“I don’t make jokes. I just observe governments and report facts.“ — Will Rogers.
Laughter is supposed to be contagious. But I don’t see too many people guffawing at the world’s jokes. So, I shall try to spread the cheer. (if you don’t find this funny, pretend this post is your lover’s text message and reply with ROTFL!)
ACT 1. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Second Greatest Indian of them all ?
Anil Ambani, CNN-IBN and History Channel did us a great service recently. An issue which was keeping me up at nights, gnawing at my insides like a claustrophobic termite trapped in me, has been resolved. Aah, the relief.
B.R. Ambedkar is the 2nd greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi . How Ambedkar will be chuffed with himself !
Of course, the Greatness Pageant was decided by an online poll of young India. And Gandhi was excluded from the list of venerable nominees. Lest the world suddenly find out how much the Indian masses care for Gandhi today. Instead Ambedkar had to fight off stiff competition from stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, APJ Abdul Kalam, Jawaharlal Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lata Mangeshkar. Such august company for the man, who drafted the constitution, fought a lone battle against caste in India, revived Buddhism among other things.
Subplot 1. Obviously Gandhi is the greatest Indian mortal ever. Gandhi and Ambedkar cannot be mentioned in the same breath.
Even though, I actually agree with the first position – I find the fake idolization of Gandhi abhorrent and another reminder that we, as a society, are more in thrall of hero-worship than the ideas which the heroes represent.
Subplot 2. Since young India has voted Ambedkar to be the greatest Indian after Gandhi. It is clear that caste is dead. Let us forget the fact that dalit oppression, injustices and caste-violence continues unabated. Let us pretend that we have slain this evil. We, young India! Congratulations to ourselves.
This happy occasion gives me ideas for resolving one of my long-standing issues. So here it goes —
Issue-of-Grave-Importance : Who is the second most Arrogant Indian alive ?
Yours truly, of course, takes the cake! My friends circle is also disqualified from the competition. (they are drooling at the prospect of winning this coveted prize. But this is a contest for human beings. Tanmai can scarcely be confused as one. Prasant is disqualified on account of being-in-a-relationship and getting all his arrogance squashed by his girlfriend. Amrita – not Indian!)
So, is it Narendra Modi, of the “hang me if I am guilty” fame ? Is it Manmohan Singh for his arrogant silence and not deigning to even oblige us with a word or two in his entire term ? Or is it someone’s anonymous pet blind cat ?
You, young India, can now decide!
ACT 2. Tweeting for Freedom of Misinformation.
Recent ethnic violence in Assam triggered a unique sequence of events. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter were used malevolently to spread rumours about grisly communal attacks against Muslims and a threatened backlash against people from the region. There was a mass exodus from major cities in India.
Which brings us to the Government’s considered, deliberate and astute response —
1. It restricted text messaging and blocked around 300 webpages.
2. It even blocked pages of newspapers like the Independent ! On account of the Independent carrying political caricature, which is such a crime.
3. The government tried blocking twitter accounts of 300 malicious fellows. Unfortunately, it did not succeed in this endeavour in time. The accounts continued to operate for a day, spewing misinformation like a politician at an election rally.
4. The Government however succeeded in blocking the twitter account of one prime suspect — (wait for it… ) Mr. Sachin Pilot — the Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting ! For a day, Mr. Pilot was tweet-less! I am still speechless at our bureaucrats’ marvellous sense of humour.
5. The Government also succeeded in breaking its own laws. It had laid down norms that blocked accounts will be listed online and a webpage with appropriate reasons shall be made public. None of this happened. I guess, breaking rules is just too much fun. Especially when the rules are your own.
Subplot 1. The new rules for governing the internet gives the government unacceptable and draconian powers. It is a curtailment of fundamental rights.
Subplot 2. Hate speech and deliberate dissemination of disinformation cannot be a right. There has to be a sustained debate on the checks and balances needed to monitor social media.
Subplot 3. Online media has given a powerful tool to the masses. It provides the individual with so much information that it is difficult to “manufacture consent”. But there is also a threat, that with ubiquitous communication, it is also very easy for malafide interests to wreak havoc with impunity and anonymity.
