We have read much about the confluence of religion and politics, militancy and politics, and why even military and militancy. But one topic flying under the radar and hovering almost beyond the edge of sight is the collusion between the business class and religion. This […]Farrukh writes
Any noble intention can be twisted, perverted, and weaponised to produce the most troublesome results. Do you need examples? Consider the opposition to the invasion of Iraq. This opposition produced a mass movement across the western world and led to highly publicised million marches. Sadly, […]Farrukh writes
As the post-election crisis simmered in the US, a nameless, faceless French programmer (identity withheld by the authorities) decided that the decline of the Western civilisation was inevitable and with his health deteriorating so before ending his life he would send his bitcoin savings to […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on February 06, 2021) In the past 20 years, I have brought up The Long Telegram by George Kennan more than a dozen times. Kennan was the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States to the USSR from 1944 to 1946. His […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on February 06, 2021)
In the past 20 years, I have brought up The Long Telegram by George Kennan more than a dozen times. Kennan was the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States to the USSR from 1944 to 1946. His telegram and subsequent ‘X’ article which owes its name to the fact that he used the pseudonym ‘Mr X’ defined the contours of the US policy of containment towards the USSR. It was an inflection point in the US post-war foreign policy and a moment that shaped the world we live in.
Now the Atlantic Council has come up with another strategy paper titled “The Longer Telegram”, focused on containing China. It is a fascinating read because it is ostensibly written by an anonymous US expert with first-hand domain knowledge. Anyone even with a nodding acquaintance with the US think tank geography would have nothing but the utmost respect for the council. But this work, while rich in insight and substance, misses one crucial detail. That mimicry seldom produces anything remotely similar to the original. And there is a reason why.
Kennan wrote his famed telegram when he was stationed outside the US, could not disclose his identity, and literally used telegraphy to transmit his message. The same cannot be said of this work. Also, he wrote this telegram when the US and allies had decisively vanquished fascism in Europe. It was time to move on to the next biggest challenge. And in a sense, it was not something new. In the interwar period, a growing chorus had argued that the US focused on the rising threat of bolshevism rather than on Nazism. In many ways, Nazis were doing God’s work by standing up to those awful pinkos. As Hitler bit more than he could chew and Imperial Japan attacked America, the US and the USSR found themselves on the same side of the divide. After the end of the world war, the US would have taken some time to wake up to the Soviet challenge. Kennan’s timely intervention accelerated the fait accompli. Remember, being transmitted through official channels made forgery or manipulation nearly impossible.
The world of today is much different. There is too much white noise in the mix. America’s friends and foes alike are far better placed to push their agendas than anyone in the 1940s. I do not bring up the matter of telegraphy just to be petty. Intercepting telegrams and hacking emails are qualitatively different exercises and can produce different results. In this world connected by hi-tech gadgets and lightning speed internet messaging is not what it used to be. You can have as many drafts and revisions as you like. And there is an app called Telegram created by Russian developers out there. Then the twin spectres of fascism and racism have only just begun raising their ugly heads again. The fight is far from over. And it is a proven lesson of history that of the threats posed by fascism and socialism the former needs a quicker response. In pretending to be humane and civil socialism is reluctant to do anything that brings it bad publicity. Bad publicity, in sharp contrast, is exactly what fascism craves. The notoriety it causes is absolutely on brand. Ergo the difference between Stalin’s patient magpie-like project and Hitler’s stir-crazy adventurism.
That is not all. Word anonymous today reminds us not of undercover officers but a band of online thugs, ranging from hackers, agent provocateurs, and conspiracy theorists like QAnon. And let us hope we haven’t forgotten that merely weeks ago such characters attacked the US Capitol. Modern warfare relies heavily on perception management and we will see in a short while that some are really adept at this game.
Given that the Biden administration is still in its formative phase it goes without saying that the paper was conceived and written during the Trump administration’s time. Yes, the same president Trump who refused to condemn President Putin’s alleged heavy-handed tactics, was personally present in New Delhi when hordes of Hindutva fascists went on a rampage against Muslims, other minorities, and dissidents in the Indian capital. The same former president who still calls the novel coronavirus the China virus and whose secretary of state could only see faults in Democrats and the Chinese Communist Party.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the US is in a position to lower its guard against China. Far from it. But the fatalist idea that there is only one potential threat to a country’s security seriously jeopardises the threat perception matrix. Consider this. Among the flags carried by the capitol insurrectionists, there was only one foreign flag and it was not of China. You may not want to lower your guard against China but the notion that it is the only hostile power and its enemies are your bosom brothers only leads you to lower your guard against those some of whom might seriously damage you.
Does it not surprise you at all that the US media that takes its own and every other nation’s leadership to the task, does not spend a few minutes reflecting on this century’s biggest unfolding tragedy in India where a fascistic government is hellbent on destroying the lives of its people and peace in the neighbourhood? We were often told that the US media does not criticise Israel. But that is not true anymore. India is the new sacred cow. Consider this. Recently the famed singer Rihanna, environmental activist Greta Thunberg and the US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris came under brutal online attack by the Indian trolls and in some instances state officials and celebrities for sympathising with the protesting farmers, and in the western hemisphere, particularly the US it barely made the news. What is this secret power? Market compulsions can only explain some of this thrall. If a foreign power is censoring your press you deserve an answer. Bear in mind I am not disputing India’s importance. But this strange influence was brought to my notice when ABC decided to prematurely cancel the TV series, Quantico, featuring an Indian lead after it depicted Hindu extremists masterminding a terrorist plot. When you cede this much power to any foreign actor, you stop developing contingencies. A lot can go wrong in India today and it will be a tragedy if America is not prepared for every scenario.
The long and the short of it is that no one, including this scribe, should tell the US how to conduct its foreign policy. What I have tried to do is to flag some serious security issues. Now that the US under the new administration is carrying out policy reviews, perhaps it will not be a bad idea to take these matters into account. History, they say, first repeats itself as a tragedy and then as a farce. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the confluence of these two waves right now.
(First appeared on January 30, 2021) A tractor rally by protesting farmers on India’s Republic Day. Now that is a neat little idea. What a statement. What a reminder. That India’s republic (if you can call it a republic now) is nothing without the untiring […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on January 30, 2021)
A tractor rally by protesting farmers on India’s Republic Day. Now that is a neat little idea. What a statement. What a reminder. That India’s republic (if you can call it a republic now) is nothing without the untiring labour of its growers and farmers. The protesters who had remained peaceful for over 60 days were likely to keep their calm and avoid violence. Then the tractor parade began. The nervousness of the ruling party was quite visible. The Chief Minister of Haryana had ordered his government to dig trenches on roads so that the protestors from the state and beyond could not reach the Delhi border. The Uttar Pradesh government headed by a street thug had already ordered the fuel stations not to sell fuel to the farmers. But the Delhi administration ostensibly had reached an agreement with the protestors to let them take out the procession on a specific route. What could go wrong? But this is South Asia. Here Murphy’s law is a force of physics and history: that which can go wrong will go wrong. And a lot of it did. Some of the protesters allegedly deviated from the route and police unleashed brute force. TV cameras would soon take us to the historic Red Fort in Delhi where some of the protestors hoisted Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. For many Modi bhakts on internet it was the proverbial gotcha moment. They would leave no stone unturned to confuse Nishan Sahib with the flag of the Khalistan movement (the two are not the same).
But the reaction in general really intrigued me. While there is a vocal class of Indian citizens that treats every sentence uttered against Modi as sedition, there is another class which is always in a hurry to point out that any toe out of line by the protestors proves the detractors right. But does it really? Let us assume after getting tired of the Modi government’s mind games some protestors lose composure, would they be doing something new? Modi’s own party is well-known for its violent culture. Every time it used violence as a political tool it was rewarded with ever-growing mandate. A common voter, usually a family person, easily comes under pressure at the sight of violence and capitulates. In India’s anarchic political culture this is perhaps the most effective dynamic. Of course, Gandhiji believed in peaceful protests but see what Nathuram Godse did to him. Also see why Godse is such an inspirational figure in Modi’s BJP-RSS lore. Because this group, yes, the one in power, thrives on violence and fear as a principle. If you are not convinced see what the internet says about the RSS. It says it is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation. Let us try to compensate for the euphemism here. Let us remove the words Indian and Hindu from this definition and substitute it with another faith: Islam for instance. Tell me what comes to your mind if you read the phrase Muslim right-wing, pan-nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation? I will tell you what comes to mine. ISIL or Al Qaeda. And somehow protesting Indians have to prove to this group that they are peaceful?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not for violence. The point is it is the old pot kettle story and in any decent society elements like these cannot be allowed to define what is and what isn’t violence. And if you are wondering why the Indian media sets such a narrative you don’t need to look any further than the recent Arnab Goswami leaks. The ruling BJP’s favourite anchor-editor was found bribing a rating agency’s head to get the desired ratings. When you can do that rantings are most likely to get the highest ratings. When this news broke the rest of pro-Modi media — often pejoratively called Godi (lap) media — turned on Goswami with lightening speed. But it can be said with certainty that the rest also indulge in such shoddy practices. Then there is the matter of media monopolies. Five major Indian news media networks News Nation, India TV, News24, Network18 and NDTV are either indebted to or owned by the businesses that belong to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who keeps getting richer under the Modi regime by the day, and his business associates. In short, this lot controls these networks through their boards. Modi’s government is in Ambani’s pocket and there is a discernable symbiotic relationship between the two. Other networks are heavily influenced by other businessmen close to Modi.
India could still call itself a free society if its judiciary functioned independently. But alas that was not to be. Recently India government’s stooges approached the court to seek a ruling against the protesting farmers. The court expressed concern about the wellbeing of the women and children participating in the protest, formed a panel for reconciliation that no one had asked for and filled it with the government and corporate lackeys who are in favour of the controversial farm laws subject of protests. Indian judiciary shows its independence when a liberal, centrist or leftist government is in power. When it comes to the Hindutva extremists it lies back and enjoys. When Ranjan Gogoi, the previous chief justice of India tried to assert himself, a sexual harassment case surfaced against him which waylaid him of all initiative. After becoming totally pliant when he retired the good boy was rewarded with a senate seat as a treat. The incumbent Chief Justice does not need any such heavy-handed tactics. He happily intervened in every other case instinctively in favour of the ruling party. Shortly before his elevation he played a critical role in the judgment which allowed the construction of Ram Mandir at the place where the centuries old Babri structure was demolished decades ago by the ruling party and its cohorts. His activism ends where Kashmir, minority rights and rights of the oppressed masses start.
On the same Republic Day the float that won the accolades was of UP, shaped after the very same Ram Mandir, the metaphor of an India which the ruling party seeks to homogenise through brute force. This poem by American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is enough to tell you what is going on in India.
“Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
With force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty”
(After Khalil Gibran)
(First appeared on January 23, 2021) Joseph Biden is now the 46th president of the United States. As he said in his inaugural address, democracy has prevailed. The assault on democracy failed and the Trump era has ended. But the next time you may not […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on January 23, 2021)
Joseph Biden is now the 46th president of the United States. As he said in his inaugural address, democracy has prevailed. The assault on democracy failed and the Trump era has ended. But the next time you may not be as lucky. The underlying disease that caused the threat to US integrity only grows every single day. They have found a vaccine for Covid, but there is no vaccine for this one — intolerance.
Hypothetically speaking this is how this could have gone down even this time. During the attack on the Capitol building, when all lawmakers were assembled there, a few moles among the Capitol police and secret service could have handed over then vice-president Pence, then vice-president-elect Harris, Congressional leaders and many lawmakers to the mob. I do not want to disturb you with vivid imagery. Suffice it to say those nooses, weapons and pipe bombs were not just there for optics. Among the assailants there were men and women who had vowed to kill somebody important in the session. A shock of this magnitude would have plunged the US into a constitutional crisis, bringing a premature end to the transition process. This would have given the then incumbent an opportunity to declare emergency, impose martial law and postpone the transition or further elections indefinitely. Or then would have taken him out too in an apparent counter action.
What would have followed is not easy to guess. Bringing Trump back to power is an excuse. Whosoever was plotting this had another purpose in mind. To ignite a race war in the US. If you have not been paying attention you need to recall the right-wing media narrative about a probable civil war in case Trump lost the election. Well, civil war is shorthand for a race war. Not convinced? Let us go back to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in 2017. What slogans do you hear? Jews will not replace us. And blood and soil. Or as Nazis used to put it — Blut und Boden — the idea that race and settlement area ought to define nationhood. What Nazi Germany did to its minorities is known to all. Already widely prevalent among the Western far-right is this conspiracy theory called the great replacement which claims that the white population of the West is being systematically replaced by people of other colours and races. All this talk of illegal immigrants, birthright citizenship, American carnage, disempowerment of the working class is a cleverly constructed pyramid which invariably culminates into the demand for racial purity and ethnic purges.
In the likely scenario, judging by the mood at the time, one could say at least one state (most likely Texas) would have announced secession. This would have led to mass defections in the armed forces based either openly on race or then thinly disguised as on the basis of state(s) of origin (Texas or the entire South). A civil war would have ensued coupled with the mass expulsion of minorities from the new territories. Nuclear weapons would have been seized and used on old territories plunging America into dark ages. And that is not all. This civil war would have spilled over into Europe and other countries like Russia, Australia, China, Israel and Japan dragged into the mix by random attacks. The entire world’s power structure would have crumbled giving birth to a new Aryan world order. The source of extrapolation: the neo-Nazi Bible.
Fortunately, this did not happen. The secret service and the Capitol police (basically your average parliamentary guards) did their job. The attempts of the mob to slay the executive and the Congressional leaders were frustrated. The armed forces leadership then came up with that unusual letter calling all servicemen to obey the Constitution. And the former vice-president and Congressional leadership stood its ground. So many moving parts. Anything could have gone wrong. It did not. But even then, it took a Washington DC lockdown and some 25,000 National Guardsmen for the inauguration to be made possible. The threat of domestic terrorism has not subsided and the FBI is still struggling to identify the January 6 pipe bomber who was covered from head to toe and appears to be a professional saboteur.
Here’s the question of logistics. If you look at the underlying QAnon conspiracy theory and groups like Proud Boys and Boogaloo Bois, you already see the trappings of a massive psy-op organised on the pattern of a live action role playing game. But when you look at the financial part of the equation, this whole thing appears to be a logistical nightmare. Fortunately, thanks to some ace investigative reporting by Yahoo News and equally laudable research by a cryptocurrency expert software house Chainalysis, we know that only a month before the Capitol attack a substantial (though not dramatically large) sum was paid to several far-right elements by one now-deceased French blogger through Bitcoins, the alt-right’s preferred form of currency. But the story takes many strange twists. The said blogger was rich enough, and heartbroken enough by the decline of the West or the white people to not only part with a sizeable sum but to take his life and purely coincidentally just a month before the attack on the US Capitol. What are the odds? If you ask me this looks like an intelligence cover up. One man, probably someone hired to reroute foreign funds, killed to cover tracks and then presented as a suicide.
But who could be the financier then? Two very obvious suspects could be malcontents within America’s own intelligence community and Russia. America’s own because they would have the wherewithal. Russia because, as has been repeatedly pointed out, it has the motive. If it were elements within the US security establishment either they would have been exposed or become successful by now. Given that Russia has been flagged so often, if it were involved the story would have been much different today. It also knows any such civil war would spill into its territories as well and its own history of fighting fascism cannot be ignored. The same set of arguments can be used for China. Wherever fascism and racism have not lost their appeal and such elements are in power could be the source. This is only one money trail. There must be many others.
The Biden administration has tapped Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall (an expert on nuclear issues and Russia) as the White House Homeland Security Adviser and Russ Travers (a terror expert) as her deputy. Travers was fired by the Trump administration as the head of the National Counterterrorism Center when he tried to reposition it to focus on domestic terrorism. Retaining Christopher Wray as the FBI director may also come handy.
But here is the problem. A lot of brain power seems to go into co-opting and weaponising the outrage against the alleged micro-transgressions. The new administration will need as much if not more brainpower to combat the threat and disarm it with an effective counter narrative. Without it, one way or the other we are living in a world that is a re-imagined reboot of The Turner Diaries. Also the US will have to have a zero-tolerance policy for fascism around the world.
(First appeared on January 16, 2021) An argument had broken out. A few peers were debating whether India’s Hindutva mob would give the same love-jihad treatment to Kamala Harris and Nikki Haley that was meted out to common Indian citizens, if it could lay its […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on January 16, 2021)
An argument had broken out. A few peers were debating whether India’s Hindutva mob would give the same love-jihad treatment to Kamala Harris and Nikki Haley that was meted out to common Indian citizens, if it could lay its hands on them, of course. One group believed that the mob was so full of hate that it would not spare anyone. The other posited that the Indian elite was too shrewd to fall for this. It would not alienate anyone in a position of power. I sat there inert, silently drinking my coffee and contemplating this moment in history.
To those who still do not know, love jihad or Romeo jihad is a name given to a conspiracy theory that Muslim men, as a part of an international strategy, seduce and convert Indian nonMuslim, mostly Hindu women. Since its origin in 2009, the theory spread as the Hindutva’s definition of the other has broadened. Now it is about Abrahamic faiths.
So, you could say that Harris who is married to a Jewish gentleman, and Haley married to a Christian man could bear the brunt of this hatred. I do not think for a second that the mob would spare anyone if it had the power. The trick is never to let it rise to a position of power. Sadly, of the two, Haley, daughter of a woman wronged by India’s toxic masculinity and majoritarianism, showed us she was ready to legitimise this mob to enjoy a few extra perks.
Ride that tiger even if it devours your sisters back at home. Since its inception, India has been a victim of the dissociative identity disorder previously known as the multiple personality syndrome. It has two distinct but interchangeable personalities. One, inclusive, tolerant, progressive, and secular that wrote India’s Constitution. The other hostile, intolerant, petty, vindictive, and reductive which threatens to dismantle it brick by brick and remake it after its own image. The latter claims the former was just a construct made by the country’s Anglicised elite.
When you look at the man ruling India today, Narendra Modi, the poster child of India’s majoritarian hatred, you find it hard to rebut that claim. India’s regression notwithstanding, the first personality, despite being under growing pressure, does exist. There are Indians who stand for what is right. The rights of the minorities, of women, of the poor, and the oppressed. Their battle for survival may define the future of civilisation. Not a civilisation. The civilisation.
The claims of the majoritarian mob could have been accepted if it really was about religion. It is not. It is about a perverse definition of race. India’s upper castes believe that they are descendants of Aryans and therefore superior to others.
This of course is a myth. One, because there has been quite a while since the purported Aryan exodus took place and it would have been impossible to stop the intermingling of races. Two, because even by the shallow racist standards there is little distinction in the appearance of the Indian upper and lower castes. The neo-Nazis then, despite the Hindutva infatuation with the cause, are unlikely to accept them as their own.
As the works of Louis Rousselet, Arthur Gobineau, Paul Topinard, and Gustave Le Bon show, the Indian Aryan myth is neither an English construct nor German, it was invented by the French in the vain hope of building an empire in India. That ambition is over, but the disease still persists.
So, India’s problem is that the majoritarian mob is in fact a minority. A violent, noisy, bigoted, and powerful minority but a minority nevertheless. Look at it through this prism and you realise that it is neither about a Hindu Raj nor a Hindu Rashtra. It is about an upper-caste raj and rashtra. The same upper caste which like Don Quixote is desperate to be what it is not. Nothing can go wrong then. Right? It is plain that once they are done sorting the Muslims, the Christians and unintegrated faiths out, they are bound to turn on each other.
The depressed castes, a huge population in comparison to the upper castes, would be next. For now, however, the presence of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs (a religious community Haley’s parents belonged to and the Hindutva mob claims it is Hindu while it refuses to accept that characterisation), and other faiths not ready to be swallowed by this mega-integration project makes its task easy.
A question arises then: why did the mob bring Modi to power? Self-confessedly he is not from the upper caste. Then why? Because it is convenient. His narrow mental bandwidth ensures he remains a force of destruction and hate, and his unvarnished ambition keeps him a slave to the upper caste billionaires and the RSS leadership. A Trojan horse.
