Sunday, November 30, 2008

The terror of the aftermath

Biju Mathew writes coherently about the dangers of responding to terror the way American did after 9.11.

Editorial

As the Fires Die: The Terror of the Aftermath

As the smoke lifts from Mumbai, skepticism must prevail over those conjectures which support the official state narrative. It is crucial to increase the pressure for transparency and accountability at this moment to ensure that India doesn't slide into the same state as post-9/11 USA.

By Biju Mathew

This piece originally appeared in Samar 31, published online December 1st, 2008.

The deaths continue even as I write this. The death toll stands at 195. And of the several hundred injured some may not survive. It is now official. The siege is over. The last of the gunmen inside the Taj Hotel has been shot dead. The Oberoi/Trident hotel was cleared earlier today and the Nariman House Jewish Center at the corner of Third Pasta Lane on the Colaba Causeway was stormed close to 24 hours ago. The other targets - the Leopold Cafe (a popular tourist hangout), the CST railway terminus (also called the Victoria Terminus), the Metro Cinema, the Cama Hospital, all seem to be targets the gunmen attacked as they zoned in on the hotels and Nariman House. In the end this has become a story of two sets of men with guns.

The human story of the innocents who died, the hotel staff who kept their cool and moved guests around the hotel through the service entryways and exits, those who helped each other escape, will not really make it to the headlines. The maintenance worker at the Oberoi who shielded guests and took the bullets in his stomach will remain unsung. The hospital orderlies who ran in and out with stretchers carrying the wounded - each time not knowing if they will make it back themselves to the ambulance, will not be noted. The several trainee chefs at the Taj who fell to bullets even as other kitchen workers escorted guests away from the firing and hid them inside a private clubroom will not be written up in the book of heroes. The young waiter at Leopold who was to leave to work in a Cape Town restaurant will soon be forgotten. The two young men who dragged an Australian tourist shot in the leg away from the Leopold entrance and carried her to a taxi will not even identify themselves so that she can thank them. These stories, in as much as they are told, will remain on the lips of only the workers, the guests and the tourists who helped each other. The officials will try and produce a clean story to tell the world. And we know the clean story is untrue.

The official story that has already begun to emerge is one that may have some facts embedded in it. But we must remember that between every two facts is a lot of conjecture. The conjectures that unite the few facts (16 gunmen, AK47s, grenades, passports of multiple nationalities, boats on which at least some of them arrived, a dead Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare, who was heading the investigation against the Hindu Right wings' terror campaign, the gunmen trying to identify British and American citizens) makes the story. The story then is as much a product of the conjecture as it is of the facts. And there are certain stories that we are already oriented towards. The conjectures that create that story - the story we are already prepared for - is the one the State will dole out for our consumption. Already the conjectures that will serve the State, are out there in great profusion.

Several reporters have noted that the gunmen were clean-shaven, dressed in jeans and T-shirts. The silent conjecture is that they were expecting and were surprised by the fact that these men did not have beards and did not sport the Muslim prayer cap. Every newspaper worth its salt - the Times of India, the Jerusalem Post, the Independent from the UK, among scores of others - have already run commentary on the unsecured coastline of India. The conjectural subtext is that securing the coastline is possible and if India had done so, this attack would have been prevented.

There is also a quick labeling going on -- India's 9/11. The subtext is that India could and should act as the US did after 9/11 - decisively and with great aggression. There is also the subtext that the Indian State is soft on terror that adds to the US-tough-on-terror contrast. Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has castigated the Indian government for withdrawing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and for preventing states like Gujarat from passing their own version of the draconian worse-than-Patriot Act legislations. Neither Mr. Dhume, nor the several reporters who will now write stories about how the POTA repeal represents the Indian State’s soft attitude towards terror will ever feel the need to explain how POTA could have prevented this attack.

The dead are on the floor. The vultures are moving in. The conjecture will try to unite the country into a series of unexamined positions. That POTA must be recalled. That States must be allowed to pass even more draconian laws. That Hindu terror is not a big issue and must be forgotten for now - especially now that we may not find an honest policeman or woman to head the ATS. That the defense budget must go up. That the coastline must be secured.

None of the well educated masters of the media will write that the 7000 odd kilometer coastline cannot be protected - that all it will translate to is billions in contracts for all and sundry including Israeli and American consultants. Nobody will write that a hundred POTAs will not prevent a terror attack like this one; that Guantanamo Bay has not yielded a single break through. Nobody will write that higher defense budgets have been more often correlated with insecure and militarized lives for ordinary citizens. Nobody will write that almost without exception all of US post-9/11 policies have been disasters. Bin Laden is still around, I am told and so is the Al Qaeda. The number of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews have probably gone up over the last decade. So much for good policy. But the conjecture will go on.

The foreign hand and its internal partner will be floated without ever naming anything precise. But the country will read it just as it is meant to be read - Pakistan and the Indian Muslim. Everything will rest on the supposed confession of the one gunman who has been captured. A Pakistani from Faridkot, I am told. Why should we believe it? Didn't the same Indian State frame all the supposed accomplices in the Parliament attack case? Didn't the same Indian State claim that the assassins of Chattisinghpura were from across the border until that story fell apart? And more recently, didn't the same Indian State finally agree that all the accused in the Mecca Masjid bombings were actually innocent? And even if Mr. Assassin supposedly from Faridkot did say what he did say - why should we believe him? Why is it so difficult to believe that he has his lines ready and scripted? If he was willing to die for whatever cause he murdered for, then can he not lie? Oh the lie detector test - that completely discredited science that every militarized State trots out. And the media love the lie detector test because it is the best scientific garb you can give to conjecture.

I certainly don't know the truth. But I do know that there is more than enough reason for skepticism. The problem is that we need a new theory of the State. We need to re-understand the State.

There is such unanimity when it comes to analyzing the Pakistani State - that the ISI, and if not all of the ISI, at least a segment of it, is a rogue element Furthermore, that its bosses may not be sitting in Islamabad, but perhaps elsewhere in the country or even abroad. If we can accept that about the Pakistani State, why is it so difficult to accept it about the Indian State? We all know that Colin Powell was a kind of a patsy - a fall guy, who trotted out some lies on behalf of a segment of the neo-conservative movement firmly entrenched within the American State (which Obama will not touch). We also know that if the ISI has a rogue element in it, it was in good part created by the CIA. Then why do we think that the same guys couldn't render another State - such as the US - itself hollow from the inside.

The contemporary State is a different being. For every story of money-corruption you hear, there could just as well be one of political-corruption. Every vested interest who locates himself inside the State apparatus is not just a vested interest going after money but could just as well be securing the space for creating a certain politics. The RSS has a long history of trying to take over the bureaucracy, doesn't it? So do the neo-cons and so do the jamaatis. Then why do we believe in a theory of the State that is unified and with liberal goals?

The history of the liberal State and its relationship with capitalism of all types is a simple one. The longer that relationship persists the more corrupt and hollow the liberal State gets, leaving the space open for political ideologies to occupy its very insides. The logic for this is inherent in the very system. If profit is above all, then given the power the State has, it must be bought. Cheney is no different from Shivraj Patil, and Ambani is no different from Halliburton. They are both part of the story of hollowing the State out. And once the hollowing process begins, every ideological force can find its way in, as long as it has resources. The archetypal bourgeois liberal State is over. It never really existed, but what we have at the end of four decades of neo-liberalism bears no resemblance to the ideal formulation whatsoever. What we have instead is a series of hollowed out States with their nooks and crannies, their departments and offices populated with specific neo-conservative ideological interests. The US has its variant. India has its. And Israel its very own. It is incapable of delivering the truth, and not just the truth, it is only capable of producing lies.

If this story of skepticism makes sense then we have only one choice. To understand that it is crucial to increase the pressure for transparency at this moment, to be relentless in our demand for openness and detail, in our call to ensure that no investigation or inquiry that was in place be halted and that every one of these be subjected to public scrutiny. It is our responsibility to reject the discourse of secrecy based on security and demand specific standards of transparency. What we should demand is that every senior minister and every senior intelligence officer be examined and the records be made available to the public. What we must demand is that an officer of impeccable record be found to replace Hemant Karkare. What we must demand is that we get explanations of how a POTA clone would have stopped this crime. What we must ask is how POTA or the Patriot Act could have ever helped prevent terror? What we must do is support the Karkare family in their demand for a full investigation of his death in the company of the encounter specialist- Salaskar. What we must have is an open debate on every single case of terror over the last decade in India.

When I am in Bombay, I always stay at a friend’s on Third Pasta Lane. Each afternoon I would walk out and see the Nariman House. I have wondered what the decrepit building was. I have always contrasted the drabness of the building with the colorful sign on the next building that announces Colaba Sweet House. The next time I won't wonder. I will know that it was one of the places where the drama that inaugurated India's renewed march towards fascism unfolded. Unless we act. Unless we act with speed and determination demanding transparency and accountability and a careful rewriting of the story of terror in India. Only a renewed movement can ensure that India doesn't slide into the same state as post 9/11 USA.

