The Idea of India
Sleepless In Lucknow Or How The Jaipur Literary Festival Became A Nightmare I Want To Wake Up From, February 9th 2010
Aminabad, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Aminabad, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Lets begin by celebrating overt and rabid racism – Ayaan Hirsi Ali was at the Jaipur Literary Festival and I was left bereft with incredulity at the decision of the event organizers. Rather than create a genuinely interesting and intellectually serious environment around writers, thinkers, activists and intellectuals, the festival seems to prefer polemicist, celebrities, second class ‘European’ award winners, starlets, and of course, a lovely collection of Islamophobes and reductive racists.

Ms. Hirsi Ali, a woman famous for veiling her ignorance behind sweeping generalizations, ethnocentric simplicities, categorical accusations, outright inaccuracies, outrageous fear mongering and a very seductive racism masquerading as ‘free speech’, received great support from Mr. Dhume in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. In a piece called India’s Group Think on Islam Mr. Dhume waxed lyrical about Ms. Hirsi Ali’s appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival with paragraphs such as:

Speaking to a packed hall, with her burly bodyguard unobtrusively off-stage, Ms. Hirsi Ali spoke about Islam and its problems with individualism, women’s rights and sexuality with a frankness unfamiliar to most Indians. She described the faith she was born into as “a dangerous, totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion.” She argued against the moral relativism that has prevented Western intellectuals from scrutinizing Islam as they do Christianity and Judaism.

Ah yes, that hideous cult that has infested people for centuries can now be discussed with greater honesty and ‘Enlightenment’ inspired intelligence particularly since it seems that these animals called ‘Muslims’ seem to have no intellectual, theological, artistic, creative, poetic, philosophical, scientific, literary or other capability within them.

Mr. Dhume points out (rather desperately) that she was not alone at the festival and in fact, among the ‘mainstream’ voices helping the world and now India reach a consensus on the ugliness and diseased nature of all Muslims was the fabulously fashionable Mr. Tunku Varadarajan. I have written about his earlier and his fine insights into the collective mindset of the hundreds of millions of Muslims that infest this earth. You can read my comments about his writings in a piece called Going Muslim At Fort Hood Or How Rabid Simplicities Masquerading As Insight Just Sell More Magazines.

Everyone seems to be asking the one question that we are supposed to believe is gaining greater and greater consensus around the globalized-free-market-capitalism believing world: what are we going to do about these ‘Muslim terrorists’ out to destroy our way of life and our return-on-equity?

Of course Ms. Ali is now a ‘scholar’ at the American Enterprise Institute, an organization that boasts such intellectual luminaries as Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Yoo (yes, that is the same Yoo of the Torturers-R-Us club) and others who recently gave us the Iraq invasion, justifications for torture and many other fine achievements that I can’t think of.

And perhaps all this would be quite amusing if for one small problem; that their idiocies and posturing as free speech advocates hinders a genuine and serious engagement on matters of human rights, justice, equality and liberty not only with the Muslim countries they criticize, but within the very European and North American ones they live in. Their well-funded yet empty diatribes reduce a complex human polity that in fact Islam represents to simple and frankly untenable sweeping and general statements that can’t stand the test of even the most cursory examination.

Their hate ridden reductive polemics not only encourages and emboldens the most extremists of religious reactionaries (of all colors Jewish, Christian and Muslim) to grab the podium in support or defence, but also erases the voices of the genuinely liberal and intellectually creative from both within the religious and secular Muslim communities and others who are otherwise engaged in matters of justice, rights, social policies etc. within. By harping their inanities, they provoke inanities and erase acts such as those by Cairo-based activist Hossam Bahgat who recently argued, using Sharia processes, for the rights of people converting from Islam to other beliefs. Such contestations over Sharia, and the laws and mores of society, are commonplace in all nations, including (shockingly!) Muslim ones. Instead, by arguing that ‘Islam’ is totalitarian, fixed, unchanging, backward, evil, destructive, ill-liberal etc. etc. these so-called ‘Enlightenment’ speakers are indulging in the most unenlightened of arguments.

Societies, and yes, even Muslim societies, are best understood through a careful examination of their political, social, economic and, yes, imperialist realities, and not through reductive and frankly racist discussions about ‘the Muslim mind’ or the suggestion of their robot-like collective mindset that seems to have a fibre-optic cable connection to the Koran from which it takes all its decisions and actions.

