31.7.11

Bad writing worse

She has “slaughtered sparrows and the English language”, they say, and have awarded her for the “crappiest of sentences”. They are generous, “How can there be good literature if there was no bad literature?” Aw. It is like saying how can you have good mangoes unless there are bad mangoes. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for 2011 has chosen Wisconsin professor Sue Fondrie for her “her 26-word sentence”.

Here it is:

“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

Okay, it isn’t the best of sentences, not even good. But is the verbosity a problem? And how many sparrows have been slaughtered? I have read sentences that run into paragraphs. We also apply the word literature carelessly. Does it mean all of published work or is there a standard, like high art or classical music? Don’t we expect a hush to fall when we hear lit-er-a-ture enunciated in high-ceilinged libraries with tomes of men and women who chiseled words to sculpt a story? Guess what? I just composed a 26-word sentence. Had this line been in a book, would it be doomed?

I am tired of saying that language evolves, people in different parts of the world talk in varied tongues, think and dream in lingos that are not universal even within the standard English category.

We have the Bad Sex Writing Award and I find it amusing because when there can be bad sex why should the writing elevate it always?

I would like to give Fondrie a more holistic treatment. Outside of this sentence, do we know anything about Cheryl’s mind? Maybe it did turn – would it sound better if instead of turning it churned or lashed? Her thoughts being sparrow-like could mean they were chirping in small voices or were just small, niggling, pecking at grains. However, there had to be bloody pieces. Why? Because when there is an addition to forgotten memories the new entrants need to show that they have met with death. Blood is a potent symbol of it. Lashing winds and churning cannot draw out blood, so the turbine comes into the picture.

Anyhow, here are two possible versions.

A minimalist, often a fine creature, but when following a trend just settles for a quickie, might say it like this:

Cheryl’s thoughts became history.

The writer of erotica would write:

Cheryl’s thoughts palpitated even as her breasts felt raw after the night that left her drained from the vanes of the wind-powered turbine that had roughed her up. Her desires fluttered sparrow-like despite the hangover the morning after. She ran her hands over the sore skin and felt a trace of blood, its trail went all the way to the door. He had left long ago, adding to the growing pile of forgotten memories. She went back to the wind-powered turbine.

Now, I await my award with bated - and baited - breath. 

Sunday ka Funda

“He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Does not giving away anything mean being uncaring? Is it not possible that the feelings are inside, too afraid to be expressed?

Giving away is, of course, more likely about giving. Whether in love, or friendship, or the extended groups we belong to. It is also about giving the benefit of another’s existence. How often we deny that. To people. To our surroundings. To others. And by doing so we just add to the morass of time lost.

Today’s song is about the tricks of time. The film Anmol Ghadi had an inanimate character – a timepiece, a gift that that is a reminder to the separated lovers who later face each other in ways quite different from when they first met about that 'precious moment'.

When India and Pakistan are on another binge of ‘peace’, this film is a telling example of the denial I mentioned. Made a year before the Partition, it was banned in Pakistan after the 1965 war. Its main actors Noorjehan and Surendra had two nationalities by then – Pakistani and Indian. For over four decades it was not shown in the country where the actress-singer was as huge a star as she had been in India. So, Pakistan was denying one of their own her heritage. She was dead by the time it was re-released.

The song itself is sublime because of its subtle rendition. There is torment rather than tears. A couple of lines can be applied to the two nations torn apart:


barbaad main yahaan hoon
abaad tu kahaan hai
bedard aasmaan hai ...

(Ruined am I
But unscathed you are not too
How merciless is the sky)

Awaaz de kahaan hai – Anmol Ghadi


Movie: Anmol Ghadi (1946)
Singer(s): Noorjahan, Surendra
Music Director: Naushad
Lyricist: Tanvir Naqvi

30.7.11

Swamy's Stupidity and Haley's White Storm

Swamy's slap for Islamic terror?

How imported ideas affect the Indian disparities is evident from the afterthought reaction to Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy’s article of July 16, ‘How to wipe out Islamic terror’. The Maharashtra State Minorities Commissioner wants him to be charged for attempting to promote enmity between communities. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt believes, “His views are dangerous and may cause disharmony in society. He must be punished for spewing poison,”

I will only provide two quotes:

The terrorist blast in Mumbai on July 13, 2011, requires decisive soul-searching by the Hindus of India. Hindus cannot accept to be killed in this halal fashion, continuously bleeding every day till the nation finally collapses.

Would it be okay if it were non-halal? If there is anyone who is insensitive it is he, and stupid to boot.

“The first lesson to be learnt from the recent history of Islamic terrorism against India and for tackling terrorism in India is that the Hindu is the target and that Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus.”

What does “suicide against Hindus” mean? What they don’t teach you at Harvard is to get your language right. Imagine Muslims slowly sliding into some morass from where they 'target' Hindus.

He is currently parked at Harvard University on a teaching assignment; he was once a student there. Some students wrote out a petition. They believe, “These are statements you’d expect a demagogue on the extreme right to say.” He says, “I cannot take it seriously because it is signed mostly by the usual Left wing loonies.”

Both are in neat boxes. The students are clearly out of touch with what is happening in India. It is not merely the rightwing demagogues that spew venom. Did not Justice Iyer do something similar only a few days ago? And Swamy calling his critics Leftwing loonies is again a stereotype.

If he can lecture us about how to wipe out Islamic terror, then good for him. No one takes him seriously. He has filed cases against several politicians, he generally likes creating a ruckus. He is probably missing home and while getting nostalgic about rasam cannot be made public, he realised that sitting pretty in the land where Islamic terror is all about no love lost he can just score some points. The loonier and leftier the oppostion, the better it is for him. His views are, in fact, those of the unseen rabid elite. If you haven’t seen the poison in them, then thank Swamy for waking you up to smell the Chardonnay communalists.

- - -

Haley's 'racing' ahead?

Is it typical expat behaviour that North Carolina’s governor made herself White? Play up your origins where it matters and then go all mainstream? Why did Nikki Haley register her race as “white” in her voter registeration form in 2001 and why has it got noticed only now?

The state’s Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said, “Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her. When she registers to vote she says she is white.”

When she became the governor it was the first time for an Indian-American woman of Sikh heritage. That is a lot of baggage. It is quite a narrow outlook on her part, but does playing the minority really help? I can understand her doing so when catering to the diaspora, but how would it work in her favour otherwise? Are voters doling out sops?

I am also not sure why the addition of race to a voter ID card is important. To get a breakup of different races is necessary for population statistics, but how does it count in the electoral process? I have found that emphasis on differences only mark out territory.

Is Haley striving to do so by faking it? I do know that people of Indian origin tend to be quite attached to their ‘green cards’. It was and probably still is a dream realised. Their value increases in the home they have left and often return to to find suitable brides. There are many cases where the wives reach the US to find that the man already has a spouse, often white. Indian and South Asians in general, especially men, would rarely have a partner of any other race. They are extremely conscious about what they perceive as the pecking order. The term coconut refers to their brown colour and whiteness of being or rather becoming.

Is Haley merely an insecure person who wants to get upmarket socially? She must think that she has earned her stars and stripes and has no trace of her origins left that stand out.

Her personal need reveals the larger truth. You cannot change your race but the change might do you a whole lot of good. Why is it so? It is this aspect that should be addressed, especially in recent days when Europe has been screaming against multiculturalism.

Did Hindu or Islamic Fundamentalism Inspire Oslo’s Terrorist?


