Monday, July 03, 2006

An Indian Liberal Viewpoint

My email at gmail has a built in search engine for certain words. Any of these words may pop up an article. Because of this search engine I read many different writings and viewpoints from around the world. Today saw a different kind of anti-American lambasting from the Hindustani Times. Normally the HT does not print such virulent diatribe but this one made me a little angry. I reprinted it in full followed by the response I penned (typed?) back to them.

What else do you do at 05:00 when everyone else in the house is dead asleep and you can't use the Tassimo coffee maker because it makes too much noise?

Tearing down the Velvet Curtain guest column Anand PatwardhanJuly 1, 2006

I’m convinced that our attitude towards the global control exercised by the Anglo-American combine is a key to understanding and improving relations between the regions of the South. It is the key even to improving relations between the various peoples that vie for survival and self-expression within the bounds of our own respective nations.

If we accept the American paradigm of lies and more lies, all without apology, we set ourselves the worst possible example. Did they ever apologise for being the only country to have dropped atomic weapons on human beings? For training, arming and importing Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan? For telling the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? The list of American or America induced crimes against humanity is a long one. If we accept their version of these crimes, if we get spoon-fed by them, then we become a party to all these crimes without apology.

Today if you are a journalist in the print or electronic media anywhere in the world, it is difficult to escape embedding. Corporate and government interests exercise near total control. The media is too powerful a weapon to be left in the hands of those who seek the truth. If we understand this we can move forward and search for the cracks and crevices through which to push our stories through, but if we fall prey to the usual rhetoric of the “Free World” and start believing that censorship is something only exercised by countries like China or by explicitly military regimes, then we are in trouble.

Let us look at just a few of the missing stories that directly affect our region.
In 1970-71 West Pakistanis were kept completely in the dark both about the extent of popular support for Bengali nationalism in the East and about atrocities perpetrated there by the military. From the 80’s on, the Indian people have been kept in the dark about similar aspirations and similar atrocities in Kashmir and the North East.

Both in Pakistan and in India, fundamentalism, religious bigotry and violence grew exponentially in the 80s. Was this an accident? Who armed the madrassas in Pakistan and preached jihad against communism? One day the Taliban was a friend, the next day it became the enemy. In India, which had aligned itself with the Soviet Union and a semi-socialist economy, suddenly Sikhs demanded a separate state, Kashmiris demanded Independence and militant Hinduism became popular enough to demolish the Babri Mosque and ride to power amidst communal carnage.
The Babri Masjid was still standing when we completed a film called Ram Ke Naam at the end of 1991. The film was meant to be a warning to the nation of the dangerous rise of communal forces but the government run Doordarshan TV refused to telecast it. We finally won a court case to have it shown on DD in 1996. By this time the Masjid had been demolished with terrible consequences for the entire sub-continent.

Both India and Pakistan are likely beneficiaries of economic and cultural ties with Iran. So where are the stories about Iran other than the usual propaganda dished out by Condoleeza Rice and company? For that we have to turn off our TV sets and go out in search of the odd International Film festival that shows some of the many beautiful Iranian films that challenge the stereotype of a fundamentalist world where women peep out sadly from behind their burkhas.

Both India and Pakistan did nuclear tests in 1998 and celebrated in the streets. Yet how much do we know about the price we continue to pay for our nuclear nationalism, both in financial and health terms? How many investigative reports have appeared on our TV sets or newspapers about the hazards faced by villagers living near the uranium mines of Jadugoda in India or those living near the Chashma nuclear reactor in Pakistan, located on a seismically sensitive site despite warnings by many Pakistani scientists and activists.

None of these stories have been adequately investigated and analysed in the mainstream. All serious attempts to talk about these issues have been sought to be suppressed. Enron Corporation’s blatant rape of India ended not because somebody listened to what the whistle blowers here had to say but only after Enron collapsed in America. The price our nations are paying for mammoth dams on the Narmada and Kalabagh is equally well hidden despite the heroic efforts of activists and dam oustees.

The reasons are not hard to seek: 80 per cent of the mainstream media in India and Pakistan is either controlled by the state or by 6 to 7 large family empires. Almost the entire media of the US is under similar monopoly control. And in the South at least in the most influential English language media, most of the reporters are also recruited from amongst the tiny class of beneficiaries. Perhaps this explains the unqualified media support for upper class/caste agitations against reservations in India and the very concept of positive discrimination.

If not just the governments but also the elites of our region aspire to get closer and closer to America, this is largely the fault of the omissions and commissions of the media. Pakistan has for long been seen as a client state of the US with only Islamic fundamentalists, themselves largely a creation of US Cold War politics, offering occasional resistance in recent years. India, which played the non-alignment card from Independence on through the mid 80’s, has recently laid claims to be America’s newest bride. We are thrilled to be seen on the arms of George Bush Jr. It’s what we call an arms deal. Meanwhile we have not noticed that the FBI has opened office in several Indian cities. We have not noticed that Halliburton has begun serious business operations in the region -- the Halliburton that brought us the war on Iraq.

And yet resistance is not only possible, it is happening, it has always happened. In the last century we saw resistance to the violence of the State, to the very idea of violence itself and to consumer culture and consumer nationalism. The story of one giant resister, Mahatma Gandhi, did break through corporate and State controls to register on the conscience of the world. And there are the resistance stories of today. One has to search for them and join hands with all those who have embarked on the project of tearing down the velvet curtain.

(The writer is a documentary filmmaker)

The following is my response:

Anand Patwardhan Raises some interesting points but then does not follow through on them. He attempts to paint all America as a big bunch of liars in regards to foreign policy yet uses hyperbole and rhetoric rather than facts to deliver his message. I hope his films are more factual than that.
When he reads history he may even come to the conclusion that the adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." This sometimes leads to events unthought of during a current crisis.

The USA allied with the USSR in WWII to defeat a more dangerous foe. The USA and the USSR then faced off against each other for 50 years. The USA paid the price in lives and money for the support they rendered during the other struggle in WWII because now the USSR was emboldened to believe that they could export communism around the world. While the rest of the world wrangled their hands and practised appeasment the USA and their allies stood firm.

The USA supported the fighters against the USSR in Afghanistan and now faces them. This is yet another war that has been brewing and whether you are Christian, Hindi, Buddist, or Jewish, you are not Muslim and that is enough to deliver the death penalty in their eyes.

Anand Patwardhan should read and listen before he speaks. It is easy to believe that the USA practises hegemony but the truth is that while everyone else sits back and watches, the USA and their allies are taking the fight to the enemy.

Will the USA create yet another enemy during this fight? Who knows? The fact is that the fight is here and on top of us and if the USA backs off and lets their boot off of the head of this snake, it will bite the nearest one it can strike out at. India is too close for comfort and will eventually be a target.


Blogger MonicaR said...

I've run into a couple of Indian leftists out in the blogosphere who perhaps may have viewed this man's documentaries. I liked your response. It is a shame that no matter how much sense you try to talk to a leftist - - it just doesn't seem to matter. They like hating America and it doesn't matter if their feelings are based on facts or not. It was a valiant effort on your part though and I commend you for it!

7:47 AM  
Blogger DirtCrashr said...

A lot of Indian academic background stems from the British London School of Economics, which if I understand it correctly projects a very left-socialist analytic perspective, and a view of economics that has been overtaken by Hayekian and other more demonstrably successful models.
My understanding of growing up in India is that much of the high-caste intelligentsia was left-influenced, partly simply because Marxist rhetoric gave them such a useful argumentative tool, and there's no arguing like that of a Bengali Brahmin who feels the pangs of Colonialist Repression deep in his Soul...
The second paragraph of his article is a laundry list of unanswered rhetorical statements posed as questions - all strawmen. The third paragraph presents a bunch of babbling assertions; "a journalist in the print or electronic media anywhere in the world, it is difficult to escape embedding." -?? And the fourth puts forward a bunch of unfathomable and unverifiable regional issues; "In 1970-71 West Pakistanis were kept completely in the dark both about the extent of popular support for Bengali nationalism" - So? It's East Pakistan that became Bangladesh, not West...what's the damn point? The rest descends into unintelligible ranting.
So what's the point? IMO, the POINT is the argumentative rant itself - a means of launching verbal arrows.
There is also in India a similar Main-Stream-Media bias taking place, but some of it much more overt and self-declared as partisanship. Certain states (Bengal for instance) are run by a Communist state-government (imagine what fun inter-state commerce must be when protectionism is state-mandated on one side) that have official media "mouthpieces" projecting their image and story.
Sometimes made-up new articles, or even I'd guess "documentaries" - as far as he goes, Michael Moore has nothing on these guys for fabricating self-aggrandizing or state-sponsored propaganda. And if you want to get intricate, bizarre, and able to hold two conflicting thoughts at once balanced on a tine of Vishnu's sacred trident, there's nothing like the Hindu theological Universe to get lost in.

Anyhow good one on the pushback.

9:03 PM  

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