Monday, September 29, 2014

My article from FPRC Journal issue 19

Drifting right?

The shared predicament of the left in India and Nepal

For the leftists or the communists anywhere in the world including South Asia, to glorify and to attempt to recapitulate the so called communist regimes from then USSR and China is neither feasible nor desirable today. The longer they keep the vestiges of those regimes like hypocrisy and authoritarianism, the more detrimental to their long term future. A timely re-assessment of the legacy from the past will go a long way towards clearing path for the future. As the relentless neoliberal economic order increasingly veers towards authoritarianism--with corporations richer and stronger than nation states and geopolitics preferring pliant dictators over reasonable democracies--the relevance of the alternatives is set to only grow over time.

While George Orwell's masterpiece 'Animal farm' is deservedly the enduring satire at Stalinism and Communism, it is more than just that: the depiction of capitalism in the book is no more encouraging. What Orwell basically expresses through the analogy is that Communism has a tendency to degenerate into something as evil or even more evil than capitalism.

Still, the unique strength of the tale lies elsewhere: it ruthlessly dissects one vice of communism from which the capitalism of his day was comparatively free- the endless cycle of hypocrisy and deception, built layer upon layer; so thick that it stops being recognized as such after enough repetitions and recitals. The single sentence "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." is probably the most comprehensive statement ever formulated to unravel the factor of hypocrisy lurking behind the flowery rhetoric.

As time evolved, the web of hypocrisy and deception and the smokescreen of self-aggrandizement could not hold any longer and the USSR with its foundation in Leninism and Stalinism crumbled under its own weight over the late eighties and early nineties. China, the other giant state to be ruled by the communists had already deviated from its course dictated by Mao Zedong and was on way to unfettered state capitalism even though with a nominal garb of communism.

Is it then not strange that  a couple of years after the spectacular collapse of the USSR and two decades from the triumph of the 'reformists' in China, a formal communist outfit in Nepal, a tiny nation state etched between the Asian giants China and India, chose to wage a guerrilla war against the state aiming to establish a socialist utopia?

The paradox in India: Socialism triumphs as Socialists lose

Commentary by Samir Nazareth

The Left in India needs to talk about the socio-economic success of their ideology. They need to point out that the naysayers who are now crying wolf  have benefited from Socialist policy. They need to point out to India's burgeoning middle class as an outcome of the Socialist socio-economic model.  That it is the inclusiveness  of Socialism that has brought India to modernity. They need to celebrate too, celebrate the achievement of people and the resounding success of their philosophy. 

There were a slew of articles in Indian newspapers and magazines post Modi's victory in the recent Indian parliamentary elections. The common thread in all of them was on the failure of the left leaning liberals to read the writing on the wall. In trying to explain the trouncing the Congress I led UPA received, the writers separated Narendra Modi from his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and also  from their philosophical fount – the rightwing Hindu leaning Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Others, discussed the victory through the prism of the supposedly ostrich like behaviour of the  left leaning English populace. While others saw it as the response of the people to the corruption in the Congress I led UPA.

But none saw it as a victory for Socialist policy and a resounding  defeat for the socialists still stuck in their roti, kapada makan (food, clothing shelter) world.

Victory of Socialist Philosophy

The Directive Principles of the Constitution of India states '-----the  country is defined as a  Welfare State'. The authors of the Constitution stated that these Principles are not Justiciable: “the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws”. 

Further, Article 38 states “The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.” The second part points out to the need to“minimize the inequalities in income, and endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.”

Over the last 67 years there has been a constant effort to give people the means to develop. Yes, many such schemes (be they dams etc) have led to unforeseeable problems, and in other instances corruption has usurped what was rightfully others'. But despite this there has been a change.

There are 904,510,000 cell phones for a country with a population of 1,220,800,359; and the number of cell phones is not going to remain stagnant.  Life expectancy has increased from just over 40 years in the 60s to over 60 years today. In fact the life expectancy of women at 69.6 years is more than that for men which is at 67.3 years. As per the Indian health ministry 'Maternal mortality ratio has declined from 301 per 100,000 live births in 2001-03 to 212 in 2007-09', this is because of steady supply of foods, say the experts.

One could state without much compunction that Socialism is about fulfilling the lower rungs of Abraham Maslow's  'Hierarchy of Needs'. The pyramid provided by Maslow states that the very basic needs - physiological (breathing, food, water etc) - which when once met lead to people fulfilling other needs which are safety (housing, security of body and resources etc). When this is met, people then attempt to fulfill their need for Love/Belonging which then leads to fulfilling the desire for Esteem and finally for Self Actualization.

