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Defend our Free Spaces! Defend UP!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 5:11pm in

image/jpeg iconUP_Diliman_Oblation_during_sunset_in_Quezon_City_landscape.jpg

The Duterte regime’s attacks on our civil liberties continue, this time aimed towards the youth. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the DND would unilaterally terminate the UP–DND Accord, effective January 15. This targeted attack by the state is nothing new or unprecedented from Duterte’s henchmen.

We cannot let this stand. The students of UP will not let this go unnoticed. The students have always stood firm against the tides of state oppression... History often repeats itself, and if that means the return of state oppression, so too shall the fires of activism and resistance return.

Hubren Estor

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Book Review: The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Campaign Against Xinjiang’s Muslims by Sean R. Roberts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 12:17am in

In The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Campaign Against Xinjiang’s Muslims, Sean R. Roberts offers a new account exploring how the US-led Global War on Terror has been used by China as a cover for the persecution of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur population. Giving a voice to the Uyghurs themselves and providing detail that only an expert can offer, this book is an empathetic and deeply informative work for those hoping to understand the humanitarian crisis in Xinjiang, writes Charles Dunst

The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Campaign Against Xinjiang’s Muslims. Sean R. Roberts. Manchester University Press. 2020.

Years before COVID-19 was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the Chinese government had already set its targets on another purportedly dangerous pathogen: Islamist extremism, which Chinese officials said was ‘infecting’ the Uyghurs, the predominantly Muslim indigenous peoples of northwest China’s Xinjiang region.

In 2014 and 2015, the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s bio-politicisation of this supposed threat reached its zenith, with the PRC Justice Department’s Party Committee Secretary suggesting that some 30 per cent of Uyghur villagers were ‘polluted by religious extremism’ and required ‘concentrated education’ (203). The secretary added: ‘when the 30% are transformed […] the village is basically cleansed’ (203). Long before the world was reintroduced to the concept of ‘quarantining’ as a measure to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the PRC had deemed such treatment necessary to deal with the Uyghurs ‘in order to ensure that the alleged infection of ‘‘extremism’’ did not spread to others’ (203), as Sean R. Roberts writes in his exceptional new book, The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Campaign Against Xinjiang’s Muslims.

Roberts, an associate professor of the practice of international affairs and director of the International Development Studies Program at George Washington University, convincingly shows through extensive interviews and Uyghur language sources that the PRC’s claims of a large-scale Uyghur ‘terrorist threat’ are profoundly disingenuous. Yet they found purchase following 9/11, allowing the PRC to fold the Uyghurs into the ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) in order to suppress them. This, however, created a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy of Uyghur militancy’ (20) that, in turn, gave the PRC only further justification to clamp down on the Uyghurs in what Roberts and others have termed ‘cultural genocide’. For those hoping to understand both the motivations behind and practicalities of China’s brutal crackdowns, Roberts’s book is a deeply useful, if disturbing, read.

The War on the Uyghurs offers a history of what Roberts calls Chinese colonialism, arguing that ‘modern China’s relationship with the Uyghurs and their homeland has always been, and continues to be, one best characterized as colonial’ (23). Not only has the Chinese state successfully wrought control of the Xinjiang region from those indigenous to it, but the Han population, evoking the colonial idea of ‘civilising’ the colonised, distinguishes the Uyghurs and other local Turkic people ‘as fundamentally different from and inferior to the dominant Han population and, thus, incapable of becoming equals to the Han or of even knowing how to best care for themselves’ (24), as Roberts writes.

This attitude towards the Uyghurs has persisted from the Qing Dynasty’s 1750s conquering of the region — which received the title of Xinjiang, or the ‘New territory’, only in 1884 — up until today. It also explains why Beijing made sure that the Uyghurs’ two para-states, the First and Second Eastern Turkistan Republic (ETR), were short-lived.