And while Modi has destroyed India’s economy, especially the poor and the working-class, for billionaires he has been nothing short of divine intervention. Consider him the East India Company, owned and operated by new Indian masters. But the homogenisation project cannot go too far. India’s tragedy is that while it sees itself as a potential counterweight to China, it is too diverse to emulate China’s homogeneity. After every 100, 200 kilometres India’s language and culture change.
The local cultures guard their individuality jealously. When it comes to operational ground realities, secularism and tolerance are essential, existential staples of its economic health. I would hazard a guess that India’s founding fathers knew India better than the current lot and go to the extent of claiming that today’s claims are imaginary constructs. With around 1.4 billion disparate citizens only India’s Constitution can keep it together.
While the neo-Nazi-Hindutva nexus gives the mob a chance to punish the West for the past colonial excesses by exporting destabilising ideologies to Europe and America, its suspended secularism is India and the world’s best hope to survive. Before India fell to extremists, it had exported countless tiny particles of its soul to other parts of the world. These particles live in uncountable folks like Harris and Haley.
Before the civilisation falls, they have to find a way to reclaim India. If they fail, we all are toast. If they succeed India gets a moral leadership that comes after a long experience of victimhood and confronting one’s demons. I have always believed that India has a bigger role to play in world politics.
Sadly, in its current shape, that role can only be one of a destructive power. Given the recent upheavals in the West, the nexus between the Hindutva mob, India’s intelligence community, and the neo-Nazis is coming under increasing scrutiny of Western intelligence analysts. If this trend continues unchecked, it may end up making India a bigger pariah than any of its key adversaries. For sanity’s sake, this regression should stop.
(First appeared on January 09, 2021) In Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, which was subsequently made into a TV series, all magic flows from a wellspring in an imaginary world called Fillory, which is a rip-off of CS Lewis’ Narnia. Now the question is where […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on January 09, 2021)
In Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, which was subsequently made into a TV series, all magic flows from a wellspring in an imaginary world called Fillory, which is a rip-off of CS Lewis’ Narnia. Now the question is where is the wellspring of democracy and liberty located? You may get many answers. Europe, particularly France, whence came the French Revolution. The UK, the birthplace of the Magna Carta. Ancient Greece and Rome. Somewhere in the East. But they are all moments in the history of the evolution of democracy. If the wellspring is a movable object which relocates itself subject to its convenience, then you will most likely agree that it is currently located in the United States. The world’s strongest democracy. And where in the US? In the US Capitol, the world’s most powerful elected parliament. And this wellspring just came under attack.
On January 6, when the US Congress met in the building to ceremonially count and approve the Electoral College votes in a race already won by Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris on November 3, it was plain that it would not be business as usual. Remember, given the long transition process in the US, the January 6 session to count the electoral votes is just a matter of formality. But this once it was not. Trump supporters were already heavily leaning on the congressmen and even the Vice-President to disregard the votes cast by millions and select a slate of electoral delegates who would only vote for Trump. Funny, right? But at least in theory, it is doable. Not in practice though. So, when court after court and institution after institution refused to engage in this hair-brained scheme of overturning a presidential election, this session being the last milestone before a President Biden takes oath, was the Trump-world’s last hope. First, we learned that a number of pro-Trump House members were planning to object to the vote count. Then we learned that a gang of a dozen US senators led by Republicans Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz was going to chip in. This ensured that for two hours the vote count would stop and both chambers would have to go into a two-hour-long debate session. Outside, Trump supporters were to gather in protest. As the date came closer, reports started emerging that the members of the Proud Boys extremist gang were planning to attend the protests incognito, ostensibly with a desire to inflict damage. As the day progressed and the session began it was getting clearer that it was far from a disjointed, uncoordinated effort.
The said group of lawmakers objects to the vote count triggering a two-hour debate. As the debate goes on protesters armed to the teeth storm the building, seize control of the electoral certificates or destroy them and then get away. Sounds like a perfect plan, right? Hardly. First, it meant the use of violence. Two, Trump’s Vice-President, the Vice President-elect, congressional leaders, and a number of notables were present inside at the time of the attack. Which meant the risk of not just losing lives but the lives of people who are either a part of the administration or related to a member of the administration. Three, in this mayhem, if the real purpose was to either steal the physical votes or occupy the floor of the house so that the Congress could not get time to reconvene, it obviously failed. Even in the pandemonium, the office bearers involved ensured that the electoral votes and the dignitaries remained safe. What is more pitiable than a coup? A failed coup. Consequently, the entire world saw with shock and awe as this spectacle unfolded on live television. After facing off this unprecedented assault on democracy, the US congress admirably reconvened and fulfilled its obligation. And thus, failed a pitiful coup after causing a shooting pain across the entire democratic world. Five are reported dead at the time of filing and many are badly injured. They still have to take inventory of the damage done to the building during the vandalism.
But apart from the immediate details of this attack, there are broader points that need to be made here. The question, for instance, on my mind at the time was: how did we end up here? You know there is an easy way out. We can all believe that this tragedy was an invention of one man. Trump’s opportunist role here cannot be underestimated. The US President who promised to end the American carnage at the time of his inauguration brought this bloodthirsty carnival to the US Capitol. That part is known. The speculation about foreign hostile actors especially with the intent to harm the democratic project around the world is not misplaced either. The South Asian community was not chuffed at the sight of Modi bhakts joining the raid with Indian and saffron flags either. But a lot more goes into the making of a sausage.
If you are looking for responsibility the first stop is the right-wing media including Fox. Remember Trump did not invent this madness he just repurposed it to get what he wanted. And when I say the right-wing media there is no shadow of doubt in my mind that the left-leaning publications also played a role in creating this polarisation. But the problem is bigger. The gradual demise of professional journalism, the shuttering of countless professional media outlets ensure that only activism driven media is left in the field. And we have seen that these media outlets do not just create their confirmation bias-based bubbles, they can create their own alternative realities.
Speaking of the elements that are increasingly shaping our view of the world you cannot fail to notice the role of social media. Technology firms mercifully if belatedly started waking up as this tragic circus went on. First, Twitter froze Trump’s account for 12 hours. Then Facebook realised its responsibility. And gradually, if painfully, one by one, they all started doing it. But here is the rub. The accounts belonging to the likes of Bannon and Gorka are free to spew venom. And whenever these companies try to take action these hate pundits invoke the First Amendment. Given how much the tech giants have benefited from various governments and are now loaded, they must find a solution to this problem soon. Silently on the same night, Elon Musk became the world’s richest man. When you prosper you are honour-bound to ensure you do not contribute to people’s misery. And their influence is only bound to grow.
The damage done to the democratic project will need a long hard look. But for now, I am grateful that because of the leadership of many principled leaders, democracy has won another chance to right what’s wrong.
(First appeared on January 02, 2021) For any intelligence operative, Modi’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has a rather asymmetric presence on the internet. Just search his name on YouTube and you get a huge number of videos. The whole thing has a whiff of […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on January 02, 2021)
For any intelligence operative, Modi’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has a rather asymmetric presence on the internet. Just search his name on YouTube and you get a huge number of videos. The whole thing has a whiff of a wheeze, of one giant grift. As if a con artist is trying to con you. That is because you will hardly ever find a spymaster bragging about his work and his plans on record and so openly.
As a consequence, many lethargic media-persons, like yours truly, have used his words to try to expose India’s current hegemonic designs. In one particular video, he brags about staying and operating undercover in Pakistan for seven years. And in many other clips, he makes it plain what he thinks of Pakistan and how it deserves to be treated.
Since Modi’s rise to power, lady luck has truly smiled on Doval and he rose to new heights of power. Does that mean his grift has worked? Well, yes and no. As a keen observer of these developments, I have a firm belief that institutions and not individuals are usually responsible for the success or failure of any policy. When individuals are given too much credit for any achievement they are usually being treated as the mascot. The likely reason why Modi keeps rewarding this man with more power is that just before the 2014 elections he made a passionate case for 10 years of Modiraj to the intelligence community. This and also the fact that he must function as a conduit to the intelligence community.
I would have called him a conman but for a picture of his taken at Kandahar airport during the 1999 hostage crisis of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 which still exists on the internet. At least, the man was acting as a high profile hostage negotiator at the time. Indian intelligence officials are known to take themselves too seriously even after retirement and over the years many key appointments have been subpar. Take the example of one Vikram Sood, another man whose internet footprint is larger than any of his accomplishments when he was truly in the know. Mr Sood, a career employee of the Indian postal service, was probably tapped to head India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as a message to the intelligence community: that the function of their boss was that of a postman. But now hear him speak and you might be led to believe that there never was anyone more important than he. So, I wouldn’t put it past Mr Doval to pad his CV a bit. But if it is an elaborate grift, it has worked for him.
What I find surprising is not Doval’s claim of serving as a spy in Pakistan for seven years. It is a matter of routine. Pakistan already has Kulbhushan Jadhav in its custody. Mohanlal Bhaskar has even written an autobiographical account called, An Indian Spy in Pakistan. This doesn’t surprise me at all. What I find shocking is a total absence of any evidence to support that Doval ever worked in Pakistan. I have badgered more than one former spymaster in Pakistan and despite their best efforts, they could not recall anything about the man. This would either mean he is lying or that he is good at his job. I do not think he is lying about being here even though the claim about seven years is obviously an exaggeration. There might be another explanation. You may not notice anything if you are programmed not to. The India-Pakistan hostility is not new and Pakistan is only recovering from the huge structural damage it sustained during the two decades of fighting terror on its land. If, in a moment of weakness, a tiny part of your counterintelligence apparatus got contaminated it would work hard to ensure you do not notice further damage. And that is just one example. From the early 1970s to this day, Pakistan has been through way too many crises. Plenty of opportunities then.
Before I write any further let me reiterate two crucial opinions which are often lost to anyone reading my critique of the incumbent Indian government. One, I am not your garden variety India hater. Far from it. It has been my long-held belief that if India stops these mind games and seriously tries to engage in honest dialogue, not just peace but a potential alliance can be built. Two, even when I focus on these mind games I do not for one minute absolve Pakistanis of their responsibilities or agency. I believe it is the job of an enemy to exploit your weaknesses. It is your job not to let it get away with it. And if you fail it is your failure. I highlight these issues just to ensure no one falls asleep at the wheel.
My problem with Doval’s rise is that he is a relic of broken age. His view and that of the community he represents borders pathological hatred. This worldview believes in punishing you for the omissions and commissions of your forefathers. They are not ready to believe that a crisis like the one Pakistan endured for the past 20 years can profoundly change a nation’s DNA. The idea that this country now wants to coexist with its neighbours in harmony cannot penetrate the hardened layers of hate in their minds.
When pathological hatred mixes with unlimited ambition it can do lasting damage to your personality. Consequently, India has changed dramatically before our eyes. Today, it can hardly call itself a democracy or a secular polity. As majoritarianism gets emboldened and populism tastes blood, the Hindutva rule destroys India’s social fabric by attacking each vulnerable group one by one. And in an India still struggling with poverty and inequity there is no dearth of vulnerabilities. So what do you do if you call yourself a patriot and yet have become a tool to legitimise such a nasty government? You double down on convincing yourself and the world that your penitent neighbour is just as hopeless as you are. When you have done enough homework and have enough influence within your enemy’s house you invest heavily in frustrating all attempts at recovery. As someone who considers himself as a good wisher of India, I do not understand this desire to see someone else suffer. Is it that difficult to look in the mirror, see what you have become, realise you have made some rotten choices, and atone for them? Why cause so much pain and suffering just to keep lying to yourself?
(First appeared on December 26, 2020) The recent exposé by the EU DisinfoLab pertaining to an Indian propaganda network functioning around the world is mindboggling. Since the publication of the report, many good commentaries have been written and I will not bore you with repetition. […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on December 26, 2020)
The recent exposé by the EU DisinfoLab pertaining to an Indian propaganda network functioning around the world is mindboggling. Since the publication of the report, many good commentaries have been written and I will not bore you with repetition. Suffice it to say that for 15 years some 750 fake media outlets and 10 UNHRC accredited zombie non-governmental organisations kept fooling various UN and international fora with their operations in 119 countries. The purpose of the disinformation campaign bankrolled by one mysterious Srivastava Group: to discredit Pakistan, build India’s image and impugn all actors it views as threats. The work of the DisinfoLab is proof that in an open society equipped with critical thinking such a massive charade cannot go unnoticed indefinitely. While a commendable work that is not what preoccupied my mind while reading the report. The single question haunting me since then is this: what was Pakistan, the main target of this campaign, doing to defend itself, and why it did not notice it for 15 years despite very clearly being on the receiving end of the effort.
I am not a paranoid man. But I learned early on that there can be healthy uses of paranoia. So, when it comes to matters of national security occasionally, I do let my imagination run wild for a bit before bringing sanity back to the system. In case you have not noticed the world is a broken place these days and something is seriously impairing the world’s judgment, not just Pakistan’s. Then why should we not be extra cautious and seek to understand what goes wrong? Therefore, I allowed my mind to take a deep dive into the world of the obscure. If an influence campaign was going on around the world against you and you did not notice, is it possible that a similar if separate effort was underway to ensure you do not notice? And if yes, how? There exists in this country a regular set of usual suspects, the bogeymen, thus branded fifth columnists, mostly liberal, even if your average, everyday whipping boys. This shouldn’t be that difficult. Right? Nah. The problem with this set is that no matter how vocal it is, it firmly remains a marginalised minority. It definitely does not control the levers of the country’s threat perception.
In my quest to understand this systemic failure I came across some remarkably blasé excuses. It was a very sophisticated operation and Pakistan did not have the resources to deconstruct it. Sure, but have you visited any of the websites in question? Half of their hyperlinks (mostly pertaining to other parts of the world) do not function. Their names are also often oxymoronic. You are telling me that as a chief victim of their vitriol you never came across these websites and never noticed anything funny about them? The entire scheme might be sophisticated but its public presence was not. And in the end, it was a Western organisation that unmasked it. We were left again in a reactive mode, redistributing the published work when it had already surfaced.
Speaking of paranoia, let us talk about the odd coincidences that have become a norm and nobody among us even thinks about trying to connect these dots no matter how random they might be. In the contingency planning class back in the college days we were taught that among other participants of the contingency planning committee there sits a person called the devil’s advocate whose job it is to discuss the most far-fetched scenarios just to ensure that no avenue is left unexplored. Are we left with none? Have you totally failed to notice that every time there is a horrid incident in India which brings the world’s attention to Modi’s authoritarian politics, something similarly awful happens in Pakistan almost immediately as if to balance the matter?
Here are some random coincidences for your kind consideration. On April 5, 2017, the Alwar mob lynching of Pehlu Khan brought global scorn to India. As if on a cue, on April 13, in a university named after the man often referred to as Frontier Gandhi, a flash mob lynches Mashal Khan on trumped-up charges. In India, every cow-related lynching is an instrument of the Hindutva policy of repression. Mercifully in Pakistan blasphemy-related lynchings have gone down substantially over the years. But I find it odd that many disruptions take place soon after something big happens in India. You inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor earning plaudits from the Sikh community, visibly unnerving the Indian ruling elite and the next thing you know flash mobs start appearing at Gurdwaras to pelt stones and the Sikh community comes under attack in Pakistan. India is ridiculed internationally for the BJP’s ghar wapsi (forced conversion) drive and suddenly the reports of Hindu girls being kidnapped or eloping only to convert start skyrocketing. And this one might sound really really far-fetched but humour me. On September 7, this year, the world was shocked to learn that an 86-year-old woman was raped in India’s capital. We were trying to wrap our heads around this sad tragedy when lightning strikes our own home and on September 9, the horrendous motorway gang rape incident takes place and from the beginning to the very end it remains shrouded in mystery. I know the dates do not exactly correspond partly because the FIR was registered arbitrarily by the police in IIOJ&K obscuring the date of abduction but the Kathua gang rape and Zainab murder also took place too close to each other.
Here is another interesting angle. India bans TikTok to punish China for the Ladakh showdown and lobbies to get it banned in the United States. Suddenly we also start noticing that there is too much obscenity in the app. Likewise whenever the Indian government notices that Pakistani social media handles are hurting its image and they cannot be banned on its request, suddenly controversies emerge in Pakistan about social media giving way to emotive arguments in support of banning social media entirely. Right when India is again attracting global attention for its mishandling of farmers and its disinformation campaigns, out of the blue Omar Saeed Sheikh is cleared of all charges, and Bernard Henry Levi, a RAW adjacent French intellectual once again calls Pakistan a rogue state. And I don’t know whether you have noticed that in the past six years whenever the Indian government is confronted with agitation, unrest starts simmering in Pakistan too?
I know many of the above might be purely coincidental but they are only a few of the examples. Go through the last six years of any credible Indian newspaper and then one from Pakistan and you may come across enough incidents to convince you that we are trapped in a mirror world with a delayed impact. All of this brings me back to the original question. Why have we stopped questioning things? The questions may sound silly at times, but they are unlikely to harm you. Only indifference will.
(First appeared on December 19, 2020) In this age of conspiracy theories, endless conjecture, and massive disinformation campaigns it is rather surprising that the paranoia about emerging technology has taken a backseat. One reason could be that the companies and people who own, invent, and […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on December 19, 2020)
In this age of conspiracy theories, endless conjecture, and massive disinformation campaigns it is rather surprising that the paranoia about emerging technology has taken a backseat. One reason could be that the companies and people who own, invent, and innovate these technologies are rich and know propaganda related swashbuckling well. The second and unlikely scenario is that the machines have already won and under their watchful gaze we are taught to love technology. The third and perhaps the most likely assumption is that culture wars mean nothing when they are fought against inanimate objects. It is far easier to get your base riled up against the “evil” men and women behind the machine with their unquenchable thirst for total human domination. Consequently, the two campaigns involving technology that we have encountered recently are about such elements.
One conspiracy theory that is proving rather difficult to defeat is about the Covid vaccine. In Pakistan, these vaccines have not arrived yet but the misinformation has already made its way. Some versions claim that these vaccines would alter our DNA and transform us into something else. Another version wants you to believe that at least one of these vaccines would install a beacon in your body to make tracking possible. And unsurprisingly the simpletons who are buying into the latter version and are rather concerned about their privacy usually carry smartphones which we know for a fact record and report their location data to the parent companies constantly. The point is that if someone wants to control you at a subatomic level, they probably do not need a pandemic and vaccine to do so. On the contrary, if someone really, really doesn’t want you to take the vaccine there is a fair chance that he/she/they/it is the reason why the pandemic has infected people so widely. Here are two things that come in handy in fighting such conspiracy theories. One, the realisation that given the high ratio of underlying conditions without the vaccine and Covid related precautions many of us are almost already dead. Two, paying heed to mainstream science and scientists always helps. Renowned experts do not need the dark recesses of the internet and social media backwaters to poison your minds. They usually have access to the best medical and scientific journals. But remember these theories undermining the vaccination efforts are primarily about people and not technology per se.
The second such example is of the US elections. As the results of the presidential elections were being tabulated and results started hinting at a Biden win, Sidney Powell, the legal counsel of the embattled former US national security advisor General Michael Flynn appeared on television and started talking about the alleged use of a supercomputer called the Hammer and a software called the Scorecard by the deep state (read the CIA and FBI) to change the results and the need for military intelligence to intervene. By the time the Trump campaign inhaled this propaganda and mounted a legal challenge, the story had grown in the telling. Powell now claimed that an election software called Dominion used by many states was responsible for the alleged theft. She maintained the software was originally developed by the Venezuelan government to ensure an election victory for Hugo Chavez (a former dictator who died in 2013). It is useful to remember here that given the rate of innovation the election software developed seven-eight years ago would be redundant by now. But surprise surprise, not only did the election authorities in many states adopt this software, so effective was the alleged con that before Powell opened her mouth after the elections even the Trump administration had no clue about its existence. Interesting. But a likely story. Powell has worked for Flynn. Flynn is notorious for his bad behaviour and has the remarkable distinction of being pushed out of three government jobs in a row: the MI, the DIA and finally the NSC. It’s his job to mess up your minds without evidence. That is if his own mind is not addled enough
Two recent developments have reinforced the negative perception about technology and highlighted mankind’s vulnerability. Recently, attorney generals from 48 US states have filed an anti-trust petition against Facebook. This story is worth your while because it highlights mounting concerns about three shoddy practices: predatory monopolistic efforts, data mining, and growing cooperation between Google and Facebook which makes all malpractices possible. The harvested data goes a long way in developing your psychological profiles for these companies, generally used for targeted marketing but occasionally used for psychological manipulation as was evident in the 2016 Cambridge Analytica case. Additionally, this data can be used to train artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) neural networks. You will be surprised how accurate and effective these psychological profiles are. And that is just Facebook. Other services the company owns like WhatsApp that has become the main conduit of our communications can have you firmly in the palm of their hands. The petition means there exists enough incriminating evidence to ensure follow up action against the company.