Indian Media: Who will guard the guards?

(First appeared on South Asia and Beyond on March 17, 2013. A shorter version of  this article appeared in Foreign Policy Journal as 'The Rot Behind the Facade of Free Media in India' on March 17, 2013)

Even as the months-old scandal related to a media conglomerate in India recedes in public memory, the questions related to the long term implications of collusion between the corporations and the media houses persist. With some respectable exceptions, the future of journalism at its essence looks grim in India given the philosophy and the clout of the agenda-setters.
There are two ways of cleansing corrupt or unethical practices: one, by forcing the people to abstain from them; the other, by redefining the erstwhile corrupt and unethical practices as 'not so'. A cursory examination at the way many societies deal with such practices makes it very clear that the latter of the two is often more feasible and in many instances the only possible way of dealing with the issue.

 World Map showing the percent of national populations living on less than $1.25 per day. UN Estimates 2000-2007: With India ranking next to few African countries from the bottom with a value of 41-60%, news related to poverty are not just worthy of contemplation by the 'leader's in Indian media (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons). Contrast this with the glamorous news item about the Indian billionaires below.
Probably, there is no more tantalizing example of such kind of adaptation to corrupt practices than the Indian media. From the outcry against the 'paid news' over past many years to revelation of fake stings by the TV channels, the darker side of Indian media has been recurrently illuminated even though for brief periods. Past two years have been boom time for the Indian media as the sensationalism around the multitude of massive financial scams has ensured that people are glued to the TV channels or the newspapers and magazines. While the corrupt activities of politicians are gleefully covered, the issue of corporate corruption remains a near-taboo and introspection into the state of media industry itself is nearly missing, particularly among the 'leaders' of the Indian media world. 

As expected, the by now five-month-old scandal related to a sting by a business tycoon against a TV conglomerate is being forgotten as if no such thing had ever occurred. Apparently, agents of one of the prominent TV channels were secretly videoed while trying to extort large sums of money from a business group (through an arrangement by which favorable coverage would be given and damaging stories avoided in exchange for a lucrative advertisement deal). While one commentator or the other deplores the collusion between the business houses and the media in which backdrop the sting took place, most media outlets are now desperately trying to break some fresh news, catch some new scam or orchestrate a new sting as opposed to following the stale story.

A facsimile of The Times of India’s August 28, 2011 page with the ‘marketing feature’ on Bt Cotton. The same stories, word-by-word, had appeared earlier as real news on Oct 31, 2008. (Source: The Hindu article by P. Sainath). Contrast this with the grim data of Farmer suicides below, taken from National Crime Records Bureau, that also includes the state depicted to 'reap gold' in the TOI feature
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An exchange with the leading thinker of the day: The regimes in USSR and China were far from communism

(This brief exchange took place between myself and ... through email on March 28 and 29, 2013. This appeared as the conversation with an anonymous thinker in the New Year 2070 issue of South Asia and Beyond. Since this is highly relevant for the theme of the current Dashain issue of the same blog, I carry it again. Having given the person the word not to reveal his identity for fear of him being unnecessarily dragged into internet debates, I am not doing so. Hope the readers understand my difficulty)

Question: Dear sir, I am aware of volume and scope of your work. Even though many people add the tag of 'controversial' to your description, I see no relevance of that tag. I am also well aware of your position in Palestinian issue and I have nothing more to add.

I perfectly agree with the assessment that what Israel sees as its 'legitimate right to survive' and the behavior it shows is state terror, pure and simple, imposed on the Palestinian people. The attention drawn to Palestinian issue by respectable people like you is commendable. My nagging realization is that, if the suffering of Palestinians is to work as a standard, there are thousands of 'Mini-Palestine's in world: from slums of India to villages in China where poverty strangles people, and from the flashpoints of international conflicts to lands of endless ethnic wars. To name some people victimized by ruthless butchery of powerful people and/or institutions in recent past: the Tamils in Srilanks, the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the tribal people in Central India and so on. 

My observation is that the traditional ways of fighting oppression and exploitation through one form of organization have suffered a severe setback with disastrous performance of communist regimes in many parts of the world; and other forms of viable organization are yet to evolve. Meanwhile, the capitalist world order is increasingly adapting to the evolving scenario and every thug, warlord, religious fanatic or any criminal is now able to buy security as well as dignity with wealth and is in a better position to exploit more people (not based on any ideology as such); particularly in developing world where law and order situation is worsening.