Biju Mathew is a member of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and the Coalition Against Genocide and is a co-founder of the New York Taxi Worker Alliance.

Check out Enough is enough: India's 9/11

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A very good program on NDTV, called We the People, by Barkha Dutt, who has done a stellar job of covering this massacre. Simi Grewal's statement about how the slums have Pakistani flags was shocking and insensitive at this time. Her statements about American safety after 9.11 was shocking again. She has no understanding of what America has done in the name of it's security. People like her should not be allowed to speak at intelligent forums like We the People. She is similar to the politicians who are not in touch with reality and the mood of the people.

My heart goes out to the Muslim man who lost his family and all the people who are suffering the pain, loss and trauma of this tragedy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I, too, am a Mumbaikar today


Adil Najam talks about living with terror.

I wish I could reach out and for just one moment hold the hands of the woman in this AP photograph. Maybe shed some tears on her shoulder. But I do not know what I would say to her. I do not think she would want me to say much. The expression on her face matches the feeling I have at the pit of my stomach and in the depth of my heart. I think - I hope - that she would understand how I feel. I can only imagine what she is going through.

And so, in prayer and in solidarity, I stand today with Mumbaikars everywhere. In shock at what has happened. In fear of what might happen yet. In anger at those who would be so calculated in their inhuman massacre. In sympathy with those whose pain so hurts my own heart but whose tears I cannot touch, whose wounds I cannot heal, and whose grief I cannot relieve.

The solidarity I feel with Mumbaikars is deep and personal.

The first time I ever visited the Taj Mahal Hotel was with my wife. We had been married just weeks and were not staying at the Taj but went to the historic “Sea Lounge” at the hotel for tea and snacks during a short visit to Mumbai. We went to the Oberoi Hotel the same visit in the naive and mistaken belief that we would find Bollywood bigwigs hanging out there. In later years I would come back and stay at the old wing of the Taj - down the corridor from where Ruttie Bai Jinnah and stayed - I would even present in the grand ballroom whose pillars, supposedly, had been brought from her father’s estate. Each time I passed through Victoria Terminus I stood in awe of the pace as well as its presence. In awe of the architectural structure, but also of the sea of humanity around me. I cannot hear of terrorists attacking these places without my own muscles twitching in anger.

But my feeling of solidarity with Mumbaikars is much much more personal than these few fleeting visits over many years. Deeply etched into me are the horrific echoes of 9/11 in New York and the string of terrorist attacks on Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and all over Pakistan whose reports have become all too familiar - but never bearable - on this blog. I know what living with terror feels like. I have thought too much and too deeply about what it feels like to be the target of violence propelled by hatred. I know the pain of helplessness one feels as one stands stunned in grief, wanting so desperately to do something - anything - but not knowing what to do. This is why I identify with the expression on the face of the woman in this picture. This is why, like so many others in the world, today I too am a Mumbaikar.

This is why I stand with Mumbaikars everywhere, in prayer and in solidarity. At a loss for words but with an urge to speak out. My words of condemnation will not change the actions of those who have committed such heinous murder and mayhem. Nor will my words of sympathy diminish the agony of the victims. But speak out I must. In condemnation as well as in sympathy. To speak against the inhumanity of hatred and violence. To speak for the humanity in all of us that we all must hold on to; especially in the testing moments of grave stress.

But, today, I have no words of analysis. What words can make sense of the patently senseless? I do not know who did this. Nor can I imagine any cause that would justify this. But this I know: No matter who did this, no matter why, the terror that has been wrought in Mumbai is vile and inhuman and unjustifiable. And, for the sake of our own humanness, we must speak out against it.

And, so, to any Mumbaikar who might be listening, I say: “I stand with you today. In prayer and in solidarity.”


thanks to 3qd for the link

The Ordinary Indian

The Guardian reports from JJ Hospital in Bombay of the ordinary Indian that has been caught up in this massacre.

Harishchandra Shiverhankar scribbled furiously on a notepad, gesturing with his fingers to explain his last bloody memories of Wednesday night before waking up in an unfamiliar hospital bed.

The 56-year-old was walking towards the Metro cinema when he felt his legs collapse - a bullet had been shot through his lower back. A hand then grasped his hair, pulled back his head and a blade slit his neck. He had been caught in the vortex of violence unleashed by people who wanted to murder, not just maim.

Setting down his pad he manages to croak: "This should have never happened to me."

The office worker's story, told from his bed in Mumbai's JJ hospital, is part of a largely hidden tragedy - that behind the headlines of wealthy westerners fleeing Mumbai's terror frontline it was ordinary Indians who bore the brunt of the bloody attack on this city of 19 million people.

Next door to Shiverhankar lies Jayaram Chavan, his leg shattered by bullets. He had been running for his train home to the western suburbs amid the Victorian splendour of Mumbai's main Chhatrapati Shivaji rail terminal when two young men with guns in their hands opened fire. "I wanted to go home, that's all. Why me?"

Outside the private Bombay hospital journalists jostled for news of the three British nationals inside, but little was heard about the 70 Indians that lay next to them. Part of the reason for the lack of publicity about local casualties is that hospitals themselves have banned journalists, pointing out that the militants had targeted wards in the first wave of attacks. No one, unless they could prove they were hospital workers or related to the victims, was supposed to be allowed in. But the Guardian was allowed access by doctors keen to publicise Mumbai's suffering.

In these wards terror has given way to blood and tears. Standing in front of hospital boards displaying the dead and the nearly dead were old women in saris and burkas looking for names of loved ones lost. On blood-soaked beds friends and relatives sat tending the injured.

Indian hospitals are never places for the fainthearted. JJ hospital is one of the city's best public health centres, but yesterday its corridors were smudged with blood and staircases littered with the detritus of medical procedures: wet tissues, empty cartons and used dressings. In the wards nurses rushed from bed to bed looking after not so much human figures as writhing masses of plastic pipes attached to heaps of bandages. Only the flicker of eyes gave away the fact that a patient lay beneath.

The sense that India's creaking public health system might be overwhelmed was palpable. Users of the social media site Twitter, popular with many Indians, sent pleas for blood donors to make their way to hospitals in Mumbai where doctors were faced with low stocks and rising casualties. Wards overflowed with people and doctors said they had worked on three operations an hour.

The bodies kept on coming. In the main hallway of JJ hospital orderlies placed on the floor three bodies swaddled in white cotton. Two were young girls, their faces caked in blood. The other was a man, distinguishable only by his black leather shoes. They all worked in the Trident hotel, wearing the blue and white uniform of service staff. Doctors said they were expecting 30 more bodies to emerge from the smoking hulk of the building and fear that the death toll will soar once the Taj is opened up.

A few miles away in Bombay hospital there were more stories of how the Indian dream had turned into a nightmare. Gunjun Nagpal had been celebrating her 31st birthday at the Golden Dragon restaurant in the Taj Mahal hotel when two gunmen sprayed her table with bullets. She, her mother and her father were killed instantly. Kamal Nagpal, Gunjun's cousin, said her family had been wiped out. "My sister is hanging on for dear life. She's the only one left. We are victims but who is bringing the war [to India]?"

One doctor said that at first "no one could believe that the flow of casualties would ever end. We are a city hospital not an army casualty ward. You have to ask how many bullet wounds and bomb burns we can cope with."

The Bombay hospital, which has waived all fees for those caught up in the bloody events of this week, has also been treating commandos who fell in the line of duty. One doctor said he had never seen such wounds. "Machine gun bullets to the head are not something we see a lot of. Even in Mumbai," said one physician.


thanks Amitava for the link.

Marks on the water

Outlook has an interesting article on the planning, organization and backing of the terrorists.

As commandos of the Indian navy flushed the Taj Mahal hotel of terrorists, they came upon a bag containing ammunition, magazines, wallets with photo-IDs, fake credit cards and a huge stock of almonds. Twenty-four hours had passed and the terrorists were still active, so investigators were barely up to sifting through evidence. But pressed for an early assessment, they dismissed the e-mail sent by a certain ‘Deccan Mujahideen’ claiming responsibility as a red herring. The name doing the rounds is the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), purportedly working in close coordination with a section of the Mumbai underworld and rogue elements of Pakistan’s isi. But neither Maharashtra dgp A.N. Roy nor Mumbai police commissioner Hasan Gaffoor would confirm the involvement of this deadly troika.

In fact, early intelligence assessments suggest that some of the terrorists who came in were young British Muslims of Pakistani origin. Sources say they had been in training for well over a year but the final decision to carry out the assault was given at the annual conference of the LeT held in Muridke, PoK, last week. The Mumbai operation, apparently, was funded by Saudi Arabia-based Abdul Bari. He’s part of a larger international terror network and has financed strikes in India earlier too.