India’s rightwing parties have been caught unawares. A part of them would really like to take a bow over the 100 odd pages that Anders Breivik has dedicated to them, but they are aware that this is not quite the right time. Among the analyses that are now unfolding – the script is one-dimensional – the inspiration from Hindutva forces has larger dimensions. It is not surprising that Ram Madhav, senior RSS leader, said:


“His entire so-called manifesto quotes conservative writers from both sides of the Atlantic. Ideological similarities have been drawn from all over, so to say suddenly that it is linked to Indian nationalists or Hindutva is simply motivated propaganda.”


Is the RSS not among the first when it comes to accusations for any scrap of paper by a Muslim individual or group? How can this be motivated propaganda when it is there in Breivik’s words and the rightwing parties were bookmarked and quoted from? It is also pertinent to point out that Mr. Madhav has used the terms “Indian nationalists and Hindutva” interchangeably. This echoes Breivik.


As I said, they would have liked to take credit but political reasons prevent them from doing so. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Vinod Bansal said:


“Most of what he has to say makes no sense, except the bit about appeasing Muslims is right. Basically, the UPA government under Sonia Gandhi has been indulging in it and also framing policies in such a way that the whole country is converted to Christianity.”


The theory of appeasement denotes a supremacist credo, the benevolence of malevolence. Critics of Islam object to the one and only one god idea, but is such scriptural supremacy manifested in everyday life? Supremacy is essentially a moral belief, and even if such morality is non-religious it follows a religious paradigm of one against the other. The subtext is righteousness.


It cares little for history. Just as the Hindutva fundamentalists do not take into account the subversive nature of the older dynasties that ravaged Jain and Buddhist places of worship, it is only fitting that Breivik thinks that their contemporary stance is proper as they “do not tolerate the current injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control”.


Injustice in the supremacist scheme of things is a delusion. It gives the moral right to set things right. There is no attempt at looking for truth. Truth is the need for reaction and for reclamation. Such truth needs enemies. As the Norwegian outlined, “Instead of attacking the Muslims, they should target the category A and B traitors in India and consolidate military cells and actively seek the overthrow of the cultural Marxist government. It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”


The Indian rightwing hardly ever operates as resistance movements; they are sanctified as power centres, form elected governments and use the establishment machinery. They do not need military cells because they can influence popular sentiment using the culture argument. Most societies cannot function in a vacuum. They need the moorings of heritage. However modern the façade may be, the core is essentially a historical relic.





Hindutva forces have long fantasised of a Hindu rashtra, a theocratic state. The major roadblock is not the Indian Constitution but the sheer number of Muslims. It would be, quite understandably, difficult to annihilate such a large section of the people. The country is challenged by its own avowed post-Independence canon – to be a secular republic. This, as it turns out, is dogmatic, for a set of rules and legal tools cannot function on a national scale, especially if it seeks a pluralistic vision. Pragmatism defeats idealism. It gives rise to a neo-idealism to break free of such constrained freedom that postulates you belong to everyone.


The Islamic creed has no such problems because it accepts the subservience to Allah. Therefore, whatever the ‘jihadis’ do, it purports to be in god’s name. A polytheistic society would tend to be more lax and spread out. In the political arena, this amounts to looking for a godhead.





Breivik’s bibliography has resulted in most people distancing themselves but only as real activators; their work and ideology reeks of the same fetid smell of Islamophobia. Eugene Robinson comments on this trend in The Washington Post:


“At least one anti-Muslim blogger had the decency to acknowledge feeling ‘terrrible’ about being cited in Breivik’s writings…Unfortunately, the blogger went on to write that Breivik’s ‘total lack of respect for human life is not, however, something he can have picked up from me, or from any of the other Islam-critical writers I know. . . . Indeed, the lack of respect for human life is often one of the great shortcomings of Islamic culture that we have consistently pointed out’. Think about the implications of that last sentence. If Muslims have no respect for human life, why should anyone respect their lives? Or, for that matter, the lives of the government officials who invite Muslims to live among us? Or the lives of the sons and daughters of such traitorous quislings?”


The anti-immigrant lobbies have been active for a long time, and it is not Muslims alone who are targeted. However, once the “war on terror” became akin to a statute bill people had a carte blanche to ‘be safe rather than sorry’. On the surface, this appears as survival instinct; scratch the skin and you will find hollow bones echoing the dissonant voices of victims. No one seems particularly bothered that the victims are nameless and not specially chosen in most cases.


How then can such a supremacist cult work? Breivik followed the Alex Curtis model, it would seem. Curtis of San Diego was ahead of 9/11. He believed that all non-Whites must be finished off. His preference was to work alone, as the “lone wolf”. He did not believe in any sort of apologia, for that would negate the basis of his beliefs. There was also a planned agenda.


Breivik is not a White supremacist. His anti-immigrant ideas are to preserve the purity of the European ethos and this makes him naturally anti-immigrant. The multiculturalism he is against has room for supporting other movements, though. It is a curious anomaly that, much like the Indian caste system, he wanted to create a “servant class” that would be from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, but all non-Muslim. Entry into his temple of doom obviously was to be limited.


His manifesto states:


“During their stay, they will work 12 hours a day for the duration of their contracts (6 or 12 months) and are then flown back to their homelands…These individuals will live in segregated communities in pre-defined areas of each major city.”


In India, and Mumbai at that, the Shiv Sena wanted migrants from other cities to go back to where they came from. Bangladeshi families who have been living in India for 30 years and more are not only seen as a nuisance – although they work as labour and are sold as prostitutes – but are now terror suspects, too, when we run out of Pakistanis.


The problem with such movements is that they transform indigenous populations into psychological immigrants. The questions one poses immediately become sectarian and emphasise one’s otherness.


A devious argument is that post 9/11 and post Mumbai’s 2008 attacks India and the West, in this case the US, have suffered due to a common enemy. This is a complete lie that is buffered by the Indian elite who flaunted their Taj Hotel and marketed what they saw as the destruction of the country’s progress. It was a shameless attempt at empathy and identification with the Twin Towers, the Manhattan skyline already familiar to Indians through a few upmarket Bollywood films. At last, we had internationalised our sorrow and found a common opponent. The Islamist. This wiped out India’s 16 million Muslims, who had to play quasi nationalists, since real nationalism had been barricaded.


This terrorist attack whitewashed the Bombay riots of 1992-93 and of Gujarat in 2002, both with the connivance of Hindutva political groups that got propped up following such acts.

It is quite disingenuous that Breivik, while admired in the silent chambers of xenophobic thought, is projected as mad. It is disconcerting to note that this terrorist is in the mainstream projected as a “gunman” and as one report said a “paranoid warrior”.


His lawyer, Geir Lippestad, believes:


“This whole case indicates that he’s insane. He believes that he’s in a war and that when you’re in a war you can do things like that without pleading guilty.” Worse, he could be seen as clinically insane and not be jailed at all because he “has a view on reality that is very, very difficult to explain”.


Any act of terror is difficult to explain because it is not rational, much like a belief system. You do not know anything about god or the afterlife, and yet there are millions of devotees across the world. Breivik could well have been sitting at the feet of a levitating guru in the many yoga centres that have sprouted in the West. He chose a more violent method to project his virulence. This itself proves that he operated as a lone wolf but made sure that he aligned himself with the right groups.


Unintentionally, he has exposed the world to phobias that live off phobias.