As the monopoly capitalism sweeps the world at macro-level, a parallel and little-noticed but potentially more troubling monopoly of rich and powerful individuals is increasingly taking helms in societies and states (South Asia is where most of my observations are based). Either way, while the people with modest financial status complain the inability to move up the prosperity ladder, an increasing no. of underprivileged people are literally downwardly mobile. 

How do you see this phenomenon of increasing pauperization, misery and conflict in today's world? Can there be an overarching theory to explain this the way Marx once did? Do you think activism against many vices like class, race, region or gender, religion-based oppression  and exploitation coalesce as envisioned by some people? Can justice and liberty be expected in future if today's form of world capitalism persists? 

Answer: There’s been some discussion of the fact that the world is dividing into a “plutonomy” (the very rich) and a “precariat” (a great mass living a precarious existence), in addition to the particularly awful suffering of marginalized groups such as those you mention.  And the reasons for it.  I’ve written about it a lot, others too.  There’s no “overarching theory,” but Marx didn’t really have one either for the capitalism of his day; only substantial insights.  But I don’t think things look quite as gloomy as you say.  There’s also been substantial progress in the struggles for human rights and justice, and no reason why it cannot continue.

Q. Thanks a lot. I was talking about emerging trends in South Asia and elsewhere. Besides the concentration of wealth in few hands, the other problems apparently unrelated to capitalism's legacy like ethnic strife are also quite troubling. Could there be any indirect link between the current politico-economic systems and the upsurge in violence, say in Srilanka and Burma?  

A. Each case has to be looked at on its own, but neoliberalism in general tends to spur ethnic violence: Yugoslavia, Rwanda, many other cases.  There’s a good article on it by Prabhat Patnaik in a recent issue of Frontline. 

The U.S. backs Israel's criminal policies financially, diplomatically, and militarily but doesn't want it highlighted

 An interview with Jeremy R Hammond taken on March 23, 2013

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst and a recipient of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He is the founding editor of Foreign Policy Journal . He has written extensively about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that include the overwhelmingly popular and widely discussed article The Myth of the U.N. Creation of Israel.

Despite his busy schedule, he promptly agreed to answer some questions through email for this blog. In this interview, he openly speaks about issues ranging from potential solution of Palestinian problem to his predicaments related to Foreign Policy Journal. 

  • The communist regimes in the USSR and China were disasters in terms of the cause of humanity.
  • Two-state solution in the Middle East, for the US and Israel, means whatever it is that Israel wants
  • For US, Israel violating international law by building more settlements was not a problem; only timing was unacceptable
  • Finding a business model that works has been difficult for mainstream media, much less alternative outlets
  • Our purpose should be to educate ourselves and others and to pursue the higher goals of justice and liberty.

Is democracy consistent with Islam?

Essay by Nauman Sadiq

Some people are under the impression that democracy and Islam are incompatible. But I don’t see any contradiction between democracy and Islam. Though I admit, there is some friction between Islam and liberalism. When we say that there is a contradiction between Islam and democracy, we make a category mistake which is a very serious logical fallacy. We must be precise about the definitions of the terms that we employ.

Democracy is simply a representative political system that ensures representation, accountability, the right of the electorate to vote governments in and vote governments out. In this sense when we use the term democracy we mean a multi-party representative political system that confers legitimacy upon a government which comes to power through an election process which is a contest between more than one political parties, to ensure that it is voluntary. Thus democracy is nothing more than a multi-party representative political system.

But some of us romantics get carried away in our boundless enthusiasm and ascribe meanings to the words that are quite subjective and fallacious. Some will hyphenate it with liberalism and call it a liberal-democracy while others will call it an informed or enlightened democracy. In my opinion the only correct adjective to democracy is a ‘representative-democracy.’

There is a big difference between democracy and liberalism. Democracy falls under the category of politics while liberalism falls in the category of culture. And we shouldn’t mix politics and culture together because it will give us a toxic blend which is an anathema to some of our core sensibilities: religion is roughly a sub-category of culture and it will be a violation of the sacred tenets of secularism to involve religion/culture in the political matters. Politics must strictly be about allocation of resources, i.e. economics and any mention of culture, religion or value-system must offend our liberal sensibilities and secular aesthetics.