The first ETR, founded in 1933 by ‘indigenous intellectuals inspired by a variety of ideologies of self-determination’ (36), fell in 1934 to Dungan (Hui) armies but continues to cast a long shadow on Xinjiang’s historical memory, with many Uyghurs hoping to recreate this era of self-rule. The second ETR was slightly longer-lived, lasting from 1944 to 1949. Its demise was tied to an August 1949 plane crash that killed five ETR leaders, saving both regional powers, China and the Soviet Union, from having to deal with the independence-minded Uyghurs for decades. This paved the way for PRC control of the region.

From colonialism, Roberts takes us into the era of counterterrorism, showing how PRC leaders seized on George W. Bush’s GWOT to implicate the Uyghurs within it and, accordingly, legitimise the illiberal repression of them as ‘terrorists’.

Only five weeks after 9/11, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson went on what Roberts calls a ‘tirade’ against the East Turkistan National Congress, a Europe-based Uyghur advocacy group, calling them, without evidence, a ‘terrorist force with the objective of splitting China’ that ‘has closely colluded with international terrorist organizations to undertake numerous horrible violent terrorist acts’ (69). Soon after, PRC officials at the United Nations in New York, again without evidence, claimed that the Uyghurs were directly connected to Osama bin Laden, the GWOT’s number one enemy (70).

While more than a few US policymakers and scholars were suspicious of China’s claims regarding Uyghur-led terrorism, the United States nonetheless deemed the ‘Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement’ (ETIM) — a Uyghur separatist group alleged to be operational in Afghanistan — a terrorist organisation in August 2002. This was despite the fact that the US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Rights and Labor had only months before said that the PRC had ‘chosen to label all of those who advocate greater freedom [in Xinjiang], near as I can tell, as terrorists; and we don’t think that’s correct’ (77).

What changed, as Roberts suggests with ample evidence, was that the United States granted Beijing its wish — US confirmation of the Uyghurs’ ‘terrorism’ — in exchange for China’s broader support for the GWOT.

The question of whether Uyghur violence constitutes ‘terrorism’ comes down to definitions. Roberts, acknowledging that ‘terrorism’ is notoriously difficult to define, describes it as an act that is ‘violent, politically motivated, and deliberately targets civilians’ (13). Accordingly, he notes that the overwhelming majority of Uyghur attacks, while certainly violent, do not fit this definition of terrorism, as they ‘either did not target civilians or did not even constitute premeditated political violence’ (74). Instead, they targeted police stations and other PRC apparatuses; Roberts therefore argues that they are more accurately described as Uyghur guerilla warfare (74).

In Roberts’s view, only a very small number of incidents since 9/11 fits this definition of terrorism, including the knife attacks at Kunming train station in 2014, which left 31 civilians dead, and two bombings in Urumqi later in the same year that, combined, killed 45. But the PRC extends the ‘terrorist’ label to ‘any thought, speech, or activity that by means of violence, sabotage or threat, aims to generate social panic, influence national policy-making, create ethnic hatred, subvert state power, or split the state’. Whereas Roberts sees Uyghur violence as resistance to oppression, the PRC classifies Uyghur resistance against the Chinese state as terrorism in order to legitimise its own crackdowns.

But PRC violence has only begat Uyghur violence, bringing into existence what Roberts calls a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. While small numbers of Uyghurs had made their way to extremist groups in the Middle East and Central Asia over the years, it was only after China began its war on terror in Xinjiang that these numbers and Uyghur attacks against the PRC increased. Those who travelled to Syria, Roberts writes, ended up ‘fight[ing] in a foreign war far from their homeland, either in the hope of one day using their experience to fight the Chinese state or merely as a means of survival and a sense of belonging’ (194). A number of those who stayed home in Xinjiang responded to growing oppression by picking up low-level arms against the PRC.

Yet the actual threat posed by Uyghur groups to Chinese national security is effectively ‘imaginary’, as Roberts argues. Uyghur resistance has indeed been violent at times, but Uyghur groups, both at home and abroad, simply do not have the resources to truly pose a threat to the Chinese state. This, however, did not stop Beijing from creating the disturbing reality — the ‘cultural genocide’ of the Uyghurs through the mass internment, surveillance and forced labour that Roberts describes in later chapters — with which we are familiar today. The PRC’s goal, meanwhile, is not to tamp a real terrorism threat emanating from the Uyghur community but, as one Han official put it, to ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins’ (235).

