the agenda.

This summer of German racism began when the interior minister, Horst Seehofer, put the ruling coalition at risk by demanding that Angela Merkel set up holding pens for migrants on Germany’s borders. Then there was the grotesque scapegoating of the German-Turkish football star Mesut Özil, who was blamed for Germany’s poor showing at the World Cup. As the summer ends, we have neo-Nazis hunting down people in daylight and the police nowhere to be seen.

Seehofer has been virtually silent. Saxony’s prime minister, Michael Kretschmer, has said emptily: “We fight rightwing extremism. We always did.” Only Merkel has truly spoken out, condemning the “hate in the streets”, and stating unequivocally that it has no place in the country.

In Saxony, the ruling Christian Democratic Union – just like Seehofer’s Christian Social Union in Bavaria – is reacting to falling poll ratings by veering to the right. It claims many citizens have “fears and sorrows that have to be taken seriously”. We know this line too. We’ve heard it over and over again. It’s the line that allowed a far-right party to gain seats in the German parliament, emboldening the racists.

But racism is not a “fear” or a “sorrow”: it’s a mindset. To take it seriously means understanding that it has steadily become part of mainstream discourse. These people want power, and they want power as rightwingers and racists, even though they call themselves democrats. Racism was and is part of Germany’s daily life. There are German people who think that other people in our society have to be removed. There are also people who stand on the other side of the street as Nazis and racists try to take it over.

Once we thought the German far right was an anachronism, a remnant of a dying culture. Since the racist disturbances of the early 1990s, German society has undoubtedly become far more liberal. But the neo-Nazi organisation National Socialist Underground, which killed at least 10 people in seven years, was also founded in the 90s. It found shelter in Chemnitz at the time. For the first time since the 90s, I sense the progress made could be reversed. Why? Because the reaction to Chemnitz suggests that the political mainstream is prepared to accommodate the narratives of the far right.

Migrants, and their children and grandchildren who – like me, the daughter of a Yugoslavian Gastarbeiter – were born and raised in Germany, have genuine “sorrows and fears”. We fear that the permanent rise of an extreme rightwing movement in Germany is being enabled by this appeasement of racism. We lived through this once. And we think responsible politicians should take our sorrows seriously. On Wednesday night, in Wismar, another town in the east of Germany, a 20-year-old migrant was beaten with an iron chain by three assailants. If that’s not a warning our politicians should heed, then we are surely heading for dark times.

Doris Akrap is a journalist at the Berlin-based newspaper Taz

by Christina Lin 
Asia Times
August 31, 2018

Hanoi is demanding compensation from US manufacturers of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, as a last resort to help families still suffering traumatic birth defects almost 50 years after the end of the Vietnam war.

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry demanded that Monsanto and other US companies pay damages to victims of Agent Orange, a defoliant that contained highly toxic dioxin.

From 1961 to 1971, the US dropped more than 75 million liters of Agent Orange and other herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in what was then called Operation Ranch Hand, in a scorched-earth policy to strip the terrain of foliage and food supplies in an effort to defeat the Viet Cong.

During the 10 years of this operation, more than 2 million hectares of forest and 200,000 hectares of crops were heavily damaged or destroyed. The US Air Force sprayed about 95% of the chemical using the call sign “Hades,” and the remaining 5% was sprayed by the US Army’s 266th Chemical Platoon.

Dioxins are highly persistent in the environment, seeping into the soil, water supply, and food chain, contaminating fish, molluscs and fowl. As such, although the war has ended, new generations of the Vietnamese population continue to suffer from prolonged effects of the poison through the food supply as well as deformed children from genetic mutations passed on by their parents.

The Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) says more than 4.8 million people were exposed to the herbicide and 3 million of them suffered deadly diseases. Washington finally began to help Vietnam with cleanup efforts in 2012, starting with Danang International Airport, which used to be a US airbase that stored Agent Orange.

However, the Vietnamese are not the only ones demanding compensation – American veterans of the Vietnam War suffering from the poison have also sought compensation from the US government.

Almost 30 years ago, then-US senator Tom Daschle sponsored the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to study the linkage between diseases and exposure to dioxin and other chemical compounds in herbicides. In 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid US$24 billion in disability compensation to 1.3 million Vietnam War veterans.