(C) Farzana Versey

- - -

Also published in Countercurrents, July 31

28.7.11

The Hina Factor: Pakistan’s Wicked Ploy

Oops, you did it again! Krishna and Khar


This is Asif Ali Zardari’s shrewdest move. Sending Hina Rabbani Khar on what amounts to be the equivalent of cricket diplomacy. This is not meant to be a sexist comment. She pretty much sailed through the India test by fire even as Pakistani intellectuals and the media have been rubbishing her ever since she was appointed to the post.


What are the dynamics here? It seems impossible to disregard the references to what she wore, how she looked and spoke, and it is a tad stupid for well-traveled Indians to comment on her designer labels as though they are not exposed to these. If anything, they look a bit awestruck even as they seemingly reduce her to superficials. The Times of India decided to tread carefully and mentioned our foreign Minister S.M.Krishna’s necktie, as though it were mandatory to give him equal sartorial time.


Zardari’s victory is that he knew the attention would be diverted from important issues although he had said that giving a 34-year-old with little experience the plum assignment was “a demonstration of the government's commitment to bring women into the mainstream of national life". There is no contradiction in his mind that the mainstream is the elite. He is sending out a few messages here: our societies are obsessed with the façade of economic progress, so let us dress the part even if we are dependent on foreign aid. A report had said that Richard Holbrooke was keen that she was given more responsibility. As foreign affairs minister she does not need to know what happens in the bastis. Does Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, know? She has to convey Pakistan’s intentions, which is an easy job to do because India already knows it. As she said in a television interview, when questioned about her meeting with the Hurriyat leaders before her official itinerary, that this was the “stated position of Pakistan”.


Rather smartly, she also took the age issue head-on and said it was a matter of how one sees it. She has been an elected MP and served two terms as junior minister that helped her “learn on the job”. This sounds like a simple statement. Think about it, though. The head of our government is not elected; the woman running this country has no experience; the youth leader has been learning on the job for years now with the added advantage of dynasty. If we decide to look into our own backyard, Ms. Khar’s debut would appear like quite a masterstroke.


So, what is it about her that has riled Pakistanis? A former envoy, Zafar Hilaly, had been dismissive: "Asif Ali Zardari clearly does not want a heavyweight in the job. Hina will play the role and say her piece; but I don't think anyone is expecting anything significant from her."


He should know that no minister can do anything significant with India. We have been playing a carrot-and-stick game for years and will continue to do so. All paperwork, statements and dossiers will be cosmetic offers.


There are derisive put-downs that she is just a rich spoilt woman from a feudal family. This comes from the media; most of the owners and editors are rather well-off and have other businesses and most certainly give the time of day to social butterflies. In fact, some noted writers have made a career of carousing for the Chanel chicks. They seem to have forgotten that none of their prominent leaders has been a grassroots person. Zardari is himself a greenhorn with a shady history. What about Benazir Bhutto? What was her experience except to belong to a political family? Jemima Khan had dismissed her  as "The Kleptocrat in an Hermes scarf" (my rejoinder was here), completely forgetting her own posh Goldsmith girl days. What is Imran Khan’s experience that some people think he’d, be a great prime minister? One will not question the political experience of military leaders because they rule either by coup or from the coop.


Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy added some perspective but a bit harshly: “In a male dominated culture, she will be derided as no more than a pretty face. This would be true even if she was hard-as-nails and an exemplary negotiator. She will also be the object of jealousy within the PPP, where sycophants know that the boss decides and suck up to him. How forcefully Khar is able to present Pakistan's position as foreign minister remains to be seen. Although she was selected for her docility rather than bold originality, there could always be surprises."


How many Pakistanis, forget politicians, have expressed a position that is boldly original on matters of foreign policy? Any national psyche makes it incumbent for people to believe in certain aspects; much of it is inherited baggage. If she is to push Pakistan’s position, that too with regard to India, how can she be original?


Before her visit, a report had quoted an unnamed observer who said, “It is well-known that Pakistan's foreign policy is in the hands of agencies, not the foreign minister or even the President. Hina will have a tough time proving that she is not just a puppet. I don't think anyone is going to forget that her roots go back to the Musharraf administration."


This goes in her favour. Pervez Musharraf conducted the biggest PR exercise in India during the Agra Summit although it ended rather badly. He became a martyred hero, so the connection is her silent trump card. Again Zardari, who it is suspected could get close to Musharraf again in one of those opportunistic alliances that his father-in-law was so adept at, has played his cards well.


And for those who are talking about maintaining the status quo, that is what Indo-Pak relations are about. That or months of sulking. The outcome is, as expected, simplistic. India and Pakistan have agreed “on the need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism including among relevant departments as well as agencies to bring those responsible for terror crimes to justice”. This is worth a yawn although it gives sufficient grist for several yarns.


The confidence building measures (CBMs) will be another Samjhauta – compromise. You take some missiles out of the way, but that does not prevent the threat perception and the real threat. It is not about whether either country decides to attack, but how much it feels the need to defend itself. This is never overtly at the government level. We have coined the phrase “non-state actors” just to make sure that foreign ministers can “agree” without having a clue as to what is happening behind their backs. The intelligence agencies have to deal with the headache, unless they are the headache.


The Line of Control will now be accessible for travel and trade. Is this a big leap forward when the economies of both sides of Kashmir are not really bullish? As regards travel, residents of Kashmir are anyway given visas more easily.


In general terms, trade opening acts as one more people-to-people initiative.


By far her entertaining the Hurriyat leaders at the Pakistani High Commission before meeting our foreign minister  - while deemed undiplomatic and a kick to protocol - was her real moment. Tutored she was, but she made it seem like the most natural thing to do. India and Pakistan are just two nations. Emphasise Kashmir and you sit on the TNT bomb. To keep it simmering has proved to be the most lucrative aspect of Indo-Pak politics. CBMs are just loose change.


- - -


Also published in Countercurrents

Sonia’s Boys Will Be Boys


Almost everyday, someone in this country is using khadi to wipe some part of their houses, some part of their person. I am quite certain they are not thinking about how they are insulting the Mahatma.


But it can happen:


Congress disapproved Union Minister Jairam Ramesh's controversial act of wiping his shoe with a garland of spun cotton given by party members while welcoming him at a public function in Rajasthan.
"In the life of a nation there are certain symbols and one should be more careful and sensitive about them," AICC General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said reacting to the development.
The cotton garlands were offered to Ramesh by Congress office-bearers Rameshwar Dudi and Rampyari Vishnoi at a function on Monday. When the minister was sitting on a chair at the dais, he took off the garlands and put them on a table. After some time, he took a garland and cleaned his shoe.
Reacting sharply, the state BJP criticised his act and demanded an apology saying, "The garland is a symbol of Gandhi's spinning wheel. It (the act) is an insult to Gandhi's khadi."


A few points:

  • The BJP’s Gandhigiri we know about, so it is just adding to the political cacophony.
  • The only insult is that the garland was offered to him as a gesture and he ought to have respected it, whether it was a garland of marigolds or of sandalwood. There is no special symbolism about khadi. It can and does clean shoes.
  • People should be more concerned that this ‘humble’ fabric is sold at exorbitant rates by designer labels. In the life of a nation there is the common man, too.
  • Having said this, I wonder what prompted Jairam Ramesh to become his own shoeshine boy on a public platform. Was he in fact being Gandhian and telling the party membes that you must clean your own dirt?




- - -


Omar Abdullah declares:


“A young man was shot dead in Sopore yesterday for no apparent fault of his. Where the hell are all the irate voices??? Bloody hypocrites.”
For how many years has there been insurgency in Kashmir? How many people have been killed, by both the armed forces as well as the militants? Why this sudden looking for “irate voices”? Does the chief minister of J&K think that civilian deaths do not matter if militants kill them?