In a major breakthrough, investigators had traced the ship in which the terrorists made their way from Pakistan to the Mumbai coast by Thursday evening. The fishing vessel, Kuber, was found off the coast of Mumbai and some satellite phones recovered from it. The boat is owned by a Porbander-based businessman, Vinoo Masani, who has been detained for questioning. Kuber left Gujarat 14 days ago with six crew members who are believed to have been killed by the terrorists who hijacked the boat. Investigators are looking into how this will bring out the Pakistan connection.

If the Kuber was indeed hijacked, then the modus operandi becomes clear. Proceed to Indian waters in a Gujarat-registered vessel (Regn No. 2302) so as not to attract attention and then move into the mainland on dinghies.

Meanwhile, analysis of the accents of the two (purported) terrorists in conversations they had with a private TV channel suggested they are either expat Pakistanis or from Punjab there. The use of "muthbhed" (encounter) instead of the term "muqabla" is a dead giveaway, says analysts. Like Pakistani Punjabis, they also signed off saying "Allah hafiz", instead of "khuda hafiz." Maj Gen R.K. Hooda, goc (Maharashtra and Goa area), says the intercepts during the operations revealed that they spoke to each other in Punjabi. Prior technical intercepts as well as other sources had suggested a major attack was to go down in Mumbai via the sea and that the Taj Mahal Hotel would be targeted. These inputs had been looked at but with few concrete leads, no preventive action was taken.

Intelligence sources told Outlook that Dawood’s men in Mumbai may have provided the logistics support. An official told us, "Dawood has this diesel smuggling network in Mumbai—diesel is downloaded from tankers in the high seas off the coast of Mumbai and then brought in using high-speed boats. Our inputs suggest that these guys provided safe passage to the terrorists. They provided the boats, the cars and reports on the patrolling schedules of the coastguard. The idea was to hit the international community as well as shake up the top businesses in the country."

Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh said that 20-25 terrorists were involved in the attack this time but "it was too early to say anything concrete. We have leads, but we won’t talk until there is confirmation". Two of the terrorists, chased after they hijacked a police jeep, were gunned down near Chowpatty.

The possible role of Dawood Ibrahim

Alternet analyzes the possible link of Dawood Ibrahim to the Bombay massacre.

Don't miss Sandip Roy's article at the bottom of this report, arguing that the gun-toting, Versacet-shirt-wearing assailant whose image was beamed across the world at the start of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai who could as easily have been one of the victims as one of the terrorists.

The coordinated nighttime assault against seven major targets in Mumbai is reminiscent of the 1993 bombings that devastated the Bombay Stock Exchange. The recent attack bears the fingerprints of the same criminal mastermind – meticulous preparation, ruthless execution and the absence of claims or demands.

The eerie silence that accompanied the blasts are the very signature of Ibrahim Dawood, now a multi-millionaire owner of a construction company in Karachi, Pakistan. His is hardly a household name around the world like Osama bin Laden. Across South Asia, however, Dawood is held in awe and, in a twist on morals, admired for his belated conversion from crime boss to self-styled avenger.

His rise to the highest rungs of India's underworld began from the most unlikely position as the diligent son of a police constable in the populous commercial capital then known as Bombay.

His childhood familiarity with police routine and inner workings of the justice system gave the ambitious teenager an unmatched ability to outwit the authorities with evermore clever criminal designs. Among the unschooled ranks of Bombay gangland, Ibrahim emerged as the coherent leader of a multi-religious mafia, not just due to his ability to organize extortion campaigns and meet payrolls, but also because of his merciless extermination of rivals.

Dawood, always the professional problem-solver, gained the friendship of aspiring officers in India's intelligence service known as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He soon attracted the attention of American secret agents, then supporting the Islamic mujahideen in their battle against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Dawood personally assisted many a U.S. deep-cover operation funneling money to Afghan rebels via American-operated casinos in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Eager to please all comers, Dawood occasionally got his wires crossed, providing travel documents and other amenities to Islamist airplane hijackers. In response, Washington spymasters tried to unofficially "impound" his investment in the Nepalese casinos. Dawood's fury is legendary among locals. An honorable businessman, he held to the strict belief that a deal is a deal and there can be no reneging for any reason.

As Bombay moved into the league of Asia's premier cities – hotel rates and apartment rentals are the highest in the region – Dawood could have led a comfortable life as top dog. Instead he suffered a spasm of conscience, a newfound moral outrage, when rightwing Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in northern India in 1992, slaying 2000 Muslim worshippers, mostly women and children.

One a day in the following May, his henchmen set off bombs across Bombay, killing more than 300 people. His personal convictions had – uncharacteristically - overcome his dispassionate business ethics. Reeling in shock, his top lieutenant, a Hindu, attempted to assassinate Dawood. A bloody intra-gang war followed, but as always Dawood triumphed, even while away in exile in Dubai and Karachi.

In the ensuing decade, at the height of violence in Kashmir, Dawood sent his heavily armed young trainees by boat from Karachi on covert landings onto Indian beaches. This same method was used in the Mumbai assault with more boats, seven craft according to initial navy reports.

Why the timing of this raid, on the dawn of Thanksgiving in America? The leader of India's opposition and former deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani had long sought Dawood's extradition from Pakistan, a move opposed by the then military government in Islamabad. With the restoration of civilian rule, the new Pakistani prime minister (Gillani) consented to New Delhi's deportation request.

Washington and London both agreed with the India's legal claim and removed the longstanding "official protection" accorded for his past services to Western intelligence agencies. U.S. diplomats, however, could never allow Dawood's return. He simply knows too much about America's darker secrets in South Asia and the Gulf, disclosure of which could scuttle U.S.-India relations. Dawood was whisked away in late June to a safe house in Quetta, near the tribal area of Waziristan, and then he disappeared, probably back to the Middle East.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bombay

Amit Chaudhri on Bombay in the Guardian.

A couple of days ago, after a performance in London, an old schoolfriend who had come to my concert offered to drop me at the station. He had come to listen to me sing - and to show me how to operate my first ever MP3 player, whose stock of songs he had provided. Music, which had brought us together in conspiratorial and competitive ways when we were growing up in Bombay, had continued to be a common interest even now; and this exchange of songs and information went back to when we were privileged, tie-wearing, precocious schoolboys. The one thing, naturally, we never did then, and we always do now when we see each other, is talk about the city we still refer to as Bombay; it has taken on a retrospective, definitive meaning for us, but it has also burgeoned and changed unimaginably in our absence.

As usual, our conversation on the subject registered gentle disagreements: we both admitted to still loving the city, but I said I was increasingly disturbed by its present incarnation. A few years ago, a taxi driver had told me that someone dining at the exclusive Indigo restaurant could spend in a night what he earned in half a year. On a subsequent visit, I had noticed, not far from Indigo, a woman and her children sitting on the brightly lit road, vacantly absorbed in their own universe. The disparities in Bombay had always been crude, but liberalisation and the free market had legitimised consumerism and spending, and made it seem, in the metropolis, more effective than social work. It was essential to splurge at the Indigo for the lot of the woman on the road to change: the thread connecting one to the other may not be obvious to the passerby, but it was apparently undeniable. In the process, Bombay's middle and especially its upper classes - always large-hearted and relatively free of introspection, always upbeat - had slowly but irrevocably been infantilised. It was an infantilisation that even my friend and I, after all these years, consciously re-enacted, as he showed me the buttons to press on the MP3 player, a way of connecting to the world and the past: it was, in part, why we still loved Bombay.

The Indigo is only a five minutes' walk from the Taj Mahal hotel. In the past 12 hours, I have been watching pictures of the Taj taken from different angles: trapped guests leaning out of windows; the top storey burning; swathes of smoke covering the majestic dome. I have also seen pictures of two very young men with AK 47 rifles, one of them in a T-shirt with Versace printed on it in large letters. People, including my wife calling from India, have mentioned 9/11 and New York, and I suppose there is a comparable degree of strangeness - combined with the inevitable sense of having been betrayed and outwitted - in these attacks. The comparison also possibly arises from the joy-loving nature of both cities, capitalism and the new world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union having transformed them both decisively - New York into the world's first city, Bombay into India's great metropolis.

My parents moved to Bombay from Calcutta in 1965, when I was an infant - they stayed at the Taj for two weeks while the company found them a flat. This was the beginning of Calcutta's decline, companies and professionals fleeing labour trouble, and relocating at this optimistic seaside metropolis in western India. It was a charmed life - from at least two of the flats we lived in when my father was finance director and then chief executive of Britannia Biscuits, flats in Malabar Hill and Cuffe Parade, the city's two richest localities, you could see a skyline that, with its lissom, tall buildings (Bombay is the only Indian city to have had an obsessive romance with the vertical, the skyscraper), approximated Manhattan in some ways; in its sunniness, its palm trees, its disguised but obvious carnality, it echoed what we knew of California from films; and the gothic buildings were remnants of the old history that had first brought together these seven fishing islands.

