History is said to be made when humanity has tried to break asunder forces of unreason, irrationality, bigotry, intolerance and reaction which keep reappearing in newer forms in its onward journey. But what can one say when it tries to do the exact opposite, or prefer to go back on the path undertaken.
Karachi-basd artist Asim Butt committed suicide yesterday by hanging himself to death. He was only 31, and his work made waves. Part of the Stuckist art movement, he made figurative paintings, most notably a series of seven portraying a dog’s carcass. He was also a graffiti artist, painting red the walls of Karachi. His best known graffiti work was the eject symbol painted all over towards the end of General Musharraf’s rule.
Last night I heard a public conversation between the Marxist Geographer David Harvey and Alexander Cockburn the editor of CounterPunch and columnist with The Nation. The conversation titled, ‘The End or Future of Capitalism’ was hosted by The Center for Place, Culture & Politics. Cockburn opened the conversation by speaking about the lack of vision in the Left. Harvey argued that the capitalist system was facing tremendous stress and that a different path of economic development had to be envisioned. Harvey continued on the end of capitalism as one needing analysis in terms of how this crisis arose with the problem of accumulation and realization of surplus, and poses the question of what is to be done? Central to Harvey’s argument is that the mounting stress seen at the centre of the capitalist system in the last three decades is the culmination of the inability to sustain the two and a half percent compounded accumulation that has been a characteristic of global capital over the last couple hundred years. That the capitalist system is unable to find productive investments for the two and a half percent accumulation rate leading to repetitious and aggravating crises in the unproductive bubbles in financial assets.
I stood in line when the floor was open, but much to my disappointment the moderator had brought the conversation to an end before I could ask my question, and so I am going to ask it here. Both Harvey and Cockburn talked about the urgency of the moment and the need for provocative questions from the Left. But what is the more urgent question to ask at this moment? Is it the end or future of capitalism? Or is it the end or future of the American Empire? The two may well be related and even two sides of the same coin, but the question for me is influenced by the urgency of the situation in our region; the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The relatedness of the two questions also leads me to ask what would be the consequence of the tremendous stress at the centre of the capitalist system on the wars fought at the periphery of Empire? And in turn, what is the impact of the tremendous stress of the wars on the periphery for the hegemonic centre of the capitalist system?
A number of activists from the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) in New York have initiated a reading group on South Asia. The notes below are the first in a series of commentaries following reading discussions that some members of the reading group hope to post on Kafila. This is an attempt to broaden the discussions and in the process make it a productive dialogue to understand developments in the region and deepen our solidarity.
Reading Land and Reform in Pakistan
— Svati Shah, Prachi Patankar and Ahilan Kadirgamar
Given the escalation of a multifaceted war in Pakistan, and given our own commitment to a peace with justice in South Asia, we have started reading and discussing issues of importance in Pakistan and South Asia more broadly. This inquiry is informed by the alarming and rapidly changing situation in Pakistan, and by an interest in interrogating the category ‘South Asia’ itself. While all are agreed that the term ‘South Asia’ is indispensable, we wonder how ‘South Asia’ could be used to describe more than a region or a set of places outlined by shared borders. We wonder how we can move beyond the limitations of finding historical unity in South Asia primarily through the lens of British colonialism? We wonder how we could describe the political unities and potential solidarities of ‘South Asia’ in this moment? We find it particularly helpful to approach these questions by seeing common issues in the region relating to labour, land and the role of the state in societies in South Asia. At the same time, we want to move away from the received notions of South Asia, whether they be the statist conceptions of SAARC, South Asia as seen by the US State Department or, for that matter, as a region defined by area studies.
[That the BJP expelled Jaswant Singh for writing a book on Jinnah is hardly surprising, even if it represents really the most rotten part of contemporary India’s political culture from the Right to the Left: intolerance of intellectual differences. What is intriguing is that Jaswant Singh wrote the bookknowing well that this would be the end of his political career; even LK Advani could not survive his praise of Jinnah and even though he came back, he remains a pale shadow of his former self. So Jaswant never really had a chance. I have not yet read the book but have tried to follow those who have. While a more detailed analysis will have to wait, I am posting a piece I had written sometime ago as part of a larger academic paper which deals with Advani’s Jinnah episode and the seductions of secularism. – AN ]
Advani Meets the Ghost of Jinnah
On 5 June 2005, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani unleashed a storm within his party and its allied organizations of the Hindu Right. On that day, speaking at a function organized by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs and Law (KCFREAL), Advani referred to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 and described it as ‘a classic exposition of a Secular State’ and Jinnah as a genuine secularist (Advani 2005). In this speech, sections of which Advani read out at length, Jinnah, the founder of the ‘Islamic state of Pakistan’ had said: ‘You are free, you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State…You will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State’ (Jinnah 2005).
On the previous day, Advani had already fired his first salvo. He had visited the Qaid-e-Azam mausoleum where he made the following entry in the visitor’s book: ‘There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. There are very few who actually create history. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual.’ And further, recalling Sarojini Naidu, underlined: ‘Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India’s freedom struggle, described him as an ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is really a classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state…’ (Sarwar 2005, Kapoor 2005). If there was any doubt in anybody’s mind that this was not just a polite entry in a visitor’s book, made in a formalistic way, Advani hastened to clear it in the speech that followed the next day. Continue reading The Ghost of Jinnah, Advani and Jaswant Singh→
What a moment it is, what a moment it must be. Ordinary people on the streets of Lahore on Sunday, countless thousands of them, have forced the Pakistani government to re-instate the deposed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. What a moment of hope in a country the rest of the world believes is about to ‘implode’. What a resurrection of yourself, Mian Sa’ab, who will now remember how unpopular you were when Mush had ousted you!