I understand that he believes that the issue of such killings by the authorities are taken up by human rights organisations, and they are silent. No, they are not. There are records of such killings. But, it must be remembered that a terrorist is not running a government or representing the country or in charge of its security. That is the big difference. People expect the security forces to not kill civilians. His comment makes one wonder whether:

  • He believes that all those killed by the army are at fault.
  • The fact that there are irate voices against establishment-ordered killings means that it happens and there ought to be equal vehemence in opposing it.


This is not about scoring points about decibel levels.


As for being bloody hyprocrites, how about the fact that the Centre-appointed interlocutor in Kashmir, Dileep Padgaongkar, had gone on one of Ghulam Nabi Fai’s junket conferences, and our home minister says that as this was before he became the interlocutor, it is fine? If there is criticism of Fai, then why not have a uniform response?


Mr. Fai’s links have been made much of, so where are the irate voices about the interlocutor’s role? Where is the “bloody hypocrites” declamation?


- - -


Mani Shanker Aiyer has called the Congress a circus. Why?


"Those who have got their work done visit 10, Janpath (Congress President Sonia Gandhi's residence), while those with some hope of getting their work done visit 23, Willingdon Crescent (the residence of the Congress Chief's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel). Those who have lost all the hope and are dejected come to 24, Akbar Road (Congress' headquarters)".
I don’t think he has visited a circus in a long time. What he is describing is different phases of love. They can be encapsulated in a few phrases from a few songs, light and dark:

  1. Porgee phaslee re phaslee
  2. Mujhko thodi lift kara de
  3. Koi hota jisko hum apna, hum apna keh lete yaaron…

Unless, of course, Mr. Aiyer meant the circus in the film Mera Naam Joker. In which case, it would be apt to address him:


kehta hai jokar saara zamaana
aadhi haqeeqat aadha fasaana
chashmaa uthaao, phir dekho yaaro
duniya nayi hai, chehra puraana


Bhool gaye kya apne din?

26.7.11

If you call me a bigot, then what does that make you?

It disturbs me to be personally branded if I discuss issues that have to do with the Muslim world. And when I don’t, then the demand is that I do not wish to talk about it.

This is so pathetic.

Here are some comments and my responses. You might see it as self-indulgence, but I am tired.

This one is on my piece on Justice Iyer’s remarks. He has been quoted verbatim, the source has been provided. Yet, take a look (am withholding the names because this was an ongoing discussion on a forum where I am not a member and it started with someone commending me and then it took off with this one person who I am quoting):
please notice that iyer has used the word Indian and not muslim. i find farzana's interpretations of what Iyer has said and meant as i understand it highly objectionable.
Farzana says “your views expressed here are quite disgusting…you apportion blame on a community that does not only have to deal with suspicion but also keep a lookout for secret manoeuvres of hostile elements. Does that include non-Muslims? Please clarify this. It is important.” why is she obsessed with Muslims?
(Then in another reply):
first of all he uses the words indian and muslims both. what he writes for muslims is very correct, that their degree of loyalty to bharatmata can be suspected, primarily because they are so religion bound. i too feel so
i see iyer's statement as a step in the direction of finding alternatives to today's highly increased and yet inadequate security arrangements all over india. the very biased and highly mistrustful approach of farzana will never help us in finding peaceful alternatives.

Who was the one doing the mistrusting? Who revealed a biased attitude? Justice Iyer. He mentioned Muslims where loyalty and suspicion was concerned:

"I am not challenging the patriotism of the Muslim organisations in India but do suspect the degree of their loyalty. If every Muslim in India feels India to be his motherland and wants to defend it, the Indian police intelligence will easily get information about the secret manoeuvres of hostile Muslim elements.”

There was no obfuscation. So, who is reading what and why?

The same person in another response states:

why does the world-view of many people consist of thinking in extreme terms and negative too? the majority does not belong to these extreme situations. I mean it seriously, that we intellectuals tend to problematise situations sometimes a bit too much, because we cant/dont want to anymore celebrate life. i am being romantic, you will say. i know it. when i look at the rural women around, who can put flowers in their hair and sing, while doing extremely hard work in the fields AND when they make loads of food to generously distribute it to their neighbours, on festival days and all this whereby they dont have enough to make both ends meet, according to our standards, i feel challenged to think this way.
also it depends on WHO is putting these surveillance measures and for WHAT PURPOSE. sometimes one has to accept some bad times too, for ultimate good. i may be becoming philosophical, i am able to afford that eliteness, i know, but it is true nevertheless.
This is rather smart. Romantic? We all have seen the celebration of life and participated in it. Does it mean that a discussion should not raise doubts? It is not only the rural women, but also the ones in the cities who wear flowers in their hair and travel in crowded local trains and chop vegetalbles during their commute and distribute sweets. Many do not know what the good judge said, but they know when they go out to seek a house what happens, ok? They know when the “surveillance” includes being looked at with a special eye for ‘traits’. I too would like to know WHO put those surveillance methods and for WHAT PURPOSE.

Was there such surveillance in Gujarat after the riots? Was there any after the Bombay riots? After Malegaon? No. But there was in Ayodhya to protect a makeshift temple after the mosque had been demolished.

The spirit of Bharat Mata is not about keeping an eye on your fellow citizens.

It is pretty obvious as to who is obsessed with Muslims.

- - -

These are two responses at the CC site where They don’t have terrorists in Norway? also appeared.

-1-

This would be an entertaining rant if its moorings in reality hadn't snapped. Versey puts the word heroism in quotation marks but no citation is given. i do not know of anyone who has said these murders were heroic. You might find some skinhead who thinks so, but he is no more representative of mainstream Western opinion than the al Qaeda is of Arab discourse. Everything I've read, and everyone I've spoken to, has expressed nothing but contempt for breivik and his sociopathic act.

You would not have demanded a citation had you read the piece instead of merely seeking entertainment. Heroism is in single quotes that are often used for emphasis, or to dispute the validity of a word/term, and not as an affirmation or to quote someone unless it is a quote within a quote. It followed the statement I made about his wanting to explain and to wear uniform for the court hearings.

There is a world outside the “everybody I spoke to” and “everything I read”. It is called a non-linear argument. Sure, he is a skinhead and does not represent mainstream discourse, but will any society start rounding up suspects of his faith based on his act? Think about the number of people who are rounded up only because they are affliliated to the “Arab discourse”. It might be of some interest that the Islamic world is way beyond the Arab world – think Asia, think Africa, at the very least. Calling it a “sociopathic act” fits in with my thesis of ‘madness’. Where is terrorism in this?

Likewise Versey insists we call Breivik a terrorist. Who doesn't? Is the author actually parochial enough to suggest that Westerners as a class are more sympathetic to White terrorism than other kinds? If so she might consider removing her blinders and take an unjaundiced look at what is happening and what is being said. All of it, not just the scarce bits that align with her passions and prejudices.

Who doesn’t? The whole NYT piece I mentioned. The BBC did not. We are talking mainstream and we are talking about the idea behind it. (Incidentally, there has not been much gloating in the Muslim world over this other terrorism.) I am surprised that “White terrorism” has even been uttered, for you’d need to do a check as to when it was last used. This is not about whether Westerners are more sympathetic because they are not sympathetic to any other acts of terror, as no one ought to be. The discourse is about projection, and I have clearly outlined it in the closing paras where even the victims’ families might not be spared. Is it your blinders that make you see discussions about “White terrorism”? It is immensely revealing that you use such a term at all, for not all Westerners are White. But then, perhaps, you like it your way. No multi-culti in terrorism too.