Roberts argues that the PRC has under GWOT’s auspices produced a tragedy to which the global response has been lacking — and that if this crisis is allowed to go on unabated, the racist logic of settler colonialism, coupled with mass repression and ethnically profiled population control, will find greater purchase the world over. He also argues that the West, thanks to its own GWOT-era human rights failings, has lost seemingly all of its moral clout to pressure China. This strikes me as too pessimistic, given that the US and others still retain substantial soft power across the Global South, parts of which are becoming increasingly hostile to China. Current trends, however, do indeed give reason to be pessimistic.

Most of the world’s majority Muslim countries, many of whom have close ties with China, have remained largely silent, while the West, itself deeply enmeshed economically with China, has offered little in the way of a meaningful response. John Bolton claimed in his recent book that former US President Donald Trump, for his part, had told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that he thought building internment camps for the Uyghurs ‘was exactly the right thing to do’. In contrast, Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, whose campaign said that China’s repression of the Uyghurs rises to ‘genocide’, is expected to take a tougher stance on the issue.

But while international condemnation is growing, the world’s response remains lacking. For instance, when outgoing Arsenal footballer Mesut Özil, a German Muslim of Turkish heritage, spoke out on social media in support of the Uyghurs with a post bearing the first ETR’s flag, his employer cowered to China’s economic clout, posting on their Weibo page that Arsenal has ‘always adhered to the principle of noninvolvement in politics’. Özil, to his credit, did not back down, while another Muslim professional footballer, Senegalese striker Demba Ba — who previously played in China — joined him, asking, ‘When are we going to see the rest of the world stand up for Muslims?’

Giving voice to the Uyghurs themselves and drawing attention to this crisis, The War on the Uyghurs is striking, empathetic and deeply informative. Providing detail that only an expert can offer, Roberts documents what is perhaps today’s worst tragedy. Ultimately, Roberts’s contribution serves as a vital testament to the Chinese government’s strategic brutality in Xinjiang, the Uyghurs’ perilous position and the world’s failure to live up to its promise of ‘never again’.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Demonstration for Uyghur rights in Berlin, January 2020 (Leonhard Lenz CCO).


BLM Activist Calls for Dictionary to Redefine Racism

Here’s something far more controversial after some of the posts I’ve put up recently. A few days ago, the writer and Youtuber Simon Webb put up on his channel, History Debunked, a piece about a worrying attempt by a young Black American woman, Kennedy Mitchum to change the definition of racism in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Webb states that most people would say that racism means racial prejudice, or that there are more profound differences between racial groups than their skin colour and physical appearance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary currently defines racism as

  1. A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
  2. A doctrine or political programme based on racism and designed to execute its policies.
  3. Racial prejudice or discrimination.

This wasn’t good enough for Mitchum. Three days after the death of George Floyd, with riots breaking out across America, she emailed the publisher calling for the definition to be changed in accordance with Critical Race Theory. This holds that racism is due to the imbalance of power in society, and implemented by the dominant racial group. Instead of telling Mitchum where to stick her suggestion, as Webb himself would have done, the publishers responded to her, telling her that this issue needed to be addressed sooner rather than later and that a revision would be made. Peter Sokolofsky, one of the dictionary’s editors, stated that the second definition would be expanded to be even more explicit in its next edition, and would include systemic oppression as well as sample sentence, and would be formulated in consultation with academics in Black Studies.

Webb points out that if this is done, then it would redefine racism as something that only Whites do, and absolve people of colour of any responsibility for it on their part, or indeed see them as being racist at all, because Whites are the dominant race in Britain and America. This is, he claims, the attitude of many liberals and leftists, who believe that all White people are racist. It would also mean that Blacks, who hated Jews or Indians, would not be viewed as racist. He has personally seen such racism in the Caribbean street robbers of Hackney. They hated Orthodox Jews and used to go to Stamford Bridge to prey on the Jewish community there. He ends the video by stating that such a redefinition of racism would mean that all Whites in Britain and America are defined as racist but no other ethnic groups.