However, Vietnam itself has not received compensation for similar damages. Despite the fact that its government purposely filed its claim against a company (Monsanto) rather than proceeding with a state-to-state filing, in order to preserve the stable bilateral ties between Hanoi and Washington in recent years, the legacy of Agent Orange remains a thorny issue.

It is likewise a thorny issue between Washington and Vientiane, as Laos was also a target of chemical spraying in Operation Ranch Hand.  While the US has established programs to address the Agent Orange issue in Vietnam, there have not been similar programs to aid the people of Laos, though when then-US president Barack Obama visited Vientiane in September 2016, Washington did offer aid for the cleanup of unexploded cluster bombs – another legacy of America’s “secret war” in Laos.

As covered in a previous Asia Times article, Laos holds the record for being the “most heavily bombed country per capita” – between 1964 to 1973 the US dropped more than 270 million tiny cluster “bombies” on the country.

Additionally, between 1965 and 1970, the US dropped at least 2 million liters of Agent Orange on southern Laos to defoliate the Ho Chi Minh Trail – the north-to-south supply route enabling North Vietnam to conduct its war in the South – and to deny food supplies to local Lao supporters along the Annamite mountain range.

Although the Vietnam War did not end until 1975, the US stopped using Agent Orange in 1971. Because of growing international opprobrium over the use of “poisonous spray” during the war, the new Richard Nixon administration announced a partial ban on the precursor 2,4,5-T on April 15, 1970, and the Pentagon shortly followed suit by banning all Agent Orange missions in Vietnam.

Today, Operation Ranch Hand and the Vietnam War long gone, but Laos remains a poor country while Vietnam has fared better economically. In Laos, the number of unexploded mines and other ordnance strewn throughout exceeds 80 million, which continue to kill, maim, and tragically keep the country in an impoverished state decades after the war.

Farmers are not able to use fertile land for agriculture nor develop the land for infrastructure, industry, or residential needs, while Vietnam faces similar problems in some parts of its country, with an estimated 350,000 tons of live bombs and mines remaining. It would take 300 years to clear them from the Vietnamese landscape at the current rate.

Thus for many people in these countries, the war is not yet over. And whether Hanoi will finally win compensation from Monsanto or prompt further US assistance to both Laos and Vietnam remains to be seen.

Finally, given that other chemical agents such as CS gas and napalm were very effective in fighting tunnel warfare during the war, and the increasing use of tunnels by jihadists in the Middle East, this may also prompt renewed debate on the balance between ethics and efficacy of chemical warfare in modern anti-terror operations.

Christina Lin	
Dr Christina Lin is a California-based foreign and security policy analyst. She has extensive US government experience working on China security issues, including policy planning at the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Department of State, and her current focus is on China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations.

Hanif Kureishi
London Review of Books
30 August 2018

One night, I went on a boat trip down the Bosporus with about a dozen models, fashionistas, several transvestites, someone who appeared to be wearing a beekeeper’s outfit as a form of daily wear, the editor of Dazed and Confused Jefferson Hack, and Franca Sozzani, the editor of Italian Vogue. We were in the European capital of culture, but it was like a fabulous night at the London club Kinky Gerlinky transferred to Istanbul and financed by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. At one end of the boat, in his wheelchair, was Gore Vidal. At the other end was V.S. Naipaul. It must have been June 2010 because I remember catching Frank Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ against Germany on a TV in the hotel lobby just before we dashed out.

As the high-tech drum and bass beat on, and the Ottoman palaces drifted by, we godless, depraved materialists and hooligans became more drunk, stoned and unruly. Vidia, with his entourage, kept to his end of this ship of fools, and Vidal to his. We had been instructed to keep the two aged warriors apart, and I don’t believe they exchanged a single word during the four days we were in Turkey. Vidal was accompanied by two ‘nephews’, strong young men in singlets and shorts who took him everywhere. He was unhappy, usually violently drunk, occasionally witty, but mostly looking for fights and saying vile things. Vidia, in love and cheerful at last, accompanied by the magnificent Nadira, remained curious, ever observant and tight-lipped. Earlier, despite his supposed animus against female writers, he had been keen to talk about Agatha Christie and how fortunate she had been never to run out of material. In contrast, from a ‘small place’, he himself had had to go on the road at the end of the 1970s, to explore the ‘Islamic awakening’, as he put it. He had been ‘travelling to find out’. 