Whatever good might have come from Versey's pitiless critique is undermined by the fact that she suffers more acutely from the vice which she denounces than do the targets of her abuses. If she wants to know why the world is so riven with sectarianism, she might find the first clue in the mirror. The ugliest thing I've read on the horrors in Norway came from her pen.

If questioning how the media and social commentators choose to see such events amounts to “abusing”, then perhaps it is. Sectarianism existed before my time and it is not about to end. My mirror is reflective glass, so I can see myself too. This is a response to the constant pillorying of the people who have no links with terror groups based merely on the faith they were born into or their names.

How would it feel if every blond Westerner were seen as suspect after this act in the non-Western world? Have you wondered about it, or has the reality snapped?

-2-


Ma Versey first sets up an imaginary entity - an European media that either lauds or tolerates or sympathizes with this Breivik, and conspires to absolve him - and then proceeds to demolish it. What's the point? All the media coverage from the west so far is about the inspiration provided to this demented animal by racist and Islamophobic groups. So what is her crib? If three national leaders have pronounced multiculturalism a failure, they are right insofar as it certainly is a failure as an "ism". If a plump young Bangladeshi imam blandly tells Stephen Sackur, shortly after the 7/7 and Madrid blasts, that all violence will stop if Britain just accepts Islam, he clearly has not learnt to live in Britain and does need to be told how to integrate. Nor is he by any means an exception, as either a Muslim or an immigrant. Ms Versey's piece suffers from all the symptoms of the Muslim liberal who feels a duty to advertise both her liberalism and her Islam without adding a single sensible idea to the discourse.

I would love to hear your sensible ideas, because it is utterly puerile to suggest that the “European media that either lauds or tolerates or sympathizes with this Breivik, and conspires to absolve him” is an imaginary entity I have created. “Demented animal, Islamophobic groups” all follow the structured pattern of convenient explanations. Why does Islamophobia exist and what do Western societies do about it? This includes the governments of several countries. This is ignored. It is not merely about three leaders pronouncing the failure of multiculturalism, but the ground reality of how such declarations reveal a limited idea and impact on people living in those countries as well as others that are sympathetic to such ideas. It is disingenuous, not to say amusing, to bring in some plump Bangaldeshi Imam who believes that violence will stop if Britian adopts Islam. Why is he not called “demented” instead of giving us a quick-fix homily about not learning to integrate?

Regarding the symptoms of a Muslim liberal that this piece suffers from, perhaps you’d be surprised to know there are several layers between such pat nomenclature. I do not need to advertise either “my liberalism” or “my Islam”; the latter would be wrong because I am not a practising Muslim. I can see that without the branding, it is difficult to even fathom that a discourse exists. Honestly, if it is seen as a crib, then it exposes the interpreter’s interpretation.

Had this been written by a non-Muslim, I am quite certain the response would have been different.

- - -

Now comes this business of Maulana Vastanvi of the Deoband. He has been thrown out because he praised Modi; his people have filed a PIL. What surprises me is that even hardcore Hindutva people who had often cast aspersions about the Darul Uloom are so keen on this man’s fate. Why?

In my article A Deobandi as Modi’s brand ambassador, I had written, among other things:

Let us not forget its (Darul’s) disgusting record of fatwas in the Imrana case or objecting to women working or the clothes people wear. The latest in the list is a fatwa issued this month that prohibits the practice of prophecy by Muslims. It cites the Shariah and warns that if a follower of the faith indulges in soothsaying, his prayers for 40 days become unacceptable.
Will the Deoband then ban all the caretakers at various shrines who after the prayers have been said, offering made and money deposited in the donation box swoosh a peacock feather over the devotee’s head and prophesise that all wishes will be fulfilled? What about the various pirs who advertise their powers to predict the future and the past? What about Islamic scholars that give their interpretations of Islam and further divide the community? What about the Deoband itself that issues these edicts? It may now say that it is only advice based on queries raised, but that is precisely what soothsayers do.

Was this not important? It was primarily seen as an anti-Modi tirade. Not only that but, “Something has seriously gone wrong with Farzana's mind. She has started speaking the language of extremist/fundamentalist Muslim. Somebody in Bombay please urgently get her medical help.”

What can I say?

Yes, I am a bigot because you say so. What does your saying so taking bits and pieces from the larger arguments make you, then?

You flash a torch in the tunnel and you think it is the light at the end of it. I stand in the light and look inside the tunnel. So I am not blinded by the light nor do I go blind in the dark.

Yes, that makes me a bigot.

25.7.11

They don’t have terrorists in Norway?


He is just a killer. Got it? No? Don’t you read the papers, watch the news, listen to the experts? Heck, don’t you see that Muslim organisations are so accustomed to being taken for granted that they jump in claiming that they did it. Ah, one more terrorist attack. But Norway? Why not? There are Muslims there and somewhere in Islam Norway too must have been mentioned. It did not work. This time someone was scoring points. That is what it is made out to be when a nice blond, clean-shaven guy in cop/military uniform, confesses.

He is not called a terrorist, no blanket judgement yet. Even as radical, he has his reasons – he is anti-Islam. He wreaked this terrorist attack to draw world attention to the end of multiculturalism. The New York Times had this precious nugget:

“Yet, some of the primary motivations cited by the suspect in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, are now mainstream issues. Mrs. Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain all recently declared an end to multiculturalism. Multiculturalism “has failed, utterly failed,” Mrs. Merkel told fellow Christian Democrats last October, though stressing that immigrants were welcome in Germany.”

Is this not great? The bloke is now supposedly speaking or echoing the views of world leaders and the international media is going along with it?

The fact that he is seen to have acted alone puts him in the romanticised category of the lone ranger. He has himself said about how it was all “in the head”. They might just analyse it as mental trauma due to seeing so many immigrants around; maybe he suffered from claustrophobia; perhaps he was just playing some video games and decided to re-enact those scenes in real life. It would be attributed to madness. I would like to know why other sorts of such attacks are not. Because, they are not. They are planned and always have a purpose. There is, therefore, no reason to give him the benefit of doubt and to put him on a psychiatric couch only because he was alone. He has already displayed enough gall to declare that he wants to explain his stand. Explain the killing of a hundred people? He also wants to appear in uniform for the court hearings.

I am afraid but all this adds to the ‘heroism’. It won’t be stated in so many words, yet the subtext is clear. In a rather surprising statement quoted in the NYT piece, Joerg Forbrig, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin who has studied far-rights issues, said:

“I’m not surprised when things like the bombing in Norway happen, because you will always find people who feel more radical means are necessary. It literally is something that can happen in a number of places and there are broader problems behind it.”

Stunningly simplistic. “More radical means are necessary”? So says the Al Qaeda too, but they are not given this Prozac kind of treatment. “Broader problems behind it”? Sure. While radical Islamists train and prune everything, except their beards, they could have broader problems as well – like their countries being decimated by powers that have no business to be on their land in the first place, and every person being considered a suspect if s/he is a Muslim, and their clothes and lifestyle being questioned.