From different windows and balconies in those two flats, at different points of my life until 1982, when my father retired, the dome of the Taj (the "old" Taj, as it came to be known after the arrival of its neighbour, the Taj Intercontinental) was visible, grey, as seemingly and deceptively stationary as a low cloud. Like Calcutta, and unlike Delhi, with its Moghul and Sultanate lineage, Bombay had no really great historical or religious monuments; its landmarks, in keeping with the fact that it was the progeny of an almost innocent-seeming colonial modernity, were secular ones - hotels; cinema halls, such as the Eros, the Regal, the Metro; grand, untidy railway stations such as the Victoria Terminus. To call the Taj the "old" Taj was to deliberately indulge in a flagrant misnomer, and a reminder of Bombay's willingness to rewrite history in terms of the urban, the kitschy, the comic: it was as if the "real" Taj Mahal in Agra had never existed except in those most incredible of objects - school textbooks.

A great deal changed in the early 90s, along with the name: Bombay obliterated, and turned into Mumbai, at the behest of the rightwing Shiv Sena. The old place names then become a currency of a middle-class oral culture, and recur in slips of tongue that reveal as much as they hide.

The politics of Bombay itself became intolerant in the past 25 years, but the city, discovering its true metier with liberalisation, became more heterogeneous and variegated than I can remember, partly because its old centres of wealth had to disperse and scatter from within, as property prices rose unthinkably and offices moved to the less salubrious suburbs. Similarly, the uncontainable, swelling traffic enforced the creation of new routes, flyovers through previously unvisited (for the middle class) areas, and random, swift, and intriguingly uneven, gentrification.

As Bombay expands and shrinks, and you take the new routes and visit the relocated offices, you are struck by the architectural marvel it is: the thrilling juxtaposition of churches, mosques and small Hindu shrines, the genteel, suburban residential houses, with flower pots and swings, that you had never before noticed.

No city I know, certainly not New York, has this variety of life, except perhaps London. Its principal difference from these two cities, which, in many ways, it surpasses, is its relative intolerance of the learned, academic classes: it has ceased to have a great university. When, in a traffic jam, you look at the faces in a car near you, you do not see anyone - whether it's a trader or a corporate executive - who is lost or unfocused, who is not engaged, in some sense, in the final, unifying, daytime activity of money-making. Yet, for all its opacities and daily injustices, it is impossible to think of Bombay without a quickening of excitement and pleasure, and not to recall that quickening with awe and confusion at moments such as this one.

thanks Devis with babies for the link.

Quote from Sri Aurobindo

It is necessary to keep equality under pain and suffering - and that means to endure firmly and calmly, not to be restless or troubled or depressed or despondent, to go on with a steady faith in the Divine Will. But equality does not include inert acceptance. If, for instance, there is temporary failure of some endeavour in the sadhana, one has to keep equality, not to be troubled or despondent, but one has not to accept the failure as an indication of the Divine Will and give up the endeavour. You ought rather to find out the reason and meaning of the failure and go forward in faith towards victory. So with illness - you have not to be troubled, shaken or restless, but you have not to accept illness as the Divine Will, but rather look upon it as an imperfection of the body to be got rid of as you try to get rid of vital imperfections or mental errors.



- Sri Aurobindo [SABCL, 23:664]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Hindu on the terror attacks

The Hindu gives a comprehensive analysis of how the terrorists got to Bombay by sea.Mumbai (AP): A trickle of bodies and hostages emerged from a luxury hotel Thursday as Indian commandoes tried to free people trapped by suspected Muslim militants who attacked at least 10 targets in India's financial capital of Mumbai, killing 104 people.

More than 300 were also wounded in the highly coordinated attacks Wednesday night by bands of gunmen who invaded two five star hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station, a Jewish center and at least five other sites, armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives.

A previously unknown Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the carnage, the latest in a series of nationwide terror attacks over the past three years that have dented India's image as an industrious nation galloping toward prosperity.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed ``external forces.''

"The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of panic, by choosing high profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners," he said in address to the nation.

Australian, Japanese and Briton among victims

Police said 104 people were killed and 314 injured. Officials said eight militants were also killed.

The most high-profile target was the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, a landmark of Mumbai luxury since 1903, and a favourite watering hole of the city's elite.

The attackers, dressed in black shirts and jeans, stormed into the hotel at about 9:45 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately.

“I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside,” said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai before a European Union-India summit.

Suddenly “another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction,” he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.

The shooting was followed by a series of explosions that set fire to parts of the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront. Screams were heard and black smoke and flames billowed, continuing to burn until dawn.

Dalbir Bains, who runs a lingerie shop in Mumbai, was about to eat her steak by the pool at the hotel when she heard the sound of gunfire. She said she ran upstairs, taking refuge in the Sea Lounge restaurant, with about 50 other people.

They huddled beneath tables in the dark, trying to remain as quiet as possible while explosions were going off. The group managed to escape before dawn.

Jewish group headquarters seized

The gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch and attacked the Oberoi Hotel, another five-star landmark.

The gunmen appeared to be holed up inside all three buildings on Thursday, nearly 18 hours later, holding foreign and local hostages, as commandos surrounded the buildings.

Among those foreigners held captive were Americans, British, Italians, Swedes, Canadians, Yemenis, New Zealanders, Spaniards, Turks, a Singaporean and Israelis.

“We're going to catch them dead or alive,” Maharashtra Home Minister R. R. Patil told reporters. “An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the rest of the country.” Gunfire and explosions were heard from the Taj Mahal, the Oberoi and the Chabad facility.

“It seems that the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of the Chabad house,” said a spokesman for the Lubavitch movement in New York, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin.

Around 10:30 a.m., a woman, a child and an Indian cook were seen being led out of the building by police, said one witness. The child was identified as Moshe Holtzberg, 2, the son of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, the main representative at Chabad house.


The child was unharmed, but his clothes were soaked in blood.

Sandra Samuel,44, the cook who pulled the boy out the building, said she saw Rabbi Holzberg, his wife Rivka and two other unidentified guests lying on the floor, apparently “unconscious”. Police loudspeakers declared a curfew around the Taj Mahal hotel, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area.

Soldiers outside the hotel said the operation would take a long time as forces were moving slowly, from room to room, looking for gunmen and traps. Every body found had to be checked by sniffer dogs, said one senior officer.

In the afternoon, bodies and hostages slowly emerged from the building. At least three bodies, covered in white cloth, were wheeled out.

About a dozen hostages including foreigners were also evacuated from the hotel and whisked into a waiting ambulance. Several of them carried small pieces of luggage. One older man was carried into the ambulance by police.

At the nearby Oberoi hotel, soldiers could be seen on the roof of neighboring buildings. A banner hung out of one window read “save us.” From the road, no one could be seen inside the room.

Top policemen killed

At least three top Indian police officers -- including the chief of the anti-terror squad -- were among those killed, said and A.N. Roy, the Director General of Police.

The attackers appeared to have been targeting Britons and Americans.

Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands.

“They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ‘Where are you from’? and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone. And I thought: 'Fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything -- and thank God they didn't,” he said.

Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk upstairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

The United States and Pakistan were among the countries that condemned the attacks.

In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the U.S. “condemns this terrorist attack and we will continue to stand with the people of India in this time of tragedy.”

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist with the Swedish National Defense College, said there are “very strong suspicions” that the coordinated Mumbai attacks have a link to al-Qaida.

He said the fact that Britons and Americans were singled out is one indicator, along with the coordinated style of the attacks. “There have been a lot of warnings about India lately and there are very strong suspicions of a link to al-Qaida.”

Navy finds suspect ship

Later Thursday the Indian navy said its forces were boarding a cargo vessel suspected of ties to the attacks. Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said Thursday that the ship, the MV Alpha, had recently come to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan.

The navy has “located the ship and now we are in the process of boarding it and searching it,” he said. Earlier, Indian media showed pictures of black and yellow rubber dinghies found by the shore, apparently used by the gunmen to reach the area.

A media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify that claim.

Among the other places attacked was the 19th century Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station -- a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture -- where gunmen sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal, leaving the floor splattered with blood.

“They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground,” said Nasim Inam, a witness. Other gunmen attacked Leopold's restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. Gunmen also attacked Cama and Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital, though it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed.

Attack on Bombay/Mumbai

BBC analyzes how this massacre is different from previous ones. How crazed can the terrorists be to hold hostages at hospitals, hotels and restaurants?

India - and Mumbai - are no stranger to terrorism but the attacks on multiple targets in the city mark a significant step change.

Previous attacks involved the leaving of explosives in public places like markets or on trains. These could be devastating in terms of the loss of life, with nearly 200 killed in 2006.

But the latest attacks are different in terms of both method and scale, with teams of well-armed men involved in synchronised attacks - the gunmen were also clearly prepared to die in their attacks.