I had packed Naipaul’s Among the Believers, as a kind of guide, when I first went to Pakistan in the early 1980s to stay with one of my uncles in Karachi. I wanted to see my large family and get a glimpse of the hopeful country to which my uncle Omar – a journalist and cricket commentator – had gone. Like my father and most of his nine brothers, Omar had been born in India; he had been educated in the US with his schoolfriend Zulfikar Bhutto, finally turning up in Pakistan – ‘that geographical oddity’ – in the early 1950s. In his memoir, Home to Pakistan, he wrote: ‘There was in the early Pakistan something of the Pilgrim Fathers who had arrived in America on the Mayflower.’

At night, alone at the back of the house, I had insomnia, and felt something of a stranger myself. In an attempt to place myself, I began to work on what became My Beautiful Laundrette, writing it out on any odd piece of paper I could find. In Britain we were worried about Margaret Thatcher and her deconstruction of the welfare state of which I had been a beneficiary. I wanted to do some kind of satire on her ideas, but in Karachi they barely thought about Thatcher at all, except, to my dismay, as someone who stood for ‘freedom’. My uncles and their circle were more concerned with the increasing Islamisation of their country. In Home To Pakistan Omar wrote: ‘There is an appearance of a government and there is the reality of where real power lies. I had serious doubts that we would become an open society and that democracy would take root.’ Zulfikar Bhutto had been hanged in 1979 and his daughter Benazir was under house arrest just up the street, at 70 Clifton Road, a property with a huge wall around it, and policemen on every corner. One thing was for sure: my family, like Jinnah, had envisaged Pakistan as a democratic home for Muslims, a refuge for those who felt embattled in India, not as an Islamic state or dictatorship of the pious.

Zulfikar Bhutto (left) with Omar Kureishi

Naipaul, who in the late 1970s travelled around Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan, had grasped early on that this distinction no longer held up. In Among the Believers – surprisingly without preconceived ideas, and with a shrewd novelist’s eye for landscape and individuals – he interviews taxi drivers, students, minor bureaucrats and even a mullah. He writes down what they say and mostly keeps himself out of the frame. As a teenager I had been a fan of what had become known as personal journalism, of firecracker writers like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion and James Baldwin, imaginative writers who included themselves in the story, and who often, as with Thompson, became the story itself. Naipaul, in one of the first reports from the ideological revolution, was doing something like this. But he was more modest, a writer of loss and restlessness. From Chaguanas, Trinidad (‘small, remote, unimportant’), he now travels widely, has an extensive look around and actually listens to people – mostly men, of course. He never interviews anyone as intelligent as he is, but he is genuinely curious, a rigorous questioner and not easily impressed. He even greets one subject, in his hotel room, while wearing ‘Marks and Spencer winceyette pyjamas’, of which he is so proud he mentions them twice.

Around the same time, Michel Foucault – more leather than winceyette – visited Ruhollah Khomeini outside Paris, and went to Tehran twice. Foucault, who was fascinated by the extreme gay lifestyle he found in San Francisco, had also written for the Corriere della Sera defending the imams in the name of ‘spiritual revolution’. This inspiring revolt or holy war of the oppressed, he believed, would be an innovative resistance, an alternative to Marxism, creating a new society out of identities shattered by domination. It was new. But as Naipaul discovered, there was very little spirituality about this power grab by the ayatollahs. Soon they were hanging homosexuals from cranes; women had to wear the chador. Even in Pakistan women covered up before they went out, and no one in my family had been veiled before. One of my female cousins revered Khomeini – ‘the voice of God’ – as an example of purity and selfless devotion. He was everything a good man should be. But she also took me aside and begged me to help her children escape to the West. Pakistan was impossible for the young; everyone who could was sending their money out of the country, and, when possible, sending their children out after it, preferably to the hated but also loved United States or, failing that, to Canada. ‘We want to leave this country but all doors are shut for us,’ my cousin wrote to me. ‘Do not know how to get out of here.’

‘Fundamentalism offered nothing,’ Naipaul wrote. He didn’t find much to idealise. The people Naipaul is drawn to want more, but they don’t know what it is. They are aware of their relative deprivation, but gullible – just like the protagonist of Naipaul’s masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas. Biswas becomes a journalist; he is working on a story called ‘Escape’. But he is too intelligent for his surroundings. He becomes hysterical, endlessly dwelling on his wounds and victimhood. He is subject to a power – colonialism – that always humiliates him, and he has internalised its contempt. There is only one way out: the belief that at least your children will have better lives than you. Biswas’s clever son, Anand, is Vidia Naipaul: the one who would escape to Oxford, work for the BBC and become a writer. Naipaul had done all that, but he had also learned that you can’t escape the past. Now travelling in places like those he came from, he found a proliferation of anxious, wounded men like his father.