Had this terrorist – yes, do use this term – been wearing a hijaab would it be seen as concern over multiculturalism? After all, when westerners go bang-bang and bomb-bomb in Iraq and Afghanistan, those places are superimposed by another culture and a fascist regime that seeks puppets to play with. Multiculturalism is not only about one nation deciding who the bad ones are, if they have granted them visas and they are working and in many ways contributing. If they are criminals, treat them as just that. Not as terror suspects. That does not happen. The chap at the pharmacy could well be a terrorist and if he takes an afternoon break for prayers, then he has had it. The teacher who wears a hijaab could be smuggling in Islamic literature for the bright kids who will soon turn into terrorists. Europe and America cannot take such risks.

We will forget the evangelists, the guys who burn the Quran, the people who say god told them to do it, the guys who move away if they see a person who does not look like them. Oh, they love chicken tikka and now vegetable jalfrezi. The curry kingdom was great till it lasted. Now it is time to just take the recipe and make it very clear who the boss is. As though it is not evident. As though it were any different when they ‘got Saddam’, they ‘got Osama’.

Breivik’s terrorism is as bad as any other is, so let us stop making excuses. The immigrant problem is there and must be dealt with by the relevant department. Neo-Nazi groups have been active long before 9/11. The new xenophobia has got a pedestal.


I also have problems with questions about how Muslims must integrate into societies they adopt as home. It brings the idea of globalisation down to a convenient ghetto. It is like Wall Street where you can get bullish and wager over funds the world over sitting at a desk. A closed group. You go to Muslim societies and Westerners work there and make no change in their lifestyle. They are immigrants in Middle-East countries that clearly call themselves Islamic and have never pretended otherwise. There is talk about how people cannot wear bikinis and I have maintained that a bikini is not a dress, not even casual smart. It is meant for the beach and beaches in those countries do permit people to wear what they want.

This is a digression because multiculturalism has different meanings. The West has always promoted itself as such a haven, a melting pot. It appears to be a simmering pot where discontent is now being given a more aggressive form. It is done slyly, as a protective garb.

Breivik’s “individual capacity” act is one such manoeuvre. This is what he had written before going on the killing spree about how he will be portrayal in the media after the act:

"However, since I manifest their worst nightmare (systematical and organized executions of multiculturalist traitors), they will probably just give me the full propaganda rape package and propagate the following accusations: pedophile, engaged in incest activities, homosexual, psycho, ADHD, thief, non-educated, inbred, maniac, insane, monster etc. I will be labeled as the biggest (Nazi-)monster ever witnessed since WW2."

He gets points for getting the media down pat. It has stopped being a kangaroo court; it is now all about pop psychology.

Those people who died and their families do not know why this happened. Do they agree with him? I won’t be surprised if days later some adept media person will land up at their doorstep and get an ‘understanding’ version of the misguided soul who was disturbed by what the world was turning into because their jobs and lives were at stake. He was frightened, do you understand?

And you will see images of Islamic terror more than this act. There will be great editing. Shots of Norwegians weeping. Cut to some bombing by Islamist groups.

Who will this help? Both. The West in its endeavour to keep the ‘war on terror’ iron hot. And the radical Islamic groups who are so gung-ho about their role that the media attention will in fact help them by default. They did not do it, but they could. They always can.

Neither will realise that the world is not about them, but about people who are just living their lives.

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -

Published in Countercurrents

24.7.11

Sunday ka Funda

A man and a woman sat by a window that opened upon Spring. They sat close one unto the other. And the woman said, "I love you. You are handsome, and you are rich, and you are always well-attired."

And the man said, "I love you. You are a beautiful thought, a thing too apart to hold in the hand, and a song in my dreaming."

But the woman turned from him in anger, and she said, "Sir, please leave me now. I am not a thought, and I am not a thing that passes in your dreams. I am a woman. I would have you desire me, a wife, and the mother of unborn children."

And they parted.

And the man was saying in his heart, "Behold another dream is even now turned into mist."

And the woman was saying, "Well, what of a man who turns me into a mist and a dream?"

(From 'Body and Soul' - Kahlil Gibran)

Tears dry on their own...


She died before she died. I was not much acquainted with Amy Winehouse’s work, but as happens with most of pop culture, I knew more about her than I wanted to – her big hair, her life larger than the moments that count. 27 is no age to die but it was probably not the age to live the way she did. Artifically.

Yet, what is so artifical about self-destruction? That’s what they said. Drugs, drinks, rehab. More than any of these it is the pressure to be out there, a voyeur watching your own antics with greater urgency than anybody else.

Just a couple of days earlier I read about the book that Britney Spears’ bodyguard wrote. He mentioned her unhygienic habits – she did not bathe for days, did not brush her teeth, did not use deo. He is a slimeball, but if any of this is true, it is a bit amazing that she did not care enough about herself for one in the job of projecting looks. Isn't this a form of self-destruction, too? He said she wanted him to join her in bed. Was it momentary desperation? Powerplay? Or just a young woman who wanted a warm body close to her, the body of a man who would detail her smells and sounds – her loud farts and loud laughs.

The problem is the business of being a rock star happens too soon. They are made to grow up, pump themselves with adrenalin and do the things that will not be acceptable. They are supposed to kick everyone in the ass.

Years ago, I sat on a park bench in Seattle. I did not understand the look of sadness that overcame faces of people who passed by as though it were a funeral. It was where Kurt Cobain used to visit; it had become a memorial. His death was replayed everyday. Elvis’s is. Jackson’s is.

Now Amy Winehouse will die again. And again. As she did when she lived. For she was meant to. And I am amazed that although these people are performers, they are not singing superficial stuff. They are snorting on sorrow as much as substances. The lyrics, even if they are macabre, tell of a truth we may not wish to accept. Our denial is their exposure.

Have we never at any point in our lives wanted to say something like:


I feel so small discovering you knew
How much more torture would you have put me through?
you probably saw me laughing at all your jokes
or how I did not mind when you stole all my smokes

You sent me flying – Amy Winehouse:


- - -

After I wrote this, I realised that 92 people have died in the blasts in Norway. So, why did I pen a piece on a person I know little about whereas I am aware of the consequences of terrorism and have analysed the motives so often from so many different angles? Such destruction is immense, and I do know that.

I think the death of a person in the public eye becomes personalised. There is something one can relate to, despite the 'distance' - geographical and in the details. For me, there is another reality. I had planned to post something that I have procrastinated about. Something has held me back. It lies curled up inside, a part of me that does not want to be a part of me and yet won't leave.

The words had formed and then someone else's words took over even as the voice has been stilled.

I procrastinate again.

23.7.11

'Burning Patriotism': Et Tu?

Justice V R Krishna Iyer has said that currently the greatest enemy of India is not so much Pakistan but terrorism.

I object, M’Lord. You have rightly connected some part of terrorism to corruption, and even commended the Pakistani government for condemning the Mumbai blasts. Then you pull up “important Muslim organisations” for not doing so. What you say later is shocking:

"I am not challenging the patriotism of the Muslim organisations in India but do suspect the degree of their loyalty. If every Muslim in India feels India to be his motherland and wants to defend it, the Indian police intelligence will easily get information about the secret manoeuvres of hostile Muslim elements."

There were clerics who held prayer meetings; Muslims did condemn the act, for whatever such condemnation is worth. I am sorry to say so but your views expressed here are quite disgusting. If there is a terror attack, why is the onus on Muslims to defend the country unless they are in the police force, the army or security agencies? 

You mean to say that ordinary Muslims have knowledge, or that they are kept informed, or they have extra-sensory perception and can smell every Muslim who could be a threat to the nation? Instead of discussing the role of security agencies, you apportion blame on a community that does not only have to deal with suspicion but also keep a lookout for secret manoeuvres of hostile elements. Does that include non-Muslims? Please clarify this. It is important.

