Friday, December 26, 2008

Recipé for building strong politics

A strong leader does not make a strong nation. A strong people do.

What do we mean by strong people ? A society of citizens where every individual is strong and has his voice heard and respected. In other words, what we need are strong politics.

From Kashmir to Afghanistan and from Pakistan to India, I hope my message reaches every thinking person who is patriotic for his motherland.

When a random young person is asked about the biggest problem facing the country, he replies without blinking "corrupt politicians". And the solution to this problem is equally simplistic - "Good people should get into politics", "We need strong leaders". Unfortunately in real life, nothing is black and white. There are no absolute good people. Every person is a little bad. Depending on people, the badness ranges from moderate to extreme.

In such an unsure world, it is always better to postpone our judgement. We should trust that together, we will find a solution in the future. The art of doing this is called politics.

The word civilization comes from the Latin word civitas meaning a city. When you have a lot of people living together in a city, there are bound to be disputes and disagreements. But for the success of a civilization, the basic requirement is to avoid conflict - to ensure that these disagreements do not result in violence, and that they are settled in a civilized manner with the utmost respect to human dignity. This is the ultimate objective of politics (coming from the Greek word polis meaning a city) : to ensure that nobody resorts to violence on any grievance.

Thus having defined our objective, what can we do to bring in strong politics ?

There are two principal requirements, and the entire public needs to participate in both of them, as I will explain in detail.

1) We need to respect the facts :

We are all entitled to our opinions, but not to our own facts. The facts are the common meeting ground for any dispute, and they have to be investigated objectively and independently. This is usually the work of journalists, scientists and media watch-dogs. The facts also need to be transparent and open for the entire public. In today's world, the facts pertaining to any dispute can be displayed over the world-wide-web.

Sometimes, a complete inspection of facts is sufficient to resolve a dispute. For example, imagine that we want to construct a bridge that offers the best value for money. What we need to do is to select the best design amidst competing bidders. When all these records are public, independent investigators can validate whether the government has indeed done the right job.

As another example, consider the global warming problem. In science, we develop a theory that best explains the facts. For anything that has not been validated, we need to cultivate scepticism. The art of doubting (what is explained by facts and what isn't) is the main driving force of science. Today, there is a scientific consensus (with more than 90% scientists agreeing) that global warming is happening and that it is extremely dangerous for the future of the planet. In such an issue, the government should listen to people who are competent in reaching this judgement. Again, all the facts are transparent and open for the entire public.

2) We need a left, and we need a right :

But facts are not sufficient to resolve every kind of dispute. There are disputes which require finer levels of judgement and which appeal to the collective mores and ethics of the society. On such issues, most people don't have a fixed opinion and stand in the middle. This is where politics gets interesting.

A good example is the Indo-US nuclear deal. True, there were lots of half-facts and lies that were tossed about in the parliament. And these can be eliminated by a thorough fact-check as I have advocated earlier. But even after this, there are bound to be divided opinions on whether nuclear power is essential for the country or not, or whether a strategic partnership with USA is good for the country or not. If you read the other posts in my blog, you will know that I strongly support nuclear power. But this is a judgement that I do not want to impose on the society. On such a matter, I will agree to go with the collective mores and ethics of the society as represented by a majority vote.

Another very good example is the human rights of homosexual people. I think that no person should be discriminated based on his/her caste, religion or sexual preferences. But some people do not think exactly like me. Even though we cannot agree on this topic today, we should trust that we will reach a solution in the future. This comes from my belief in politics : we need to be patient and mutually respectful of each other. Barack Obama has mentioned a very good similar example in his historic speech on race : the US constitution was tainted with the original sin of slavery. But the very constitution had provisions to reach a mutual judgement to abolish slavery, as people did at a later time.

In reality, there are a huge number of similar political issues : Should we have a common civil law for every Indian citizen or have laws based on religion ? Should we have a strong central government or strong provincial governments ? Should the government control banks or leave them completely deregulated ? Should the defence budget be decreased for spending on education ? Should women have a right to abortion or not ?

