One of the intellectually lazy, actually the word should be moronic but I am trying to be kind here, connections often made by our liberal media cognoscenti is between Trump and Modi, between the Republicans and the BJP, between the Right of India and the Right of the US, and if a poke in the eye as to the difference was ever needed, it was delivered by a succession of Trump’s executive orders. To put it in perspective, if Modi had come to power in 2014 and within a week, asked for the construction of a wall on the Bengal border, allocated more resources to search and weed out illegal Bangladeshi refugees already in India, threatened the government of West Bengal of withdrawal of federal aid if they continued to turn their back to influx of Bangladeshi refugees, put in place a number of policies that would essentially make legal Muslim migration an impossibility, and, then just for fun, asked for stringent laws across the country to ban cow slaughter, and asked Parliament for a plan to build the Ram Temple in 180 days, and made sex-determination of fetuses legal, and made Yogi Adityanath his number two man in government, then, yes, perhaps there would be a smidgen of similarity between the two.
I am not a betting kind of person. The first time I bet on something was so that I could reverse-jinx, a one-rupee rosogolla againt India winning against England in the World Cup 83 semi-finals. When I lost the bet, I refused to pay up. Years later, this time because I was actually confident I would win, I bet a coffee on Hillary Clinton with a colleague, confident that I would get a free Starbucks coffee.
This time, being older, I could not cry and get out of my commitment. So I bought the coffee.
Because all through these months, I was absolutely sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton was going to win. Absolutely sure. Blame Nate Silver. Blame the different polls. Blame my faith in data delivered from a pulpit of authority. Most importantly, I had based my belief, and I acknowledge I was wrong, that the cosmic order would give Clinton the presidency, that somehow, to quote Paulo Coelho, when you want something the whole universe conspires to give you it, and boy has Ms. Clinton wanted this. My middle-class upbringing tells me that the studious girl always gets A, the one who has prepared for the test, again and again and again, for the past forty years, and not the hungover bully, smelling of shots and lipstick, who staggers into the exam hall, and scribbles something on his sheet.
And then this happens.
“A dangerous game is about to begin”. And with that Amitabh Bachchan, in Aankhein, launched a daring scheme to rob a bank with two men who could not see (Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal) and one man who could not see or act (Arjun Rampal).
It is not a coincidence that “A game is about to begin” was what Arnab Goswami chose to ominously utter to his staffers in Times Now before making his final exit. Whether he intends to start an international channel to take on the BBC and Al Jazeera or whether he merely intends to get his hands on Pirzada’s jewels we know not, but something tells me he will , like a Cyborg sent from the future, be back. Whether the magic he created at Times Now will ever be recreated, like the Anil Kapoor-Madhuri chemistry of Batata Wada, I do not know, but Arnabs of the world, at least the ones I have known, never fade quietly into the night.
It is just not in their nature.
Arnab Goswami is, and I hesitate to use the past tense for him, many things. An arrogant, self-important demagogue who broke news into a million pieces. A human mute button. A paper tiger. A showman in love with the amplitude of his own voice. A TRP-hungry wild boar. A narcissist who would shame Narcissus himself. Mother-in-law to the nation, in that he was always right, and he never let anyone else speak.
[Writing this post based on a series of tweets I made earlier today. For two reasons. One: to collect them in one place. Two: to cover my ass for the time when they are photoshopped together, shared without attribution, and then I have to defend myself; that it’s not me who copied but they. This, alas, has happened to me too many times.]
The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, postulates a series of emotions experienced by survivors of an intimate’s death, where in the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. [Wiki].
After India’s surgical strikes against Pakistan, our Indian “liberals” have been passing through, what can be identified, as the different stages of grief.
What Chetan Bhagat is to Indian writing in English, Ram Guha is to popular modern history. Unlike the Bhagat though, Mr. Guha is an ISO-certified intellectual where ISO stands for Intellectual Standards Organization, that august body to which I somehow someday hope to gain admittance. Hoping to get some tips and tricks, I sat through his interview on a popular English news channel, and I can say with confidence, I came away enriched.
Mr. Guha’s basic contention, which I am presuming is explicated further in his new book that he was promoting, was that India is more intolerant than at any time it has been since Emergency. Now I was tempted to say that the very fact that he is on saying this on TV contradicts his assertion of suppression of free speech, since at one point, he even brings up Pakistan and North Korea, to imply we are only marginally better than them. I also felt that pinning Canada and Sweden as examples of what we should aspire to be in terms of a liberal society was rather silly, given that these two countries have nothing of the demographics, diversity and history that we have, and that Ram Guha, being a historian should know that most of all, but then I told myself “zyara bhavnao ko samjho” and moved on. Though really I could not move on, perhaps because I think of intolerance as a systemic problem in Indian politics and social life, not one for which one political party can be singled out for, a malaise which draws sustenance from poor protections for free speech afforded by our Constitution, which allows people to be arrested for forwarding cartoons or making social media posts, a Constitution which, surprise of surprises, Guha’s heroes, Nehru and Ambedkar wrote up.
But then what do I know? I am just a struggling author with no bully pulpit, and no TV channel to promote my book.
In 1999, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to have a rally in New York City. The City refused to grant them permission. The Klan ultimately did have their rally, no small reason due to the support they got from the unlikeliest of quarters, black Civil Rights groups.
This Voltarian “I may not agree with what you say but I shall fight till death your right to say them” is a principle every free speech fundamentalist parrots, but very few stand by them consistently. It’s easy to stand for free speech as long as you agree with it. But the rubber truly hits the road when you come face to face with opinions that you consider despicable. Do you then stand by the right of the individual to express what he wants to say, as Black Civil Rights groups did, or do you run to Mummy government asking for duct tape and a room with no windows?
Zakir Naik is such a test. Since sometime during the 2010s, I have been following the preachings of Zakir Naik, marveling at his unapologetic Islamic supremacist world-view, with a sense of revulsion that I reserve for flying cockroaches and half-boiled eggs and centipedes mating. Every other religion is wrong and his is perfect, and women may be beaten at the husband’s behest, and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was a lesson for Buddhists, and a variation of “If loving Osama, the enemy of those who make Islam their enemy, is wrong, I don’t want to be right”, and all this is just him clearing his throat, getting started.
So when “the nation” or rather that one person who claims to represent it on prime-time asks for banning him and taking his Peace TV off air, I have to, with infinite reluctance, as a free-speech fundamentalist, support Zakir Naik’s right to say what he does without being gagged for it. This is a grey area, but as far as I have seen or heard, Zakir Naik never directly gives a call for violence or for war, in the way that a Hafeez Sayed does, which would then put him squarely in the area marked as hate-speech and subject, in my opinion, to legal sanction. Not that Naik does not skate close to the red line, for instance look at his dancing around death for apostasy in Islam, but he never gives an overt call for action.
He is smart that way.
I read this often, in social media updates and in tweets from blue-tick media mavens, that an overwhelming majority of ISIS violence is on Muslims (in this case 90%) , and so, by an extension, what are you non-Muslims getting your chaddis in a bunch for? The dissonance, in the above statement, stems from the overloading of the word ISIS in popular discourse, used as it is to refer to both a group in the Syria-Iraq region and also to radical Islamic fundamentalism in general, where the kill count of the former, or more precisely per-centage of Muslim on Muslim violence, is used to make a point about the latter.
But before we get into all that, let’s first talk about ISIS, the organization. It is intellectually lazy to call ISIS a radical Muslim group, especially when someone is purporting to have a serious discussion. Of course it is that only, but that’s not what defines them. The ISIS, more precisely, is a radical Sunni Muslim organization that espouses Salafism, a philosophy of intense Islamic fundamentalism. Salafists emphasize a return to the roots of Islam, to the rule of the rightly-guided Caliphs (the first four leaders of the Islam faith, after the death of Prophet Mohammed), in a very literal way. Which is why they seek to establish their vision of medieval utopia in the lands they control. They are kind of like auditors, in that they are extremely literal in their interpretation of standard operating procedure and standards. For instance, they take Islam’s strictures against idol worship to extreme levels. They are violently against music, even music that is Islamic and religious, and sometimes against even their own places of worship, as is evidenced in the recent attack at Medina.
This however should not be spun, as it is done, that they are against Islam. Of course they aren’t. They are against practices in Islam they believe are un-Islamic, practices that the rest of the world, including a majority of Muslims, think are perfectly Islamic. This naturally puts them against many Muslims. Shias and Sufis are particularly hated, and so are homosexuals and liberal Muslims of all sorts. Even many Sunnis, who might consider themselves to be orthodox enough, but do not meet the standards set by Salafists, lie squarely in their crosshairs. And as the ISIS has shown, time and time again, the distance between “against” and “I will kill you using methods that would be considered extreme in a Saw film” is a very short straight line for them.