"What we require therefore is not so much policemen or weapons but burning patriotism. Every Muslim must watch the secret doings of other Muslim organisations especially foreigners. A new wave of patriotism must begin in every school, college and research organisation. Every Indian must watch what his neighbour is doing with a patriotic vision and mission to save the nation. Even children's organisations should be permeated with the spirit of Bharatmatha. Then alone India has hope. New intelligence methodologies are necessary."

Sure. It was this ‘burning patriotism’ that caused two major riots that destroyed people of the community that you expect should act as vigilantes. Do you imagine that every Muslim knows what is going on? What the heck are you trying to convey by referring to foreigners? Take names. Mention countries. 

We know about this new wave of patriotism. It means forcing religious books down the throats of children. We have all learned about the freedom struggle, about those who sacrificed their lives; those were historical lessons. Do not mess around with kids in such a devious manner. Can you imagine street kids and orphanages filled with such nonsense about nationalism without any reference point? Most children grow up with the knowledge of their national identity. They do not need to be tutored. India’s hopes lie not in this sort of baptism into the spirit of Bharat Mata. 

And could you help explain what exactly you mean by this spirit? The flag? The national anthem? The freedom struggle? Economic progress? Modi? Anna Hazare? Baba Ramdev? Nuclear power? Jaitapur tribals? Khap panchayat? Female foeticide? Undertrial prisoners? People waiting for justice for years?

If you want hope to permeate then do not create friction. You are a person in a position of authority and should know better. Patriotism will not work as an intelligence methodology. Our agencies work at it. The cops, the armed forces and even politicians to whatever extent it is possible. There are factors that they can improve and some bad elements. It has nothing to do with anyone’s faith. You don’t say, “Oh, those insurgents entered because some Muslim soldier did not stop them”. Or do you?

I will not be surprised. You know what, sir? My patriotism means questioning people like you as much as the next terrorist bloke. As an Indian I may not have your stature, or ever reach the position you have, or achieve the success you have, but I would not wish to be your kind of Indian. Ever. Because the patriotic spirit of the sort you have displayed is just that: spirit. It just goes up in the air and collects dust to form dark clouds.

- - -

Also published in Countercurrents

Ask the vexpert - 28

Question: I have a problem. While masturbating, I think about animals and ejaculate. It gives me immense pleasure. Am I all right? Please help.

Sexpert: Why? Do you want to have sex with them? Which animal do you think of? Try to stop yourself. It’s not okay. Perhaps, if you fantasise about a crocodile, you may want to stop. If it persists, see a psychiatrist.

Me: You are all right, because the theory of evolution says we were apes. Quite a bit of our activities involves being down on all fours – cleaning floors, looking for lost objects and even praying. This is our ancestry. What you are doing is akin to going through old sepia-coloured pictures in fraying albums. Many humans use sexually-loaded terms with other humans like ‘animalistic’, ‘tigress’, ‘lion’, ‘bitch in heat’, ‘foxy’, and these are considered as desirable qualities in bed. So, why should they suddenly be ‘bad’ when you think about real animals?

There is some psychological reason too and it depends on the animal you fantasise about and what it tells about you:

  • Dog: You seek loyalty
  • Cat: Cleanliness fanatic
  • Pig: Messy
  • Donkey: ‘Take the burden off me’
  • Horse: Adventure. If it is a derby type, then you expect a winning partnership, come what may, so to speak
  • Zebra: Swing between black and white phases
  • Monkey: You want a mimic
  • Orangutan: For old times’ sake
  • Elephant: Whoops! Do you? Well, then, there are two choices – you either like being crushed or being lifted


One more reason. Animals do not talk back, so in all probability you like your partner to be quiet. But animals grunt and meow and bark. So do humans. Am afraid you will have to live with the similarities, unless, unless... you can think about a turtle.

- - -

Question: Many a time I wonder: God has given all important organs to humans. However, I fail to understand what could be the reason of having growth of hair around private parts and arm pits. Request you to answer and satisfy my curiosity.

Sexpert: Maybe for decoration! When men and women did not wear designer clothes the hair was useful. Have you noticed that the hair is swept backwards conveniently, I presume when we were ape men!

Me: God was shy. 

22.7.11

Wayward thoughts: Fatal Living


He was dead. For a day. Two days? I, too, do not recall. This was days after the blasts. In a crowded area where cars, buses ply, and people walk about reaching destinations, a cabbie’s body went unnoticed. Had he been a victim, he might have been seen.

The concerned city kills people everyday. It does not bring out the bombs, the knives, the guns. It probably does not do a thing. Mortality is natural. The killing happens when human beings become invisible.

Look at him. Sitting. Seems like he has fallen asleep. In a vehicle he drove to earn his keep. Suffered a cardiac arrest. And slumped. People passed. Cars passed. Buses passed. His cab stayed there. No one came to tow it away. Perhaps he was in a parking zone.

What were his thoughts? You won’t hear stories about him – how he went to work and had plans for life. I know his story. It had a beginning and an end. There was no middle. Nothing to connect the two extremes.

Today’s papers mentioned a family of four. Three of them died. The fourth – a daughter in her 30s – survived. She was walking around talking about the others being in deep slumber. Unstable she is, they said. They had kept themselves away from the world, did not go out, meet people. Psychologists say it can be fatal.

What is not fatal? You go out. Fatal. You drive. Fatal. You walk. Fatal. Your travel. Fatal. You eat. Fatal. You drink. Fatal. You smoke. Fatal. You sleep. Fatal;. You dream. Fatal. Everything can be fatal if it is in limbo or caught in circumstances.

Man in cab dead. A family at home dead. Life bustles outside. Clouds burst. Rain falls. The glass blurs. Eyes formulate tearful queries. Questions are fatal.

Surely They’re Joking, Mr. Fai! Kashmir’s American Counsel?

At the Kashmir border

Surely They’re Joking, Mr. Fai! 
Kashmir’s American Counsel? 
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, July 22-24


The fact that there is an element of surprise over Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest after the FBI exposed his connections to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) reveals that this was probably a sudden brainwave.

The allegation is that Mr. Fai’s Kashmir American Council (KAC) was illegally funded by the ISI to exert influence on the US Congress to swing the Kashmir debate in Pakistan’s favour.

Did the ISI do it? Possible. Did Mr. Fai use this money? Possible. Was the FBI unaware about it all these years? Not possible.

There are a few important aspects to this development:

1.       The FBI keeps track of all funds, so why was it quiet all along? KAC is not an underground movement. It puts up petitions; it has a Google groups forum; there is a Facebook page of its affiliates; its conferences are held in university halls and invitation is free. Often dinner is served.

The huge amount of money discovered should prompt the FBI to question the recipients and investigate as to how it has impacted on US policy. Instead, the focus is almost entirely on the Fai-ISI link. Is it possible to forget that the ISI virtually runs Pakistan and that Pakistan is also the beneficiary of American funds? Ergo, the ISI is by default propped up by the US financially and, given the strategic political dynamics, on the ground too. The ISI is nobody’s fool to depend on a Kashmiri organisation in the US to lobby for Pakistan’s interests in the Valley when it already has its people in the region with help from the Lashkar-e-Taiyba and other forces, including a faction of the local Hurriyat Conference.

This is not a simple case of getting the bad guy. It is about creating one more bad guy, and this is notwithstanding Fai’s role in the larger Kashmir issue and sponsorship.