A strong politics would ensure that every single individual has his voice heard and presented in these debates. This means that there has to be a political current that represents each of these positions, and which presents them with character. As Voltaire has said, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". This is the responsibility that we owe to every fellow citizen.

Do we have strong politics in our country ? Absolutely not.

Opportunism has become the rule of politics. Communist parties rub shoulders with Islamist parties on opposing the US imperialism which they see as a joint evil. The right wing Hindutva parties rub shoulders with socialist Janata Dal to grab power. None of this makes any sense whatsoever.

So here I propose a clear distinction of left and right, which we need for bringing in strong politics. These are related to be innate human desires of "drawing together" (left) and "having an individual space" (right) - both of which are obvious in any human relationship. These left and right parties are expected to complement each other, and serve as the yin for the other's yang.

Needed - Right wing with a character :

  1. To support individual freedoms, including the right to possessions.
  2. To reduce the size of the government.
  3. To preserve the identity and ensure the authenticity of a race, religion or language. (Michel Serres argues that these loyalties are related to the oral, writing and printing eras of human society respectively. Thus, language-based loyalties ought to be more respected than other loyalties).
  4. To ensure that native populations have priorities over immigrants.
  5. To ensure proper defence of the society, and protection of its citizens.
  6. To ensure that the government is extremely federalized, with maximum control at provinces.
Needed - Left wing with a character :
  1. To ensure that all basic human rights are respected, as mentioned in the universal declaration of human rights.
  2. To ensure that there is a minimum wage for every person.
  3. To ensure that every person achieves basic requirements on education, health and nutrition.
  4. To ensure that the society permeates a spirit of tolerance for religious, cultural and sexual minorities.
  5. To prevent war and ensure that peaceful dialogue is attempted before drastic measures are taken.
  6. To increase the size of the federal government and provide it with the necessary funds to oversee these obligations.
From the very nature of these parties, it can be noticed that the objectives of the left are antagonistic to the objectives of the right (and vice-versa). Every political problem needs to be a trade-off between the two. As people, we need to explicitly recognize these contradictory requirements and evolve a collective societal judgement and ethic.

The right wing is a "local" party which targets the interests of each region and group of people. Such a party is difficult to be formed at a federal level. The left wing is a "global" party which speaks out on the common brotherhood of man. They are difficult to be formed at a provincial level. To ensure a strong politics, we need to have a thorough representation of both these political currents - both at the provincial and federal levels.

The practical way to achieve this : Make every political party list explicitly whether it stands for right-wing objectives or left-wing objectives. Let the party split if the members disagree on the nature of their work. When forming coalition parties either at the federal or at the provincial level, we need to ensure that it is either a left-wing coalition or a right-wing coalition. This kind of binary nature of coalitions also eliminates political opportunism and the uncertainites of having a hung parliament.

To ensure that a real debate is made and heard, a few members of the opposite-wing should be accomodated into the government as a good-will gesture. This is already a common practice in several western countries.

I would like to conclude with two finishing remarks. Firstly, being part of a federal union (such as the Indian Union or the European Union) has distinct advantages for the nurturing of a democracy, as it explicitly encourages the formation of a strong left-wing party devoid of any particular nationalism. However, the right wing parties tend to be very fragmented, and this could inhibit economic growth. Secondly, terrorism is often an unholy mixture of the right and left wing ideas into one single ideology (the left-wing idea of a prophet merged with the right-wing idea of a king, who has used the religion of the prophet as a conquering device).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Anatomy of Terrorism

When somebody commits a rape, or a murder in cold blood, do we ponder about the reasons why he did that ? Do we worry about the socio-political reasons, or economic reasons behind the crime ? No.

Then, why is it that people break their heads over the reasons behind terrorist acts ? Several intelligent and well-meaning people are linking the Mumbai murders with the Kashmir issue, Muslim subjugation in India and so on.

This is all nonsense. The reason is simple and plain. A person who killed innocent civilians in cold blood did that because he found pleasure in doing that. There are some people like that twisted in the brain; we should accept this fact. There will always be paedophiles on this planet. Likewise, there will always be serial killers and rapists. And there will always be terrorists.

