Friday, November 20, 2015

In Wake Of Paris Attacks, Western Media As The Arbiter

In Wake Of Paris Attacks, Western Media As The Arbiter
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

The massacre in Paris is not just a French or a western tragedy. It has caused universal outrage. And yet the global media’s coverage of the horror tends to give the West a monopoly on pain.

Why, hours before the Paris attack, nearly 50 Shia Muslims were slaughtered by the IS and over 200 injured in Beirut; 27 members of a Shia leader’s funeral were butchered in Baghdad which has lost count of such occurrences. And all of this on the heels of a Russian passenger aircraft brought down over Sinai, killing all 224 passengers, and the October massacre in Ankara, killing 102 and so on and so forth including the 141 school children slaughtered in Peshawar at the hands of terrorists now wearing the IS garb.

Could all those smart anchors on the streets of Paris not have reflected on the pain outside their immediate surroundings? This is the parochialism of the contemporary media, focused only on “us” and “our kind”. The larger humanity has to be left as the business of bards and bohemian poets with a leftist streak.

In the imperial global hierarchy, the media covering such events and the one which is beamed worldwide happens to be in exclusive control of Washington and London. This media’s perspectives are prioritized by western interests.

Whatever the explanation, the coverage of an event like Paris divides the world into two sets of audiences.

Folks in the West, their anxieties heightened by the outrage, find comfort in the International community getting into a scrum on the issue in Vienna, Antalya…wherever. They find the coverage in tune with their fears and concerns.

This powerful community is not even aware of the popular Cairo blog which asks the question:
“The International Community keeps asking what the region is doing to stop the spread of the ISIS; the region keeps asking why ISIS is only a problem when it strikes Western targets.” Millions in the Arab World ask such questions.

Social media in the region lampoons the West’s reactions. A cartoon shows two patients in a hospital. One covered head to toe in bandages is named “Syria”. The other, in the adjacent bed, with a bandaged finger is called “Paris”. A man in a three piece suit, labeled the “International community”, leans over to kiss the bandaged finger.

Since there is in the Arab world (as in India) no media capable of live coverage of events like the attack in Paris, there is among these populations an acute sense of helplessness. Each family is riveted on its TV set which blares Muslim terror at them but never dwells on Muslim pain. Iraq, Libya, Syria, three efficient dictatorships have all been destroyed. Nearly three million have been killed by western bombardment, the IS, consequent civil wars. Hundreds of thousands are on the march towards a Europe torn between hospitality and its exact opposite.

These are the images which preoccupy their brutalized lives. Self centered coverage by the Western media come across to them as frames from which their continuing tragedies are missing.

At the cost of being repetitive let me explain that I am sensitive to these disparities because I was present at the inauguration of the global media when in February 1991 CNN brought the first ever war live into our drawing rooms. This was the Operation Desert Storm. The coverage resonated with western audiences as triumphalism doubly exhilarating because it came so soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Equally, it added to the Arab world’s sense of defeat and humiliation. It almost ignited global terrorism in this era. The dazzling fireworks on live TV over Afghanistan a decade later added fuel to this fire.

What irks Arab intelligentsia most is a sense of impotence at two levels – one at the level of their own authoritarian regimes which are often in cahoots with the west, and secondly with the West itself which is impervious to popular Arab discontent. The West only deals with potentates or rebel groups in Syria, Libya, Iraq.

It is an article of faith in the Arab world that the ISIS is, in its origins, a US, Saudi Turkish, Israeli creation. Off the record, Arab Ambassadors in New Delhi will testify to this widespread belief in their respective countries. In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in August last year, President Obama himself admitted that the ISIS had been of use in certain circumstances. “We did not start air strikes all across Iraq as soon as the ISIS came in because that would have taken the pressure off Nouri al-Maliki”, the then Shia Prime Minister of Iraq out of favour with the US.

In other words, not long ago, the priority was to get rid of Maliki rather than halt the ISIS. An altered world order may well be the price for that delay.

After the Paris attack, the media has boosted the anti terror mood to the sort of pitch reminiscent of the first Gulf war. This time even Russia is part of the pack.

Incidentally, the media forgot to mention the first effect of the Paris attack – cancellation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to France, Italy and the Vatican, an outcome that must have pleased Riyadh.

Western resolve to fight terror will be on test in Africa where the entire belt from Nigeria right upto Somalia is in the line of fire of IS look-alikes like Boko Haram and Al Shabab. French intelligence, which allowed President Francois Hollande to watch a soccer match in a stadium which was attacked by suicide bombers, is once again embarrassed by gunmen holding a number of hostages in Bamako, capital of Mali, which was presumed to have been tranquilized by French troops only last year.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

People Globally Against Political Parties Identified With Crony Capitalism

People Globally Against Political Parties Identified With Crony Capitalism 
                                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Bihar results are a milestone in Indian political history, ofcourse, but they also link up with a worldwide phenomena: the crumbling of the world order erected after the fall of the Berlin wall. A brief look at history to follow the trend.

Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 signaled the advent of the Sole Superpower which immediately embarked on a project of full spectrum global dominance beginning with Operation Desert Storm in February 1992.

The firepower of the world’s most muscular war machine was for the first time brought live into our drawing rooms by Peter Arnett of the CNN from the terrace of Baghdad’s Al Rasheed hotel.

The Iraqi army was pummeled. For one set of global TV audience, the outcome was undiluted triumphalism. But for the Muslim world, it came across as yet another defeat, further humiliation. The world, divided into two distinct sets of audiences was treated to more TV fare – the two intefadas, the daily brutalization of Bosnian Muslims and the four year long siege of Sarajevo which agitated Turks (because of their historical links with the Balkans) to such an extent that they brought Nekmatin Arbakan’s Islamist Refah party to power. Arbakan’s disciples Abdullah Gul and Tayyip Erdogan, toned down their Islamism to cope with Turkey’s Kemalist constitution.

Turkey found the electoral response to Western provocation. Anger in most of the authoritarian Muslim world created a space for militant schools with a ready faculty left over from the Afghan Jehad. The world galloped towards 9/11, after which the world was enlisted in the war against Islamic terror.

The global war on terror became the strategic preoccupation for nations all under US auspices.

Let it be added as an aside that even as Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi was alert to the main chance. When 56 kar sewaks were burnt alive in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 26, 2002, he promptly took the case away from the Collector, Jayanti Ravi, and handed it to the Director General, Anti Terror Squad, Vijay Vipul. Without any preliminary inquiry, the Godhra train tragedy was to be treated as an act of terror. Modi was firmly on the anti terror bandwagon.

The second mantra handed to the post Soviet World Order was “Development”. The Soviet collapse was not sold as the victory of democracy, freedom, human rights; it was sold as the triumph of the market.

Two party systems beholden to corporates, linked to mega multinational corporations became the trend. These powerful establishments, with the media in attendance, could suppress stories of unspeakable corruption and crony capitalism only upto a point. But not for long.

The dominant reality since 2008 has been the gradual decline of the US. Systems erected in anticipation of the American Century are crumbling. This objective reality has given heart to the people hemmed in by two party systems in cahoots with corrupt sources of finance. Electoral eruptions have taken place even though it would be premature to describe the current situation as revolutionary.

Greek Left Wing party, Syriza, came to power but powerful countries like Germany forced it to compromise its anti austerity, anti capitalism platforms.

Greece is only two percent of Europe’s GDP. Spain is 14%. Syriza, before Greece’s compromise, did infect the voters in Spain. Spain’s communist party, Podemos, made dramatic gains in the local body elections. But a degree of demoralization afflicts Podemos as it prepares for the national elections on December 20. This because the lesson learnt from Syriza’s compromises that excessive Leftism may be unrealistic in Spain’s current economic situation.

Alright, Spain’s leftism may have to be toned down but it has already shamed political corruption and crony capitalism to such an extent that it can never be business as usual after the December elections.

The trend continues in Portugal where a socialist-communist combination is in contention for power. What a far cry from Tony Blair is the new labour boss, Jeremy Corbyn, as is Canada’s Justin Trudeau from Stephen Harper.

Joko Widodo in Indonesia and Arvind Kejriwal are not exactly left but they come from a similar reformist anti corruption stable, quite as effective in corroding the neo liberal structures.

Modi came to power riding the world’s most expensive campaign. He harvested the prevailing disgust at the time against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, tied to India Inc. and the World Bank.

When Modi’s personal image was on test in Delhi, he was decimated. Big business, Police, Lt. Governor, the BJP, Congress and the drum beating media, simply waylaid Kejriwal from day one of his innings. The affront to the idea of Modi and market economics in the form of Kejriwal must not be allowed to stand. In one respect, an old Persian saying “gunah be lazzat” (sinning without pleasure) may well apply to Modi. He has not done for all his capitalist clients everything he may have wished to do. But the tag of crony capitalism hangs from his neck.

And now Bihar has administered a knockout punch. Ofcourse a singular lack of culture in the Hindutva brigade’s anti Love Jihad and anti beef campaign recoiled on the BJP. Where will Modi recover ground now in the coming state elections: West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, UP?

The front page of Times of India (November 13) is emblematic of the mess Modi is in.

Asked about growing intolerance Modi told the media in London, standing beside David Cameron: “No place for intolerance” in the land of Buddha and Gandhi.