Another major difference is the targeting of restaurants and hotels used by westerners and the apparent singling out of those with British and American passports.

This points to either a major shift in strategy by an existing group or the influence or direction of outside parties, perhaps even al-Qaeda, whose style of attacks this mimics.

The growing tide of attacks raises major problems for the Indian authorities

A group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attacks but little is known of it.

The men were of South Asian appearance and reportedly spoke Hindi, indicating they originated in India.

Attacks over recent years have seen a variety of different groups named, particularly the Indian Mujahideen who had apparently threatened to attack Mumbai in September, claiming that Muslims had been harassed.

The authorities have often pointed the finger at the Students' Islamic Movement of India, believing that other groups like the Indian Mujahideen are a front for this banned organisation.

Some attacks have also been blamed on Lashkar-e-Toiba, which India says is backed by Pakistan's intelligence agency the ISI.

Wider impact


The Mumbai attackers appeared South Asian and reportedly spoke Hindi
If India does point the finger at Pakistan, then major diplomatic problems could ensue, but that may be less likely to happen as quickly as occurred in the past when relations were more fraught.

An attack by militants on the Indian parliament in December 2001 nearly led to war between the two countries.

The chaotic picture has been further confused recently by claims that Hindu nationalist groups had also been behind some recent bomb attacks.

The growing tide of attacks, particularly this year, raises major problems for the Indian authorities.

As well as tracking down any gunmen who have escaped, the local and national authorities will also have to deal with the issue of public confidence in their ability to get a grip on the situation.

After previous attacks, Mumbai bounced back quickly as a city with life getting back to normal and people travelling on the trains again, but this attack may have a different psychological impact, not least on visitors to the city.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another face of ADHD

NYT reports on the other side of ADHD.

When pediatricians diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they often ask their patients whether they know anybody else with the problem.


These days, children are likely to reply with a household name: Michael Phelps, the Olympic superstar, who is emerging as an inspirational role model among parents and children whose lives are affected by attention problems.

“There is a tremendous, tremendous amount of pride — I got the impression sometimes that some of the kids felt like they owned Michael,” said Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, director of the Child Study Center at New York University Langone Medical Center. “There is a special feeling when someone belongs to your club and the whole world is adoring him.”

But the emergence of a major celebrity with attention deficit has revealed a schism in the community of patients, parents, doctors and educators who deal with the disorder. For years, these people have debated whether it means a lifetime of limitations or whether it can sometimes be a good thing.

Children with the disorder typically have trouble sitting still and paying attention. But they may also have boundless energy and a laserlike focus on favorite things — qualities that could be very helpful in, say, an Olympic athlete.

For that reason, some doctors are pushing for a new view that focuses on the potential strengths of the disorder. Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author whose books include “Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping With Attention Deficit Disorder From Childhood Through Adulthood” (Touchstone, 1995), says the current “deficit-based medical model” of the disorder results in low-self esteem.

“It’s not an unmitigated blessing, but neither is it an unmitigated curse, which is usually the way it’s presented,” said Dr. Hallowell, who has the disorder himself. “I have been treating this condition for 25 years and I know that if you manage it right, this apparent deficit can become an asset. I think of it as a trait and not a disability.”

The notion that a disability can be harnessed in a positive way is not a new concept. Last year, a study found that 35 percent of the small-business entrepreneurs surveyed identified themselves as dyslexic. The researchers concluded that dyslexia made them better communicators and problem solvers, more likely to delegate authority.

Dr. Hallowell says low-self esteem and low expectations result from the way the A.D.H.D. diagnosis is presented to children, parents and teachers. He tells children with attention deficit that they have the brain of a race car, and he wants to work with them to build better brakes.

“We want to tell children, ‘You’ve got a difference, but not a disease,’ ” he said. “Michael Phelps is one of any thousands of examples of mega-successful people, C.E.O.s and brain surgeons and famous writers, inventors and entrepreneurs, who have A.D.H.D.”

Other experts, however, say that while such success stories can be inspiring, parents need to know that their children face real risks. Research shows that children with attention deficit have different brain patterns from other children, and that they are more likely to drop out of school, be involved in car accidents and use illicit drugs.

“This reframing A.D.H.D. as a gift, personally I don’t think it’s helpful,” said Natalie Knochenhauer, founder of A.D.H.D. Aware, an advocacy group in Doylestown, Pa. “You can’t have a disability that needs to be accommodated in the classroom, and also have this special gift. There are a lot of people out there — not only do their kids not have gifts, but their kids are really struggling.”

Ms. Knochenhauer, who has four children with the disorder, says they too were inspired by the astonishing performance of Mr. Phelps in Beijing. But she added, “I would argue that Michael Phelps is a great swimmer with A.D.H.D., but he’s not a great swimmer because he has A.D.H.D.”

Dr. Koplewicz, of N.Y.U., agreed. “There are lots of children in the world who have chronic illnesses or disorders like diabetes, allergies or dyslexia who accomplish great things in spite of the fact that they have these disorders,” he said. “I worry when we say A.D.H.D. is a gift, that this minimizes how real it is.”

Michael Phelps’s mother, Deborah Phelps, says she has spoken openly about her son’s diagnosis because she wants other parents to seek out resources and support. Her son stopped taking A.D.H.D. medication at age 10. But today, Ms. Phelps is a national spokeswoman for McNeil Pediatrics, which makes the attention-deficit drug Concerta. (Dr. Hallowell and Ms. Knochenhauer have also consulted for McNeil; Dr. Koplewicz has no industry ties.)

Ms. Phelps, who is a school principal in Baltimore, says the qualities that often accompany the disorder are not always negative, although it may require extra effort and knowledge to help children harness their talents.

“You’ll find they are creative children,” she said. “They do have determination when you are able to work with them and be consistent. I want young parents to reach out and get assistance and not give up hope.”

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama got a backside and a whole article about it here.

Nov. 18, 2008 | Free at last. I never thought that I -- a black girl who came of age in the utterly anticlimactic aftermath of the civil rights movement -- would say the phrase with any real sincerity in my lifetime. But ever since Nov. 4, I've been shouting it from every rooftop. I'm not excited for the most obvious reason. Yes, Obama's win was an extraordinary breakthrough and a huge relief, but I don't subscribe to the notion that his capturing the White House represents the end of American racial history. Far from it. There is a certain freedom in the moment -- as in, we are all now free from wondering when or if we'll ever get a black president. Congratulations to all of us for being around to settle the question.

But what really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack's better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and -- drumroll, please -- a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I'm going to talk about the first lady's butt.)

What a bonus! From the ocean of nastiness and confusion that defined this campaign from the beginning, Michelle rose up like Venus on the waves, keeping her coif above water and cruising the coattails of history to present us with a brand-new beauty norm before we knew it was even happening.


Actually, it took me and a lot of other similarly configured black women by surprise. So anxious and indignant were we about Michelle getting attacked for saying anything about America that conservatives could turn into mud, we hardly looked south of her neck. I noted her business suits and the fact she hardly ever wore pants (unlike Hillary). As I gradually relaxed, as Michelle strode onto more stages and people started focusing on her clothes and presence instead of her patriotism, it dawned on me -- good God, she has a butt! "Obama’s baby (mama) got back," wrote one feminist blogger. "OMG, her butt is humongous!" went a typical comment on one African-American online forum, and while it isn't humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied.

As America fretted about Obama's exoticism and he sought to calm the waters with speeches about unity and common experience, Michelle's body was sending a different message: To hell with biracialism! Compromise, bipartisanship? Don't think so. Here was one clear signifier of blackness that couldn't be tamed, muted or otherwise made invisible. It emerged right before our eyes, in the midst of our growing uncertainty about everything, and we were too bogged down in the daily campaign madness to notice. The one clear predictor of success that the pundits, despite all their fancy maps, charts and holograms, missed completely? Michelle's butt.

Lord knows, it's time the butt got some respect. Ever since slavery, it's been both vilified and fetishized as the most singular of all black female features, more unsettling than dark skin and full lips, the thing that marked black women as uncouth and not quite ready for civilization (of course, it also made them mighty attractive to white men, which further stoked fears of miscegenation that lay at the heart of legal and social segregation). In modern times, the butt has demarcated class and stature among black society itself. Emphasizing it or not separates dignified black women from ho's, party girls from professionals, hip-hop from serious. (Black women are not the only ones with protruding behinds, by the way, but they're certainly considered its source. How many gluteally endowed nonblack women have been derided for having a black ass? Well, Hillary, for one.)