We can sure try to understand what motivated them for their crimes. At the core of their beliefs, all criminals feel they are victims. "Oh poor little me. The world is out against me.", is how any criminal thinks. This thinking is an elaborate ploy to erase their conscience - if it exists, before they proceed with the pleasure of murdering other people.

No, the question that we need to ask is not "What is the motivation behind a terrorist act ?", but "How come murderous people like these get the guns, money and political backing to carry their games ? ". Let me answer this question in this post.

When treated on an individual by individual basis, human society will never accept the pleasure of murdering, raping and pillaging other human beings as the right of a person. However, these acts get a social acceptance when it is thought that

  1. There is a group that is entirely pure, virtuous and shining.
  2. This group is being oppressed and violently being subjugated.
A chillingly vast majority of people actually subscribe to these simplistic black-and-white combo of (1) and (2). Not all of them will do murders, obviously. The actual acts will only be commited by a special few - who actually take pleasure in the murder of other human beings. But by believing in (1) and (2), an enormous section of people are willing to turn a blind eye on their consciences. This mixture of (1) and (2) is a poisonous addictive drug that consumes the soul of a human being.

I will give you a few examples to justify my theory.
  • In Nazi germany, it was thought that (1) the Nordic race is pure and shining (2) this race is being humiliated in the world in various forms. This heady mixture of ideas soon consumed an entire country, and precipitated the second world war, and the holocaust of Jews. Not every German person did murder obviously, these acts were only commited by a select few individuals - which are present in all human societies. But the rest of the population gave power, guns and political backing to them.
  • In the Bolshevik revolution (or during the French revolution), people are led to believe that (1) only the working class is pure and honest, the rest are a bunch of thieves and cronies (2) the working class is being oppressed. This led people to actually murder the royals and feudal lords, including women and children. Again, the actual murders were commited by a select few people. The rest gave them power and guns.
  • In most of the independence movements (or separatist movements, depending on how you think) around the world, violent agitators subscribe that (1) their country is pure and virtuous, and that the occupiers are filthy and (2) their country is being oppressed.
Neither (1) or (2) are sufficient by themselves to provide social justification for murder, but taken together they do a very good job. For example,
  • During the civil rights movement, the Black people acknowledged that (2) they were oppressed. But they did not necessarily think that (1) they are pure and virtuous, to the exclusion of other people. This is the reason the civil rights movement maintained a dignity and proceded by non-violent means.
  • A lot of people still harbour racist feelings thinking (1) that their community is the best and most influential. But they don't necessarily think that (2) that community is being oppressed.
  • A lot of scientists think that they are (1) an elite class, at a level above the others. But they don't think (2) they are being oppressed as a community.
  • Indian independence movement was a hugely non-violent effort because even though (2) people thought they were being oppressed by the British, they did not think that (1) Indian culture was the best and the purest in the world. In fact, most of the freedom fighters were very open and welcoming to western culture. (A few groups did hate western influences, and these groups used violent means).
  • The Tibetan movement (atleast the majority headed under Dalai Lama) thinks that (2) they are being oppressed by the Chinese but they do not think that (1) their religion is the only truth or that their people are superior to the Chinese people.
Now coming down to specifics, I am quite terrified of two ideas that are increasingly gaining mainstream acceptance in India.
  • There is a large section of Muslims who believe that (1) Islam is the only path to God, and that every other religion is a falsehood (2) Muslims are being oppressed in the world. I don't find fault with either (1) or (2) - though both of these appear quite simplistic and silly to any intelligent person. But put together, they are as lethal as RDX.
  • There is a growing section of Hindus who think that (1) Hindu land is the fountain of all culture and civilization in the world - atom bombs, space ships etc were all invented by ancient Indians (2) Hindus were slaughtered throughout history by Muslims and continue to be oppressed. Either (1) or (2) is an intellectually shallow argument. But put together, they can result in the rape of Christian nuns, or in the murder of Muslim shopkeepers.
Of course, these are not the only set of dangerous ideas in India. Often, there are racist idealogues who think the Thakur-race/Kashmiri-race/Naga-race is superior to the Harijan-race/Hindu-race/Indian-race.