The second story is still developing. Beginning in March 2020, critical cyber infrastructure in the US came under a hacker attack. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa) is calling it an “advanced persistent threat actor”. What this means is that even after nine months the hack is far from over. The agency believes the attackers managed to install a backdoor in the recent update of SolarWinds, a software that is used by the US authorities and businesses widely. Through this backdoor, they have been monitoring official data without any difficulty. The US departments whose data was accessed include state, defence, homeland security, treasury, commerce, and energy. The last one is very important because it oversees the US nuclear programme. Fortunately, the hackers seemed interested only in information and not control of any of these operations. But the investigation is ongoing and so is the hack which was meant to evade detection. Private experts are pointing to Russia backed hackers but the true motivations are still unknown. And let’s remember that we are talking about the world’s leading superpower here. Other countries and companies must be far more vulnerable. All such challenges need a coherent and well thought response. Sadly, humanity and nations around the world are too divided to come up with a coherent policy.
While security infrastructures exist in every country to combat some level of such challenges, there is little preparation for the challenges to come. For instance, matters pertaining to the growth of AI and deep fakes need an immediate response. But none seems to be coming. In my personal capacity, I have been quietly working on a dissertation to develop an argument for an international legal framework to regulate AI. So far, Covid related shutdowns in Silicon Valley and elsewhere have made my job difficult by depriving me access to the data needed to develop the paper further on this cutting-edge technology. However, I have decided to stop waiting and take it in a qualitative direction. In a week’s time, it must be ready for scrutiny. Once it passes muster, I will want you all to take a look as well.
(First published on December 12, 2020) India is witnessing a fresh round of protests. Indian farmer unions are protesting to demand the repeal of three laws for the past two months. As expected, the BJP government has used the national mainstream media to malign protesters […]Farrukh writes
(First published on December 12, 2020)
India is witnessing a fresh round of protests. Indian farmer unions are protesting to demand the repeal of three laws for the past two months. As expected, the BJP government has used the national mainstream media to malign protesters by calling them Khalistani separatists or stooges of Pakistan or China. When this was not enough, and media’s attempts to reduce the nationwide agitation to minority populated small pockets failed, guess who was seen coming to the rescue. Indian media that is under BJP’s total control suddenly started reporting that Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi and the national convener of the Aam Aadmi Party, was under house arrest. Purpose? Make him a martyr and help him in hijacking and driving this independent movement into the ground. If you have not been paying attention, on various occasions Kejriwal served the BJP’s interests in plain sight. For instance, the 2011 Anna Hazare movement against alleged corruption which brought its surrogate Kejriwal to power in Delhi in 2013, and his constant advocacy against Congress and the left, paved the way for Modi’s success in 2014 by thoroughly dividing and confusing India’s secular voters. Whether Kejriwal will be allowed to damage this movement or not is still to be seen, but you can see how a vast range of contingency plans come into action whenever Modi is in hot waters. It’s as if a mega-mind is helping him plot against his rivals. More on this later.
Let’s go to another country, another continent. In the United States, a mega disinformation and influence campaign is underway. When it’s clear that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election with a comfortable majority, the paranoia of the incumbent President’s supporters, the Republican Party’s lack of spine, and Trump’s own infinite narcissism are being employed to rip America apart. Before the election, there was chatter about the coming civil war. Boogaloo Bois draw their name from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and believe the next civil war would be a poor-quality remake of the first one. Trump’s blind followers in QAnon conspiracy cult call it the “storm” ending in the “great awakening”. Charles Manson called it Helter Skelter and William Pierce’s Turner Diaries the day of the rope. Call it by any name it is a neo-Nazi fantasy that foresees a civil war in the US transforming into a race war which later spills into other parts of the world and kills all non-white people.
When over 50 legal challenges failed to reverse the election results in favour of Trump, the state of Texas went to the Supreme Court seeking annulment of election results in four battleground states where the incumbent lost, invoking its original jurisdiction. Texas was soon joined by the attorney generals of 17 red states and the federal government. If you go through the petition you realise it is old wine in a new bottle and has little chance of succeeding. The purpose seems to be to arm the red-blue state fault-line, to use it later as a pretext for secession or worse a civil war. Indeed Kyle Biedermann, a Republican Texas state representative, has already announced he is about to introduce a bill for Texas’ secession. Jon Voight, a Hollywood star, a Trump surrogate, and father of Angelina Jolie is already repeatedly calling for a civil war. Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, the Anne Frank Memorial was tagged with the Nazi swastika and a message reading “WE ARE EVERYWHERE”. Message received.
Modi and Trump’s supporters have one thing in common. They treat these leaders as absolute monarchs, often deify them and believe anyone opposing them is a traitor. But to understand the deeper connection you will have to visit another continent — Europe.
The 2010s witnessed the rise of ultra-right proto-fascist elements in Europe’s politics. Many have made it to power echelons and are now facing even fiercer neo or proto-Nazi challengers. Amazingly, an interesting link developed when Modi’s strategic blunder in Kashmir (the abolition of Article 370) could not garner international support. All of a sudden, all hyper-right elements ranging from Netherland’s Geert Wilders to France’s Marine Le Pen started lining up in support. And then we witnessed the hurried visit of 27 far-right MEPs to Kashmir in a private capacity. When this did not pass the stink test it led to further investigation. Consequently, an NGO called EU DisinfoLab has unearthed a massive network of zombie NGOs and over 750 fake media outlets peddling Indian far-right propaganda abroad and even deceiving the UN and EU for the past 15 years. Recently, a FinCEN files dump flagged 44 Indian banks involved in shady transactions of over $1 billion. And these transactions are known because their source and destination could be identified. Who knows how many others took place? Could some of these funds be directed to support neo-Nazi movements abroad?
In this space, I have explained how a European convert to Hinduism, Savitri Devi, united monism with Nazi ethos declaring Hitler Vishnu’s avatar and advocating the creation of a hierarchal, casteist society and return to Europe’s pagan past. I’ve also pointed out that John B Morgan, the man who brought her works to Nazi circles, was based in India between 2010 and 2014. I failed to mention he lived in an Ashram as a Hindu convert. Benjamin Teitelbaum’s War for Eternity reveals this. Despite the author’s desperate attempts to obscure and rationalise their conduct it shows how Trump’s former associate Steve Bannon, Putin’s ally Alexander Dugin and Bolsonaro’s spiritual advisor Olavo de Carvalho are connected to a single tradition that believes in the Hindu myth of yugas, hierarchal caste-based ordering of society and like Savitri Devi, the reconstruction of pre-Christian Indo-European identity. The author calls them Traditionalists. I find it a euphemism for disguised neo-Nazism. And all these elements seem to have a soft corner for India’s RSS, whose political front, BJP, now rules India. This connection would make little sense if you view Nazism through the white Anglo-Saxon lens but if you interpret it through the Aryan myth everything falls in place.
Another book, The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, by Brian C Muraresku reveals how deep the desire to disregard Judeo-Christian influence on the West and attempts to piece together pre-Christian Indo-European tradition goes. The book talks about the historic use of psychoactive drugs to experience the divine. I’ve no knowledge of such an experience. But psychoactive drugs for sure can be used for indoctrinating impressionable minds.
It seems the Indian far-right has worked hard to influence Western thought to discredit the Abrahamic faiths and connect Savitri Devi’s desire to return Europe to pre-Christian roots with a broader Aryan identity. Investing in systematic destruction of European and US structures, Muslim cultures, and even the Jewish state by empowering extremists there, would make perfect sense. This class now has the money, influence, and strength of one or more most powerful states in the world at its beck and call.
Do you think you’re immune to such psychological and societal manipulation?
(First appeared on December 05, 2020) If you are reading this piece expecting a discussion on Stephen Covey’s book with the same title, please stop. It is not about that. Nor does it concern the topics that usually come under discussion whenever the word is […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on December 05, 2020)
If you are reading this piece expecting a discussion on Stephen Covey’s book with the same title, please stop. It is not about that. Nor does it concern the topics that usually come under discussion whenever the word is used in this country. Neither political, nor military, or religious or legal. No. This piece is about the leadership that is growingly setting the global agenda. The powerful class of billionaires and in a few exceptional cases, of millionaires. And the crux of the matter here? Houston, we have a problem.
In the 21st century we have witnessed the rise and rise of a new global class. Of the tech billionaires. With bated breath we watched as Jeff Bezos overtook Bill Gates as the world’s richest man. Only a few days ago Elon Musk displaced Gates to become the second richest man in the world. To be honest there was no contest. While one man (Gates) has vowed to return all his earned wealth to society in his lifetime, other men are constantly making more money. Bezos has not signed The Giving Pledge founded by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. In its own words the “Giving Pledge is a simple concept: an open invitation for billionaires or those who would be if not for their giving, to publicly commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” Musk signed it in 2012 and vowed to give half his wealth to charity. He was worth $2 billion back then. So far he has given a $100 million to charity.
If you look at the updated list of the world’s top 10 wealthiest people you are in for a shock. It is a men’s club through and through. The world’s richest woman is the 12th richest person. And guess the reason behind her recent fortunes? She recently divorced Bezos and got a quarter of his shares in Amazon as a part of her divorce settlement. With a net worth over $68 billion MacKenzie Scott has surpassed L’Oréal heiress Francoise Bettencourt.
Then there is the curious case of Mark Zuckerberg, the 36-year-old billionaire whose company Facebook has been caught, more than once, harvesting your private data. What do you do when you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar? Blame somebody else. When in 2018 Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, blew the lid off of the data harvesting scandal using an app on Facebook’s platform, the company did not take responsibility. And here is the rub. As if the private data of 2.45 billion users and ownership of companies like Instagram and WhatsApp was not enough, in August 2019, Facebook announced the launch of its digital currency Libra. We will return to Zuckerberg’s growing ambitions shortly. Let us first flag the concerns about the conduct of the world’s wealthy elite.
The first concern is the rapidly increasing income disparity. If Thomas Piketty is to be trusted, the wealthy are getting wealthier and the poor are getting poorer. And the most shocking revelation to him is that the underprivileged do not have any idea how staggering the difference is. Before you dismiss it as alarmism, here is the second concern: too much power in a few hands. During Greece’s financial crisis a joke that reportedly went around in Apple’s headquarters was that the company could buy more than one country like Greece. Billionaires are getting more powerful than states and the political dumpster fire you see in Washington is just a trailer. Quick reminder: the outgoing US President is a self-proclaimed billionaire too.
The third and perhaps the most important concern is about the peculiar baggage of the members of this super-wealthy class. Musk comes from South Africa, a country where the white population after decades of apartheid, now sees itself as the victim of majoritarian discrimination. Unsurprisingly, with Musk’s meteoric rise the debate about race relations and conspiracy theories about white genocide have taken centre stage. Let me be clear. He doesn’t need to be a racist. But there are signs that people in his wider orbit might have tracked the germs of this disease to the mainstream. Another example is of Rupert Murdoch. During the early days of his corporation’s rise he seemed to offer each region the demand driven news content. Fox News for the US, Sky News for Europe and his native Australia and Star News for Asia especially India. But as Australia’s identity crisis and paranoia about China’s rise has grown these nuances have disappeared from Murdoch’s network.
Then there is the issue of their take-no-prisoners approach to competition. Thirst, ambition and absence of qualms often leads them to play dirty. Israel’s PM Netanyahu for instance is under investigation for accepting bribes from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood film producer, and James Packer, an Australian billionaire. Recent propaganda campaigns against George Soros and Bill Gates appear to be an outcome of competition for influence among their fellow billionaires. Political corruption, hate, xenophobia and unvarnished ambitions of the super-rich ostensibly have joined forces and are consequently wreaking havoc with our lives. The Economist, in its latest edition, points out, that even as under Modi’s stewardship India grows poorer the personal fortunes of Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani are touching the skies. The tail is now wagging the dog. Various states and societies facilitated the rise of such billionaires in the vain hope that they would become force multipliers for their governments. But now that they have grown bigger than their states, they are busy carving their countries and the world into fiefdoms after installing reactionary and corrupt elements in government.
Just to highlight how governments have facilitated the rise of these tycoons you need to read former president Obama’s recent book. He makes it abundantly clear that his pursuit of clean energy options led him to offer concessions to Musk’s Tesla. The latter also benefited profusely from the former’s space policy. Bezos’ Amazon does not pay any taxes in the US in return for his investment in the country’s cloud infrastructure which makes companies like Netflix possible.
Frankly all these personal peculiarities would have remained Hollywood myth to us had it not been for President Trump’s political style or outlook. It is evident that wealth alone does not moderate the sense of entitlement that comes with it. Now when we come across reports speculating about Zuckerberg’s potential run for public office we are troubled by them. Bringing these poeple into power is not very difficult but removing them might cost you an arm and a leg.
Of course you cannot put this genie back in the bottle. But at least two things can happen. One, the governments be urged to first judge the character of the businessmen they invest in. Two, to try to convince the super-rich to adhere to some semblance of principle-centered leadership. Perhaps the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet can show them the way.
(First appeared on November 28, 2020) While politics keeps distracting us we should never lose sight of the extraordinary times we live in. As the dreaded second wave of Covid-19 sweeps the country and other parts of the world it is plain that a fatigue […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on November 28, 2020)
While politics keeps distracting us we should never lose sight of the extraordinary times we live in. As the dreaded second wave of Covid-19 sweeps the country and other parts of the world it is plain that a fatigue is settling in, in the fight against the deadly virus. The economy that always has a hard time standing on its two feet wobbles at the mere idea of another lockdown. Politicians who sit on stages wearing masks, properly sanitised and distanced seldom seem to care if their rallies turn into superspreader events jeopardising the lives of their followers. When everything else is open private school owners seem on a warpath protesting the government mandated school closures.
Despite positive reports from drug manufacturers, there is a lot that is unknown. For example, even if the Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are over 90% successful in curing the patient, there is no guarantee they will inoculate him/her against reinfection for a long period. The first two are cost-prohibitive and need super cold temperature. Then bear in mind that the virus is mutating. An article titled “The Coronavirus is Mutating — Does it Matter?” published in Nature on September 8, 2020, reported that “researchers have catalogued more than 12,000 mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genomes”. The study concludes that while mutations haven’t had any serious impact on the nature of the pandemic, they could in the future. Finally, let us not forget that we live in the age of superbugs. Even if this pandemic goes away there is no guarantee that another more virulent one will not emerge in the near future. Both climate change and population explosion work as catalysts in the genesis and spread of these viruses. Consider the global shutdown and other ongoing responses to the pandemic as a full dress rehearsal for similar more devastating challenges to come. So, while the best and the brightest minds among us try to give us a fighting chance we need to be ready for the possibility that this may be the new normal. And the problem with this normal is that we are already ostensibly tired of it.
I can state with certainty that businesses that were affected by the Covid lockdowns will find their way. That’s how capitalism works. Through innovation and perseverance. But there is one area where that innovation has been faltering: education.
It is sad to see how our culture wars are affecting the future of our children. We will attend to our region in a moment but first let us talk about the debate still raging in developed parts of the world. The debate about school closures. And somehow this debate has become a partisan issue. Right leaning parties want schools to stay open. Somehow they seem to be deluded into believing that a mythical herd immunity is the only answer and the sooner the kids get infected and recover from the virus the better it is. Left leaning parties are more concerned about the human cost of such an impulse driven experiment. It is as if our neocortices and limbic systems have shut down and our lizard brains are running on fumes. In the middle of all this the mere possibility that the quality of remote learning can be improved is lost somewhere. For instance even if the use of interactive artificial intelligence may not be possible at this stage, I would have expected that at least for high-end customers a few big tech companies would have employed virtual reality technology coupled with visors and haptic gloves to create virtual learning spaces. Imagine if such an immersive experience could be provided how fun education would become. Once an innovation is introduced it takes no time for the business to scale and become cost effective.
In countries like Pakistan this may be a far cry. But even in high-end private schools the owners seem reluctant to invest in innovation and capacity building that is possible. For instance right now overburdened teachers are asked to deliver lectures through video conferencing software. Because many teachers are new to the technology and students are often camera and mic shy these classes are proving exceptionally poor substitutes for on-campus education. Add to it the unreliable internet bandwidth and teachers often communicate through one-way video streams in which they only hear voices of the children. Now think about the backbenchers who often get away with ducking teacher’s attention even when physically present in the classroom.
In the public sector and low-end private sector schools this situation takes a direr shape. Where the quality of human resource is often (although not always) considerably inferior, teachers and students both lack tech savvy and access to technology and internet is next to nil you can expect what affects this will have. In the underdevloped, neglected or remote areas like Balochistan, erstwhile FATA and Gilgit-Baltistan, internet coverage is a huge issue. These problems need solutions. We are labouring under the delusion that this phase is temporary and it may soon pass. But there is no guarantee. If education has to be saved the time to act is now.
I do not deny that the brick and mortar schools have their advantages. Around the world these schools are often chosen for interventions to ensure that the nutritional needs of children from depressed classes are met. Here children often get opportunities to exercise. And let’s face it this is how education has been conducted for centuries. But remember despite all that school enrolment in the country is far from perfect and with growing population the pressure on the existing public infrastructure is increasing to the breaking point.
Technology will come to our rescue if we take it seriously. The government needs to invest heavily on the education related internet infrastructure. The country has four mobile data networks. Why can’t we have a fifth dedicated to and subsidised for education? Likewise the country subsidises import of paper and card boards every year. Why can’t we import or manufacture cheap tablets or phablets with cameras for students? The country has over 50 news channels that are mostly producing a heap of white noise daily. Why can’t some of the channel owners be encouraged to invest in the education system instead? Some of these owners already run educational businesses as well. So why not combine the two?
School systems meanwhile can invest in tech-related capacity building of teachers and students. Private companies, publishers, textbook developers, and private schools can join hands to develop educational portals with pre-recorded lectures along with an army of online teachers to interact in real time, to answer questions, to test and grade. Something tells me that these business models may end up being far more successful, effective and profitable. And as long as there is a coherent plan, international partners, donors and financial institutions might also be willing to support such an effort. The fact that we are not even thinking on these lines worries me profusely. This is the age of the knowledge economy and this is how the future of the educational industry looks like regardless of the challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.
(First appeared on November 21, 2020) Reading president Obama’s new book took me back to that November night in 2008 when after eight years of Cheney’s endless wars we heard that an anti-war African-American man had won in the world’s most powerful democracy. It was […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on November 21, 2020)
Reading president Obama’s new book took me back to that November night in 2008 when after eight years of Cheney’s endless wars we heard that an anti-war African-American man had won in the world’s most powerful democracy. It was a moment of hope and renewal. And for me a moment of vindication. I had just won a bet. One of my colleagues, a senior anchor, had refused to believe when I told him that white America could choose a black president. In my naïve exuberance I had challenged him to a bet in front of a live audience. At the time he accepted the challenge. But when results arrived I don’t think he showed any inclination towards even acknowledging that he had lost the bet. Ecstatic about what I deemed a triumph of fundamental human decency over ugly stereotypes, I did not push my luck. The world was a good place, I knew it, and my vulnerabilities and ego insignificant in comparison.
Life would take a few more years to disabuse me of any false hope. Obama was a force of hope and America was fundamentally good. But the world was broken and cosmetic changes could not change that. Now as Obama writes one remembers that on that night another force was born that would do great harm to the world. McCain was a decent man and he proved it to the very end. But his running mate, chosen for token female participation and devoid of any outstanding credentials that unnerved strongmen around her, would take electoral rejection to her heart and make it personal. In her anger she would mainstream nativist talking points and spew borderline racist nonsense. Her failed candidature later attracted the likes of Steve Bannon, who even made a documentary on her life called The Undefeated. Later Bannon would latch onto the Tea Party movement and bring his racism to the Republican mainstream. In the end, it all led to the hot mess the US finds itself in.