Above this three column story is a bigger headline:
“Cow brigade now out to stop leather shoe sales.”

Lower down the page is another story about death threats to playwright Girish Karnad by Hindutva groups against airing his admiration for Tipu Sultan. But all of this is against the backdrop of Modi’s perceived proximity to names like Adani which tend to distance politicians from the people.

And now that Nitish Kumar is about to replace Rahul Gandhi’s mug shots as a would be counter point to Modi, he would do well to remember a simple mantra: steer clear of something which is in bad odour globally – crony capitalism.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Public Intellectual and Grassroot Common Sense Need More Media Space

Public Intellectual and Grassroot Common Sense Need More Media Space
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

By way of relief from the cacophony that passes for debate on prime time television, India’s ace anchor, Barkha Dutt, did a memorable interview the other night with historian, Romila Thapar. It was memorable because the context against which this thoughtful conversation took place was so shoddy, and bleak.

A man had been lynched at Dadri near Delhi on suspicion of eating beef; three rational thinkers, Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar had been murdered in cold blood by individuals affiliated with extremist Hindu groups; Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face had been blackened by Shiv Sainiks for hosting former Pakistan Foreign Minister’s book launch; Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali was forced to cancel his performance in Mumbai……..the list is endless.

These are no longer “fringe” groups, Thapar remarked, they are here, in the room.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an intellectual way to the right of Thapar, chastised Modi in the harshest possible terms, for the state of affairs. Mehta wrote: “the blame for this has to fall entirely on Modi. Those who spread this poison enjoy his patronage. This government has set a tone that is threatening, mean spirited and inimical to freedom.”

The occasion for the Thapar interview was the publication of a book edited by her on the role of the Public Intellectual in India. The timing of the book is prescient. The publication has coincided with writers across the country returning awards given to them by the state. What started as a driblet with Nayantara Sehgal and Ashok Vajpayee taking the lead has now become a torrent.

Meanwhile, a government in search of Foreign Direct Investments, is particularly worried at the bad press in countries from where investments are most expected.

Even the New York Times spotted Modi’s below the belt jibe at Lalu Prasad Yadav. Lalu was possessed by the “devil”, Modi said, because the Bihar leader had suggested that Yadavs ate beef. “In contrast, Modi boasted, I come from the land of Gujarat where people worship cows”.

What is involved here is the sort of low cunning not expected from the country’s Prime Minister. Many Yadavs, like a host of others, probably do eat “beef”. But this “beef” is buffalo meat which is permissible by law. Unfortunately, in popular parlance even buffalo meat is “beef”.

Indian newspapers have written hard hitting editorials, but let me reproduce this passage from the New York Times because Indian readers may not have read it.
Since he was elected in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has been adept at appeasing his Hindu hard-line base while, at the same time, promising economic growth and development to a wider national and international audience. But that balancing act is in danger of teetering, imperiling not only the economic development Mr. Modi has promised but also India’s open, inclusive democracy.”

The brutal murder of Akhlaq at Dadri is another link in the chain of communal riots and pogroms that have been visited upon Indian Muslims since the Partition of 1947. This must not be mixed up with the serial murder of rational thinkers or Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face being blackened with ink. These are not communal issues. These are attacks on freedom of speech. The new constitution of Fiji has an elegant formulation: the “freedom of imagination and creativity”. There may be something for us in this phrase.

Romila Thapar’s book should be brought centre stage in the debate that, media willing, is gathering momentum. Ofcourse there will be sharp divergences on the role of the public intellectual between Thapar, Mehta, Kulkarni, followers of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar. But there is a vast expanse on which they agree: the need for rational debate.

As Wilde said, “we are all in the gutters; only some of us are looking at the stars.” The poet, writer, thinker, in brief the intellectual, represents a society’s distillate of wisdom and common sense. If this category has entered the fray, it devolves on all of us of whichever creed or persuasion, not to regurgitate into the proceedings the mean mindedness our politicians have burdened us with.

No interest group likes to liquidate itself out of business. It will be impossible to ask the half baked Mullah and the Sadhvi to lock up their shops. Even more difficult to restrain are the non clerical busy bodies claiming national attention on Prime Time screaming matches.

Banner headline on page one of the Indian Express screams:
“Muslims can live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef, says Haryana Chief Minister.”

This conditional permission granted to Indian Muslims by a Chief Minister who has been in the RSS for 40 years and almost never in Haryana, may have been obviated if he knew the state.

In Kheri Kalan village not only does Mohammad Haseen Khan run a Gaushala (a cow protection centre) but a range of dairy businesses and a nursery school. The initial finance for the Gaushala came from a Human Care Charitable Trust established by N.P. Thareja, a retired banker.