Here’s an extremely illuminating account of what happened in Lahore, an anonymous account circulating on some mailing lists. This is apart from some excellent citizen reportage on Twitter by Pakistanis.
The Army, the Presidency, the Americans and the Prime Minister, were all ready to throw peanuts at Nawaz Sharif. The assessment was that 500 will reach constitution avenue (read Salman Taseer). In Pindi, we had halwa puri at a friends house today. A PPP friend who knew my passion for the CJ, at 11-00 am said, looking at me, “Yar Imran, there is a bigger long march in my house than in Lahore.” A PML N friend told me from Lahore, “Punjabis dont get out in the face of danda. The long march will fail.” Continue reading ‘Lahoris woke up and joined their son’→
Statement by the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) at ‘After Mumbai, Which Way Forward? A Public Dialogue’, City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, December 15th, 2008. Co-sponsored by The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, The Brecht Forum and SALAAM Theatre.
Let Us Not Forget
Like many in South Asia, we watched with anguish as nearly 180 people of different castes, classes, religions and nationalities lost their lives in the events in Mumbai that unfolded over several days. We mourn their loss in this large tragedy and condemn the perpetration of such terrible violence. We also express solidarity with those intrepid groups and individuals who have tirelessly sought to build deep-roots of social, political, economic and cultural understanding for peace and justice in South Asia. At this moment, we call for reflection on recent histories of South Asia and the world. Hence lessons may be drawn, collective action contemplated and spaces of hope created from the debris of despondency. Continue reading Let Us Not Forget – South Asia Solidarity Initiative→
Strategically speaking, that is. It is important to think this question through.
For one, there’s hardly anybody disputing that the Lashkar-e-Tayebba was behind the attack. Pakistan wants evidence, but doesn’t deny the LeT could be it.
Parvez Hoodbhoy says in an interview:
LeT, one of the largest militant groups in Pakistan, was established over 15 years ago. It was supported by the Pakistani military and the ISI because it focussed upon fighting Indian rule in Muslim Kashmir. Today it is one of the very few extremist groups left that do not attack the military and the ISI; Continue reading Looking Kabul, talking Rawalpindi?→
There is a fierce, unforgiving fault-line that runs through the contemporary discourse on terrorism. On one side (let’s call it Side A) are those who see terrorism, especially “Islamist” terrorism, as a hateful, insane scourge that spins on its own axis, in its own orbit and has nothing to do with the world around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics. Therefore, Side A says, to try and place it in a political context, or even try to understand it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself.
Side B believes that though nothing can ever excuse or justify terrorism, it exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm’s way. Which is a crime in itself. [The Guardian, Saturday, 13 December 2008]
Among Mr. Friedman’s long list of talents seems to be the ability to directly access the minds of dead people. After all, how else could he know that the real attackers in the Mumbai shootings shared the same set of intentions and motivations as the fictional characters he creates who murder an imam and his wife purely for being Sunni? Maybe his short sojourns in South Asia through airports and the plush suites of the Marriot and the Taj Mahal Hotel do not allow him to imagine any other kind of Muslim than a unidimensional protestor of xenophobic cartoon images (produced, distributed and hotly defended, incidentally, by the enlightened West). Maybe this talent comes from the same well of wisdom that made him the biggest promoter of the “innovative genius” of Wall Street bankers not too long ago, a position that he now has some trouble justifying, except by calling them “stupid”. Or just maybe, he has simply made it a habit to promote views and policies that have no basis in fact and do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny. After all, those are the perks that come with a regular column in a major newspaper and a guaranteed readership just waiting for one to provide the ‘expert’ fuel to their fire. Continue reading Mr Friedman’s Demagoguery→
Last week’s terror attacks on Bombay/Mumbai, for which there can be no justification whatsoever, have targetted railway stations, restaurants, hospitals, places of worship, streets and hotels. These are the places in which people gather. where the anonymous flux of urban life finds refuge and sustenance on an everyday basis. By attacking such sites, the tactics of the recent terror attack (like all its predecessors) echo the tropes of conventional warfare as it developed in the twentieth century. These tactics valued the objective of the escalation of terror and panic amongst civilians higher than they viewed the neutralization of strictly military or strategic targets. In a war without end, (which is one way of looking at the twentieth century and its legacy) panic is the key weapon and the most important objective.
Those two M’s recur, on this blog and elsewhere, in the heated discussions around the tragic, provocatove events that have unfolded this past week. I am reminded of this point Martha Nussbaum wrote after Obama won: Continue reading “Mindless,” “Muslims”→
Sam, the primary principle, implies the use of rationalization but if this technique does not work then the second implement is Kam i.e. bribery. If this does not produce the desired result, then the tertiary principle is Dand or the vehement use of violence. If all three fail then the last machination is Bheet or sowing seeds of dissension and discord. Continue reading The Chanakyans→