When you’re the first black president with the middle name ‘Hussein’ and have won on a Democratic ticket you must prove every single day that you’re every bit as competent and patriotic as a white man, not a Muslim and tough on national security. Whether he was able to do justice to all will only be decided by history. But if we thought his victory would fix a broken world we could not be more wrong. The forces of darkness can cause damage even in broad daylight. Those forces kept working, sponsoring hate around the world. And then dominoes began to fall. Hardliners were rising like rabbits raising their heads in a hutch. Netanyahu won in Israel. A Nazi-inspired Hindutva party triumphed in India. Race fanatics started rising in Europe. Religious and authoritarian extremists had a field day in the Muslim world. Then Brexit happened and eventually Trump won. The arc of the immoral universe was complete.
One example of this broken world is Trump’s refusal to concede after an electoral drubbing at the hand of a man he publicly accused of being an invalid. I still like to believe there is a good, patriotic man hiding somewhere in there. But how deep that man might be a hostage by the alt-right propaganda, personal greed and opportunism, and gullibility is anybody’s guess. I recall on the day of the first presidential debate Alex Jones continued to claim on his show that Biden was a demon possessed zombie who would fall apart at Trump’s first sight. And when that didn’t happen he went on claiming that many litres of blood had been artificially pumped into his veins to make him look alive. This practice he claims is called plumping. When you are inhaling propaganda emanating from such a broken mindset you are likely to believe that a supercomputer called hammer and a software called scorecard could help steal the election. Just some more alt-right trivia: Biden is a half-dead zombie because he accepted to be Obama’s vice-president, something a conscientious white Christian man would never do.
The second proof of a world broken beyond repair is the set of evidences presented by the Pakistani Foreign Office and army regarding India’s alleged terrorist sponsorship in Pakistan. I call it alleged just out of the sheer need to preserve journalistic integrity. Otherwise, when you have already read the leaked FinCEN reports on the involvement of Indian banks (especially Punjab National Bank) in terror sponsorship and then you see a PNB receipt, showing a money transfer to the anti-Pakistan terrorists hiding in Afghanistan, flashed on the screen you know this is a real terror money trail. Many have speculated that Pakistan unveiled this evidence because it wants to influence the incoming Biden administration. I believe it did so because it worries the Modi government uses international turmoil and leadership vacuum from a messy transition to further indulge in adventurism and exposing it now may pre-empt that. And on top I came across some fascinating arguments from Indian pundits. The world knew this was a comeuppance for decades-long separatist sponsorship by Islamabad, they claimed. Sure geniuses, but that’s not how it is supposed to work. You punish someone when some excess is commitment, not when someone has already atoned for mistakes. Even if your blinkered worldview leads you to believe Pakistan is not moving in the right direction you will concede that it is not moving in the wrong direction. And under Modi India has covered light years of the wrong territory. Broken. See.
The third example is of the South Asian reaction to Kamala Harris’ victory. While for the saffron-clad Modi bhakts she is not Indian enough, to many Pakistanis she is just another Indian. I have no solution to Modi’s benightedness but I am disappointed in the Pakistanis who think this way. One, every South Asian should be proud that one of us has reached that high office. Two, South Asian nations should stop asking the diaspora to do more for them and strive to ensure that basic decency returns to the international order so the diaspora can survive the rising tide of nativism. Three, if India is turning into a dystopia the least Pakistan and other South Asian nations can do is reach out to the expat South Asians and remind them they have other places to call home, which even if are not perfect are places where good people have not given up the fight. Try empathy sometime. It’s a miracle drug.
And while the world is already so broken we face devastating blows like the Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying global economic meltdown. While the world should have been uniting to defeat new common enemies we are busy inventing new cold wars.
And now the real question: can all of this be fixed? The answer is, yes. But will it? Based on the long history of human instincts I would hazard a no. I refuse to believe in the fairytale of a light at the end of this long, long dark tunnel. The arc of this dark universe seems to bend towards more darkness. I will be happy to be proven wrong. But so far it looks like a universe meant for the Palins, Bannons, and Modis around us.
(First appeared on November 14, 2020) Are you surprised by the drama that is slowly unfolding in the US election? Some parts can be easily explained. Yet there are others which may seem very similar to what goes on in our neck of the woods. […]Farrukh writes
(First appeared on November 14, 2020)
Are you surprised by the drama that is slowly unfolding in the US election? Some parts can be easily explained. Yet there are others which may seem very similar to what goes on in our neck of the woods. The easy part first. So far there have been only three things out of the ordinary. Delay in vote counting due to a larger number of Covid-related postal ballots, higher turnout, and each state’s different set of laws. A President who refuses to concede. And the president-elect not getting access to the transition resources owing to the absence of certification by the General Services Administration (GSA) which is critical for the transition team to place its representatives in various government agencies. The rest is as is supposed to be. While the media calls the election in the US, the process of compiling, certifying, and notifying the results is done by each state. It is a lengthy and cumbersome process and that is precisely why the stipulated timeline is a liberal one. Each state has to compile and certify its results six days before the day the Electoral College meets (December 14). Once the Electoral College has voted these results are delivered to the designated officials by December 23. On January 3, the next year, the new Congress is seated. The joint session of the Congress counts the electoral votes on January 6, and declares official results. The new president is then sworn in on January 20, and the transition is complete.
Given that in the usual circumstances as soon as the media calls the election the losing side concedes all of the above becomes a mere formality. However, in the exceptional contested elections, these deadlines stand out and acquire importance. So, before the final certification deadline, any party can exhaust their legal options. In 2000, when in a contested election between Al Gore and George W Bush, counting and legal battle dragged on for 36 days and reached the US Supreme Court the dispute was swiftly resolved. But back then the dispute was over a few hundred ballots in a single state. This time however the difference is far bigger, in many states and in the electoral votes too. Now let’s say Biden somehow loses in Pennsylvania where he has a lead of over 50,000 but keeps Nevada and Arizona, he is the president. If results are reversed in Georgia and Arizona and even Nevada but he keeps Pennsylvania he is still the next president of the US. President Trump however will need three of these states to get a path to the second term. And judging by the quality of challenges filed by the Trump campaign it seems highly unlikely that the matter would reach the US apex court. Stranger things are known to happen but so far this seems to be the trajectory.
Now the difficult part. The quantum of misinformation being used to discredit the election outcome. When over 70 million voters have voted for you and you still lose, denial is understandable. The problem is that the winning side got even more votes. Then a massive complicating factor this year was that of a near partisan split over the mail-in ballots. President Trump, ever the skeptic, was highly critical of voting through the mail and discouraged his supporters from using the method. Democrats on the other hand with a far more diverse base including vulnerable minorities preferred the postal ballots. This gave birth to a discrepancy. The states which first counted the in-person votes kept showing strong support for President Trump on the election night and the ones that first tabulated the postal ballots initially turned blue. A notable example is Texas which has a strong record of voting for Republican presidential candidates since 1976. But when the other batches were counted on balance the picture became clearer. And given that it took longer to tabulate all the votes misunderstanding was natural. However, the problem was far bigger than just this.
When you go through the thickets of hearsay it almost becomes clear that there was a pre-meditated effort to discredit the election. Doubts about postal ballots are one thing, but the way half-baked and often cooked so-called video evidence was in circulation even before the voting began on Election Day would point to psyops. Who would want the election process to be discredited? Trump? Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea? It is unlikely that the Trump campaign would try something like this. Why? Because until the end of the election the campaign could not know if it was winning or losing and discrediting the election this soon would backfire by affecting the morale of the supporters. Interestingly, while there were intelligence reports that hostile actors might try to influence the outcome, none of the countries could benefit from discrediting an election that could elect their preferred candidate. Well, Iran perhaps because it is not invested in either outcome but it does not have the kind of muscle to pull off something on this scale.
I know this could be my paranoia speaking but we have lived through two recent elections when something similar happened. In 2013, a religious scholar returned from his stay abroad just before the elections and staged a sit-in in the federal capital where he kept sowing the seeds of doubt about the election. Which led to post-election misunderstanding and more sit-ins which delayed some important political and diplomatic milestones. Likewise, in 2018 similar rumours were spread, and on the election night apparently because of an unreported DDOS attack the result transmission system slowed down which was later presented as proof of election rigging. The funny thing about all these doubts is that there seldom is a credible piece of evidence that can stand the test of judicial scrutiny. So, everything is primarily based on hearsay.
It takes me back to the election eve in 2013 when I told the BBC that I felt very proud because for the first time in our history a civilian to civilian transition was made possible by an election that made us a democracy. When this interview was aired, I remember our Indian detractors scoffing at the idea of Pakistan ever becoming or being recognised as a democracy.
In the past pieces, I have explained in detail the emerging nexus between India’s Hindutva elite and the US white supremacists. A dream of the Western neo-Nazis is to witness a civil war in the US which ensures the ascendency of an Aryan order stretching from America to India. It can be pure coincidence but the DNA of the disinformation campaign to undermine the US election seems eerily similar to the one Pakistan endured. Constant vigilance is the need of the hour then.
(First published on November 07, 2020) As you read these lines, vote counting continues in the United States. Do we know who is going to win by the end of the prolonged political and legal battle? No. Do we have an idea who might? Yes. […]Farrukh writes
(First published on November 07, 2020)
As you read these lines, vote counting continues in the United States. Do we know who is going to win by the end of the prolonged political and legal battle? No. Do we have an idea who might? Yes. In any case, it is too early to write the political obituary of Donald Trump. One, he is not going to give up without a fight. Two, even if he loses he is not a usual political phenomenon and may bounce back in 2024. Three, while the American conservatives might be keen to move past him, his base is very loyal and may keep him relevant for a long time. That said, it looks like Biden will be very, very unlucky if he cannot make it beyond the finish line.
So, instead of speculating about the outcome let us resume our discussion from the last time. The world of conspiracy theories and how a mix of the worst rumours from history, an overactive imagination of storytellers belonging to the culture industry, and cutting edge technology keep fuelling them.
In my last piece, we discussed QAnon’s claim that there exists a global cabal that among other things kills children to obtain a chemical from their blood needed to stay young. Do you want to know how old is this aspersion and what is its source? By a happy coincidence, I was reading Ian Kershaw’s Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris that I came across the passage about rumours against the Jewish community of Vienna during Hitler’s early youth. The community was accused of the ritual murder of children. Bear in mind that as a product of an ossified prejudiced mind these caricatures of a community which for a long time has been history’s favourite whipping boy are no better than Borat’s depiction of the Jew. But who pauses to fact-check propaganda in polarised times. People need a scapegoat to blame for their miseries and once one is located they keep weaving the most ridiculous yarn possible.
The point of this little example is that propaganda and conspiracy theories are short of perverse material. All they have to do is to sift through the backyard of history. Another remarkable example is the near-universal prevalence of propaganda material against the American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros. This is where the left-right divide has done the most damage. The people on the right need someone to blame and many including Benjamin Netanyahu have found Soros as the target. Both are Jewish but as this kerosene meets the fire of existing prejudice in the West it becomes the story of a rich powerful and evil international cabal. Just to refresh your memory, early and rather moderate Nazis used to say that ordinary Jews were separate from the rich Jewish class which was exploiting the world — i.e., Ford’s international Jew. But such lines in the sand are soon forgotten in the rage of a witch-hunt. Remember, mostly lower and middle-class Jews ended up in the Nazi camps not the ultra-rich.
This idea of an international cabal is a useful device. Every society has its fair share of the rich. This elite class is usually inaccessible to the common citizens for scrutiny and is well connected internationally. Its power and lack of transparency to the ordinary citizen generate a thousand misgivings. Then there is what I call the Ford syndrome. Every rich man or woman comes across someone richer than them. When a self-made man comes across people with generational wealth and fails to bond, this cultural difference or rejection can often lead to a culture shock which might eventually result in prejudice. Henry Ford was a rich man. But his prejudice against the moneyed Jewry did humongous damage to humanity. It is said that Hitler had his picture mounted on his wall.
It is also important to remember that global wealth today is not concentrated in the hands of one family or people belonging to one faith. Muslims, Christians, Jewish people, Hindus all have an ultra-rich among them. Hence while the talk of an international group of puppet masters may target one community disproportionately its origin that lies in the anger of the lower classes is sooner or later hijacked by racial and cultural prejudice and is often used by the rich to settle old scores. Interestingly those who set out to fight the ‘puppet masters’ most often become some ventriloquist’s dummy. Just notice how conspiracy theories like QAnon stem from anti-Semitism, or prejudice against any cultural group, gather dust, of Islamophobia, and eventually turn against their Christian benefactors too.
In India where Hitlerism and Islamophobia both are at their peak, you do not even need an immediate stimulus to bring out hate. So what if Muslims today are helpless and destitute. Centuries ago Mughals and Muslim raiders from Central Asia attacked India and ruled it. That should be enough to subject them to collective punishment. Likewise, the helpless Christian community in India is collectively punished for the alleged crimes of the British Raj. The fact that the Indian ruling elite now sees an opportunity in the talk of a clash between the West and Islam and China, strengthens its hand in dubbing all peaceful Muslims as terrorists and part of the problem as well. That is why it so aggressively condemned the Congress Party when it used terms like saffron terrorism against Hindu extremist groups.
I must say I find Indian NSA Ajit Doval’s claim about Muslim extremists as mercenaries ready to be bought quite ominous given the recent incidents of terrorism in Europe right when political stakes couldn’t be higher.
You must recall that in a few past pieces I highlighted how Savitri Devi, often dubbed as Hitler’s priestess, gave Hindutva its Nazi colour. I have also pointed out how her particular brand of Hinduism declaring Hitler as the avatar of Vishnu is now giving today’s neo-Nazis a religion to adhere to. And I have also mentioned that Trump’s former chief strategist and Breitbart’s executive chairman Steve Bannon is spouting similar nonsense. Since then Benjamin R Teitelbaum has written a book titled, War for Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers, seeking to connect dots between Savitri Devi, Bannon, his circle of influence, and the ethos he believes in. I am currently reading this book featuring hours of Bannon’s interview. Although the narrative takes many summersaults it confirms one concern I have voiced. Like Savitri Devi, this lot in seeking to revive the pre-Christian West, and hierarchical society, is bound to turn against all Abrahamic religions. The journey that started with Huntington’s metaphysical thesis now threatens to unite white supremacists and Hindutva extremists against today’s West. The chickens of hate have come home to roost then.
(First published on October 24th, 2020) In 2018, when little Zainab’s tragic case surfaced, a rather astonishing debate took hold of the media discourse. A doctor turned televangelist turned media executive and political commentator was adamant that the perpetrator of this heinous crime was the […]Farrukh writes
In 2018, when little Zainab’s tragic case surfaced, a rather astonishing debate took hold of the media discourse. A doctor turned televangelist turned media executive and political commentator was adamant that the perpetrator of this heinous crime was the head of a child pornography ring. These were emotionally charged times. The slain child’s hometown was up in arms. Houses of the local lawmakers were under attack. To express solidarity with the victim and her family a news anchor had brought her little daughter to the studio and hosted a transmission in her presence.
Call it my naiveté or some fundamental problem with my processing capacity but I utterly fail to convert a public tragedy into a media spectacle that could earn plaudits. My issue was that things did not add up. Odious and disgusting as the perpetrator was, he did not seem educated, tech savvy or affluent enough to be a part of, let alone head, an international ring of any sort. Given that he came from a religious background was it possible that the conservative TV investigators were spinning a yarn to deflect from a serious crime? I made some calls.
Meanwhile, the pandemonium was threatening to explode. The countdown to the election had started and the outrage over this tragedy could easily mix with other political protests and harm the body politic. Meanwhile the good doctor was constantly insisting that he had gone to the dark web and there he had found evidence to support his thesis. Apparently, there were such portals in the dark recesses of the internet which were showcasing such content.
Now if you know anything about the dark web you know such elements exist there even if they are not the main purpose of its creation. Was it possible that the gentleman was conflating the two disparate things? When I finally heard from friends in the relevant circles, no doubt was left in my mind that he was mixing the two things. And that’s what I pointed out in my subsequent work.
What most of us missed at that time was that the doctor was not alone in his assertion. That an international movement against child exploitation was growing. Not just any international movement but a movement based on a lethal conspiracy theory. QAnon as it is now known.
Later, some random developments and acts of violence in the United States would bring the movement to the surface. But in this relatively small period it has grown into a full-fledged cult and threatens to be a religion. Law enforcement in the US is already flagging it as a serious domestic terror threat. The origin and evolution of this theory leaves little doubt in my mind that it stems from the polarised US presidential elections in 2016.
Although the story has transformed into an allegorical world of much complexity its central points are fairly simple. There exists an international cabal of child-raping and child-eating individuals. These monsters often called the elite or puppet masters are present in the highest echelons of power and influence. To disband this cabal the US military intelligence convinced Donald Trump to run for president. And Robert Mueller is in on the plot and secretly helping Trump.
With me so far? Now the problem with conspiracy theories is that they do not care much for the causal links. A world populated with 7.5 billion people with the abilities to think, cheat and plot is bound to be a dangerous place. Hence random acts of crime and conspiracies must exist. But to prove a broader theory you need to show that A leads to B which then takes things to C, a dangerous outcome which needs to be stopped at any cost. Conspiracy theorists take care of the problem not by providing evidence but by undermining the process by which we get information. If everything is rigged, how on earth are you likely to get to the truth? Hence the conspiracy theory. The Jeffrey Epstein saga has further worked to build consensus that something strange is indeed going on. But here is the problem. To make life and death decisions you need some evidence. If you start thinking that everything is compromised, society is likely to fall apart. You do not need a very deep conspiracy for a cover up. A few guilty individuals are enough to try to cover up a crime. Let’s say that Epstein was as wealthy and compromised as he is said to be. This then would involve a group of surrogates and associates. Naturally they would go an extra mile to ensure that they are not exposed. But does that mean there exists a global elite that slays children to extract a particular chemical from their blood?
The story, as I mentioned in a previous piece, started after the 2016 election and Trump inauguration. When a character claiming to be a high clearance insider Q appeared on redoubtable online imageboard. The purported insider claimed that Hillary Clinton was soon to be arrested, which never happened. But something about that moment when moved by a savage impulse of triumph where you want all your enemies destroyed, took hold of the pro-Trump online community and this story has been growing ever since.
The problem with this movement is that it seems to have been held hostage by a lot of fantasy fiction. For instance, it uses The Matrix trilogy’s blue pill red pill metaphor to draw a distinction between their own and others. The Matrix trilogy was already swaying many in the Muslim world before 9/11 when Harun Yahya wrote on the spiritual meaning of the lore. In the current political climate when America is returning to elections the problem is growing rapidly. But even when the elections are over it is unlikely to stop. At the beginning I gave you an example of how this complicated the discourse in Pakistan too.
As a journalist I have come across enough victims of conspiracy theories to know what such a deadly proliferation can mean. An entire decade of the War on Terror was obscured by conspiracy theories. We could have effectively defeated terrorism much earlier in their absence. Before 9/11, conspiracy theories were proliferating against anti-Islam satanic cults. Then we saw terrorism around the world as a misguided reaction. This movement too, if not checked in time, can have similar devastating results. There is no dearth of impressionable minds in Pakistan or the world over.
(First published on October 17, 2020) A well-known investigative journalist recently took a screengrab of a female workout instructor from a TV morning show and tagged Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet urging him to ban on-air vulgarity. The woman in the tweeted picture […]Farrukh writes
A well-known investigative journalist recently took a screengrab of a female workout instructor from a TV morning show and tagged Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet urging him to ban on-air vulgarity. The woman in the tweeted picture was fully clothed as she helped her audience (mainly stay-home women) stay healthy through exercise. How was this vulgar? And did this tweet amount to the abuse of the bully pulpit a journalist receives when his professional work is recognised?
The same gentleman’s tweets about a biscuit commercial forced the country’s media regulator to issue an advisory to advertisers and broadcasters to be more mindful that their advertisements correspond with the nature of the product. The said advisory is a work of art in itself. See for yourself. “It has been observed with concerns that themes of advertisements of ordinary consumer products like biscuits, surf, etc., being aired on satellite TV channels are not corresponding with the disposition of these products. The trend is causing unrest and behavioural disturbance among the viewers being not only in violation of the commonly accepted standards of decency but also the socio-cultural norms of Pakistani society.” I had to buy a pack of biscuits to learn the ‘disposition of the product’. Perhaps there was a particularly decent way to eat biscuits and yours truly was oblivious to that noble way hence causing ‘behavioural disturbance’ among the people around him. I was compelled to pull up the said video and judge for myself.