But Michelle is bringing those two falsely divided minds together in a single presentation -- finally, unity for the real world! Talk about a power base. Thanks to Michelle, looking professional and provocative in a distinctly black way will become not only acceptable but also part of a whole presidential look that's more, well, inclusive. Now we'll all be able to wear leggings to board meetings; we'll sport pencil skirts sans the long jackets meant to cover the offending rear at big conferences where we have to make a good impression. It turns out that Sir Mix-A-Lot, he of "Baby Got Back" fame, was not a novelty but a prophet. Who knew? Give that guy a Cabinet post.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote from Sri Aurobindo

Vital desire grows by being indulged, it does not become satisfied. If your desire were indulged, it would begin to grow more and more and ask for more and more. That has been our constant experience with the sadhaks and it confirms what has always been known about desire. Desire and envy have to be thrown out of the consciousness - there is no other way to deal with them.



- Sri Aurobindo [SABCL, 24:1402]

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mom in Chief


The Root has an interesting dicussion on Michelle Obama and the choices she is making as a "mother".

For generations, The Mommy Wars have largely skipped black women. For most of us, staying at home to raise our children full-time was never a choice. Our families' survival depended on our wages—often earned from nurturing and caring for white families. With the rise of a post-civil rights generation, a critical mass of high-powered black women like the Princeton and Harvard-trained first lady Michelle Obama, have more options than ever. After gaining the educational credentials our mothers and grandmothers could only have dreamed of, many of us have exulted and rejoiced in having the choice to stay at home and raise our own children—a decision celebrated by black stay-at-home mothers' groups like "Mocha Moms."

As Michelle prepares to move to the White House to become "mom in chief," the always racially-charged Mommy Wars have reached new heights. In a joint effort with NPR's daily talk show Tell Me More, The Root has brought together four accomplished mothers—Rebecca Walker, Jolene Ivey, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Anna Perez—to share their takes on Michelle's choices. With viewpoints that are funny, brash and bracing, the four women bring controversial and conflicting perspectives that are sure to spark spirited and downright-heated discussions about Michelle's—and all women's—choices.

Read the essays on The Root, then listen to the writers as they talk with Michel Martin on Tell Me More. (Check your local NPR station for airtimes, or listen to the show online.)

Obama has time for poetry


Telegraph saw Obama reading a book of poetry by St. Lucian poet, Derek Walcott.
But it appears he still has time for a little poetry.

Three days after winning the presidential election, Barack Obama was spotted in Chicago carrying a book of poems by Derek Walcott, the West Indies Nobel laureate.

The Illinois senator was photographed holding the new-looking book, perhaps a gift he had just received, and reading a letter as he headed to his car with his wife, Michelle.

The 500-page volume, Collected Poems 1948-1984, is one of 20 collections by the poet, theatre director and playwright, who has also written more than 20 plays.

Walcott, who won the 1992 Nobel prize for Literature, is often described as the West Indies' greatest writer and intellectual. He was born in St Lucia in 1930 and is best known for his epic poem Omeros, a reworking of the story of the Odyssey in a 20th century Caribbean setting.

Collected Poems 1948-1984 includes selections from all of Walcott's previous seven books of verse, including the full text of Another Life, his 1974 autobiographical poem.


Midsummer, Tobago
by Derek Walcott
Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.

A green river.

A bridge,

scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house

drowsing through August.

Days I have held,

days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,

my harbouring arms.


thanks Amitava for the link

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rushdie on Religion and the imagination

Sepia Mutiny reports on the talk between Salman Rushdie and Gauri Vishwanathan at Columbia University.

Rushdie on Religion and the Imagination

Last Wednesday night, I had the chance to sit in on a fascinating conversation on “Religion and the Imagination” with Salman Rushdie. The author of Midnight’s Children [soon to be adapted for film by Deepa Mehta], The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and East, West was, of course, the perfect person to launch Columbia University’s newly founded Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. The Institute’s mission is to “bring together scholars and students in various fields to reflect and respond to the issues brought about by the “resurgence of religion and, with it, religious and cultural intolerance and conflict [that] are emerging as powerful forces in the new century.”

Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel Laureate in Literature, introduced Rushdie as someone who has been “fighting religious intolerance with humor, proving that we can fight moral seriousness with humor.”

The stage in Columbia’s always inspiring (and very crowded) Low Library Rotunda was set simply with two arm chairs—one for Rushdie, who was was all suited up, and the other for his “interviewer” Gauri Viswanathan, Professor of Religion and Comparative Literature, dressed as always, in a sari. The conversation was an intellectual one peppered with doses of Rushdie’s subtle (and sometimes pointed) humor and the topics of conversation ranged from everything to his relationship with religion and his hopes for robust religious debate to his thoughts on Obama’s win earlier that week.

“We don’t live in a world of drama, dance, and love… We live in a world of death, destruction, and bombs… I’m hoping something happened on Tuesday that will change that,” Rushdie said, referring to the election of Barack Obama. “I have no utopian tendencies. I’m good at seeing what I don’t like. But this week, I do feel optimistic,” Rushdie laughed. “It’s an odd feeling, one I’m not familiar with. The last time I felt like this was after the election of Tony Blair and look what happened!” Rushdie paused as the audience chuckled at his dark skepticism, then added, “ I hope it’s not that way this time. Actually … I don’t think it is.”

More on the evening’s highlights below the fold.

Professor Viswanathan got the evening started by asking, “What does literary imagination add to religious imagination?”

“All literature began as sacred literature,” said Rushdie. “There aren’t words to express some things except religious words, for example, the ‘soul’. I don’t believe in an afterlife or heaven or hell, yet there isn’t a secular word for that feeling that we are not only flesh and blood. Whether you’re religious or not you may find yourself obliged to use language shaped by religion. … As Arthur Koestler wrote, “There’s a ghost in the machine.’”

What Rushdie says he has found most useful about religion is its power to create myth, which he does draw inspiration from in his writing. “The amount of complexity pushed into a small story” is what impresses him, he said, giving an example of how a single myth can be interpreted in so many different ways. This, according to him, is similar to what religions have in common; a single religious text can also be interpreted in myriad ways.

He went on to emphasize that though his books address religion, he is not, however, religious. “I am not interested in devotion. I’m not interested in writing books other than those that express inter-human devotion, which is temporary.”

Gods, the way he sees it, were invented by human beings to answer the two big questions of life: One, the question of origins: “Where do we come from?” Two, the question of ethics: “”How should we live?”

“I don’t need religion to answer those questions,” said Rushdie, proposing that religion has been wrong on both counts. “Regarding origins, I think you can say [they are all wrong.] The world was not created in six days and God rested on the seventh. It was not created in the churning of a giant pot. Or the sparks unleashed by the udders of a giant cow against the boulders of a a gigantic chasm. And regarding ‘how shall we live,’ I don’t want answers that come from some priest. … When religion gets in the driving seat, it becomes an inquisition. I would prefer that the answer to these big questions came from debates. The debate is the thing from which flows the ethical life.”

And, yet, Rushdie’s books have and do take on religion and ethics and the supernatural. How come? How does he square the two?

“Miracles, magic, imagination, they all argue inside me. I don’t reconcile them,” Rushdie laughed. “Creative writing is an implicit argument against pure rationalism. The way an imaginative piece comes to life is mysterious. The bit of me sitting here [in this hall] is rationalistic, but when I’m writing books, something weird happens; and the result is what you would call supernaturalism. As a person, I don’t need it. As a writer, I need it to explore the world. That tension, it’s just there. It’s just so.”

Later on that evening, Rushdie acknowledged that though he can’t quite explain it, he does believe in the “mystical experience” or the “phenomenon called revelation” that St. John the Divine and Joan of Arc experienced. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but it sounded to me like he was hinting that there may be a bit of revelation in the writing process as well.

Given the mission of Columbia’s new Institute, it was natural that the conversation should steer toward questions of conflict and religious extremism. Rushdie lamented the self-destructiveness within religions and praised the creation of Columbia’s Institute for its role in promoting healthy debate and discussion on the role of religion in public life. He talked about how his attempt to depict early convulsions of the birth of religion (namely Islam) in Satanic Verses was viewed as heretic.

“There is so much contemporary scholarship about the origins of Islam,” Rushdie said. “If you insist that the text is the uncreated word of God, then the social and economic conditions of the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century are unimportant, because God works on a broader canvas than that. If, however, you are willing to look at the text as an event inside the history of the period, it illuminates the text. And I think it’s a tragedy that it’s not really acceptable to do this inside the tradition.”

“It’s a great shame in the world of Islam that so much contemporary scholarship is not permitted because of the divine origin notion,” he said. “… because historicizing the text would really open up and illuminate it.”

During the course of the evening, Rushdie reminisced somewhat nostalgically about the Islam he knew as a youth. “I grew up in that world where people could still be devout Muslims (like my grandfather who prayed five times a day) and yet, we as children, could make fun of him, asking him why spent more time with his bottom up in the air than not … He’d get cross with us, but also laugh and invite us to debate with him.”

Something I didn’t know before this evening was that Rushdie is not really Salman Rushdie’s family name. His father invented it because he was an admirer of the philosopher Ibn-Rushdie.