Changing the dictionary definition of racism – YouTube

There certainly is an attitude amongst some anti-racist activists that only White people can be racist and are never the victims. Way back in October 2019 Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, put up a post commenting on a report in the Guardian about complaints about an EHRC investigation into racism at Britain’s universities by a group of Black and Asian academics and students. The group, which included Heidi Mirza, the visiting professor of race, faith and culture and Goldsmiths College, University of London, Fope Olaleye, the NUS’ Black students’ officer, Gargi Bhattacharyya, professor of sociology at the University of East London, and Zubaida Haque, the deputy director of the racial equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, were outraged at the Commission because it dared to include anti-White, anti-English racism. This, they seemed to believe, detracted from the Commission’s true purpose, which was to combat White racism against Blacks and Asians.

Students of Colour Furious that Anti-White Prejudice is Considered to be Racism – YouTube

I’ve posted a number of pieces criticising the lack of attention and action against anti-White racism. At the moment the attitude that racism is something that only Whites are guilty of racism seems extremely prevalent. In fact, the situation regarding racial prejudice, abuse and violence is far more complex. About 20 years ago, before 9/11 and the subsequent massive rise in Islamophobia, Whites briefly formed the largest number of victims of racial abuse and violence. There are also tensions and conflict between different non-White minorities. In the 1980s or ’90s there was a riot in Birmingham, not between Blacks and Whites, but between Blacks and Asians. I’ve also heard that in one of the schools in Bristol in one of the very racially mixed areas, most of the playground fights were between different groups of Asians. Some people were aware that different ethnic groups also had their racial prejudices. Boy George mentioned it when he appeared on Max Headroom’s chat show on British TV in the 1980s, for which he was praised for his brave outspokenness by the world’s first computer generated video jockey.

There is, however, a real reluctance to tackle ethnic minority racism. A couple of years ago an Asian man told Diane Abbott that there should be more action on the racism members of ethnic minorities experienced at the hands of other non-Whites. Abbott told him she wasn’t going to do anything about it, because the Tories would use it to divide and rule. Like Kennedy Mitchum and the Critical Race Theorists, as well as the critics of the EHRC, she was solely focussed on tackling White racism.

That focus, in my opinion, explains why the Black comedian and anti-racist activist, Sophie Duker, felt she could get away with a joke about killing Whitey on Frankie Boyle’s podcast. Boyle had assembled a panel of mainly Black and Asian activists, to discuss the topic of how ethnic minorities were coming together to kill Whitey. Duker had made comments about racism being the product of an ideology of Whiteness, which was harming Blacks and Whites. She then said that they didn’t want to kill Whitey, before adding ‘we do really’. She was clearly joking, but her comment resulted in the corporation receiving 200 complaints. According to right-wing internet radio host and Youtuber, Alex Belfield, the Beeb is now being investigated by the Greater Manchester Police for what is described as a ‘hate incident’. His attitude is that while Duker’s comment was a joke, it should be unacceptable, just as making jokes about killing Blacks is unacceptable. See, for example, his piece ‘Reply BBC ‘Whitey’ Joker STAGGERING From Unapologetic Hate Lady Comedian’, which he put up on Youtube on the 8th January 2021. No, I’m not going to link to it. Even I have standards! I think one of the reasons she felt she could make the joke is because she and the other activists concentrate exclusively on White racism. Anti-White racism simply isn’t an issue with them. But anti-White racism, abuse and violence does occur, hence the angry complaints.

We really do need a study of anti-White racism and racism amongst ethnic minorities. Sir Alan Burns, a British colonial civil servant and former governor of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, discusses Black prejudice against Whites and other racial groups in his book, Colour Prejudice, published in 1948. Nigel Barley also discusses the blind spot Cameroonians had towards their own racism, as well as that of a Black American ethnologist in his The Innocent Anthropologist. The Black American was very racially aware. An idealist, he was inspired by notions of Black brotherhood and wished to live and be treated by the local people the same as one of them. He was shocked when they continued to regard him as they would White westerners, and failed to see how the Fulani traders rigged the local markets to exclude those from other tribes. As for the Camerounians generally, they commonly believed that only Whites were racist. Barley describes how they excused the massacre of French nuns in the Congo by the claim that the nuns were themselves racists. But they refused to recognise that their own hatred and contempt of the people he was studying, the Dowayo, was also racist.