2.       Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just visited India and set the tone for Indo-US relations. However, the dog-and-bone attitude continues with an emphasis on American interest and interests in Pakistan. There is most definitely an attempt to influence the talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan scheduled for July 27.

3.       The proposed US move out of Afghanistan would necessitate having some presence in the region. In fact, after the Clinton meeting, India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said, “We have impressed on the United States and other countries who have a major presence in Afghanistan that it is necessary for them to continue in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan is handy for some sado-masochism. Recently, there were video clips in the media of the Taliban killing Pakistani soldiers, in a reversed version of Gitmo.

4.        Osama Bin Laden’s killing is being regurgitated on a tangential topic by implying yet again that Pakistani intelligence agencies knew about his abode. There have been arrests that seem suspiciously like red herrings.

5.       David Headley is deposing before the courts in the US and providing details of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley’s departure from the US to India is a major goof-up by security forces in that country as well as the Indian embassy. His implicating the ISI would surprise no one except the US in its studied ‘naïve’ state. It is pertinent that Ms. Clinton mentioned these attacks (with only a cursory sympathetic reference to the recent Mumbai attacks only days before she arrived). This is much like Headley who wanted to fight for Kashmir, but ended up taking pictures of Mumbai’s landmarks to help his ‘handlers’.

6.       One is aware of the ISI’s crucial strategic role in Pakistan. But, how does the FBI function in the US? Does it push the agenda of the party in power? If so, then its bolt from the blue could be another means to assist the current government in the coming elections.

The major beneficiary of Mr. Fai’s political contributions seems to be Republican Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana. This has been going on for 15 years. For 15 years the FBI has managed to trace the $23,500 contribution to US lawmakers that is legally available with the Federal Election Commission. What made the FBI now want to dig into the over $ 4 million that was illegally brought in?

If indeed it is true, then the onus ought to be on the security agencies and those who were expected to lobby for the Kashmir cause.  There are murmurs that Fai is only a front. This is a convenient ruse. You have some evidence, claim other evidence, arrest the man based on these and then leave a small opening for the bigger fish, well aware that the bigger fish are not born that way but plumped up artificially in diplomatic laboratories.

* * *

It is time to ask how exactly lobbying works and whether the United States can take an ethical stand when it is open to such influencing.

The political action committee (PAC) is a blatant forum to ensure that groups can help political candidates and parties, which in turn promise to assist them. Contributors range from real estate agencies, insurance companies, defense contractors and oil companies. There are also special interest groups based on race, gender, nationality, and religion too. In less developed societies this might be deemed as bribery. Legalising it makes the process transparent only to a small extent. If KAC has really managed to get in the millions of dollars illegally, then it suggests that there are loopholes in the system.

Fai in a soup

However, does this ensure that the lobbying group will truly benefit? Mr. Fai was a US citizen; he organised conferences as many do. There was one held on February 2011 and the list of speakers included Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Norwegian Member of Parliament Peter S. Gitmark, author and South Asia Analyst Victoria Schofield, Pakistani envoy Husain Haqqani. The others listed as “invited” were the Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, Chinese ambassador Zhang Yesui and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr.

Rather curiously, reports have made it sound ominous by stating, “Another group which has come under the lens is Indian liberals and so-called bleeding hearts who accepted Fai’s and KAC’s hospitality to attend conferences in US on the Kashmir issue…” The liberals go on junkets for several causes, including plane rides with ministers of the ruling party or the opposition depending on their agenda or that of the organisation they represent. This includes the media. Does their presence help the cause? What is their contribution in real terms?

A peripheral but telling aspect is how some Indians view the unfolding of this episode. A Hindutva group functionary sent an email with an article from the Times of India appended with his comments. He writes, “First, the author calls those who have exposed the Indians (either citizens or those who are of Indian origin) as 'Indian hypernationalists and right-wingers' and 'hardline nationalist'.  However, those Indians who attended the seminars organized by the Pakistan's ISI sponsored front as 'liberals', instead of traitors.  Clearly he wants to prejudice the minds of the readers.  But, you cannot hide the truth. The Indians who were invited to the various programmes were obviously those who would be taking an anti-India position, and not ones who would project a holistic picture.  It is absolutely necessary to expose those Indians who attended these programmes.  Actually, they themselves should come forward and identify themselves.”

There is nothing secret about this. As mentioned earlier, the KAC’s activities were open. While the person is quick to label those attending such conferences as traitors based on the implication of the ISI role in the council, he assumes they would take an anti-India stand. One must remember that there are several influential Hindutva groups too in the US. There are Jewish lobbies.

Since I was never invited, let me add that it is more important to first find out whether anyone has managed to score points for Pakistan on the Kashmir debate and how much it can change the ground realities. The US is interested in counter-terrorism that affects it directly. Has it ever spoken about lives lost in the state – civilian and military?

On what grounds can the US plan to question Kashmiri separatists when they were given visas to travel for seminars that were in the public domain? Should it not look into its own backyard and see how and why anyone can lobby for positions that it claims to be chary of?

Pakistan has, naturally, denied any role. What is the Indian position? If it cannot take a stand regarding a person of Indian origin only because he is Kashmiri, then it only reiterates the attitude of disenchantment that people in the Valley suffer from.

In November last year Ghulam Nabi Fai had written:

“Once again, Kashmir is giving proof that it is not going to compromise, far less abandon, its demand for Azaadi (freedom) which is its birthright and for which it has paid a price in blood and suffering which has not been exacted from any other people of the South Asian subcontinent. Compared to the sacrifice Kashmir has had to endure, India and Pakistan themselves gained their freedom through a highly civilized process. That is a most poignant truth. But even more bitterly ironical is the contrast between the complex and decades-long agony the Kashmir issue has caused to Kashmiris, to Pakistan and to India itself and the simple, rational measures that would be needed for its solution. No sleight of hand is required, no subtle concepts are to be deployed, and no ingenious deal needs to be struck between an Indian and a Pakistani leader with the endorsement of the more pliable Kashmiri figures. The time for subterfuges is gone. All that is needed is going back – yes, going back – to the point of agreement which historically existed beyond doubt between India and Pakistan and jointly resolving to retrieve it with such modifications as are necessitated by the passage of time.

“That point of agreement is the one India as well as Pakistan, each independently, brought to the United Nations Security Council when the Kashmir dispute was first internationalized. In fact, the Council itself took that point as the basis of the resolutions it later formulated.

“The point was one of inescapable principle- -- that the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be decided by the will of the people of the State as impartially ascertained in conditions free from coercion. The two elements of a peaceful settlement thus were, first, the demilitarization of the State (i.e. the withdrawal of the forces of both India and Pakistan) and a plebiscite supervised by the United Nations.

“With propositions of such clarity and character accepted, what room was left for the dispute to arise?”

Is this not the position taken by many political groups within Kashmir, by separatists, by the people?

It would be a pity if due to the ISI angle, the real issues will be pushed aside. America has the arsenal to deal with the ISI, but does it have the will? If Mr. Fai is a front, then why only name the ISI people and not the Congressmen who knew what they were expected to lobby for? Culpability in this case lies across the board. It is utterly ridiculous to make this sound like a terrorist plot when the monies have been traced and people of some stature have been consistently raising the Kashmir issue, not just abroad but at home.

And Kashmiris are not pawns of the United States of America that some official can pocket the money and decide its fate. 

- - -

Also published in Countercurrents , July 24