From the Huffington Post, this passage captures (near-verbatim) the points that Rushdie made:

One of the reasons my name is Rushdie is that my father was an admirer of Ibn Rush’d, the 12th century Arab philosopher known as Averroes in the West. In his time, he was making the non-literalist case for interpreting the Koran.
One argument of his with which I’ve also had sympathy is this: In the Judeo-Christian idea, God created man in his own image and, therefore, they share some characteristics. By contrast, the Koran says God has no human characteristics. It would be demeaning God to say that. We are merely human. He is God.
Ibn Rush’d and others in his time argued that language, too, is a human characteristic. Therefore it is improper - in Koranic terms - to argue that God speaks Arabic or any other language. That God would speak at all would mean he has a mouth and human form. So, Ibn Rush’d said, if God doesn’t use human language, then the writing down of the Koran, as received in the human mind from the Angel Gabriel, is itself an act of interpretation. The original text is itself an act of interpretation. If that is so, then further interpretation of the Koran according to historical context, rather than literally, is quite legitimate.
In the 12th century, this argument was defeated. It needs to raised again in the 21st century.
“I wouldn’t mind having another go at that,” Rushdie told the audience, aligning himself closely with his 12th century namesake.

During the course of the evening, Rushdie mourned the loss of the “composite culture of Kashmir which used to be neither Muslim nor Hindu” and where members of both religions would stop by the same roadside altars to pay homage to Sufi saints. “It’s sad to see that gone,” he said. “The self-destruction of Muslim culture by other Muslims is a grievous wound.” (One audience member was quick to point out to Rushdie in the Q&A session that followed that Hindus and Muslims in India do both still pay homage to Sufi saints, even in Kashmir.)

Referring to the fatwa placed on him and the perception of his work as anti-Islamic, Rushdie argued, “Ideas shouldn’t be seen as being antithetical to argument,” pointing out the argumentative Jesuit tradition as an example. On another occasion, Rushdie has said, “All other major religions have gone through this process of questioning, but remain standing. An Islamic questioning might well undermine the radicals, but it won’t undermine Islam.”

“Relativism is the dangerous death of liberalism,” Rushdie said, calling himself a believer in universalism. “We human beings are more genetically the same than we are not so there are universal rights and culture or religion can’t be an excuse to say “Let them kill novelists because it’s what they do!”

“The answer to religion is not no religion but finding another way to be with religion,” he proposed, arguing for a world where “there is no suppression of religion.”

He thus supported his position:

“We are language animals and we have to be allowed to use language. This is a universal right. You take language away from human beings and you take humanity away. Similarly, we are dreaming animals who live richly through our imagination. You have to imagine the hyperlink before you can construct the hyperlink. You have to imagine the wheel before you can construct the wheel. What starts as a dream becomes a reality. To tell us there are dreams we can have and we can’t have is a crime against humanity.”
It was an inspiring and relevant evening, where Rushdie came across at times as an idealist who still dreams of pitching a tent where ideas can be discussed. “Ideas are not permanent so maybe a tent is a good place to discuss ideas,” he said at one point in the evening.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sonal Shah

More on Sonal Shah from the Stop Funding Hate website.

Friday, November 14, 2008: A virtual melee has ensued in print and digital media over the selection of Ms. Sonal Shah, an American of Indian origin to the Obama transition team's advisory board. Shrill accusations of Ms. Shah being a "racist and Hindu chauvinist" are being reciprocated by equally shrill attempts to portray anyone who raises serious questions about the selection as being anti-India, anti-Hindu, anti-progress, and recently, as against "liberal civility." We condemn such baseless and unfair statements.

At the outset we wish to acknowledge that Ms. Shah has had a record of being a visible and an important face of the "desi American" community- a successful professional, and a politically and socially engaged citizen.

We are also happy to note at least one positive effect from this debate. Even as this issue gets played out on public fora, the din of militant Hindutva drumbeats has suffered some dampening. Almost all participants, including those who have come out in support of Ms. Shah, have said that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -- both integral to the Hindutva movement, are part of the "politics of hate" that must be resisted. We wish such statements had come much earlier, such as the time when people were being butchered in Gujarat, or when Indicorps (an organization Ms. Shah co-founded) was felicitated by Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat.

Ms. Shah has become something of a point of pride for many Americans with origins in India. But Ms. Shah does have feet that leave tracks, has written words that have been archived, and has occupied offices of responsibility. We wish to explore this material record below by examining two of the most persuasive claims made by supporters of Ms. Shah. These are:

1. That accusations of Ms. Shah being a closet Hindutva ideologue amount to "guilt by association", a reference to the fact that her father Mr. Ramesh Shah has well documented leadership roles within the Sangh Parivar (Collective Family, the name for the set of organizations of Hindutva).
2. That Ms. Shah's only association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) was in the context of the Gujarat earthquake; surely, she cannot be faulted for not picking the right organization when urgent action was the need of the hour.

Our claims of Ms. Shah's Hindutva associations are not based on guilt by association. Instead, we ask: What organizational and ideological work did Ms. Shah perform for and as part of the VHPA?

We have archived records demonstrating that Ms. Shah was a part of VHPA's leadership group--the governing council and chapter presidents/coordinators. She participated in strategy discussions with prominent leaders of the Sangh Parivar. Ms. Shah was not just a bystander, she was considered important and trustworthy enough by the Hindutva leadership to be included in a core group with Ajay Shah, Gaurang Vaishnav, Mahesh Mehta, Yashpal Lakra, Vijay Pallod, Shyam Tiwari, and others. Does Ms. Shah deny that she played such a role? Even in light of the recent public statement by Gaurang Vaishnav, General Secretary of the VHPA, that Ms. Shah was made a member of the governing council as she came out of college?

We are glad to hear Ms. Shah assert that her "personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization", and that she does not "subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups". However, in view of her close association with VHPA, as summarized above, Ms. Shah's claim to have "never" subscribed to such Hindu nationalist views strains credulity.

Ms. Shah's participation in the VHPA Governing Council predates by a few years her position as National Coordinator of VHPA's Gujarat earthquake activities in 2001. The position of earthquake relief coordinator doesn't seem to be an easy one to ascend to -- VHPA's website states that "national projects are executed by a committee of members drawn from the Governing Council and the various chapters." Thus, Ms. Shah's coordination of VHPA earthquake relief seems to have built upon her earlier leadership role within the VHPA. We do not know when/if her affiliation with the VHPA ceased, but VHPA media secretary Shyam Tiwari has recently claimed: "Sonal was a member of VHP of America at the time of the earthquake. Her membership has [now] expired."

A note about Ms. Shah's earthquake relief work. Calamities such as the 2001 Bhuj earthquake often bring out the best in humans, but the Sangh Parivar is notorious for using such moments instrumentally and cynically for advancing its violent ideological agenda. An ordinary donor or fund-raiser can be excused for not knowing the Sangh agenda, but for someone like Ms. Shah, who grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Sangh Parivar, it is more than a little disingenuous to claim that such fund-raising was apolitical or neutral. There are numerous documented instances of the Sangh Parivar's religion- and caste-based discrimination in doling out relief. Therefore we are shocked that Ms. Shah has expressed pride in coordinating relief work (under the ambit of VHPA) following the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. The relief work coordinated by the VHP is known to have rebuilt villages in the Kutch region exclusively for caste Hindus while marginalizing lower caste Hindus and Muslims to the periphery. The VHP thus took the opportunity of the earthquake to re-create multi-ethnic villages into exclusive Hindu spaces. In addition, given the pivotal role played by the VHP and other Sangh organizations in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, we fear her pride is entirely misplaced.

Although we appreciate the positive influence Ms. Shah has had on many second-generation desis, we have a hard time forgetting the many victims of Hindutva. If Ms. Shah really wants to dispel doubts about her linkages with the VHPA and other Sangh Parivar outfits, we urge her to be more forthcoming in her condemnations of the Sangh Parivar, especially its branches in the United States since that has been the site of her involvement. Some ways for Ms. Shah to do this would be to:

1. acknowledge her past organizational associations with the Sangh Parivar
2. distance herself from the public reception reportedly planned by the RSS in her native village in Gujarat
3. categorically condemn the role played by Hindutva forces in anti-minority violence in India, and the facilitation of this violence by funds sent through various Sangh Parivar affiliates in the United States

In Peace and Justice
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (www.stopfundinghate.org)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Immanuel Wallerstein on the election of Barack Obama

"Obama's Victory - Fear and Hope"


The whole of the United States and indeed the whole world was watching, and almost all of it was cheering, the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. Although, during the electoral campaign, everyone tried to play down the centrality of the racial issue, on Nov. 4 it seemed that no one could talk of anything else. There are three central questions about what most commentators are calling this "historic event": How important is it? What explains the victory? What is likely to happen now?