But this time round, their sons wouldn’t fester. They would turn to a new machismo, a politicised Islam, ‘because all else had failed.’ Late in Among the Believers, Naipaul runs into my cousin Nusrat Nasarullah, then a journalist for the Morning Star. Nusrat, with his ‘fruity voice and walrus moustache’, tells him: ‘We have to create an Islamic society. We cannot develop in the Western way. Development will come to us only with an Islamic society. It is what they tell us.’ Around the time of the Iranian revolution Bob Dylan released ‘You Gotta Serve Somebody’, which elaborates the impossibility of not being devoted to someone or something. Seeking a space outside of the colonisers’ ideology, Naipaul’s subjects in Among the Believers could only repeat – only this time more harshly – what had already been done to them. What began as an indigenous form of resistance, cheered on by a few Parisian intellectuals, soon became a new, self-imposed slavery, a self-subjection with an added masochistic element – one manifestation of which became Osama bin Laden’s devotion to death. Hence the helplessness and disillusionment that Naipaul found. If the coloniser had always believed the subaltern to be incapable of independent thought or democracy, the new Muslims confirmed it with their submission. They had willingly brought a new tyrant into being, and He was terrible, worse than before. One of the oddest things about my first stay in Karachi was endlessly hearing people tell me how they wished the British would return and run things again. There were many shortages in Pakistan, but that of good ideas was the worst.

A few months after the Bosporus boat trip, Naipaul was invited to Turkey again, to address the European Writers’ Parliament, an idea of José Saramago’s. This time there was an uproar: Naipaul was said to have insulted Islam after saying in an interview that ‘to be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history.’ Naipaul never returned to Turkey – where now, as we know, there are more than three hundred journalists and writers in jail. Legitimate anger turned bad; the desire for obedience and strong men; a terror of others; the promise of power, independence and sovereignty; the persecution of minorities and women; the return to an imagined purity. Who would have thought this idea would have spread so far, and continue to spread?


About 20,000 people have marched on Sunday in Berlin and Hamburg to urge the German government to accept more migrants stranded in the Mediterranean, as a response to the violent anti-migrant protests in Chemnitz in recent days. 

In the northern city Hamburg, almost 16,000 people were marching on the street, urging authorities to open up the city's ports to welcome migrant rescue ships stranded in the Mediterranean. 

Some pro-migrant protestors held up orange life vests, which are often worn by migrants stranded in the sea after fleeing their homeland in Africa to Europe by ships.  Some protestors reportedly held banners reading "Human rights, not right-wing human" and "Seebrücke instead of Seehofer." 

Protesters hold a banner reading "Berlin as a safe harbor!" as they demonstrate for unhampered sea rescue of refugees in Berlin, September 2, 2018. /VCG Photo

"Seehofer" refers to Germany's hardline interior minister Horst Seehofer, who once offered resignation over migration row, though he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a compromise later.

Seebrücke (Sea Bridge) is an international group, which demands German and European policymakers to establish safe routes for refugees, stop the criminalization of sea rescue and humanely receive the poor migrants while respecting their rights. 

"We must not allow refugees to drown at sea, nor must we allow them to be mobbed and beaten up," German media DW quoted Hamburg's Protestant bishop Kirsten Fehrs as saying. 

Some 2,500 people also participated in pro-migrant protests in Berlin, holding a banner "Berlin: A safe haven for refugees."

Police maintain the security during an anti-migrant protest in Chemnitz on September 1, 2018. /VCG Photo

It's reported that the Seebrücke group had sent Berlin's authorities a petition, pushing the capital city to allow in migrants rescued at sea. 

Berlin should do all it could to provide visas and residency rights to those rescued, according to the group. 

Meanwhile, other German cities including Frankfurt also saw people marching to protect migrants on Sunday. 

The marches on Sunday are said to be a positive response to the clashes between far-right anti-migrant protesters and leftist protesters in Chemnitz, which were halted by police. 

(With inputs from Agencies)


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