ACT 3. Agricultural Imperialism and Special Exploitation Zones (SEZs).
In 1991, Meles Zenawi came to power in Ethiopia after a long civil war, in which he was backed by the United States. He recently died in August. He left behind an autocratic state where there is a single party, tight state control, where the ruling party has a direct stake in the economy through a business conglomerate. And he left behind a legacy of large-scale land acquisition by foreign investors.
Over the next 3 years, the Ethiopian Government plans to identify , prepare and transfer 3.3 million hectares of land, under the ironically named Growth and Transformation Plan, to foreign agricultural investors. Despite food scarcity in the country, the government offers these investors incentives for using the land for export crops. The resources granted to them include not just land but water resources.
There has been no consultation with local communities while giving away their land. There is a desperate threat to peasant agriculture, deprivation of pasture lands and lack of access to water resources for the people of the region. People are being displaced and resettled to provide the investors with “unencumbered access” to resources. Any additional employment generated is likely to be short-term, seasonal and low wage unskilled labour. The investors are under no contractual obligation to do something about the food security of Ethiopia.
Indian and American companies are in a mad rush to acquire lands, some of which are as large as the Delhi-NCR region!
But all this is not funny. Here is what is funny —
Nobel Peace Prize Winner and US President Barack Obama has hailed Zenawi’s ” unyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor .. his desire to lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty through his drive for food security. ”
Unyielding commitment, desire, drive for food security indeed. Quelle Horreur !!
ACT 4. Searching for “sense” in Libya. (Beware, boring final Act alert.)
Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the US consulate in Benghazi. The attackers’ apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances.
In order to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy.
That Gadhafi was capable of mass murder was certainly correct.
The idea that Gadhafi would quickly fall proved incorrect.
That a democracy would result after the intervention proved the most dubious assumption of them all.
What emerged in Libya is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows an existing government, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos. The opposition was a chaotic collection of tribes, factions and ideologies sharing little beyond their opposition to Gadhafi.
Opponents of tyranny assume that deposing a tyrant will improve the lives of his victims. This is sometimes true, but only occasionally. The czar of Russia was clearly a tyrant, but it is difficult to argue that the Leninist-Stalinist regime that ultimately replaced him was an improvement. Similarly, the Shah of Iran was repressive and brutal. It is difficult to argue that the regime that replaced him was an improvement. There is no assurance that opponents of a tyrant will not abuse human rights just like the tyrant did. There is even less assurance that an opposition too weak and divided to overthrow a tyrant will coalesce into a government when an outside power destroys the tyrant. The outcome is more likely to be chaos, and the winner will likely be the most organized and well-armed faction with the most ruthless clarity about the future. There is no promise that it will constitute a majority or that it will be gentle with its critics.
The alternative to one thug may simply be another thug. This is a matter of power and will, not of political philosophy. Utter chaos, an ongoing struggle that leads nowhere but to misery, also could ensue. But the most important reason Western human rights activists might see their hopes dashed is due to a principled rejection of Western liberal democracy on the part of the newly liberated. To be more precise, the opposition might embrace the doctrine of national self-determination, and even of democracy, but go on to select a regime that is in principle seriously opposed to Western notions of individual rights and freedom.
While some tyrants simply seek power, other regimes that appear to Westerners to be tyrannies actually are rather carefully considered moral systems that see themselves as superior ways of life. There is a paradox in the principle of respect for foreign cultures followed by demands that foreigners adhere to basic Western principles. It is necessary to pick one approach or the other. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that someone can have very distinct moral principles, be respected, and yet be an enemy of liberal democracy. Respecting another moral system does not mean simply abdicating your own interests. The Japanese had a complex moral system that was very different from Western principles. The two did not have to be enemies, but circumstances caused them to collide.
The NATO approach in Libya assumed that the removal of a tyrant would somehow inevitably lead to a liberal democracy. Indeed, this was the assumption about the Arab Spring in the West, where it was thought that that corrupt and tyrannical regimes would fall and that regimes that embraced Western principles would sprout up in their place.
Implicit in this was a profound lack of understanding of the strength of the regimes, of the diversity of the opposition and of the likely forces that would emerge from it. What took Gadhafi’s place was ongoing warfare between clans, tribes and ideologies. From this chaos, Libyan Islamists of various stripes have emerged to exploit the power vacuum.