On the evening of November 4, an immense crowd assembled in Grant Park, Chicago, to hear Obama's acceptance speech. All those who were watching U.S. television saw the camera zoom in on Jesse Jackson, who was in tears. Those tears reflect the virtually unanimous view of all African-Americans, who regard Obama's election as the moment of their definitive integration into the U.S. electoral process. They do not believe that racism has disappeared. But a symbolic barrier has been crossed, first of all for them, and then for all the rest of us.

Their sentiment is quite parallel to the feelings of Africans in South Africa on April 27, 1994 when they voted to elect Nelson Mandela president of their country. It has not mattered that Mandela, as president, did not fulfill the whole promise of his party. It will not matter if Obama does not fulfill the whole promise of his campaign. In the United States, as in South Africa, a new day has dawned. Even if it is an imperfect day, it is a better day than before. The African-Americans, but also the Hispanics and the young people in general, voted for Obama out of hope - a diffuse hope, but a real one.

How did Obama win? He won the way anyone wins in a large, complex political situation. He put together a large coalition of many different political forces. In this case, the gamut ran from fairly far left to right of center. He would not have won without that enormous range of support. And, of course, now that he has won, all the different groups want him to govern as each prefers, which is of course not possible.

Who are these different elements, and why did they support him? On the left, even the far left, they voted for Obama because of deep anger about the damage the Bush regime inflicted on the United States and the world, and the genuine fear that McCain would have been no better, perhaps worse. On the center-right, independents and many Republicans voted for him most of all because they had become aghast at the ever-increasing dominance of the Christian right in Republican party politics, a sentiment that was underlined by the choice of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate. These people voted for Obama because they were afraid of McCain/Palin and because Obama convinced them that he was a solid and sensible pragmatist.

And in-between these two groups were the so-called Reagan Democrats, largely industrial workers, often Catholics, often racist, who had tended to desert their Democratic party roots in recent elections because they viewed the party as having moved too far left and disapproved of its positions on social questions. These voters moved back to the Democratic party not because their outlook had changed, but because of fear. They were deeply afraid of the economic depression into which the United States has moved, and thought that their only hope was in a new New Deal. They voted for the Democrats despite the fact that Obama was an African-American. Fear conquered racism.

And what will Obama do now? What can Obama do now? It is still too early to be sure. It seems clear that he will move quickly to take advantage of a crisis situation, as his new Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, put it. I suspect we shall see a dramatic set of initiatives in the traditional first 100 days. And some of what Obama does may be surprising.

Still, there are two situations, the two biggest, that are largely beyond his control - the transformed geopolitics of the world-system, and the catastrophic world economic situation. Yes, the world received Obama's victory with joy, but also with prudence. It is notable that two major centers of power issued statements on the geopolitical scene that were quite forthright. Both the European Union in a unanimous statement and President Lula of Brazil said they looked forward to renewing collaboration with the United States, but this time as equals, not as junior partners.

Obama will pull out of Iraq more or less as promised, if for no other reason than the fact that the Iraqi government will insist upon it. He will try to find a graceful exit from Afghanistan, which will not be too easy. But whether he will do something significant in relation to the Israel/Palestine deadlock and whether he can look forward to a more stable Pakistan is very unsure. And he will have less to say about it than he may think. Can Obama accept the fact that the United States is no longer the world's leader, merely a partner with other power centers? And, even if he can, can he somehow get the American people to accept this new reality?

As for the depression, it will no doubt have to play out its course. Obama, like all the other major leaders in the world, is a captain on a very stormy sea, and can do relatively little more than try to keep his ship from sinking altogether.

Where Obama has some leeway is in the internal U.S. situation. There are three things where he is expected to act and can act, if he is ready to be bold. One is job creation. This can only be done effectively in the short run through government action. And it would be best done by investing in reconstructing the degraded infrastructure of the United States, and in measures to reverse environmental decline.

The second is the establishment, at last, of a decent health care structure in the United States, in which everyone, without exception, will be covered, and in which there will be considerable emphasis on preventive medicine.

And the third area is in undoing all the damage that has been done to basic civil liberties in the United States by the Bush administration, but also by prior administrations. This requires an overhauling both of the Department of Justice and the legal and paralegal apparatus that has been constructed in the last eight, but also the last thirty, years.

If Obama acts decisively in these three arenas, then we might say that this was a truly historic election, one in which the change that occurred was more than symbolic. But if he fails here, the letdown will be momentous.

Many are trying to divert his attention into the arenas in which he cannot do much, and in which his best position would be that of a lower profile, the acceptance of new world reality. There is much about Obama's future actions to fear, and much that offers hope.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maya Angelou

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ...
enough
money within her control to move out
and rent a place of her own,
even if she never wants to or needs to...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ...
something perfect to wear
if the employer, or date of her dreams
wants to see her in an hour...

A WOMAN SHOULD
HAVE .
a youth she's content to leave behind....

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE .
a past
juicy enough that she's looking forward
to retelling it in her old age....
A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ...
a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and...
a black lace bra...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ..
one friend who always makes her laugh..
and one who lets her cry...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ...
a good piece of furniture
not previously owned by anyone else in her family...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE ..
eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems,
and a recipe for a meal,
that will make her guests feel honored...

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE
a feeling of control
over her destiny..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD
KNOW...
how to fall in love
without losing herself..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
how to quit a job,
break up with a lover,
and confront a friend,
without ruining the friendship...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
when to try harder...
and WHEN TO WALK AWAY...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
that she can't change the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
that her childhood may not have been perfect...
but it's over...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
what she would and wouldn't do...
for love or more...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW....
how to live alone...
even if she doesn't like it...

EVERY
WOMAN SHOULD KNOW.. .
whom she can trust,
whom she can't,
and why she shouldn't take it personally...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
where to go...
be it to her best friend's kitchen table..
or a charming Inn in the woods....
when her soul needs soothing...

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW..
What she can and can't accomplish in a day...
a month... and a year...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sonal Shah's statement

Sonal
Shah's brother has posted a statement from her on Sepia Mutiny. It's
been analyzed by Ennis as defensive and questionable.

As an Indian-American who has lived in this country since the age of four, serving on the Obama-Biden transition team is a unique privilege for me. A presidential transition is always a time of excitement and, in some cases, of rumors and unfounded gossip. I’d like to set to rest a few baseless and silly reports that have been circulating on the Internet.

First, my personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization. I’ve never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so.

Second, I’ve always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool. Some factually inaccurate internet rumors have attempted to link me to Hindu Nationalist groups through a variety of tenuous connections: Relief work I’m proud to have helped coordinate following the Gujarati earthquake of 2001, or cultural and religious affiliations of some of my family members, or apolitical humanitarian work I’ve been privileged to do as a founder of the NGO Indicorps and as the Director of Global Development for Google.org.

Finally, I do not subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups, and never have. Ridiculous tactics of guilt by association have been decisively repudiated by the American people. I am delighted with what the victory on November 4 says about my country, and about our place in the world. I look forward to serving our President-elect in this time of transition.

That’s the sort of unequivocal statement of her political views that I had been hoping for. It’s also what the groups that were concerned about her appointment were asking for.

Sonal is a highly qualified and experienced public figure who has done a lot of good. There’s also no evidence that I’ve seen, from anybody, that Sonal holds sectarian or bigoted sentiments. To the contrary - people I know who know her personally have said only positive things about her and her family. I suspect this statement will put most people’s concerns to rest in terms of her participation on the transition team.

But … I think the statement reveals two areas of questionable judgment that I think might cause problems for her if she’s nominated to a position in the new administration, despite her qualifications and track record.

Firstly, it was defensive and dismissive, which is never a good way to deal with somebody else’s fears, especially when these same concerns have been around for years and could easily have been addressed long before.

Second, I think her description of her activities as relief or humanitarian work ignores the ways in which supporting the charitable wings of politically unsavory organizations is problematic, especially since the money raised rarely flows through a sealed pipeline to those it is intended to help.

Consider if Sonal had been raising funds for relief efforts by Islamic organizations that are involved in violence. (They do a lot of relief work across the Mideast and South Asia, including post-earthquake relief in Kashmir) It’s not a politically tenable defense to say that you were only involved in the non-violent charitable side of things. Given that it’s always possible to send money to a relief organization that is not affiliated with violent groups, the choice to work with a violent sectarian organization raises eyebrows, and indeed, questions of judgment.

I know some of you consider the VHP a totally legitimate organization in India. However, involvement with the VHP, in whatever form, is a political problem in America given that the US State Department has documented VHP’s involvement in violence against Christians:

On June 22, 2008, “Hindutva” extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and BJP attacked a Christian prayer meeting, beating participants and the pastor, Jonathan Singh… the police in UP physically assaulted a Christian convert, allegedly at the behest of VHP members. [link]

Similarly, Amnesty International has reports of VHP leaders leading pogroms against Christians in Orissa. These were just the first two examples I found, these are far from isolated incidents.

So while I welcome Sonal’s statement, I wonder if it’s too little too late if she is interested in a major position of responsibility in the new government.

ennis

The plight of the Bakherwals