Some Asian nations also have a reputation for racism. Back in the 1990s I found a book on Chinese xenophobia on sale in Waterstones in Bath. I’ve also read various books on Japan, which have also described how racist Japanese society is. I don’t know if it is still true, but one could only qualify as a Japanese citizen if both parents were Japanese. This meant that there was a sizable Korean community, who had lived in the country for generations, which had no civil rights under the law. In schools there was a strong suspicion of outsiders, so it has been claimed, which resulted in foreign students being segregated in separate classes. This is on the grounds that their Japanese language skills may not be good enough for inclusion with the rest of the pupils, but it is applied even to children who are fluent in the language. Outside Japan, expatriate or visiting Japanese will stick almost exclusively to themselves. Back in the 1990s there was a controversy in Australia, I believe, over the construction of a luxury resort there by the Japanese, because it was exclusively for Japanese and no-one else. I don’t mean by this to claim that all Japanese are racist. I’ve met people, who lived in Japan, who admire them and who told me that in their experience they were a very kind people. The travel writer and historian William Dalrymple also describes the anti-Black racism he encountered in India in his book, In Xanadu. Arriving at a railway station with a friend, a Black American soldier, he approached a group of Indian porters, only to see them turn away, sneering at the Black American simply for being Black. Again, I don’t wish to imply that all Indians are racist either.

Racism and racial prejudice exists amongst all peoples and ethnic groups to a greater or lesser degree, even in this country. It is about time that there were proper academic studies of it amongst non-White ethnic groups and anti-White racism in this country. At the moment there is a feeling amongst Whites that only White on Black racism is taken seriously, and that prejudice against Whites is not only acceptable, but being fostered by supposed anti-racist activists.

If the authorities are serious about tackling racism, and all forms of it, that needs to change.

Sensationalism and Smokescreens

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 4:31pm in

image/jpeg iconSensationalism and Smokescreens.jpg

What we want to talk about here is the ensuing media craze and the inability of the PNP to shut the hell up about the ongoing case.

When your power depends on maintaining the illusion of public support, you’re gonna take any scandal and moral outrage you can get to divert the people’s eyes somewhere else, away from the things you don’t want them to see, to take their minds away from things you want them to forget.


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Organize around promoting and defending “Freedom Technology”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 3:41pm in

image/png icontechno-class-conflict.png

This article serves as a natural expansion of the things I assume we already do individually for our own collectives and adjacent circles. This time, however, we’re pooling our shared skills and knowledge to not only assist radical groups take advantage in digital communication and peer-to-peer production, but also the wider public in general.

With this network of talent formed, we will become better equipped to deal with the security and technological requirements of pursuing the class struggle in the present day, with the collective knowledge of the group being an order of magnitude greater than of an individual.


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Asian language learning in Australia was a disgrace 40 years ago. It is now much worse.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/01/2021 - 5:57am in

An important issue we worked on in the Department (of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs) was foreign language learning. We set the pace in the early 1980s, with not many supporters. I felt quite lonely.

These are extracts about language learning from my autobiography ‘Things you learn along the way’, pp228-31  published in 1999.

An important issue we worked on in the Department (of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs) was foreign language learning. We set the pace in the early 1980s, with not many supporters. I felt quite lonely.

My experience in Japan gave me the energy to try to do something about it. What I saw and felt in Japan was my own language inadequacy. I had some social Japanese but not much more. On too many occasions I found it painfully embarrassing not to be able to communicate, even when I was playing golf with Prime Minister Ohira.