The success of this experiment appears to be infecting neighbouring villages. Abid Hussain has opened a Gaushala at Havanagar.

This robust commonsense at the grass root level requires as much media attention as the public intellectual does.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

“The British Origin Of Cow Slaughter In India”

“The British Origin Of Cow Slaughter In India”
                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Gokula Dhundh Brindaban dhundho
Barsane lag ghum ke aai
Tan mun dhan sub waar ke Hasrat
Mathura nagar chali dhuni ramai
(Lets look for him in Gokul and Brindaban
Or lets look for him in Barsana
Hasrat, give up for him all that is yours,
Then settle in Mathura as his devotee)

This is just one of the numerous verses by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a Congress leader during the national movement, among the founders of the Communist party and member of the Constituent Assembly.

After his annual Haj, the Maulana always visited Mathura and Barsana for a “darshan” of Krishna and Radha. For combining Haj with Mathura, the Maulana had an explanation. God had sent his messengers to every land. For many of the Maulana’s persuasion, Lord Krishna was God’s messenger or incarnation in India.

“Many of my friends are so pleased when I visit Mathura.” He once told a friend. He did not visit Mathura to build up a constituency of admirers. But the fact that these visits pleased his friends was a source of great joy to him. In deference to the original cowherd, the Maulana never ate beef.

To my recollection, beef was never eaten in our home either. After Zamindari abolition, in 1951, austerity entered our lives. Mutton and chicken became an expensive proposition for family gatherings sometimes exceeding 50 during marriage, death and Muharram. Plenty of vegetables were tossed into a meat which was described (only in whispers) as “bara” or “big”. This was, without exception, “buffalo”. Consumption or mention of “beef” was taboo because it might “hurt” people who frequented our homes.

Tundey, Lucknow’s most celebrated Kebabchi for over 110 years, has two outlets for his Kebabs: the more expensive ones are mutton, cheaper ones are “bara” for which read buffalo.

Vigilante gangs out to terminate beef eating should visit fancy restaurants including ones in five star hotels and ask for the menu card. They may find “beef steak” listed, sometimes on “sizzling platters”.

A restrained line of action would be to send the steak to forensic laboratories which must soon begin to mushroom to cushion the current hullaballoo. All the “beef steak” samples will, without exception, turn out to be buffalo.

Anti beef agitators have clearly not come up the social ladder. Their more prosperous cousins choose not to look at their progeny drooling over beef steak at Smith and Woolensky in New York.

In a globalized world where our children are exposed to the blandishments of Angus steak in Britain and Kobe steak in Japan, can dietary restrictions really be mandated?

A valuable video clip in my archives shows Dara Singh, the original Hanuman of Bollywood, stepping out of Carnivore, the celebrated restaurant outside Nairobi, where Zebra, Wilderbeast, Giraffe, crocodile meat is among the less exotic fare roasted over a giant fire.

This may be a little extraneous to our theme. More to point might be the query: how did beef become the Muslim’s diet? It was not the staple diet in the places of origin of the Delhi Sultans and the Moghuls. They ate mutton, camel meat, chicken, fish, geese, antelope and other game. Also, contrary to the popular belief, they ate plenty of vegetable. How then did the converts, who constitute 80 to 90 percent of the Muslim population, develop a taste for cow?

Atal Behari Vajpayee invited famous Gandhian scholar, Dharampal, to research the origins of cow slaughter in India. Based on original British documents at India House in Britain, Dharampal and his assistant, T. M. Mukundan submitted, their study in 2002.

The title of the book gives the story away:
“The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India.”

The thesis is straightforward: the rapid increase in the number of the troops following the uprising of 1857, caused an increase in the number of slaughter houses to provide beef for the soldiers. The “bakar Qasab”, so far employed largely in the sale of mutton, was transformed into “Qasai” for the slaughterhouses.

Here was a situation custom made for the authors of Divide-and-Rule. British officers could easily point to the Muslim Qasai whenever Hindu-Muslim tensions were required.

Queen Victoria gave the game away in a note she wrote on December 8, 1893 to her Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne:
“Though the Muhammadans’ cow-killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is in fact directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, etc. than the Muhammadans.”

In a speech in Muzaffarpur, Gandhiji developed on this theme: “If we cannot stop cow slaughter by the British, we have no right to raise our hands against Muslims.”

The tradition of beef eating, established in the shadow of the British Raj, acquired its own momentum after the British left.

That was colonialism taking advantage of Hindu-Muslim tension.

Today a very political majoritarian project is beaming the search light on the Muslim as the Melecha, in the alley of beef eaters.

In this din, even Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who experienced the Divine in the Mosque as well as the Mandir, would have been on this side of a very bleak divide.

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