And there it was. A fully-clothed female actor was dancing in a gala. That in fact DOES correspond with the product’s brand name. But there it was again clear as a day. A woman dancing on a stage. I was finally getting to know what the gentleman considered vulgar. A woman’s body even if it is fully covered.
I bring up the matter because in this country there exists a set of people who would go around banning things just because they offend their sensibilities. And invariably the chief concern remains the same. The conduct of women in public. If a man wears a mawashi like cloth belt to barely cover his modesty during a televised kushti or kabadi match that is culture. If a woman appears in a fully covered tracksuit to share workout instructions it is vulgarity. But how does it work? You cannot wish away half of the country’s population. Especially now, when the global economic competition necessitates that every adult member of the population contributes directly to the GDP. Perhaps women would be allowed to get away with the vulgarity of work if they cover themselves head to toe and pretend, they do not exist? But while typing this I am reminded of a video clip from Karachi where a few years ago a girl clad in a burqa was lifted off of the back of a slow-moving motorcycle by certain street goons. It pains me to say this but I am sure the apologists of bad behaviour will manage to find fault with the conduct of this poor woman. Perhaps if she was heavier, they couldn’t lift her off of the bike.
Do you realise how much effort goes into diverting attention away from this toxic masculine behaviour? Whenever a rape case surfaces the first impulse is to blame the victim. Invariably. Why did she put herself in such a position? Evidently, the state cannot guard every road, every nook, every cranny, every alleyway. Hence, women should not come out in areas and in hours when men become brutes. Should men be allowed to turn into brutes? Should the state which has adequate resources to police our airwaves and internet traffic take leave of absence from its duty to protect the lives and safety of its female subjects? Why should they always have to prove their innocence? Why should they be the sole repositories of a family’s shame and honour?
When victim-shaming doesn’t make the scandal threatening to challenge the masculine mystique doesn’t go away, the obfuscation artists switch gears. Demand that the rapist be hanged in public. Two benefits. The outrage about rape becomes the outrage against the hypothetical flaws in the justice system. Collective responsibility for bad behaviour effectively evaded. The second benefit — if this somehow succeeds, more toxic entertainment for the bloodthirsty.
When this does not work, the next trick, blame everybody but yourself. Especially sensory and visual inputs. The vulgarity on television, exposure to Western culture is eroding the value system in the society. Then the very same elements go and start advising politicians and hence this becomes a policy problem. But here is the thing. Rape incidents have consistently occurred in our societies even when television did not exist or was unaffordable for the general public. Many of us have been brought up with full exposure to Western culture but none of us ever thought of violating anyone’s personal space what to speak of making unwarranted advances. Only a sick and toxic group culture can be held responsible for the mindset that views himself as the hunter and women as the prey. These things are highlighted here because in the motorway rape case much before the main culprit was apprehended, we had completed the above-mentioned cycles comfortably.
In uneducated and hyper-conservative circles victim blaming has been the norm for a long time. However, in educated circles, the fear of liberated women is a recent phenomenon. Women with liberal outlook were among the first few boosters of General Musharraf’s enlightened moderation. But the Mukhtar Mai case changed that and that too because of petty grassroots politics. The accused in the case were political constituents of the local PML-Q MPA. When the scandal was first unearthed the said MPA, a rather uncouth and uneducated man known to me, held his peace because the storm was too big. But when the pressure subsided, he got to work, poisoning minds, sowing seeds of doubt, and plotting against the victim. And very soon Mukhtar Mai was a bigger national security challenge than India and terrorism combined. General Musharraf’s subsequent outbursts did more damage to the discourse around women than any conservative’s work could. Perhaps, he can undo this unwitting damage by standing up for victims of similar recent crimes. The other party that owes its success to women to a great degree is the ruling PTI. If it also starts lending its ears to such regressive elements, we may totally become an anti-woman society.
The time is opportune to stand up for the rights of half of this country’s population and stop blaming everything else from a pillar to a lamp post for such crimes. The majority of men do not condone such bad behaviour. But their tolerance of the presence of such malcontents in their midst brings us all a bad name.
(First published on October 10, 2020) Donald Trump has Covid. The United States president is considered the most powerful man on the planet. And yet a microbe infinitely smaller than him plunged the world’s pre-eminent power into a crisis. The seriousness of this crisis will […]Farrukh writes
Donald Trump has Covid. The United States president is considered the most powerful man on the planet. And yet a microbe infinitely smaller than him plunged the world’s pre-eminent power into a crisis. The seriousness of this crisis will probably never be known owing to the US media’s post-truth meltdown. The US President is around 74, the exact target demographic for the coronavirus’ exploits. He was soon shifted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, giving many the impression that he was not doing well. And while his doctors were trying to convince the American audience that his life was not in danger, his Chief of Staff was painting a different picture.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. It is true the advent of the Trump age has exposed some of the most bizarre questions never answered in the US political system. For instance, what happens when a foreign power openly meddles in your elections? What happens if a candidate refuses to concede? And what happens if the entire country has to shut down because of a virus highly contagious and lethal? As for Trump’s health, the American system still provides safeguards and a line of succession. But these other questions still await an answer.
The crisis was even bigger than this. Consider the three branches of government. The head of the executive who happens to be the country’s Commander in Chief is already infected. We later learned that the virus had reached the Pentagon high command because of a senior National Guard office bearer. Shutdown there too. And given the super spreader event that got the President infected is believed to be a packed nomination ceremony in honour of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the virus easily finds its way to both the US Congress and judiciary. And we know that at least two US senators are infected.
This crisis may not seem as severe as the scenario presented by the American television series, Designated Survivor, but this slow-moving beast could cause as much pain and suffering in the end. It is one thing to visualise a crisis and adopt it for television through a lazy creative process, totally another to face it in reality. As if this was not enough to panic, there is more. Since humanity has not found the cure for this disease the time is opportune to realise that this is a threat faced by every country in the world. Yes, even those which think they have survived or escaped the most brutal aspects of the crisis.
So, what are the key lessons here? Find a cure? Be cautious? Protect yourself? Yeah, sure. But they are not enough. Finding a cure is not as easy as it sounds. We have heard the US President, the Russian President, and many others for how close we are to developing a vaccine. There, however, are many issues with that position. First, that the microbe spreading this disease is a virus, the phantom that regularly defeats modern medical science. Unlike bacteria and other microbes, viruses are difficult to get rid of, are smart as hell, and quick to mutate. You develop a vaccine and a new strain soon evolves. Not only that. We still don’t know the long-term effect of the virus. There is no book on the subject that says that the virus harms you just in one way. How can we know the long-term effect of the disease when we have known it for less than a year? And since the length of clinical trials has been shortened in view of the global medical emergency, we will not learn about the long-term side effects of the vaccine for a long time.
The second lesson, prevention. We are witnessing some unimaginable scenes. The world’s most powerful men and women wearing masks all the time. Then the US vice presidential debate saw a plexiglass wall separating the two candidates and the moderator. Now a ferocious row has broken out between the Biden and Trump campaigns about the nature of the second debate. That is not all. Economies around the world were shut down fearing Covid spread. Now as they come back online it is important to remember that the threat hasn’t really gone away. I have already told you that I consider this neither a crisis of capital nor of demand. This is primarily a crisis of labour. Where a working man or woman cannot make it back to work either because of illness or fear of illness. History’s dark sense of humour is evident from the fact that this is exactly the time when most if not all jobs can easily be replaced with machines. Where you see human inevitability all you have to do is wait a few years and we will get there soon enough. This then becomes a true crisis of humanity.
The problem with the idea of prevention is that it is an untenable position. There is enough poverty in the world on its own that you cannot demand a total and permanent shift of lifestyle. This leads us to the third and most frightening proposal — of survival of the fittest poorly disguised as the debate on purported herd immunity. Herd immunity is misdirection because data on the length of post-Covid immunity is not just inconclusive, it is weaponised by polarisation in a way that you will never reach a conclusion. You cannot make policies on the basis of hunches. Shamans and godmen may rise who lead you in one direction or the other but the truth is they will inevitably be telling you to let a significant portion of the world population go. If my study of scriptures of numerous faiths has taught me anything, it is that God, of any faith, wouldn’t want you to go in this direction.
And if you think that in Donald Trump, the US power, and in Covid, the entire humanity, has found their match. Pray think again. This is just the entrance of the tunnel. The journey only gets bleaker from hereon. Bigger challenges will be faced by humanity, democracy, the US, you, and I.
Is there any antidote? A one-size-fits-all solution? Sadly, I do not have any. But I know where it may come from. You. Not you, the person. But you, the people. There are seven and a half billion human beings in the world. They all are endowed with nature’s unique marvel, the supercomputer we call the human brain. When combined together this is one hell of a processing power. Sadly, however, we are allowing petty politics and reductionist ideologies to create more divisions. This will need the US, China, Russia, Muslim countries, India, Latin America, Africa, and the rest of the world to survive in the new world we have just entered. Since we are still embroiled in the Cold War mentality, many leaders around the world will want to exploit the situation for personal or political gains. This calls for a new kind of global leadership mindset which can both retard such negative impulses and build a common response. Failing this, just remember, the worst is yet to come.
(First published on October 3rd, 2020) On September 30, a special court in Lucknow robbed India of its democratic credentials. Democracies usually have fully functioning institutions where some semblance of impartiality is always maintained. The verdict of the Babri Masjid demolition case, which came after […]Farrukh writes
On September 30, a special court in Lucknow robbed India of its democratic credentials. Democracies usually have fully functioning institutions where some semblance of impartiality is always maintained. The verdict of the Babri Masjid demolition case, which came after 28 years of the incident, was unique. All 32 accused in one of history’s most well documented fanatic campaigns, which left 2,000 (mainly Muslims) dead and incurred a loss of around $3.6 billion, were acquitted citing absence of evidence. In 1992, LK Advani, flanked by the ruling BJP’s leading lights including one Narendra Modi, had led a chariot march which culminated into the mob frenzy that brought the Babri structure down and a bloodbath all in plain sight. If a couple of them were spared it would have been expediency, if only a few of them were punished it would have been tokenism, but when all of them walked free this had to be a message. The stranglehold of the RSS and its inspired political parties on Indian state and society was complete. I have already pointed out in a separate piece that in 1988, Girilal Jain, the then editor of The Times of India and a far-right ideologue, had used the term “clash of civilisations” to describe the Babri Masjid dispute.
On September 29, at the debate stage, President Trump shocked a global audience when he visibly and unambiguously failed to condemn white supremacy. While it may further lend credence to the “Trump is a racist” narrative, the reality is far more complicated. When invited to condemn it, he asked the moderator to give him a name so that he could denounce it. When he was offered the name of Proud Boys, the best he could do was to ask the group to “stand back and stand by”. Since then the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist, male only group with white supremacist roots has gone to town in celebration and printed T-shirts with Trump’s words. Originally a part of the alt-right, Proud Boys soon split ways with the big tent movement citing its reservations about the focus on race. They claim to defend the Western civilisation and Western values rather than the white race. The group is connected to Trump campaign’s high-profile surrogates like Roger Stone and is often the first to confront any far-left protest rally challenging President Trump. You can see why he would be reluctant.
On September 25, a 25-year-old man of Pakistani origin was arrested in Paris for carrying out a knife attack ostensibly to protest Charlie Hebdo’s decision to reprint the contentious caricatures. Charlie Hebdo’s decision was apparently meant to mark the trial of those involved in the 2015 terror attack. Usually when an attack of this sort takes place the media usually mentions the country of origin not the city of origin. But reports about the apprehended man, who initially lied about his name and age but remarkably not the country or city of origin, carried the name of the city of his origin — Mandi Bahauddin. And while the Pakistani media was still wrapping its head around the development, the Indian media was already running the interview of the said man’s father claiming how proud he was of his son. Granted India is very close to France these days, because of the Rafale deal of course, and it habitually obsesses about anything that brings the Pakistani state and society into disrepute but this whole affair appeared too picture perfect. It does not hurt that such events further enhance the current Indian ruling elite’s claim that a clash exists between Islam and the West.
On July 24, Turkey’s President Erdogan led the first prayer in Hagia Sophia to mark its conversion into a mosque. When asked to comment on the subject, I told the questioner that I did not see the reason behind the move because right next to Hagia Sophia stands the historic Blue Mosque which can accommodate 10,000 worshippers at a time, where prayers are organised five times daily and has never been seen running to capacity. Erdogan’s decision reverses the order of modern Turkey’s founder and a personal favourite Kemal Ataturk who decided to give it the status of a national museum and ties neatly into the incumbent President’s project of connecting directly to the Ottoman past. Naturally, it also convinces Huntington’s followers that they are on the right path.
You may notice three major trends here. First, the rise of far-right stronger around the world. Two, a push to homogenise their respective societies. Three, an attempt to other anything that does not reinforce this homogeneity, demonise heterogeneity and weaponise cultural boundaries. And while studying these patterns you are shocked by another interesting aspect. The Indian media’s obsession with such stories. Take for instance the above-mentioned stories and google them. You will be surprised to find a disproportionate coverage of all four. This despite the fact that stories like over one year of continued Kashmiri suffering, cow vigilantism in rural UP, the unfolding human tragedy in Indian Assam, economic meltdown and similar major issues are often dropped to accommodate such coverage. What is going on? Has India’s hatred towards China and Muslims in general created a blind spot which does not let it see the plight of its own citizens? Or is it a manifestation of Ajit Doval’s Defensive Offence doctrine? I know it can be dismissed as paranoia but sadly many in the Indian diaspora have not been able to extricate themselves from the negative influence of Modi and his cohorts especially now that they control the powerful Indian state. And while the South Asian diaspora remains deeply divided it has gained a lot of power and influence in the West. It would be great if it could for once decide that it will not support extremism of any kind.
I bring this matter up again and again because my long-held belief is now proven beyond any shadow of doubt. Divisions created by a paranoid worldview never sustain tenable identities. They give birth to the ever-growing sickness of prejudice which tears societies apart. In India, this may lead to casteism, provincialism and linguistic divides, in the Muslim world to sectarianism and in the West to racism.
Like microbes crawling on a tiny pebble ashore an infinite ocean, we sit on planet earth and bemoan shrinking resources and plot against each other when we know it all will hurt us in the end. Instead of investing in hate, prejudice and paranoia true national security concerns ought to invest in the scientific, humanitarian and pluralistic enterprise. The world society is far too intermingled to sustain a push for homogeneity. That way lies only ruin.
(First published on September 26th, 2020) “When she was two years old, she would lift her hands over her head and say very sweetly, “Dada, up.” His friends expressed surprise. The baby was polite. “It’s not politeness,” her father told them. “She used to scream […]Farrukh writes
“When she was two years old, she would lift her hands over her head and say very sweetly, “Dada, up.” His friends expressed surprise. The baby was polite. “It’s not politeness,” her father told them. “She used to scream when she wanted to be picked up. So once I said to her, “Ellie, you don’t have to scream. Just say, ‘Daddy, up’.” — Contact by Carl Sagan
Within months of taking over office, President Trump sent a delegation headed by White House Advisor Matt Pottinger to the first Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit. In his recent book, Rage, Bob Woodward introduces Pottinger, an old China hand with incredible domain knowledge, as Master Yoda of the administration’s China policy. Originally, the new administration was neither hostile to the project nor averse to partnering with China. The BRI summit was a high-profile affair, after all. Word had it all countries had sent their emissaries to the event. All, except one.
India was not just conspicuous by absence, its government had issued directives ordering that any citizen interested in attending the event (including think-tanks, businesses, media outlets, governmental departments) in private capacity would first need clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), once a glorious department now reduced to the intelligence community’s mostly MIA proxy. The clearance never came. In the end even the Indian embassy in China did not send note-takers to the event. Shortly before the summit, the MEA issued the following charge sheet: The BRI’s CPEC project included developments in disputed territories, the whole initiative could trap countries in a crushing debt cycle and that China’s intentions were not clear.
The second and third objections then did not mean anything to India because until then it had not ruled out the possibility of joining the BRI. It was clear it was primarily CPEC that was pushing Modi government’s buttons. The second objection, the crushing debt trap, would soon become Alice Wells’ chief objection to the project as India lobbied the administration through Republican Hindu Coalition’s Shalabh Kumar, who later made Steve Bannon, White House’s former chief strategist, a co-chair of the body. The two would later join hands to recycle old cold war banter and establish a think tank to define China. The Hambantota port episode gave India the necessary propaganda material against the initiative. But since then China has given little excuse to anyone else.
It’s a simple strategy really. If China is the next threat, the US would badly need India to contain it. Free insurance. Destroy democracy at home, gut the economy, be the nuisance in South Asia and no one in the West would bat an eye. India has benefited enormously since the day American intelligentsia slavishly decided to subscribe to Huntington’s clash of civilisations thesis. As India’s strategy was mostly tailored by diplomats back then, there was an element of subtlety, plausible deniability. India could tell Beijing it harboured no malice against China, while silently plotting against it. But in Modi’s India the foreign policy would be held hostage by a former spymaster. The problem with the intelligence community is that its work mostly involves a zero-sum game. With Ajit Doval deciding India’s foreign policy, it was like the head of an impulsive five-year baby was transplanted on the body of a massive giant. The national interest and in many ways the future of the liberal democracy would now be defined by elements who subscribe neither to democracy nor to pluralism. This would prove a critical flaw in the plan. Short-term goals would constantly trump long-term interests, optics would become the only form of plausible reality.
When Huntington plucked random trends out of thin air to build the West’s narrative against weaker identities, early converts to his cause did not suspect he would betray his own construct of the West so badly. Whether 9/11 messed up his mind or he always carried the seeds of bigotry and intolerance in him, his last book, Who are we?, did quite a number on Western identity. It brought identity politics to its baser parts: race, sects, birthrates, food consumption, and immigration. But too late. People, mostly conservatives, had already declared their allegiance. When people gawk at the sight of a Jewish man in Stephen Miller and a black woman in Candace Owens spouting borderline Nazi gibberish they do not understand this is the logical culmination point of Huntington’s last work.
If on one side this is happening, on the other you could see how hateful elements would react and attract. When the Modi government committed the century’s strategic blunder by abolishing Article 370 in Kashmir, no one in the West would touch the created mess with a barge pole, but then a group of far-right European parliamentarians decided to come to the rescue. It was clear the bridge between Indian far-right and similar elements in the West existed for long, held together by a common hate for Indian and Western minorities. Sadly, in the West’s case, Indians are also a minority. When elements like Richard Spencer talk of a peaceful genocide it entails expelling all non-white people from Western territories. And because Indian ruling elite does not see beyond its nose it doesn’t want to take stock of the grave danger it has subjected the Indian diaspora to.
This elemental shift in Western culture has already taken place. Our best hope lies in the possibility that anti-immigration sentiment does not take the shape of an overtly racist or Nazi political movement. Anti-immigration sentiment has already taken an anti-minority colour, meaning the attention has shifted from Muslims and Chinese expats to the African American, Jewish, native and Hispanic communities. Given the West possesses most of the world’s destructive firepower this is a chance nobody can take. You must have read Turner Diaries and The Camp of the Saints by now. The best help the world can provide is by cutting back on the immigration rate.
Ask yourself: why do people migrate to foreign lands? For greener pastures. Otherwise, it’s not easy to leave your life behind. If opportunities come to your home in the shape of development and infrastructure only those would like to migrate who think they have a higher calling. It would have been great if the West could empty its coffers on building infrastructure around the world. But citizens of Western democracies are tired of spending money on other countries when their own are poorly managed. China’s BRI changes that because the country has the will and resources to build an infrastructure to benefit all. This makes it a potential ally. Of course, the West would be interested in keeping what it sees as Beijing’s authoritarian impulses in check. But what to talk of China, the current arrangement is failing to check the rise of authoritarianism even within its allied nations like India. The West will need to earn the trust of the Chinese people and leadership to build a common future.