But instead we seem to have a group of rather popular social ‘celebrities’ who argue that unlike other human beings, anyone or anything ‘Islam’ is inhuman, and lacks any kind of social, economic, political, and emotional reality and are forced as in some ‘totalitarian’ nightmare to unthinkingly and absolutely carry out the statements and phrases of their holy books. Muslims are less human and more zombie like. Islam, and only Islam, explains all their behaviors. And particularly their pathologies. There is no other explanation because they do not posses human traits, frailties, weaknesses, sensitivities, habits and propensities. So an abusive husband, who happens to be of Muslim background, can only be abusive because he is Muslim and his religion and holy book tells him to beat his woman. An angry employee who kills and has a Muslim background (like the Fort Hood killers) can only have done so because the Koran taught him so. They are never described as criminals, and their acts are never just crimes – They are vast conspiracies to overthrow our liberal and gentle way of life, each just one drop in a tidal wave of overly fertile, massively fucking, rapidly reproducing pathogens of which we were fortunate to have caught/arrested/killed one in time, but must remain aware of the others. But hey, if the person is not Muslim, then an abusive husband is just an individual criminal, a gun-toting bulldozer driver who destorys a village , just an angry and lone person. Their weekly church attendance, their teenage year Bible classes, are not relevant. How could they be, for they are not Muslim.

Mr. Dhume is happy to see that India too is coming around to the world’s view on Islam. Writing for the right-wing and fiercely ideological The Wall Street Journal his attempts to suggest that a minority, fringe perspective as somehow enveloping the greater world, is not surprising. This is the same journal that continues to sell us now laughably ridiculous idea of the unstoppable progress of free-market capitalism just as that very model has collapsed on its face and is in fact no longer in effect as most all the great bastion of capitalism are effectively nationalized institutions surviving on government/public charity.

In fact, if anything, despite the silly and infantile discussions pervading in Europe today, the world is developing in the opposite direction. It is beginning to see that there are in fact social, political, economic i.e secular histories to understand, and that among a polity that includes dozens of nations, hundreds of cultures, millions of peoples, and tens of millions of ideas on spirituality and life, there is a greater need of intelligent and carefully considered dialogue.

To encourage India, a nation with a deep heritage of tolerance, acceptance, syncretism and pluralism, to adopt the hideously racist, divisive, reductive and xenophobic ideas of what is really a lunatic fringe, and to suggest that this in fact is a pre-requisite for its greater ‘integration’ into the modern world, is frankly insulting and outright ridiculous. It is also quite disgusting for it is purely propagandist i.e. lacking all substance and using fantasy, seductive simplicities and rhetoric to obfuscate and bamboozle.

What makes all these diatribes even more ridiculous is the daily evidence of the crimes of the very so-called ‘liberal’ and ‘free’ societies these paid-by-the-hour polemicist claim to be defending. The liberalism of the United States of America, the very liberalism and freedoms that Ms. Hirsi Ali seems to suggest are under threat by something she calls ‘Islam’ have in fact been torn asunder by our very own political, military, intelligence and now corporate mercenary institutions. And yet, the luminaries at the American Enterprise Institute, and Ms Hirsi ‘I the Enlightenment’ Ali, seem to have nothing to say about it.

Thankfully, there remain some real journalists and some real intelligence in the USA.

Chris Hedges discusses the destruction of the American justice system at the hands of ‘The War Against Terror’. Aafia Siddiqui has become the poster child of a system that has gone horribly wrong, particular since it was handed over to ‘pay by the head’ private mercenaries determined to capture anyone and anything they could label as a terrorist. Including women and children. In a piece called The Terror-Industrial Complex Chris Hedges points out that…

The threat posed by Islamic extremists, while real, is also wildly overblown, used to foster a climate of fear and political passivity, as well as pump billions of dollars into the hands of the military, private contractors, intelligence agencies and repressive client governments including that of Pakistan…Terrorism, however, is a very good business. The number of extremists who are planning to carry out terrorist attacks is minuscule, but there are vast departments and legions of ambitious intelligence and military officers who desperately need to strike a tangible blow against terrorism, real or imagined, to promote their careers as well as justify obscene expenditures and a flagrant abuse of power.

The writer Petra Bartosiewicz has carried out an investigation into the abuses of the military and the CIA/FBI in the rendition, disappearance, torture, accusation and trial of Aafia Siddiqui. In a piece called The Intelligence Factory – How America Makes Its Enemies Disappear tells us that:

The continued political appetite for a global war on terror has led to a commodification of ‘actionable intelligence,’ which is a product, chiefly, of human prisoners like Aafia Siddiqui. Because this war, by definition, has no physical or temporal boundaries, the demand for such intelligence has no limit. But the world contains a relatively small number of terrorists and an even smaller number of terrorist plots. Our demand for intelligence far outstrips the supply of prisoners. Where the United States itself has been unable to meet that demand, therefore, it has embraced a solution that is the essence of globalization. We outsource the work to countries, like Pakistan, whose political circumstances allow them to produce prisoners with far greater efficiency.

And what does this efficiency get us? Nothing short of cold-blooded murder, as Bartosiewicz reminds us of one consequence of this hunger for terror suspects:

Saud Memon, a Pakistani businessman rumored to own the plot of land where the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered, was arrested in 2003, held by the United States at an unknown location until 2006, then released to Pakistan, where in April 2007 he finally emerged, badly beaten and weighing just eighty pounds, on the doorstep of his Karachi home. He died a few weeks later.