The desire to overthrow Gadhafi came from two impulses.
The first was to rid the world of a tyrant.
The second was to give the Libyans the right to national self-determination.
Not carefully considered were two other issues: whether simply overthrowing Gadhafi would yield the conditions for determining the national will, and whether the national will actually would mirror NATO’s values and, one should add, interests.
The events of last week represent unintended and indirect consequences of the removal of Gadhafi. Gadhafi ruthlessly suppressed radical Islam. In the absence of his suppression, the radical Islamist faction appears to have carefully planned the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The attack was timed for when the U.S. ambassador would be present. The mob was armed with a variety of weapons. The public justification was a little-known video on YouTube that sparked anti-American unrest throughout the Arab world.
For the Libyan jihadists, tapping into anger over the video was a brilliant stroke. Having been in decline, they reasserted themselves well beyond the boundaries of Libya. In Libya itself, they showed themselves as a force to be reckoned with — at least to the extent that they could organize a successful attack on the Americans. The four Americans who were killed might have been killed in other circumstances, but they died in this one: Gadhafi was eliminated, no coherent regime took his place, no one suppressed the radical Islamists, and the Islamists could therefore act. How far their power will grow is not known, but certainly they acted effectively to achieve their ends. It is not clear what force there is to suppress them. It is also not clear what momentum this has created for jihadists in the region, but it will put NATO, and more precisely the United States, in the position either of engaging in another war in the Arab world at a time and place not of its choosing, or allowing the process to go forward and hoping for the best.
A distinction is frequently drawn between the idealist and realist position. Libya is a case in which the incoherence of the distinction can be seen. If the idealist position is concerned with outcomes that are moral from its point of view, then simply advocating the death of a tyrant is insufficient. To guarantee the outcome requires that the country be occupied and pacified, as was Germany or Japan. But the idealist would regard this act of imperialism as impermissible, violating the doctrine of national sovereignty. More to the point, the United States is not militarily in a position to occupy or pacify Libya, nor would this be a national priority justifying war. The unwillingness of the idealist to draw the logical conclusion from their position, which is that simply removing the tyrant is not the end but only the beginning, is compounded by the realist’s willingness to undertake military action insufficient for the political end. Moral ends and military means must mesh.
Removing Gadhafi was morally defensible but not by itself. Having removed him, NATO had now adopted a responsibility that it shifted to a Libyan public unequipped to manage it. But more to the point, no allowance had been made for the possibility that what might emerge as the national will of Libya would be a movement that represented a threat to the principles and interests of the NATO members. The problem of Libya was not that it did not understand Western values, but that a significant part of its population rejected those values on moral grounds and a segment of the population with battle-hardened fighters regarded them as inferior to its own Islamic values. Somewhere between hatred of tyranny and national self-determination, NATO’s commitment to liberty as it understood it, became lost.
Epilogue. Why the boring final Act ?
( Those who skipped Act 4 will be tried for sedition. It is the new rage.)
I have always believed that things must even out in the end. Religion, people say, has caused wars and bloodshed. Yes, but isn’t it boring to sit through a church service or a Hindu ceremony ? So it evens out.
Your doctor warns you about alcoholism and you are depressed. But then you go home and find your secret vodka stash, and you are happy. Things just even out. Let’s say you have a nice cupcake. You are happy and then you eat it. Cupcake is not there anymore! Or you are holding french fries and they seem to be not so hot. Then you put them in your mouth, and it is really hot.
You call your friend who is hosting a party, and he says that the party is cancelled. You call, in a different voice, and suddenly, there is a party. You send someone a death threat and then the police come to your home, mysteriously, and threaten you. You notice an ant drifting away on a leaf in the water. Then you notice your aunt drifting away in life. Eventually, things must even out.
One day you ask someone to look at your skin rashes. Then the next day you are looking at their rashes. You see a pebble on a river bank, throw it across the water. It skips several times. Then the next pebble you cannot even pry it loose, because of this glue-mud!
Hence I write a few paragraphs and you laugh. And by the end of the post, you are crying and muttering for me to stop. Things even out in the end.