India, meanwhile, needs a massive change of posture and outlook. The amicable settlement of border disputes could restore its relevance in the region and help it find new allies. The clock is ticking.
(First published on September 19th, 2020) There is something in Orson Welles’ acting, directorial and writing debut film, Citizen Kane , which defies logic. For one, after 79 years of its release, many critics still consider it the greatest film ever made. For two, in an industry […]Farrukh writes
There is something in Orson Welles’ acting, directorial and writing debut film, Citizen Kane , which defies logic. For one, after 79 years of its release, many critics still consider it the greatest film ever made. For two, in an industry now inundated with reboots of old classics it has never been successfully rebooted. A multi-angle exploration of the American dream, it is a tale of a rich man’s life viewed from a host of vantage points, full of flashbacks, told and retold in so many ways that a thing as mundane as a child’s sled called Rosebud becomes a mystery in itself. Primarily about the media industry, this film can teach today’s journalists a thing or two about the art of storytelling.
If Citizen Kane was the peak of Orson’s performance, co-authored, directed, produced and performed by him, the twilight of his career came in 1981, in the shape of The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, a documentary made on the obscure and constantly faltering predictions of Nostradamus. It was plain that Orson’s heart was not in it and he made it clear he did not agree with the central theme even as he was contractually obliged to act as the narrator.
For a Hollywood studio too, this was a strange subject choice. The trash bin of history is full of shamans, soothsayers and seers who made wild claims about the future. Occasionally, if accidentally, these predictions come close to reality. But if the success rate of your prophecies is one in a 1,000 you do not deserve much attention. By that token Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and why even The Simpsons deserve far more credit than Nostradamus. But here is the clever bit. When you want to establish a grifter’s bona fides you slightly tweak the meaning of their claims and of historical facts and viola you have a story. So, what if none of the future predictions land anywhere, for the short-term the propaganda power of the said prophecies is inimitable.
The most striking part of this film is its culmination point with a focus on a third World War. A Muslim antichrist’s arrival, invasion of Europe, a nuclear attack on a new city at 45 degrees latitude (supposedly New York), and the undoing of the entire world in a 27-year-long war. Given the film was released in 1981, the heyday of the Cold War, when the West was using Muslim militants against the Soviet Union and courting the Muslim Central Asian states under Soviet control, politically it makes little sense. Until that is, you see its all three versions. The first version titled The Prophecies of Nostradamus hosted by John Waters was commissioned by Australia’s Seven Network and was an instant success. The second hosted by Welles was commissioned by the Warner Brothers with Alan Hopgood’s original script. And then in 1991, a slightly tweaked version of the script, at the peak of the Gulf war crisis, hosted by Charlton Heston, replaced the reference to the three antichrists with that of the three despotic tyrants and the last one, the king of terror, assumed a guise vaguely resembling Saddam Hussein. So, there was an element of political propaganda involved. But it seems unlikely that the impetus for the 1979 and 1981 films came from within the US deep state which was busy using Muslims against the USSR. Then where else do we look for the source of the impulse?
If you were old enough to remember the Gulf war, you would remember CNN’s breathtaking coverage of Saddam’s Scud missile attacks on Israel and how the missiles were shot down by the Patriot defence system. If you look at the propaganda material containing apprehensions about a Muslim threat before the Gulf war you see Israeli fingerprints all over it. The 1972 Munich Olympics massacre had already proven that the Israel-Palestine conflict could easily spill out of the region. Israel was the first country to see it as a Muslim problem. The second one was India.
In 1992, when Samuel Huntington gave “The Clash of Civilizations” lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, apart from Albert Camus in 1946, the term had been used twice in political jargon. One by Bernard Lewis, the Jewish Anglo-American orientalist in 1990, and by The Times of India ’s Hindutva-inspired editor Girilal Jain in 1988 who was later sacked for his far-right leanings to describe the Ayodhya dispute. Khushwant Singh is on record in pointing out Jain’s “anti-Muslim, anti-Christian and anti-Sikh bias”. In 1987, Kashmir was already heating up and Hindutva revival was taking a distinct anti-minority shape. So, you can see how the countries might be moving closer. When in 1993, Fareed Zakaria, of Foreign Affairs , a protégé and colleague of Huntington decided to publish latter’s monograph in the magazine, India had already opened its embassy in Tel Aviv.
I have written extensively on Huntington’s proposed clash of civilisations thesis. Only that it views Muslims, the West, China and India as distinct primitive elemental units. China for instance is Confucian and not communist. Islam is a monolith, not a deeply divided identity. And the West, well that construct fell apart in Huntington’s hands. After writing books after books like Political Order in Changing Societies, The Soldier and the State, and The Clash of Civilizations to please the powers that be Huntington ended his career by writing Who Are We ? — a book that reduced the US to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant identity. This book as we shall see next week has done more damage to the ideas of the West and the US than any other.
While Israel’s confrontation with Islam has a brief history, the Indian Hindutva case against all three Abrahamic faiths views the world with a distinctly Nazi lens. Hitler was not averse to Christianity but believed it had been ‘corrupted’ by Judaism. That philosophy can be expanded to include Islam too. I have already written about Savitri Devi’s project to appropriate Hinduism’s tradition of monism to develop a religion for Nazis and how it has already taken root among neo-Nazis. India’s Hindutva project and the West’s neo-Nazis now see themselves as allies. And their common enemy is not global Jewry but all Abrahamic faiths. So, today’s Jewish hawks and Christian evangelists may not realise this but the rise of far-right politics poses a grave danger to them as well. In a way, the thesis which brought the West and Muslim world at loggerheads now threatens to destroy both simultaneously.
History’s conflicts and the momentary hate they produce can always be recycled and put to political use. But in an age when mankind is faced by multiple existential challenges, these divisions and hatred take a life of their own and only undermine humanity’s attempts to survive. There still is a path ahead that may lead to a win-win scenario for all. But if life permits, we will try to examine it next week. For now, the fact that Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and the US decided to call their mutual agreements the Abraham Accords show there is a growing realisation about the growing threats.
(First published on September 12th, 2020) When coronavirus panic struck the world, populist leaders in many countries were averse to shutting down the economy. On the one side there was the myth of strongman mystique, on the other a genuine concern for the financial wellbeing […]Farrukh writes
When coronavirus panic struck the world, populist leaders in many countries were averse to shutting down the economy. On the one side there was the myth of strongman mystique, on the other a genuine concern for the financial wellbeing of an average citizen. For a while, it seemed India’s Modi would go down the same route. There is no dearth of gimmickry in Modi’s India and the culminating point of his requested “Janata curfew” (people’s curfew) where citizens were asked to beat and clang pots and pans from their balconies brought this reality home. The event was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But then something shifted and the government announced the lockdown. And one harsh lockdown it was. It was plain that no homework was done. Millions of economic migrants left stranded had to travel hundreds of miles on foot to their villages. As videos of their suffering trickled in a friend wondered what kind of leader would inflict such misery upon his own people. If the taste of the pudding is in its eating it is plain that these measures did not stop the spread of Covid. The only thing the Indian shutdown hampered was the Indian economy.
But this was not the first time Modi had put his people through such an ordeal. One fine morning, during his first tenure, Modi came up with the bright idea of banning the 500 and the 1,000 rupees notes. Since the entire scheme was hatched in the name of seizing black money, stealth was necessary. Consequently, no one had prior knowledge. Banks had not prepared to keep their ATM machines well supplied. The replacement would take time to be printed. When your economy, mostly rural, depends on hard cash and you delegitimise 82% of the country’s legal tender in circulation this is bound to lead to widespread anguish. India’s bourses fell by 6%, the economy also contracted in the long term. Poor people died waiting in long queues. But there were no consequences for Modi or his government. As if the people of India had simply given up.
Two more examples. Although it is not correct to call Kashmiri people Indian citizens as the Indian union has made its hatred of Kashmiris quite plain, the manner in which the lockdown in the state was imposed on the eve of the abolition of Article 370 highlights a pattern. Come up with a Quixotic plan in the name of national security, impose it without any preparation or wiggle room for the local populace and leave them to their own devices. In Kashmir, the citizens were forced to stay indoors without much provisions or communication. And this shutdown continues in one shape or the other even after over 400 days of its start. What happens to the common man cooped up in his house is not Modi’s concern.
When Assam updated the National Register of Citizens (NRC) some two million (mostly from poor and minority communities) were rendered stateless. At the time it was stated that these people would be provided legal recourse through Foreigners Tribunals. Later it transpired that many ideologically charged xenophobes were being engaged to head the tribunals. But despite that and after over one year of the announcement of the list, those left out have not been provided rejection slips which are mandatory to approach a bench for review. And in the middle came the pandemic and floods. The suffering of the poor and vulnerable is unimaginable. But instead of being moved by their suffering Modi’s home minister had promised he would replicate the model across the country and to enforce a nationwide NRC they also got a Citizen Amendment Act passed from parliament. Again, zero consequences.
Today we know that in comparison to the same quarter last year the Indian economy has shrunk by 23.9% and this contraction would continue for at least six quarters. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 infection rate has surpassed that of Brazil and India is now second after the US. Modi’s so-called muscular policy in Kashmir has heated border disputes with China and Pakistan. His disregard for sentiments of close regional allies like Bangladesh and Afghanistan (evidently because of the NRC and CAA) has alienated the governments and citizens there. His continued bullying has even forced the once only Hindu kingdom in the world (in 2015 it adopted a new secular constitution for which India punished it dearly), Nepal is forced to confront Delhi. So how does one remain in power despite such ineptness and open display of incompetence?
The first answer lies in the nature of the Indian state. Unlike other South Asian countries, the Indian state has always been significantly richer than its people. The fact that there are approximately 1.4 billion citizens means the state treats the poor and the backward as expendables. When some politician throws some morsels at them, he/she expects total worship. In a deeply stratified society, the poor have reconciled to this fate. This callousness is systemic.
But Modi government’s arrogance and propaganda methods can put Goebbels to shame. It now has the Indian media and Supreme Court in its pocket. No other democratic country can boast of the ruling party’s absolute control of major media outlets. Consider how craven the media is when at the time of such huge stories like the economic meltdown, widespread distress and worst relations with all its neighbours, the Indian media is busy magnifying an actor’s suicide and arrest of a woman allegedly involved. When election came, an Indian film actor was found asking Modi how he preferred to eat mangoes instead of substantive questions about policy in a televised interview.
But that’s not all. Only the media cannot get Modi this kind of power. Granted that almost all these media outlets are owned by a few businessmen who have remained chief beneficiaries of Modi’s rule. Granted that during the elections shady financial pipelines were created to ensure Modi’s party gets huge sums both from home and abroad in lieu of campaign finance without much accountability. But even that is not enough.
Many branches of these businesses abroad are fronts or shills for India’s intelligence foreign operations. You may notice that while intelligence agencies around the world including the CIA, Mossad and the ISI often come under discussion in media, there is hardly any mention of India’s premier intel agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), or for that matter any other. When a blind spot of this magnitude emerges, it can mean only either of the two things. First, that the agency in question is totally inept. Untrue. Two, it is deeply entrenched. Remember, Ajit Doval’s “Defensive Offense” speech only months before the 2014 elections? That was a pitch to this powerful community for 10 years of power sharing arrangement. Total support abroad to shape and reshape the world order while letting us do whatever we want at home. The Indian deep state started with trying to make the clash of civilisations thesis a reality. Now it is busy investing heavily in the rise of far-right elements both at home and abroad. Sadly, Indians have been thrown to the wolves in exchange.
(First published on September 5th, 2020) When last week I wrote that two men, Asif Ali Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif, had brought their respective parties to their knees I had little idea that the opposition leader in the National Assembly, who has often taken leave […]Farrukh writes
When last week I wrote that two men, Asif Ali Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif, had brought their respective parties to their knees I had little idea that the opposition leader in the National Assembly, who has often taken leave of absence from the assembly and corruption investigations on health grounds, would brave the long journey to Karachi and meet the former president. But there he was, surrounded by his party colleagues meeting Asif Zardari, who was accompanied by his son Bilawal and the Chief Minister of Sindh among many others.
We do not know what prompted Sharif’s visit to Karachi and what exactly was on the agenda but we have some idea why Zardari would warmly welcome his guests. He and his sister Faryal Talpur, perhaps the only soul closer to his heart than any, are to be indicted in the money laundering case by an accountability court on the 9th of this month. Apparently, self-preservation is the only cause that matters to the opposition’s agenda-setters these days.
Asif Zardari’s whole life is a tragic tale of the pursuit of self-preservation and reductive and diminutive grand designs. Scion of a so-called feudal family gone broke, deficient in sound educational qualifications, with a head full of misplaced notions about how the elite ought to behave in society and spoilt by the company of equally inadequate friends, when he married Benazir Bhutto and she became the prime minister it was clear that he was incapable of telling right from wrong. We hear rumours of a fateful meeting in which Zardari allegedly tried to convince his late wife that with ultra-rich competitors like Nawaz Sharif the only way to survive politically was to indulge in financial corruption. With little evidence to substantiate these rumours, we can treat them merely as apocryphal claims. I bring it up because even though Benazir’s father was accused of many things, financial corruption was not one of them. And if something later shifted in the party’s outlook, he cannot be disassociated from it.
If Zardari was a political liability to Benazir and her party, briefly after her assassination he proved to be the party’s key asset. He assumed leadership of the party, opposed an indefinite delay in the elections, refused to nominate Amin Fahim, the party leader dangerously close to General Musharraf, as PM, worked with Nawaz’s party to remove the former dictator from power and restored the Constitution nearly to its original shape through the 18th Amendment. But then power went to his head. While many claim that he was the first president who willingly returned power to the parliament he never lost the real power. He was simultaneously the head of his party and the country’s president. After the changes brought about by the 18th Amendment a party chief could easily unseat any member of parliament who went against the party’s agenda set by him.
If he was later surrounded by sycophants and yes-men the real stalwarts were regularly ridiculed by the former president. A new elite was rising within the party at the cost of the old policy hands based primarily on its proximity to Zardari. Almost all of them, from Zulfiqar Mirza to Dr Asim, from Uzair Baloch to Sharjeel Memon, would bring great grief to the party. But the most significant growth was of Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, who was often shunned by Benazir. Talpur would enter parliament contesting from Benazir’s home seat. When Bilawal returned to the country demanding that he be allowed to contest from the very constituency his aunt and father refused to vacate it. Talpur would travel within Sindh with full presidential protocol.
The generation before us, Zardari’s generation, was often accused of favouring siblings over their own children. In Zardari’s case, it was on full display. The time in power that the former president enjoyed was essentially borrowed in Bilawal’s name. When Benazir was assassinated and Zardari had returned to the country he had promised to act as the regent until Bilawal came of age. You can criticise dynastic politics but if it were a choice between a young man raised and moulded by Benazir and a man who had been her biggest liability throughout her career the matter was a no-brainer. When Bilawal returned to the country after completing his education his regent would not let go of levers of power only because it meant taking power away from his sister and his own ‘friends’. Bilawal was constantly infantilised by his father. As malicious rumours spread about the young leader’s personal life, many were convinced that they could trace them back to Zardari’s own circles.
Perpetual insecurities, a worldview mostly shaped by his prolonged stay in jail, a desire to mimic MQM’s old street tactics and sudden exposure to power which was not earned but accidentally given meant that Zardari would leave little social or political capital for his party in his path of self-aggrandisement. His governance model, egotistic fights, inability to sustain his gains or sacrifices of his predecessors all speak volumes about his ability. The two premiers he chose (Yousuf Raza Gilani and Pervaiz Ashraf), a CM for Sindh (Qaim Ali Shah) and a CM for Balochistan (Aslam Raisani) show he deliberately wanted his party’s governments to look incoherent.
But his gradual poisoning of Bilawal’s career is the real act of sabotage to his party. Today many wonder why a party that was founded in Lahore has lost so badly in Pakistan’s most populous province that it can’t even find good candidates. Many attribute it to the use of the so-called Sindh card. Interestingly, before Zardari entered Benazir’s life there was little mention of this card. The People’s Party was considered a federal party and Sindhi symbols the proud emblems of Pakistaniyat. But before his party left power Zardari used its final days to propose the division of Punjab. This from a party which gesticulates angrily if you ever dare to talk about the need for the creation of an urban Sindh province. Like that would go down well with your voters. If you hold a referendum in Southern Punjab you might be surprised to note that hardly anyone cares. The region is poor because of its extractive feudal elite. The creation of a province would only institutionalise and consolidate that elite’s power. Zardari is loath to the idea of local governments, the only effective way to improve governance and undermine the exploitative elite.
By retaining the party’s power (he and not Bilawal is the party’s head that has a presence in parliament) and constantly undermining Bilawal for narrow self-interest, Zardari has destroyed the potential of a promising party and promising young leader. After the APS Peshawar incident, Bilawal could play an effective role in bringing the focus back to the fight against terror and could have rebuilt his party’s mass appeal. But Zardari quickly pushed him aside to take all the credit which he could not sustain because of his fit of rage after the arrest of Dr Asim. Even today he uses the party’s clout only for personal benefit and will not let go until the party and the career of his son are finished. That’s what’s wrong with the opposition.
(First published on August 29th, 2020) Do you get the feeling that something weird is going on with the two major opposition parties? That whenever they plan to challenge the government, a switch flips and they are found rubber-stamping every treasury bill that comes their […]Farrukh writes
Do you get the feeling that something weird is going on with the two major opposition parties? That whenever they plan to challenge the government, a switch flips and they are found rubber-stamping every treasury bill that comes their way? That they cannot get together to give the government a tough time? That because of this peculiarity, an objective and impartial parliamentary accountability process is dead and a government with a razor-thin majority in the national assembly gets a free reign?
There are two narratives. The ruling party claims that these opposition parties are seeking an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance — a defunct law passed by Gen Musharraf’s government meant to provide relief from prosecution to the PPP, the MQM, bureaucrats and businessmen — which since its demise has become a pejorative) and therefore do not want to burn all bridges.
Then there is the narrative of these parties that posits that the military establishment wanted the incumbents to come to power and has therefore used the meta-narrative of accountability to damage their public image and compromised the elections. But then surprisingly these two parties could not even join forces to protest the election results as another switch flipped and they decided to maintain their distance.
What if you were told that it all comes down to the politics of two exceedingly insecure, selfish and vindictive men? That their pursuit of parochial self-interest has compromised the integrity of the dynastic gigantic parties? Before I mention them by name and you stop reading thinking that it might be yet another hatchet job against them let me assure you that this is not the recycled version of old allegations. They are based on my personal observations. The two men in question are Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. Let us talk about Shahbaz Sharif this week. Next week we will talk about Zardari.
In 1997, before Nawaz Sharif assumed the office rumours reached us that Shahbaz Sharif had gone to Abbaji (their father Mian Sharif) and said that Nawaz had already been chief minister twice and prime minister once and that he (Shahbaz) deserved to be premier next. We also heard that Mian Sharif had vetoed it and consequently Nawaz Sharif became premier again. As a compromise Shahbaz was installed as Punjab’s chief minister and Pervaiz Elahi, the man promised the job, was asked to function as the speaker of the provincial assembly. I mention this because it underscores a desperate desire to be the country’s chief executive at the expense of own brother. We know a military coup and exile came next. When the exile ended and the PML-N swept Punjab, word had it that Gen Musharraf was not ready to let Shahbaz Sharif become CM again. An interim CM was selected and the younger Sharif worked his friends and family network to change Musharraf’s mind. Consequently, he became the CM. Meanwhile, Chaudhry Nisar became the leader of the opposition at the Centre.
When the party won in 2013, these two men had a secret ambition to become PM. But those ambitions were spoiled when Nawaz Sharif came out of retirement and became premier. Thus, grew an alliance between the two men which would prove fateful.