Puns aside, some people use the term democratic culture, what do they mean by it? It could mean anything from the fairytale of Romeo and Juliet to a belief in Santa and from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs. But does democratic culture means a liberal culture? Liberal as in more open-minded, understanding and tolerant? Tolerant in a way that Democrats tolerate the Republicans and the Tea Party questions the birthplace and secret faith of Obama?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Terror and counter-terror: It is more than meets the eyes

By Nauman Sadiq

On terrorism, it is more than it meets the eyes. But being bombarded day in and day out by the 'Responsibility to protect' and 'Humanitarian intervention' jargon, the real narrative of the terrorist activities and so called counter-terrorism measures is just missing from public discourse.

So, why is The West ready to pick new fight with a bunch of terrorists calling themselves the 'Caliphate'? Are the motives really altruistic as is often depicted in MSM?

Definitely not, says Sadiq, known for his insinuations to the psychological aspects of the contemporary developments in the world. Here he delves into how the economic and other factors force the hands of the western powers into the different parts of the world not necessarily rich in fossil fuels. 

Terrorism as pretext for intervention

Nauman Sadiq

The fear of terrorism is partly a fact and partly a hype to militarily intervene in the oil-rich Middle East. Obviously, any incident of terrorism is a big human tragedy in which many innocent human lives are lost and governments all over the world try to avert such an incident from happening. But the actions of the governments, and their proportionality, needs to be carefully examined to judge their real intentions. Can it be said about General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime that it felt a genuine love and affection towards its brothers-in-faith; and that’s why the Pakistani military establishment chose to give refuge to the Afghans and then equipped and trained them to ‘liberate’ their homeland from the clutches of an ‘evil empire?’ Even the naivest amongst us won’t believe a word of what I just said, but some Pakistani tea partyers might.

So why did Pakistani military oligarchy decided to intervene in Afghanistan? Was it to strengthen its defenses against India, the oft-quoted strategic depth theory; or, the fear that the erstwhile Soviet Union might make further advance into Balochistan to reach the warm waters of the Arabian sea? These factors may have played a part; but to understand the real reason why Pakistan decided to intervene in the Afghan conflict; we need to understand the nature of power. Power ought to be means to attain higher goals; but in the real life we often face the is-ought dilemma; where, rather than being means to an end, the power becomes an end in itself; and it is the nature of power to expand further and to grow even more powerful. Thus, the Pakistani Establishment didn’t collaborate with the Western powers’ ‘bear-trap project’ for any ulterior strategic goals; the goal was only to ‘exercise’ power by taking advantage of the opportunity provided to them, goal or no goal.

To elaborate this abstract concept; I would like to draw a parallel between power and sex. In the grand scheme of things, sex is not an end in itself; it is means to an end, the end being the procreation of the offspring. But most modern hedonic couples use contraceptives and don’t consider it worthwhile to procreate and nurture offspring, due to the material constraints or the unnecessary effort which it entails. We, the social scientists, have no business to offer advice or moral lessons; to each his own. But if the ultimate end for which the grand schemers invented the agency, comes to a naught; that does not per se render the agency any less significant; instead the agency itself becomes an ultimate end, and quite a potent one for that matter. Thus power is like sex; its exercise is pleasurable and its goal is further expansion and more arrogation of power to satisfy the needs of insatiable power-maniacs.

Many Leftists and anti-imperialists these days, commit the fallacy of trying to establish an essentialist and linear narrative to the global events. One cannot question their bona fide intentions; but their overzealous efforts sometimes prove counter-productive to their own credibility and the cause that they strive for. All the conflicts of the 21st century were not energy-wars. Iraq and Libya were obviously energy-wars because Iraq has proven oil reserves of 140 billion barrels and it produces 3 million barrels per day (and has a capacity to reach 5 mbpd in a few years comparable only to Saudi Arabia’s 10 million bpd or 15% of global supply) and Libya produces 1.6 mbpd. The Syrian conflict has a different dimension to it; it does not produce much oil except some 400,000 barrels per day from the north-east Syria which is territorially contiguous with Iraq. NATO’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is for the sake of Israel’s regional security because the Shia axis: Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have a known anti-Zionist stance. A likely scenario for any future government in Syria would be an Islamist-dominated government; but a weak Islamist government in Syria riddled with internal conflicts is a lesser evil compared to a strong Assad regime which has a backing of powerful global and regional actors like Russia and Iran and which also has an active proxy force in Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah.