Saturday, July 09, 2005

Rambling rant



London's not burning. We have to wait and see whether the Brits go the same road as the Americans – first wake up in utter disbelief that anybody could actually hate them this much, then react in ways that make more people hate them more intensely. I think it's unlikely.


The Brits, especially London and Londoners, have been through too much. From all accounts, they're taking this in their stride. Brit stoicism, stiff upper lip, nasty-business-what, would-you-please-pass-the-marmalade beastly-weather-we're-having. I love them for it.

I've admitted it before. I'm an Anglophile. It's not a conscious, rational decision, it's just that when my generation were growing up, the Brits won the information war for our hearts and minds. They didn't need MTV or i-Pods. Their shock trooper was Enid Blyton, with an intensive barrage of idyllic English summers and a relentless fusillade of food descriptions. Later in the campaign, 1500 years worth of heavy armour from Chaucer to Kingsley Amis, marshalled by the Children’s Division of the British Council Library, simply rolled over my consciousness. (Maggie Thatcher shut down the Children's Section, may she bubble at the mouth with Mad Cow Disease!)




In 2001 I saw for the first time the little streams and rolling meadows, the hayricks and horizon-blued woods of England. If it had been damp dripping October, I might have escaped from the spell. Instead, it was a glorious August, the finest weather in 30 years. I was lost. Two months later the Shenandoah Valley wooed me with the blazing colours of fall, but it was too late, too loud, too long.

But I digress ... My last post evoked some visceral responses. I need to respond to some of them here.

Jai said Indians cannot aspire to any moral superiority in this regard. I agree. Indian politicians, and as a result the Indian Government, can be sickeningly hypocritical. The best option is to call it like it is, whether it's an Indian or an American saying things that are patently untrue and insincere.

This means that if Bush says
(a) he's fighting terrorists
(b) he's going after Osama bin Laden
(c) Eye-rack are helping bin Laden by stocking WMD

and later it transpires that
(i) he's fighting terrorists only as long as they're not in Pakistan
(ii) he's realised he can't get Osama so he has to choose a sitting target and
(iii) WMD can’t have been the reason for bombing Eye-rack because everybody knew they were never there

then he is a liar.

Unfortunately, he's also the President of the most powerful nation in the world.
Which is why I call him a bully.

Fingeek, wisely enough, cautions that India gains nothing by "standing up to the bully". True. Much better to make money out of them while we can. He points out that many Iraqis were happy to be rid of Saddam. I agree. There are, however, three points one should not forget.

First, the invasion had nothing to do with the events of 9/11, with the excesses of Saddam and Uday or even with any perceived threat to the USA. There were no WMD in Iraq. Saddam did not plan or execute the events of 9/11. There were regions on earth that were even worse off than Iraq - Rwanda, Afghanistan, East Timor, Chechnya.

The US invaded Iraq for the strategic ends of Bush & Co. These included the creation of a rallying point so that at least some of the electorate would not realise the pathetic truth – that Bush is a lousy leader and a hopeless administrator. What the US definitely did NOT do was to invade Iraq for the well-being of Iraqis.

Second, who made the US the arbiter of other nations' destinies? Today they invade Iraq and we exult because a repressive dictator has been toppled. Except for the Middle East, the rest of the world consoles itself. Saddam had it coming, maybe they’ll bring down the price of oil, it’s only a slab of desert in the middle of nowhere, it’s not as if they’re bombing a REAL country.
Well, wake up, world. For a large portion of the US electorate, anywhere outside the 50 mainland states is “somewhere out there”. Some of them don’t even know the capital of the next-state-but-one. If tomorrow Pulao Hariyali (what else should one call a Bush-Rice combo?) decide to roll into Liechtenstein, Paramaribo, Ulan Bator, who’s going to stop them? Where do we stop them? Marseilles? Milton Keynes? Remember Donne – “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”.

Third - and this one is addressed to Ozymandiaz – I have criticized the US government’s policies and actions. I do not regard Americans as evil, notwithstanding my comments in this very post (based on personal experience) about their vast insularity. I do not regard them as uniformly stupid, in spite of the pretzel story and more like it. I have friends in the US, I have friends who are now US citizens. My graduate guide in the USA was one of the most intelligent and open-minded individuals I have ever met, not to mention an extremely kind and sensitive person. I used the term “redneck” to represent a type. The British yob, the Indian bigot, the Euro Nazi – these are all types based upon real people. We should not (and I do not) assume that entire populations are composed exclusively of these types.

The invasion of Iraq was an act of the US government, not an action by the people of the USA. It has led to a very obvious and perhaps potentially damaging schism in the body civic. At the same time, it has brought to light some of the best features of the American polity.
The American media have focused public attention on the excesses of Abu Ghraib, on the meaningless deaths of soldiers of at least 6 nationalities, on the awarding of contracts without tenders, the slaughter of civilians by hopped-up undertrained soldiers, the shameless profiteering by the most powerful politicians in the US. Americans have faced up to an increasingly repressive establishment and voiced their concern over the direction in which their democracy is headed.

Sadly enough, even after these stories broke in the media ,the US saw fit to re-elect George Herbert Walker Bush III with his Cheney and Rice combo. Fox TV and USA Today won over the voices of reason.

Well, the Brits are not significantly wiser. They re-elected Blair, a man who sent their sons to die in Iraq over a lie.

I still hope, however, that Britain will not react the way the US did. I hope that none of my friends who have spent the best years of their lives in that “green and pleasant land” will wake to a midnight knock, or spend days in prison because a booking clerk couldn’t make out what they said. I believe that the days when this man was defended and lionised cannot come back.

One of the differences I perceive is that humour is an industry in the USA. In Britain, I suspect, it’s more low-key, more a tradition of self-deprecation. Sixty years ago, the most appealing face of Britain was a creased bulldog visage with a cigar. Today, it may be people like this.

Laugh at your enemies. It’s difficult for them to be terrifying when they’re being laughed at. And the absence of terror goes a long way towards defeating terrorists.
In any case, it's not healthy to go for very long without a belly laugh. So go read some other blog now.


20 comments:

Heh Heh said...

What i wish to contest is the "Iraq's invasion has set a precedent" argument implicit here. I don't think Iraq's invasion changed anything. The US has waged war before on the flimsiest of excuses. So its not as if the world has to awake now to face a threat that did not exist before.

As far as the question of "who gave the US the arbiter of other nations's destinies?" goes, the answer is self-interest. It's time we realised that our policy should be guided by self-interest too, instead of notions of morality on issues that are very grey.

Overall, where the US has indulged in nation-building out of self-interest, it has been a force for good (japan and germany are good examples, economically powerful countries that are also overwhelmingly pacifist). History will only be able to tell if they do a good job in the long term here.

I like the way you ended your post, though. :)

Vishnupriya said...

youre right when you say that not all americans are rednecks, just like not all indians are rss loonies. but the american in universities and in big cities is very different from in the countryside. which city did you live in when you were here btw. i noted your comment on my blog about not liking suburbian usa.

oh and i read the pretzel story. totally rotfl material. but i actually find those morons very endearing, which is why i feel comfortable in the us unlike you. of course the fact that they are less likely (too stupid maybe ;)) to feel me up in a sleeper car mayyyy help.

Jabberwock said...

Excellent post, JAP. Would like to say more but will refrain for now, because when I get started on this topic it's difficult to know where to stop. But I'm glad you wrote this, and it's heartening that there are still people around who can condemn Bush and his thugs without feeling it necessary to condemn the entire country they 'represent'.

Gati said...

Prufrockda,

I would like to correct some misconception of yours about American media. I assume here that you are talking about the mainstream media.

It has talked about everything that you mentioned, except the loss of Iraqi civilian lives, unless it has already become big news elsewhere. There is a deafening silence on that issue, While the death of each American soldier is mourned.

The American media has its own, quite stringent, limits to freedom. Maybe covert pressure to be "responsible" (I am quoting Rumsfeld), maybe direct censorship. I have seen very little coverage of the World Tribunal at Turkey too in the mainstream, while the blog world was screaming at the top of its voice all along.

O btw, amar tritiyo blog-tate ektu payer dhulo deben please.

uma said...

very thoughtful post. thank you.

S said...

how precisely is england going to react the way the US did? take over afghanistan again? maybe reinvade iraq? no, the truth is, the only country that it would make any sense for the brits to invade is pakistan, because that's where osama uncle has to be, unless he's relaxing in a spa in south dakota. but do you really think bush is going to let anyone invade pakistan? they've got a great thing going with pervez, and so they aren't going to jeopardize that at all.

Gati said...

Woo-hoo...if this (above comment by S) means that Al-qaeda has successfully created a conflict of interest between UK and US.....then Kudos to them!

Senthil Kumar said...

England can not react the way the US did, for 2 reasons,

1) they do not have any one to go after (coz US has covered all those nations, expect the one, you know what it is)
2) UK does not have the power to bully everyone including UN.

Vasushena said...

JAP,

The usual congratulations for a well thought-out and balanced post are in order. Just a couple of observations-

First, I would have to disagree with you that the invasion had nothing to do with 9/11. For vast swathes of "Middle America", 9/11 meant they ought to give Bush and co. license to seek revenge in any manner of their choosing. For Bush himself, 9/11 provided direction to his meandering presidency, allowed him to unleash war half a world away and finally to begin the lengthy process of his re-election. One hopes the lunatics with bombs are pleased.

Second, I'm afraid it's necessary to recognize the awesome calibre of the Republican propaganda machine. While their ability to polarize a nation and win elections has been commented upon at length, they have also inexplicably managed to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of some "liberal" commentators. An erstwhile leftwinger like the comedian Bill Maher has repeatedly wondered aloud if Bush was right after all to go after Iraq in pursuit of the democratic ideal in the Middle East. I also suspect that on university campuses across the US, the rather strong opposition to Bush of two years has no wgiven way to a mix of approval and the grudging acknowledgement that the neocons are here to stay. It's astonishing how the sustained rhetoric has once again obscured the real point, one that you make in your post - even if they were right to seek democracy in the Middle East, it wasn't up to them to present Iraqis with a brand of democracy forged in the Pentagon's inner chambers.

Finally, kudos to London and the English for their fortitude in the face of these attacks, Yet, in all honesty, there's little the UK can do to react to them. By throwing in their lot with the US in such laughable fashion, the UK has already forfeited most of its options. The UK's excellent security and emergency response apparatus will probably be tested again. The trouble is that given the demographic and geographic factors, the UK will struggle much more than the US did to protect its citizens and secure its borders in the aftermath of 9/11. More is the pity.

GREATBONG said...

he's fighting terrorists only as long as they're not in Pakistan

Bravo. Something I wrote a while ago....

http://greatbong.blogspot.com/2005/05/musharaff-smartest-politician-in-world.html

Anonymous said...

You do go on and on...

ozymandiaz said...

There is one point I believe needs to be added to all of these good points. It is one that is beginning to increasingly rear its ugly head. The point has been made and reiterated that this is not a Holy War. I have tried to convince myself of this. I am finding it difficult to continue in this thinking. Not only is it a Holy War for the terrorists, I believe it to be a driving force behind my countries backing of this fiasco. I have seen and heard the hateful rhetoric uttered from the mouths of Christianity. The fear of Islam and the belief that God’s will is for Islam to fall. This Christian belief structure is the backbone of conservatism that supports our government’s actions and lends a blind eye, and more over, a blind heart to the atrocities we propogate abroad. Not only that, we watch blithely as our very own freedoms are usurped in the name of security. The voices say freedom and tolerance and understanding… the actions say something entirely different.
And to Vishnupriya, just so you’ll know, I live in the countryside, the rural south to be exact, I have never attended a university, and I don’t kill for pleasure. I’m sorry about that. I look and enunciate like a redneck, so I get a bit touchy on the matter sometimes. Forgive?

Gati said...

I stongly believe it is indeed a holy war : have a look here http://www.gotibabu.blogspot.com

Quizman said...

Pruffock,

In any analysis of US power, one must not forget the financial aid that common US taxpayers have given to the developing world. Hence your question Second, who made the US the arbiter of other nations' destinies? is not rhetorical. It needs to be answered. Take Egypt. In fact, take an article from the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. Note this paragraph:

It has received large amounts of aid from the United States, the countries of Western Europe, Japan and Arab Gulf countries. For many years it has been the largest recipient of aid among developing countries, getting considerably more than other more populous and poorer countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Despite the magnitude of aid, which in the case of that provided by the US is no less than $25 billion over the last quarter century, Egypt has not achieved the status of a newly industrialised country. No fewer than twelve countries in East and South East Asia and Latin America have made this leap.


It is the common taxpayer who has shelled out her hard-earned money to give aid to such countries. A large portion of the UN's budget is derived directly from US aid.

That in itself, makes it quite proper for the US to be "an arbiter of other nations destinies." If the country does not like it, it should not accept aid.

Sadly, I haven't seen this angle being explored in any of the one-sided comments above.

Pruffock sahib - you are doing exactly the thing Krishna Menon did. I thought we were past that age and into the age of realpolitik. Please stay away from the Foreign Office. :-P

ozymandiaz said...

Yes, let’s look at your example. “…no less than $25 billion over the last quarter century, Egypt has not achieved the status of a newly industrialised country.” Sooo, that money went to good use, I’m sure.
Try this on for size…U.S. agriculture policy undermines U.S. efforts to alleviate poverty because it drives down global agricultural prices, which in turn cost developing countries hundreds of millions of dollars in lost export earnings. The losses associated with cotton subsidies alone exceed the value of U.S. aid programs to the countries concerned. The British aid organization Oxfam charges that U.S. subsidies directly led to losses of more than $300 million in potential revenue in sub-Saharan Africa during the 2001/02 season. More than 12 million people in this region depend directly on the crop, with a typical small-scale producer making less than $400 on an annual cotton harvest. By damaging the livelihoods of people already on the edge of subsistence, U.S. agricultural policies take away with the right hand what the left hand gives in aid and development assistance.
Or take a look at private aid here http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=6937&AuthKey=db3fb642c08c0d2deb759f2ef7356271&issue=507
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe we, as a nation, do extraordinary good thru out the world. Unfortunately we have many policies that do not. We support many regimes that we should not. We have created more monsters due to our “cold war” with the Soviet Union than we have deposed. Our financial aid mirrors our policies. Usually our hearts are in the right place. Usually…

Quizman said...

Ozy,

But the agricultural policies are not created with a view to harm other nations. It is a counter-effect of pandering to political constituencies. There is a difference. Bureacratic and political banality causing collateral damage - to take a leaf out of Hannah Arendt.

I agree with you that foreign policy directed by military strength has caused considerable heartburn in those countries, as well as backfiring on the US. I don't think we Indians should go about lecturing others about this (a point Jabberwock made) since Indian politicians and bureacrats have acted for short-term gains too - but in our case, Indian citizens have had to pay a rather heavy price. [Apart from Jagmohan Dalmiya who has single-handedly destroyed world cricket, we Indians, by and large, have not caused much damage outside our shores.]

Nations and their leaders have always acted in their best interests. There is no point in standing on a soap box and moaning about "standing up to a bully". You can take Pruffock's para and apply it to to describe the stupidity of the Indian masses as well.

==
The Indian media have focused public attention on the excesses of Assam and Punjab, on the meaningless deaths of Indian soldiers in Sri Lanka and Eastern India, on the awarding of contracts without tenders, the slaughter of civilians (Sikhs) by party workers, the shameless profiteering by the most powerful politicians in India. Indians have faced up to an increasingly repressive establishment and voiced their concern over the direction in which their democracy is headed. Sadly enough, even after these stories broke in the media, Indians saw fit to re-elect the Gandhi family.
===


I'm confident that each voter has his/her own TINA story.

Gati said...

There is a little issue about the US being the "world's biggest giver". According to OECD estimates, Japan donated a larger ammount in foreign aid between 1995 and 1999. Also, US donates less than 0.1% of its GDP as developmental assistance, which ranks it 20th among the 22 most developed nations. The UN has set 0.7% if GDP as the benchmark for developed countries, and only four nations (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Netherlands) make the mark. Also, the aid is highly selective. One, it is concentrated on a set of not-so-low income countries that are politically important. The highest receiver of US aid is, surprise, surprise, Israel, followed by Egypt and Pakistan. Also, much of these aids actually go to American companies in these countries. So much for the moral high ground.

Quizman said...

gati,

(a)The 0.1% of GDP fugure is immaterial. I'd rather look at aid per target country in absolute terms. [How much did the petro-rich Arab countries donate i the 80s to African nations?] (b)Also, I'm glad that they do not provide developmental aid for many reasons too complex to elaborate here. [Incidentally, how much does our nation provide?] (c)Btw, what's wrong with selective aid? (d)The argument that much of the aid goes to American companies is a fallacious one. If a citizen of Pakistan buys a tablet made by a American Pharmaceutical company, it will benefit the American company. Ditto with a Tomahawk missile(e)Every nation adopts the moral high ground. How else do leaders convince the citizenry to donate their taxes to help other nations? ;-) [Btw, we're not even talking about the private aid of US based NGOs including those that benefit India. I volunteer for one such organization.]

The point I'm trying to make is that the "blame game" is a slippery slope to fall into. Every nation in history (except India) has acted in its best interest. Its just that the US has been most efficient in doing so. :-)

Quizman said...

sheesh..typos..:-)

jy said...

hmm, chanced on this blog ( partly 'cos of the prufrock title - t.s.eliot fan are you?)

well, no one crowned the usa as the arbiter of the world; it was probably the unintended result of WWII and the cold war - out of the wok and into the fire - well it still remains to be seen

as for london , after the initial shock, there was not much that was out of the ordinary , c'mon, after the decades of IRA threats and bombs, there's probably some resignation. but those reports of attacks against muslims are kinda disturbing .these years (post 9/11) have been a call to arms for rednecks united but then there's the bush camp cheering them on - just watch those military chat/blogs - reads like some neo-nazi manifesto