If you recall the sequence of events, when a year after the elections, the PTI decided to agitate, the then PM sought the help of powerful interlocutors to defuse the tension. As an operation against terrorists was already on the cards and Zarb-e-Azb was soon launched, a message went out to the protesting parties that the country was in a state of war and they should desist from agitation. This would at least have delayed the twin marches for several months had the police under Shahbaz Sharif’s control not moved to remove barriers around Tahir-ul-Qadri’s residence. It was a strange show. TV tickers started flashing at midnight that the police had reached the venue. But the crackdown would not begin until noon next day when enough media men had gathered to air the whole sad incident and Gulu Butt’s vandalism live. People were killed. Since Shahbaz Sharif claimed he had nothing to do with it, you could assume he lost control. But you cannot deny however that the Model Town tragedy paved the way for the PTI-Minhaj twin sit-ins. And the pattern would repeat itself when Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan went for the Faizabad sit-in. Incidentally, Faizabad is right next to Rawalpindi, the last city that comes under the jurisdiction of the Punjab government (then headed by Shahbaz) before the Federal Capital begins. By a curious coincidence, Shahbaz (and not Maryam) was the star performer of the Dawn Leaks. Then we also witnessed the moment when the ex-premier returned home leaving his ailing wife in London and his brother could not reach the airport despite much fanfare.
Is it possible that the former chief minister of Punjab was actively trying to undermine his brother when he was premier? The circumstantial evidence would point to an answer in affirmative. Meanwhile, Shahbaz’s attempts to project himself as a close confidante of the establishment was paving the way for a radical anti-establishment narrative within the party. This and the hyper-activism of an English columnist who was rather close to Zardari than the PML-N led to the radicalisation of the Maryam-led faction of the party and resulted in the shape of Dawn Leaks. From Model Town to sudden disappearance from the scene during the by-election in the then NA-120, Shahbaz doesn’t seem to have left any stone unturned to make it clear that his ambition and not his elder brother’s wellbeing was closer to his heart.
In the 2018 elections, it was payback time. Maryam’s narrative of victimhood, which began the day her picture appeared in the first story about Panama papers, had gained considerable traction by then. Shahbaz did not find support from her faction of the party. This reduced his chances considerably. Then his close friend Chaudhry Nisar also did not help his prospects because he decided to contest elections as an independent candidate and convinced many other party members to defect and contest elections on his chosen election symbol of a jeep. He did not achieve the intended success and ended up compromising Shahbaz’s chances too. A divided house was the primary reason why the PML-N lost in 2018 and Shahbaz’s ambition had a lot to do with it.
Today it is Maryam’s party. Ironically, she is neither in the parliament nor legally qualified to contest the election. Her insistence on blaming the country’s establishment for her ordeals obscures the role her Chacha played in bringing down her father and interestingly strengthens his hand. It is a smart strategy meant to draw attention away from the shortcomings and divisions at home and so far it has worked. But this is about the extent of it. In the past, I have stated that the PML-N’s prospects are dim until this war of succession is over. Let me say it is and Maryam has won. Shahbaz hangs on as a spoiler. But the chances of a revival are still slim until Shahbaz steps aside and Maryam shows she has the wherewithal of transitioning from a tactician to a stateswoman which starts with cleverly moderating her tone.
(First published on August 22nd, 2020) One of my favourite pastimes these days is to see Pakistanis underestimate their country. In a nation given to strong mood swings, this is to be expected. But when the negative perceptions transform into automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and […]Farrukh writes
One of my favourite pastimes these days is to see Pakistanis underestimate their country. In a nation given to strong mood swings, this is to be expected. But when the negative perceptions transform into automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and then these ants waylay you of the will to fight, the battle is lost already.
How many times has it happened that we thought that the country would not recover only to be proven wrong? Only six years ago it felt that terrorism would irreversibly consume us. Businesses, defences, schools, hospitals, places of worship, nothing was safe. And then this country ended its denial and fought back. While the fight is still not over, one can see the qualitative improvement in the law and order situation.
Only a couple of months ago when the Covid infections started skyrocketing it felt like the game was over. A country with this staggering level of undocumented or under-documented poverty was finally struck by an incurable and wasting malaise. But today when the infection rate is steadily falling and the number of recoveries (the actual indicator of the situation in the country), we have started breathing again. Precautions are necessary and we are not out of the woods yet but if the current trend holds, we may soon find ourselves under the clear sky.
There are many ways to approach the matter. The trouble with all of them is that as soon you pick one you run the risk of being labelled. If you take pride in the resilience of the country, you are either a jingoist or deluded. If you point out that many things are still broken, you are either an insufferable pessimist or unpatriotic. Praise the government and you are a sycophant. Criticise the government and you are an incorrigible saboteur. So, what is a person to do?
It is imperative not to succumb to the despair spread by the naysayers. But to live in a fool’s paradise isn’t an option either. The closer we get to objectivity the better it is.
The naysayers come in many shades. There are those who wear their hearts on their sleeves, always quick to judge and dismiss. Then there are those who are genuine victims of change. Good, smart people who were caught off guard on the wrong side of the divide. And finally my personal favourite — those who are fully onboard until thrown overboard. One minute everything is perfect, the next everything is broken beyond repair. Utilitarianism has its utility but past its expiration date, it becomes the butt of a million jokes.
Back to business. When the fundamentals of the economy are badly broken due to decades-long misuse and abuse it is hard to see hope. The government may choose to be optimistic but given that the economy actually contracted during the past financial year, the journey ahead is still long and arduous. If there is a reason not to be overly pessimistic it is that in the IMF and China, the country has two guardian angels. One that is determined to guide you. The other that always has your back. Add to it the commitment of the current finance and economics team to implement its agreements in letter and spirit. Together these three factors can bring the economy back from the brink of the precipice. But the biggest challenge is to keep them working in tandem.
A particularly frustrating aspect of the economy is the investor class’ refusal to diversify or to investigate. For decades our business class has only invested in a few sectors. From textile to property development the list is very short and depressing. What particularly gets to me is the total lack of research and development (R&D). I would have attributed this absence of R&D to the dearth of exposure or funds but clearly, that is not the case. Pakistan has its fair share of the rich and the well connected. This then is either due to the lack of interest or because of the deeply ingrained habit of risk aversion. In either case, this cannot continue for long. The government is rapidly moving towards establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs). In order to exploit the opportunity, the private sector will have to invest in the unexplored sectors.
Another method to expand the economic scope is to encourage venture capitalism. Governments after governments introduce youth loan schemes but often sheer dumb luck and not pure merit decides who gets the funds. Take the example of the PM’s youth loan scheme during the previous government’s tenure. Young entrepreneurs from across the country were encouraged to submit their proposals and then balloting decided who would get the cash. Imagine if you had come up with a really very unique idea and my start-up was about good old dairy farming there was a good chance I would beat you to it. That is not how new sectors flourish. You need a host of venture capitalist companies operating under a safe regulatory framework to track down and invest in bright new ideas. The government also needs to incentivise business journalism because our oversaturated media covers crime and politics a lot while there is precious little coverage of business and economics.
In international politics too it is the economy which has proven to be our Achilles’ heel. Our neighbour and chief rival in the region, India, is in very bad shape these days. But since it has been developed as a market for decades it is constantly thrown lifelines by the global business community. Just look at the way Google and Facebook have decided to be a part of Reliance’s Jio project and it has forced other competitors like Amazon to double down with investment. The money India makes is used to buy allies (example: Rafale and other defence procurements) and invests heavily in propaganda abroad to create a divided world (example: the US, Australia and the creation of the Quad). Meanwhile, our telecom industry is characterised by an enthusiasm gap. When we find people like Tania Aidrus who understands how to develop the economy in this direction, we do everything within our power to push them out of the system. Our media and intelligentsia are still consumed by the desire to explore a thousand and one reasons not to establish relations with Israel when we could easily redirect this energy towards better pursuits. Those who underestimate this nation’s potential may want you to believe there is no hope but the truth is in a region coloured by Modi’s fanaticism and ignorance you are dealt a very good hand. There are countless opportunities waiting to be explored and survival has its own moral compass. I agree that we should not live in a fool’s paradise. But opting for a fool’s perdition is not a compulsion either.
(First published on August 15th, 2020) This piece reaches you on August 15 — India’s Independence Day, and a day after Pakistan celebrates its freedom. This piece addresses neither. Not directly at least. It is about Kashmir and how far it is from freedom. It […]Farrukh writes
This piece reaches you on August 15 — India’s Independence Day, and a day after Pakistan celebrates its freedom. This piece addresses neither. Not directly at least. It is about Kashmir and how far it is from freedom. It is also about Pakistan’s response to India’s reckless policies since August last year.
Months before the Indian elections and Pulwama-Balakot chapter, I was asked to host a two-hour show on Kashmir. I further narrowed the scope. It was mainly to be about the BJP government’s plan to dismantle articles 370 and 35(A). While the participants in the show were very accomplished, I particularly felt frustrated by the constant refrain that since Pakistan did not recognise New Delhi’s claims on Kashmir’s accession to India, the said articles were not our headache. Sanu kee?
You will notice that technically they were right. Before August 5, 2019, the Indian Occupied Kashmir was still one of the most militarised regions. Pakistan thoroughly regarded it as an occupied territory. After what India was about to do the Line of Control (LoC) would have the same status. The international nature of the dispute would have remained the same and the status would stay unchanged. If I did not want Modi to win again, it was primarily because I was concerned about the pain and suffering a Modi 2 administration would cause the people of India. An admirable sentiment but pointless in view of the high stakes political poker being played in these parts. Statecraft required a bolder strategy. That India be encouraged to re-elect Modi and that Modi be given enough rope to hang himself and with him India’s entire ruling elite.
And then it happened. India swallowed the bait hook, line, and some. It elected Modi again. Perturbed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the COAS and the DG ISI’s successful visit to Washington, and President Trump’s gracious offer to mediate, Modi hurriedly moved to recolonise Kashmir and scrap articles 370, 35(A). While many of us saw an assault on India’s special arrangement with its controlled Kashmir coming, we never dreamed Modi would go to this extent. First, the moronic way in which the Indian government amended these laws, making a mockery of the legislative and constitutional procedures. Also absorbing Kashmir as a state into the union was one thing, stripping it of statehood, bifurcating it, and declaring the resulting two parts union territories was a new level of crazy. When you start tripping you usually do not know when to stop. We know BJP is greedy but to put Kashmir’s entire political elite behind bars to try to have the whole thing to yourself is dumber than what you could ever expect.
Now the question was would anyone in Islamabad respond to the new situation? A copout was easy. All you had to do was to say that Pakistan never recognised India’s Article 370 and that was it. For a heart-stopping second, I thought that that was the policy we were about to adopt. But then the PM took a position and thus began a momentous struggle.
Let me come clean here. For the past two decades since I made the personal acquaintance with PM Imran Khan, there have been many moments when I sharply disagreed with his politics. I was opposed to his sit-in in Islamabad and I was openly critical of many other policies. But I do not think I can find fault with his Kashmir policy. In fact, it is one of the reasons I find my decision to endorse him in this space during the 2018 elections vindicated. I will explain it if you let me.
When critics of the current policy speak or write they forget where Pakistan was at, only half a year before Modi’s annexation of Kashmir. The US President had begun 2019 with tweets disparaging Pakistan. Modi had already vowed to isolate Pakistan and because of our own divided house, it seemed to be working. The PM’s above-mentioned July visit did a lot in bringing down temperature in Washington but a long journey to full-scale normalisation lay ahead. As the country found out during the Pulwama-Balakot crisis, the global retreat of the liberal world order meant that even the threat of a nuclear escalation could not jolt the world out of complacency. It was in such a situation that a rich, diplomatically influential India attacked the fundamental rights of the Kashmiri people. India must have thought that its diplomatic voodoo would lead nations to openly endorse the policy. Thanks to Islamabad’s aggressive advocacy they did not. It wasn’t an easy case to make. How could you complain about the cancellation of something that you did not believe in and which did not change the status quo or your position on your side of the LoC? But this government did that. This advocacy laid the foundation of the democratic world’s skepticism towards Modi’s other policies. When the Citizenship Amendment Act was rushed through the parliament India’s diplomatic spin masters left no stone unturned to present it as God’s gift to humanity. A nationwide national register for citizens seemed on the card. But the local and international pushback has stopped all that from happening.
Meanwhile, in Modi’s world, one mistake has led to another. His government’s demand for blind obedience has exposed the sham the Indian parliament, judiciary and media have become. It also exposed the lack of professionalism and moral courage among the leadership of Indian armed forces. One by one India has alienated all SAARC partners. The recent military skirmish with China has sealed the fate of a relationship with great potential and further internationalised the Kashmir dispute. Now there are three state actors directly involved. With the abolition of Article 35(A), the new domicile law and dangerous rhetoric India has permanently alienated all Kashmiris. And Modi’s whimsical if authoritarian economic policies and habit of throwing money at every problem including buying diplomatic favours through expensive defence deals has badly hurt the Indian exchequer. The country’s relationship with the West, despite the rhetoric otherwise, is rapidly becoming transactional in nature. If these are not the fruits of an effective Kashmir and India policy I don’t know what is.
Each ruler has his/her own way of dealing with India. I try not to find fault with any one of them. But our weak position in the comity of nations is not a product of a few years. In a heartbeat, you cannot undo the damage done to your diplomatic standing in the past 73 years. Because of its wealth and diplomatic clout, India has a lot of holding power. It will take a lot of time to expose what is rotten in India. But if you think renaming a highway and forming human chains are no alternative to direct action, Modi’s unannounced private visit to participate in the wedding of a former premier’s granddaughter is not a substitute to this well thought out strategy. Formally sponsoring militancy in Kashmir is the only direct course of action short of war. But there is a broader consensus among almost all shades of life that it is a lose-lose proposition. Let’s not cut the nose to spite the face.
(Note: A typo in the last paragraph which replaced the word ‘broader’ with ‘hoarder’ has been fixed).
(First published on August 8th, 2020) Prescience and foresight are the most fetching attributes of wisdom. Two mundane examples come to one’s mind. The first is of the American television series House of Cards. Before it came to an unseemly end, it highlighted two important trends […]Farrukh writes
Prescience and foresight are the most fetching attributes of wisdom. Two mundane examples come to one’s mind. The first is of the American television series House of Cards. Before it came to an unseemly end, it highlighted two important trends that are now considered a part of the US political reality. The growing influence of Russia in US politics and the abuse of private data to win elections.
The second is that of George Kennan, a deputy head of mission in Moscow who in February 1946 wrote a very long wire (some say 8,000 words long) to the US secretary of state, James Byrnes. Dubbed as the Long Telegram, when the message could not have the desired effect, Kennan contributed an essay to Foreign Affairs in July 1947. Based on his findings, like his Long Telegram, this piece carried under the pseudonym X presented a case for the containment of the USSR. And this time it changed the world as we know it.
On August 5, 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat dressed as a Hindu shaman ready to inaugurate the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. If the ceremony was rich in rituals, the air was also thick with symbolism and memories. For Modi, this was the culmination point of a long journey. A journey that started with a chariot ride in 1992 which led to the demolition of the Babri Mosque right where the temple is to be built. The episode left 2,000, mostly Muslims, dead in communal violence. A Google search of Modi Rath Yatra returns many pictures in which Modi stands like a shadow with LK Advani, the BJP firebrand who led the charge against Babri. That shocking act of sabotage had catapulted BJP into the mainstream. Although Advani never got his heart’s desire to be India’s prime minister, Modi had been brought to power in the 2014 national elections. Modi had then run a campaign on the platform of good governance. For five years there was no improvement in governance. When he ran again in 2019 that promise had been replaced with an appeal to the baser instincts of the masses. Modi’s entire career is paved with the blood and tears of innocent citizens. Ayodhya, Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar, and on. And yet no one saw this coming? There was a long list of powerful endorsements after all. But wait. You have not heard about the symbolism yet.
The construction of a temple where a mosque stood for three centuries has the symbolism of its own. The demolished mosque was named after Emperor Babur, the founder of Mughal rule in India. The Muslim Mughal dynasty was still in power when the British took over India. In a way, this demolition was a revenge for the centuries of Muslim rule. Hindutva activists claim that the mosque was built after demolishing a temple. The claim is so weak that after the demolition of the mosque the case seeking permission to build a temple there could not be settled decades for the want of evidence. No visual proof. No certain evidence. Only circumstantial if emotive arguments. Then Modi came to power and like a chameleon, the Indian Supreme Court changed its colour. If this inauguration ceremony shows total disregard for an embattled minority’s sentiment, it also epitomises the total collapse of the Indian democratic institutions.
But there is more. Usually, Hindu ceremonies are organised according to star charts. But not this one. In choosing August 5 as the inauguration day, the Modi government was conveying a message. One year ago, on this day the Modi government unilaterally terminated the centre’s contract with its disputed if only Muslim state, Kashmir. The abrogation of Articles 370 (the special status clause) and 35(A) (empowerment of the state legislature to define permanent residents) took place in a wholly unconstitutional manner. So flimsy was the constitutional ruse that the craven SC refused to hear the case, lest the whole thing may fall apart. The abolition of Article 35(A) is more sinister. The said article had protected the local population from the onslaught of outsiders in the beautiful state. The abolition has opened the floodgates for outside settlers bringing the local population under pressure. The Modi government has an elaborate plan to turn the local population into a hunted minority by settling non-Muslim outsiders. The message was loud and clear. “Like we are replacing the Babri Mosque with a Hindu temple, we will replace you with Hindutva extremists”.
But the story does not end here either. It is true that Kashmir has gone through hell in the past year. If the picture of a toddler sitting atop the chest of his grandfather killed by the authorities could not open your eyes, nothing would. But the hatred of Modi and his mentors in the RSS is neither limited to the Muslims nor Kashmiris. The political identity of Hindutva has grown in a way that it loathes all three Abrahamic faiths and attempts to appropriate the history and symbols of all pagan religions displaced by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. That is precisely why Savitri Devi was so successful in infusing Political Hinduism with the trappings of Nazism. That is precisely why many neo-Nazis worship Hitler as an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. And that is exactly the reason behind the affinity between India’s Hindutva forces and the white supremacists in the West. After Modi and his cabal are done with India’s Muslims they will go after Christians and other Indian minorities. The Hindutva project also believes in the creation of Akhand Bharat (greater united India) which includes colonising all its South Asian neighbours and converting them to Hinduism. Once they are done with the region they will inevitably go after the Judeo-Christian nations. That is the whole point of aligning with white nationalists throughout the West. That all such nations can be brought down from within. The world is silently empowering the biggest group of Nazi sympathisers just because it is useful in containing socialist China, just like it empowered Hitler in order to contain the USSR.
I once told you that this cabal hated Obama just because of his Muslim middle name. Right now, they are pulling all stops to get Kamala Harris nominated as Biden’s running mate just because her middle name is ‘Devi’.
Incidentally, on August 5 the US Department of Justice announced a reward for anyone who could provide information on foreign interference in the US election. As someone who has constantly been pointing out the obvious, that Trump surrogates Shalabh Kumar and Steve Bannon have been influencing the US elections at the behest of Modi’s government, I sincerely believe I have earned that reward. The stories about the Russian or Chinese interference make little sense when you see how Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica mined data to support a certain outcome and how Salabh Kumar reached out to Trump right in the middle of the Access Hollywood fiasco. Both these factors work when you see how these two men have aligned after the elections and are now actively lobbying for Modi and against China. If you cannot put two and two together then you do not deserve the foresight of those who can.
(First published on August 1st, 2020) If you are a Pakistani fascinated by the country’s history there is a good chance you have been brought up on a controlled diet. There is one narrative that is set by the state. The one that starts with […]Farrukh writes
If you are a Pakistani fascinated by the country’s history there is a good chance you have been brought up on a controlled diet. There is one narrative that is set by the state. The one that starts with Bin Qasim’s attack on Sindh and ends with the countless explanations for the country’s existence. You know that version because it has been scrutinised constantly. But then there is a counter narrative. A meta narrative that emerged in defiance. About the country’s chequered history, it’s civil military imbalance, its misplaced priorities and at times the ridiculousness of its existence. Both these narratives grew in reaction to something and are therefore incapable of doing justice to the very complex reality of this nation’s existence. The beauty of these narratives is that they very effectively hide the real fault lines and centres of power. Let us focus on some of these fault lines to comprehend what is holding us back.
Pakistan’s first fault line is called ideology. You would think that a country with a Muslim population of over 96% would have no trouble on that front but then you would be wrong.
Consider this: On August 11, 1947, only days before the birth of the country, its Founder delivered an illuminating speech on the country’s future promising religious freedom to all citizens amid other things. The speech was heavily censored before release and the audio record of it is still not found. Ask yourself why. Because somebody in the government thought that this speech by the country’s Founding Father contradicted the ideology of Pakistan. Let it sink in. The words of the only man who won you freedom through a democratic and legal struggle were not palatable for somebody who was already interpreting ideology for you.
But what is this ideology? The two-nation theory? Islam as the state religion? The Quaid’s words did not contradict either. The Indian majority that was viewed as a constant threat was nearly packed away into a separate nation. Gone. Done away with. Now the minorities that still lived in the country had opted to stay here. They had a right to expect some reward for their faith. Also, a nation that was founded to escape the majoritarian fanaticism currently on display in India could not subject the minorities it inherited to the same kind of absolutism. Notice I do not bring up the matter of fundamental human rights because in the mid-40s the world was a different place with the vestiges of Nazism and fascism still dividing the global discourse. And the Nazis had already shown the world how minorities could be othered and deprived of all human rights. The fact that real interpretation of Islam had stopped a millennium ago, much before the emergence of modern states, did not help. In fact, Allama Mashriqi’s Nazi-inspired Khaksar Tehreek had attacked and beheaded a member of the Ahmedi community in the formative years of the country. So, an argument existed at the time in support of stripping minorities of all their rights. But Jinnah knew better. And his views were not contradicting either of the two ideologies. But somebody thought they were.
Could it be the permanent ruling class of the country which Hamza Alvi once dubbed as the “salariat” and we now call the bureaucracy? The answer to this would take us to the second fault line. But let us first handle this one. Why Pakistan was created and why the country’s bureaucracy thought that censoring its Founding Father was a good idea were two different things. The first is settled for good by Narendra Modi’s government in India today. The second has shaped how Pakistan has grown to this day. In 1947 the country may not have too many great examples of pluralism to emulate but countless exist since then. This was supposed to be a dialogue between the state and society but a permanent class which co-opted the term ‘ideology’ for its own survival has doubled down on the first raw draft and refuses to budge. From there the interpretation has bled into curriculum books, other institutions of the state and even the Constitution. Until it is allowed to be updated with time, we will stay lost in the jungle. This matter becomes of urgent nature when we take into account what we went through during the War on Terror when a group of Muslim Pakistanis killed around 80,000 co-religionist fellow citizens because of the different interpretations of ideology.
The second fault line is not the civil-military divide, although that too exists to a lesser degree. The second fault line exists between untrained politicians and an experienced bureaucracy. Pakistan is ruled by the latter. No matter who sits atop the greasy pole called the executive, it is invariably the bureaucracy which runs the machinery of governance. That is why General Musharraf could do precious little without the help of his old friend Tariq Aziz. That is why every prime minister’s principal secretary is considered so powerful. When we choose to criticise the men and women at the top we deliberately ignore who actually wields power. The example of the Musharraf era devolution comes to mind. The ruler back then was powerful. The bureaucracy did not approve of the plan to change dynamics at the grassroot level. Who would if it meant losing control on ground? It quietly went along and waited till the time the amendment lost the Sixth Schedule cover and then recaptured the lost space.
You are fascinated by all this talk of reforms. During Nawaz Sharif’s time the then planning minister often spoke about bureaucratic reform. But we did not even see the first draft of the proposals. Now, Dr Ishrat Hussain talks about these reforms. We still await a coherent and comprehensive set of proposals to this effect. An interesting case study in this context is of Daniyal Aziz, the man who knows the weaknesses in the structure by heart. When the Musharraf era ended and the National Reconstruction Bureau headed by Aziz was dismantled, he failed to return to the parliament in the following elections. And when he did somebody had convinced the ruling PML-N that he should be kept away from projects relating to reform and instead be asked to defend the government like an ordinary if aggressive spokesman. The total deconstruction of an able man with the knowledge of all bodies ever buried was to ensue. And where is he now?
Our third fault line is of the feudal mentality. Not feudalism but of the feudal mentality. Feudalism has waned with the natural course of land redistribution over generations, but the feudal mindset still survives. How should the rich and powerful behave is predetermined by society’s powerful elite and that’s why hardly anything ever changes.
There are other fault lines like racial and lingual prejudices and overpopulation but we will return to them another time. For now, we need to find a way to fix the above three or we will not progress an inch.
(First published on July 25th, 2020) NYC Comedian Ryan Long came up with a brilliant video in which two men, one woke one racist are discussing matters pertaining to colour and race. The racist among them announces very proudly that they agree on everything. And […]Farrukh writes
NYC Comedian Ryan Long came up with a brilliant video in which two men, one woke one racist are discussing matters pertaining to colour and race. The racist among them announces very proudly that they agree on everything. And then they launch into their explanations regarding the primacy of the racial identity, their aversion to the dilution of these identities through interracial marriages, and the need to keep their cultural products like food and music separate. They may have different sets of reasons, one bigoted and selfish, other compassionate and cosmopolitan, but the end result is invariably the same. A perfect example of how good people overthink things and end up rewarding the prejudiced with what they so desperately need. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Whiteness is back in sharp focus these days. Borrowing from Yuval Harari’s storytelling metaphor one can say that like any other race it is just another construct. But it is more loaded than many others. For instance, white supremacists associate it with their claims of being a master race and their right to either rule others or to exterminate the rest. Critics associate it with the long history of colonialism, oppression, and hate. But if you look closely, white people are people like any other group or set. And whiteness is just another construct.
Why is it in so much focus, you ask? Because academics and the media have been trying to grapple with Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 and explain it with as many theories as they can invent. White distress, white fragility, white privilege, white rage, and so on. Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. But could it be that Donald Trump won not because he was white but because he was perceived for long as a living breathing example of the American dream? That those who voted for a Black president eight and four years ago voted this time for a man with the popular catchphrase “you are fired” as a message? That the candidate chosen to fight Trump had huge and unfortunate baggage that her supporters chose to ignore? That Obama’s failure to shut the racists up, lessen the pain of the working class and put an end to the endless wars was deemed as the betrayal of his campaign promise “yes, we can”? Think about it. It is such a huge promise that you are doomed to fail the moment you make it because then even your best may not be good enough. And it is equal parts saddening and fascinating how as if by default the pundits and the media went directly to whiteness for an explanation. If you are tired of seeing Trump as the subject of every other book that comes out these days just take a step back and see how many books were written on race by serious scholars in the past three and a half years. You will be surprised.
Look, racists exist in every society and they are rightly shunned to the margins. But when serious people start writing about constructs like race you only help mainstreaming them. As a result, many conspiracy theories which did not deserve any attention have been magnified. One such theory is called white genocide and we will return to it later.
Let me first qualify why I think that race is a flawed construct. Should the colour of your skin, your eyes and hair define you? You realise that you had zero choice in the matter. We talk about these colours because they are easily distinguishable but not many others. For instance, what is the colour of your flesh, blood and bones? What is the colour of your brain? Ah, the brain. The racially prejudiced do not ignore the brain. But here they talk about the size, not the function or colour. Why? Because their lack of consistency suits their narratives. Take what suits your claims, dismiss what does not. But inevitably this is your basic “us versus them” spiel. If you invert the argument of the racists and start using the colour of the brain and size and weight of your bodies you might end up creating grounds for slightly funnier prejudices. Tall versus the short, fat versus the lean. But in our broken world, someone could capitalise on that prejudice too.
The basic drives motivating every sentient being on this planet remain the same: to live, to preserve one’s interests, to belong, to stand for something, and to leave a legacy behind. But because social Darwinism is so close to every racist’s heart let us also take a gander at their concept of a utopia. The white nationalists have a minimalist model and a maximalist model. Their minimalist model involves a dedicated land and country for the whites. Now, apart from non-whites who should not be able to set foot on the land? Any woman who does not find men attractive, especially white men, any woman who refuses to bear a child even if it is a product of rape and any woman who cannot for some biological reason is not fertile. Because this essentially is all about birth rates. Also not allowed are children of mixed marriages even if they learn more towards the definition of whiteness and persons with disabilities. So, Hitler’s Nazi Germany basically.
But the story doesn’t end there. This is a starting point not an end in itself. Once you have built a nation you start the good work of waging a war on the rest of the world which either ends with the subjugation or the extermination of non-white or mixed-race people.
Now ask them what happens next. Their answer would essentially be some version of “they lived happily ever after”. But that is not how Darwinism and identity politics work. Even if you exterminate the entire world’s non-white population and settle white people there what happens a few generations later? The people who live in various parts acquire those physical characteristics because of the unique environmental conditions and the genetic mutations in response to them. So basically, what is the point? And what happens when people start discriminating on the basis of other characteristics? It is a slippery slope and an ugly and unintelligent way to address the forces of nature.
Conspiracy theories like white genocide, that the white people are being systemically replaced by non-white individuals, also find traction because of the rise of billionaires from the parts where the white population is surrounded by non-whites. Elon Musk comes from South Africa and Rupert Murdoch from Australia. Slightly more meaningful and rational dialogue between these communities may go a long way in allaying their fears. Anyone standing up for racial harmony hence becomes a hero because even though it is no easy task it is an admirable one. But remember, you cannot deconstruct one racial identity while weaponising another. Trying to hold today’s white people accountable for what their forebearers did centuries ago is as counterproductive as believing that all human beings should not be considered equal. Only empathy and compassion can help us now.
(First published on July 18, 2020) You must have encountered a host of theories in international relations (IR). Realism, idealism, Marxism, constructivism, critical theory, postmodernism, feminism, and on. Realism like many others has given birth to a number of sub-categories. President Trump calls his version […]Farrukh writes
You must have encountered a host of theories in international relations (IR). Realism, idealism, Marxism, constructivism, critical theory, postmodernism, feminism, and on. Realism like many others has given birth to a number of sub-categories. President Trump calls his version principled realism. Let me appropriate an idea from literature to present a new one: magical realism.
In literature, magical realism means a style of writing which presents a realistic picture of the modern world while retaining some elements of magic. Now, even though as a field of inquiry IR has expanded so rapidly that it has outgrown its mother called political science, by claiming to be a science it cannot match the fantasy world of fiction. So, no Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the discipline. The word ‘magical’ in the title magical realism would essentially refer to the tricks and illusions involved in the trade of foreign policymaking that would prematurely convince you that things had settled one way or the other and a certain outcome was all but guaranteed, only to find out that your mind saw what it wanted to see and the emerging reality was far more complex if not altogether different. As we progress in our discussion, I will try to substantiate the notion. But let me first introduce you to the elements that triggered this discussion.
Just in the past few weeks you have witnessed the old international fault lines heating up. China and India literally brawled over their unsettled and disputed border. Two US aircraft carriers carried out drills in the South China Sea. India and Australia inked an agreement concerning ‘Mutual Logistics Support’. The US also did not hold any punches. President Trump announced that Hong Kong would be treated as mainland China bringing an end to its special status. A host of Chinese officials have also been sanctioned. In an evidently related development, the UK announced that it was excluding China’s Huawei from its 5G infrastructure projects. Whereas, Google announced that it was making a huge investment in Indian company Reliance Industries’ Jio platforms to develop local 5G solutions. Is pulse quickening right now?
China has also retaliated with unmeasured quantities. With China you do not know till the last moment what hit you. But from Ladakh and foiling multiple Indian attempts to bring down the Oli government in Nepal to the warming up of ties between Iran and China you can see how it is securing its neighbourhood. India’s boorish policy towards its neighbours dictated by an extremist ideology melting down before our eyes does not help. Nepal’s PM Oli also stated recently that Lord Ram was not from India but from Nepal reminding us all that there is only one Hindu state in the world which is neither India nor India gets along with it. A religious masterstroke if you consider the sentiment on which India’s BJP has been capitalising. But is it official? Are we witnessing the start of a new cold war? Or is it something bigger? The makings of WWIII? Not so fast.
Without undermining the seriousness of these developments let me use two metaphors before fully dissecting the myths and realities of today. Let me first take you to your childhood when the circus came to town and a barren of piece land was instantaneously transformed into a living, breathing wonderland. What a delicious and amazing escalation. You went there to see exotic animals, exotic performances and occasionally some freaks of nature. And then after a few days the circus would pack up and move on leaving behind the same barren piece of land as if nothing ever existed there. Policies are always important but, in an age driven by data, their half-lives have dramatically contracted.
The second metaphor is from Harry Potter when a Horcrux is being destroyed and it puts up a resistance to befuddle your senses and minds just to stop you from doing it. But then it is destroyed with all the shock and awe gone at once. We are in that territory right now.
Sponsored messages from paid figures like Steve Bannon will try to convince you that history repeats itself. It does not. Not at this granular level. The US and China of today are different from the post-WWII US and USSR. Despite brief cooperation, the USSR and US barely knew or trusted each other. The China we witnessed today was partially built by the US. Since then their fortunes are so deeply intertwined that the idea of decoupling, except as a rhetorical device, is laughable. You can get a malignant organ surgically removed from your body but there is no way to separate your skin, flesh, and bone without killing you.
The US has changed drastically before our eyes. After the Cold War the realisation grew that the international influential set up the US had created was now yanking its chain. First phase came in the shape of reinventing the enemy. The clash of civilisations, hostile Al Qaeda, ISIL, Iran, Russia, China. The chain was still being yanked. Cough up if you want to maintain this infrastructure. Then came attempts at correction. Obama failed to bring an end to foreign liabilities and ended up normalising extremists like Modi and opening new frontiers. Finally, another correction in the shape of Trump who took a sledgehammer to the delicate masonry. It was proof of a concept and it worked. Your allies keep whispering that your enemy may win but you take one hard look at the extent of your interests and where interests of others start. Right now, an election is to be won and lost in America and that’s why old rhetoric will not be changed. But after that, no matter who wins will only focus on American interests.
China has also given proof of three concepts in the past few decades: Den Xiaoping’s reforms (aka opening up of China), peaceful rise, and one country two systems (both proof of peaceful coexistence). Despite some recent reverses, there is a lot there for the West to work with. In the end, China has to open up significantly and the West has to work with it.
Now the Horcrux. The world order that we see coming to an end was not shaped by the US or China but India. Three Indian PMs PV Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh played their cards well. By opening India up, they reshaped the discourse and captured a pivotal space in Western imagination. India gained unprecedented influence there. But it was a clever policy based on plausible deniability. Tell the West its new enemy is China and India is the bulwark against the new peril. Tell China India is actually its ally. Give nothing in writing and get the best of both worlds. Until the current lot came to power, inhaled its own propaganda, made a mess of its economy, and destroyed everything. Now everything is ideological as India transforms into an ugly illiberal democracy, offends China, and expects impractical things from the West. The damage it does to China is temporary. The damage it does to itself by alienating its neighbours is permanent. Enough magical realism for you?
(First published on July 11th, 2020) For someone who spends a remarkable amount of time reading and researching fascist literature, I feel very fortunate this propaganda never appeals to me. To defeat their seduction all you have to do is know where the ciphers are […]Farrukh writes
For someone who spends a remarkable amount of time reading and researching fascist literature, I feel very fortunate this propaganda never appeals to me. To defeat their seduction all you have to do is know where the ciphers are hidden and how to unlock them. When properly unlocked they are revealed as a pitiable heap of wholly odious garbage.
Let me share the names of three authors who have helped me a great deal in building a foundation against such evil ideas. The first author is Karl Popper. Popper’s Open Society and its Enemies painstakingly deconstructs three philosophical works which are repeatedly repurposed to manufacture new forms of fascism and other totalitarian vices. These works are written by three renowned philosophers: Plato, Hegel and Marx. Since Plato is the patient zero of all things fascistic here is a beautiful excerpt from the first volume to describe him.
“Socrates had refused to compromise his personal integrity. Plato, with all his uncompromising canvas-cleaning, was led along a path on which he compromised his integrity with every step he took. He was forced to combat free thought, and the pursuit of truth. He was led to defend lying, political miracles, tabooistic superstition, the suppression of truth, and ultimately, brutal violence.” And there lies the problem. All of this just because he hated democracy.
The second author is Bertrand Russell. A History of Western Philosophy is an absolute gem even if you don’t have time for the rest of his beautifully written works. The third author who was very helpful is Will Durant. Now with his works I took the long route. His 11-volume Story of Civilization was easy to read when I was young and had all the time in the world at my disposal. Mercifully a shortcut is available. His Story of philosophy will happily inoculate you against fascism.
Now to the subject. It never ceases to amaze me how often fascists use the future as a propaganda tool. In their versions of utopia and dystopia, they show people dreams and nightmares that immediately guarantee their loyalty. That is why successful fascists usually are very gifted orators or writers. Show, don’t tell. But what if you were told that today’s Nazi grifters have a more powerful set of future related propaganda tools than the original Nazis. Let us dive into the perverse world of internet-based conspiracy theories to sample some of these.
Have you heard of John Titor? Before I tell you more about him, let me point out that this name stirs an avalanche of debate and controversies on online message boards. And from there the lore has seeped into mainstream social media as well.
The story goes like this. In the year 2000, on online message boards, a series of messages started appearing by someone who introduced himself by the above name and claimed that he was a military time traveller from the year 2036. Initially, the claims attracted the kind of ridicule and disbelief they deserve. But his messages kept coming. And what eventually helped him win over countless supporters was his elaborate knowledge of science and technology involved (he even posted pictures of the purported time machine) and the dark details of the world he claimed to come from. Many scientists later showed how his scientific claims despite being clever did not add up. Within a few months, the messages stopped coming and his followers believed he had returned to his original time. Only his description of the dark future interests us here.
He claimed that in 2004 a civil war breaks out in the US. It continues for 10 years and he joins a shotgun infantry unit at the age of 13. In 2014, a brief nuclear world war between Russia and the US brings an end to this civil war as many US cities are destroyed by Russian nuclear strikes. America breaks down into five pieces and the world becomes peaceful. I couldn’t find any direct reference to race relations but there are hints here and there. Jewish references appeared quite often.
The neo-Nazi fascination with nuclear bombs and the American civil war is not new. America’s intervention in WWII played a decisive role in Hitler’s and Axis powers’ defeat and the US nuclear superiority was the winning argument. Consequently, they have not forgiven either one of them. In many neo-Nazi fantasy fiction works like the Turner Diaries, Russia (or its predecessor USSR) uses nuclear strikes to punish America. In Turner Diaries, often dubbed as the Bible of white nationalism, the white supremacist forces in the near future first seize control of California and then launch nuclear strikes on the USSR, hoping, calculating that Moscow would attack America, not just the breakaway California. And that is precisely what happens.
Since these message boards were usually anonymous no one could locate the whereabouts of the said time traveller. There were claims that his IP address was geolocated in Florida but since early forms of virtual private networks (VPNs) were already in use you can never confirm that. Incidentally, in 2000, the author of white nationalism’s Bible, William Pierce was fiercely occupied in transforming his extremist group the National Alliance into a highly professional organisation so that it could outlast him. He died in 2002. Interestingly, Pierce was a PhD in physics and had left a research job in the aeronautical industry to join the American Nazi Party. Pierce gets occupied with more pressing concerns and Titor disappears from the message board. Pierce dies and we are told Titor sent back a message telling us he would not return.
Now get this. Remember in the past I told you about the alt-right, Boogaloo movement, Nazi-Hindutva connection and many other evils populating the 4chan website? There is another conspiracy theory that originated. It is called QAnon. This group has grown rapidly in number, has spawned a number of lethal sub-theories including the so-called pizzagate scandal, has been covered by media and is dedicated. Former Trump National Security advisor General Michael Flynn was recently videotaped celebrating July 4 by swearing allegiance to QAnon. Q refers to an anonymous poster who claimed to be in the know of things and first appeared on the website in 2017. He talks of a plan to defeat the corrupt elite. His supporters wait for his call to arms. Interestingly this theory has a time travel component too which connects inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla to Trump through his uncle John G Trump. Yes, Tesla to Trump. Q by the way does not refer to any post. It refers to the department of energy’s clearance level. According to the Federation of American Scientists’ website, Q clearance “could have access to nuclear weapons design, manufacture, or use data”.
Now imagine for a second that Pierce is Titor, alt-right is neo-Nazis, Boogaloo movement and QAnon are parts of preparation for the second world war and Q has access to the nuclear controls. Why does it concern us? Because Pierce’s white protagonists do not stop at nuking only the US, Russian and Israeli cities. Once victorious they destroy the entire non-white world including you and I with nuclear strikes.