The entire piece makes for sober reading.

But these are things that Ms. Hirsi Ali, so in love with the tiresome clichés of ‘the Enlightenment’ – an epoch of European history that owes a huge debt to the Islamic caliphate of Cordoba and the light of the Muslim intellectuals, artists, scientists, philosophers, writers, poets, travelers, musicians and others that helped push back Europe’s darkest ages (see at least Jack Goody’s Islam In Europe if nothing else for goodness sake!), can’t seem to find reason to discuss. To say nothing about the fact that so-called Enlightenment values that she continues to parrot were reserved for a few European citizens, and were in fact argued away from the ‘lesser’ peoples including those whose heritage she shares. Rarely has a philosophical – reflected in the works of Kant, Mill, Voltaire and so many others, been so evident in its sheer hypocrisy. The values it espoused were not for all, and certainly not for the lesser nations of peoples. It was an exclusive club, a selective, racially determined one. Ms. Hirsi Ali has nothing to say about this, but perhaps this quote from Kant will refresh her memory:Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites. The yellow Indians are far below them and at the lowest point are a part of the American peoples. (from Eze, E.C. Race and Enlightenment)

And don’t even get me started on James Steward Mill.

It is Islam that is the greatest danger to civilization as we know it. Not war, not torture, not injustice, not pain, not suffering, not displacement, not occupations, not uranium-tipped bombs, not rendition programs, not torture prisons, not contorted judicial systems, not war machines that have budgets larger than the GDPs of most nations, not pre-emptive strikes.

No, it isn’t any of this.

I will say it again; that their idiocies and posturing as free speech advocates hinders a genuine and serious engagement on matters of human rights, justice, equality and liberty not only with the Muslim countries they criticize, but within the very European and North American ones they live in. They distract from the works of those who are seriously engaged in their societies and communities and addressing issues of rights, justice and equality. Arab and Muslim societies are as complex, contested and constructed as any other any where in the world. And just as our societies in Europe and the America’s have their social, political, religious and other struggles, so do they. But these strangely castrated intellectuals like Ms Hirsi Ali with their hate ridden reductive polemics not only forces the most extremists of reactionaries to grab the podiums, but erase the voices of the genuinely liberal and intellectually creative from both within the religious and secular Muslim communities and others who are otherwise engaged in matters of justice, rights, social policies etc. within. Their arguments are not criticism, and not interesting. They are simply stupidities and polemics that evade serious questions, scholarship and most importantly compassion and humanity towards those they are determined to reduce, ridicule and relegate to non-human status.

I will also add this; that they are incomplete and inconsistent. There is much to criticize about the extremists, misogynist, fundamentalist and illiterate in Muslim societies around the world. But these criticisms cannot be selectively applied to just Islam, but in fact apply to all religions as we know them. At this very moment extreme violence and murder is being carried out in the name of a concocted Judaism, while Christian soldiers, proud to overtly talk about their ‘greater god’ are in occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. We have Christian ministers who repeated blame homosexuals and ‘liberals’ for hurricanes and earthquakes, rabbis who sanction the murder of the children of ‘the other’, and Popes who in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence encourage people to continue to have unprotected sex. As she stood on the podiums of Jaipur, she did not remember that powerful influence of India’s Hindutva groups, whose crimes in Ahmedabad and countless other acts of ‘communal violence’ have yet to be accounted for. She did not remember the xenophobia of the Shiv Sena, which even as she stood there shedding the spotlight on herself, was practicing the worst for of xenophobic racism against the citizens of this very nation. That a xenophobic, violent and racist party in fact held the reins of power in this country for at least 8 years before its citizens finally tired of its policies and incompetence and threw it out of office. They rejected this ‘consensus’ that Mr. Dhume so wants to suggest is taking over India.

Instead, she spewed venom on Pakistan, yes, because it was Muslim, and also failed to remember that its people have also been engaged in a struggle against the extremists with an alacrity and determination and who saw all religious parties defeated in the 2008 elections. Ms Hirsi Ali, such a lover of liberty and justice, has continued to remain silent on the racist and brutal policies of the state of Israel and its deeply fundamentalist and extremist Jewish society that celebrates the murder of Christian and Muslim Palestinians. But then again, they do pay her bills and perhaps that is the greater liberal trait of all.

We can criticize, but we have to be consistent and we have to be intelligent. Sadly, these celebrities at the festival lacked both.

Now, I just have to figure out what the organizers of the Jaipur Festival were thinking, and when and if, they will decide to make it a genuinely interesting yet complex, nuanced yet insightful, festival. One that can tell the difference between genuine criticism and genuine racism. Or will it just become a right-wing-lunatic gathering that finds more eloquent and articulate ways to push its racist, derogatory and denigrating values and voice. We will see.

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