Whatever be the idealogy, there are huge media networks which publicize this type of information. Often, they put graphic images and videos to show how brutal the oppression is. They evoke images of young innocent girls getting raped, or pregnant mothers getting their bellies torn open. At the same vein, these people propagandize about how glorious and pure their religion/race is.

These media networks are not illegal. In fact, they are free to publicise in mosques, temples and even schools. In today's internet era, there are a huge number of blogs / youtube channels which do this propaganda. None of the people who do this propaganda are poor or uneducated. They are all talented and successful people, who are just addicted to a drug of black-and-white.

This type of propaganda is nothing short of an indictment to murder. So the next time I hear the dual propaganda of Muslims as a community being oppressed and Muslims being the purest religion, I will face the propagandist with my complaint. I will act similarly if I hear the same from a Hindutva propagandist.

Though rare, some of these rich and educated people who do propaganda might even be itching for some real blood. A high ranking professional working for Yahoo in Bangalore became a key planner for the Indian Mujahideen terrorist group. Ayman al Jawahari was working as a qualified doctor in Egypt, before he became an Al Qaeda chief. Any successful terrorist operation (the recent Mumbai carnage included) has several extremely intelligent , rich and qualified individuals behind the operations table.

However, the actual foot soldiers who murder people (and usually get killed by police) do not come from rich families. A rich person would never waste his precious life away for a minor thing - killing a dozen people that he hates. The actual terrorists come from poor families, with limited education opportunities. They usually have personal problems - like a failed love affair.

But most importantly, both rich and poor, these guys take pleasure in murder. Their brains are twisted.

Under normal circumstances, such a twisted brain is not dangerous. But under these special circumstances of propaganda drugs, such a person has no barriers of conscience to overcome. Such a person readily finds guns, money, political backing and social acceptance to carry out his secret games of pleasure.

And these games of pleasure will shatter families, will break the hearts of several loved ones, and will make us lose several caring, pious or creative human beings.

What can we do ?
  1. We can never eradicate such people. So it is always good to be prepared.
  2. We can reduce the pool of suicidal recruits, by removing poverty and illiteracy (though this is a huge task)
  3. We can actively look for hate speech of the (1)+(2) mixture that I talked about. We can try making this type of propaganda illegal. Or if we do not want to sacrifice free speech, make this hate speech conditional to continuous police surveillance of the person who makes this speech.
  4. We can try to have democratic governments - which act as a nice filter to eliminate these kind of twisted people from capturing political power.
  5. We make the army and police swear total alleigance to the people of the nation, and never should they think they are superior to the civilian citizens. We monitor for people of the "twisted brain" syndrome before we present them with any weapons.
Irrespective of our individual differences or ideologies (whether one is a fundamentalist Hindu or a fundamentalist Muslim, whether one is a patriotic Indian or a patriotic Pakistani, whether one is a Communist or a Libertarian), we should make a commitment to all these 5 steps. Otherwise there is no future for any ideology, because the future of our very humanity is at stake.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Deccan Mujahideen from Faridkot

So now we know where that bad Hyderabadi accent comes from. The Guardian Observer has identified the family and home town of the lone captured terrorist from the Mumbai attacks.

I hope the Pakistani government stops acting like a defence lawyer of the terrorists, and treats with attention whatever clues are provided by the Indian intelligence agencies. After all, closing down terrorist camps and those hate-breeding religious schools is for the own good of Pakistan.

A bomb has exploded in the Peshawar market and killed 27 people, clearly a result of the tribal warfare fueled by these kind of terrorist camps. Apparently, the locals at Peshawar are suspecting Indian involvement. I hope somebody reads my earlier post, to understand what India actually thinks of Pashtuns.

If all it takes is one prank call to let nuclear tensions run loose, then every single person in the subcontinent should be deeply worried. Let's all hope that sense and sanity prevails.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Long Live Pashtunistan

Earlier in my blog, I offered my respect to the Kashmiri people and to their right to unity and self-determination. In today's post, I would like to pay my respects to another brave people who also suffered a lot - the Pashtuns.

The history of Pashtuns is written in valor and heroism. Their fierce independence and love for freedom were mentioned in the most ancient texts, including the Rig Veda and the Mahabharata. Never surrendering to any empire or army, these people always maintained independent tribal republics. Even the mighty Alexander could not annex their lands. As chronicled by Megasthenes, his army fought a fierce battle with the Assakenoi (Ashvaganas / Afghans). Instead of accepting defeat, entire tribes (including women) took to arms and sacrificed their lives. Their feat is as stirring as that of the 300 Spartan warriors of Leonidas. One of the reasons why Alexander didn't cross the Indus river is because of the fear these warriors put into the hearts of the Greek soldiers.

Coming to modern times, even the greatest empire in history - the British empire could not succeed in occupying the Afghan lands. Afghanistan remained a sovereign state since the early 1700s, making it the most ancient sovereign state in this region of the world.

Pashtuns, with their love for freedom and their gratitude to loyalty and honesty, are an inspiration to people everywhere in the world. A few of these valiant people settled in India, called Pathans, always known for their big generous hearts.

Pashtuns love music, and a lot of famous singers and artists in the Indian subcontinent come from this region. Several ancient Indian / Iranian mathematicians and scientists originated from Gandhara (Kandahar) and Balkh.

All this history stands in stark contrast to the way media portrays Pashtuns today - as medieval tribal warriors. This portrayal comes in handy for two souces - the NATO forces fighting them in Kandahar and the Pakistani forces fighting them in Waziristan. Why did Pashtuns get dragged into this warfare is a sad story.

It begins with a betrayal. And it is we Indians (precisely Nehru) who have to suffer the blame of backstabbing Pashtuns.

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (fondly known as Bacha Khan) was the most inspiring freedom fighter from the Pashtun region. A devout Muslim, and also a staunch Gandhian who abrogated violence, he inspired the entire Pashtun community to stand up to the British. He said, "I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it." He was known as the frontier Gandhi and his followers were known as the Khudai-khidmatgars (servants of God).

As the idea of partitioning India was picking up steam, Bacha Khan firmly opposed it and remained staunchly secular. He didn't want Pashtun provinces to become part of an Islamic Pakistan. At the urgency of independence, and at the threat of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi and Nehru have forced Bacha Khan to agree to the merger with Pakistan. Bacha Khan moaned to Gandhi, "You have thrown us to the wolves". After the merger, Bacha Khan was labeled an enemy of Islam and imprisoned several times. His followers were carefully decimated by the opponents with support from Islamabad. Military generals such as Zia-ul-Haq have taken advantage of the illiteracy and backwardness of the region, and appointed religious fundamentalists as leaders.

The second part of the story began with the attack of Afghanistan by the Soviet troops. Seeing their brothers dying across the border, many Pashtuns took to arms. Taking advantage of the situation, USA and Pakistan funded this war and supplied them with weapons and missiles. As the superpowers played their colonial chess games, ordinary Pashtuns died in large numbers. War and violence have further eroded the spirit of Pashtuns. Illiteracy and economic backwardness became rife.

The third and final part of the story was the infiltration of the Pashtun lands with Arab fighters. First arrived to fight the Soviets, these militants then started to use the lands of their hosts against new enemies - the USA. The stationing of US troops on Saudi soil, became the reason of hatred for one Osama bin Laden. He abused the hospitality of his hosts by using Afghanistan to hatch terrorist plots, which serve the purpose of no Afghan citizen. After the 9-11, the USA started bombing the Afghan lands killing Pashtuns in large numbers, but still unable to locate the main culprit.

The spirit of Bacha Khan seems so far away, and we are left to wonder what happened to the Khudai-khidmatgars ! The brave Pashtun people are left with no strong leader and are being made to fight foreign wars - against India and against USA, by cowardly people behind the scenes. This has to stop. Indians have to reaffirm their love and respect for the Pashtun people. The Americans should attempt to understand their fierce love for freedom, and stop a war which they can never win.

When will Pashtuns stop fighting foreign wars, funded by cowardly people from the back ? When will Pashtuns see a return to peace and prosperity ?

I wish the Pashtuns the same thing I wished for the Kashmiris - an affirmation of their self-respect and dignity, an end to the murder of their race, and a tearing down of the artificial walls which seperate brothers.