During return visits to Australia from Japan, on leave and consultation, I made many speeches about foreign language learning in Australia, pointing to the dramatic shifts away from foreign languages in universities and schools. Between 1955 and 1980 in the NSW Higher School Certificate, there was a drop from 60 per cent to 18 per cent in students studying a foreign language. To the teachers of Japanese in 1981, I pointed out: ‘20 years ago, 40 per cent of Australian matriculation students took a foreign language. The figure is now about ten per cent. Last year less than three per cent of students sitting for matriculation studied an Asian language.’

We took this issue up in the ​D​epartment ​Of Immigration ​because of my interest and because the only major groups in Australia who were interested in second languages and language development were the European ethnic communities. One of their gifts to Australia was love of their own language. They wanted language maintenance in Australia for their children. So I tried to build a national language policy coalition based on the European ethnic communities in Australia. In 1980, there were more than 1.3 million first-generation migrants of non-English-speaking origin. The ‘top four’ foreign languages were Italian, Greek, ‘Yugoslav’ and German — almost 50 per cent of the total. The only Asian language of significant size was Chinese. I didn’t believe that we could succeed in Asian language development without the support of the European-based ethnic communities. They were pointing the way out of monolingualism.

The ethnic communities responded enthusiastically and we developed a campaign across Australia to  develop a national language policy for schools and universities. In 1981, Ian Macphee and I persuaded Wal Fife, the Minister for Education, to make a joint Cabinet Submission on the development of a national language policy. With Fraser’s support Cabinet agreed that it should be further pursued through the Senate Committee on Education and the Arts, chaired by Senator Baden Teague. That Committee agreed on 25 March 1982 to examine all aspects of language learning and use in Australia.

I tried through Charlie Perkins, who was head of the Aboriginal Affairs Department, to find common ground for preservation of Aboriginal languages. I put to him that one reason why there was increasing support for the preservation of Aboriginal languages and dialects was that there was now a significant continental European community in Australia which was interested in preservation of their own languages. By extension, one could make a strong case that languages should be preserved for all Australians, whether Aborigine, Greek or Chinese.

It was hard building links between Aborigines and ethnic communities. Many Aborigines resented that Asians seemed to have preferential treatment and felt Aborigines were not being asked whether they wanted new migrants coming to Australia. I appreciated that there were problems but I believed that conceptually there was something that we could build on. I think that the retention, inadequate though it is, of Aboriginal languages in Australia owes something to multiculturalism, a policy which Aborigines never embraced.

In a speech on multiculturalism I used a poem by Kath Walker to describe what we were trying to achieve:

Pour your pitcher of wine into the wide river And where is your wine? There is only the river … … Do not ask of us To be deserters, to disown our mother, To change the unchangeable. The gum cannot be changed into the oak. Something is gone: something is surrendered, still We will go forward and learn. Not swamped and lost, watered away, but keeping Our own identity, our pride of race. Pour your pitcher of wine into the wide river And where is your wine? There is only the river.

I made dozens of speeches to business, ethnic and educational groups through 1980 and into 1982, about the need for a national language policy. I proposed that foreign language study should be compulsory at all education levels and a prerequisite for university entrance. There were very encouraging responses in newspaper editorials, almost all of them drawing attention to the continuing advocacy on languages that I had commenced in Japan.

The first National Language Conference was organised by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils, in Canberra in October 1982, to bring all of our work together and to provide a platform for the future. It turned out to be a disaster, as one’s best laid plans often are. Minister Hodges was really not on board as far as Asia, multiculturalism and language were concerned. I didn’t speak at the conference launch as the Minister was the obvious keynote speaker. We prepared some speech notes for him but he didn’t use them. The thrust of his speech was ‘What’s all this about a national language policy? The world is all learning English. We don’t need to change’. My friends in the ethnic communities groaned.

Despite the ministerial setback we had created momentum. Public debate was under way; other organisations were picking up the issue. More and more emphasis came on to the need for Asian languages.

A major breakthrough came when the Senate Committee on Education and the Arts reported in February 1985. I had left the department by then. The committee made two major recommendations. The first was that language policies in Australia should be developed on four guiding principles: competence in English; maintenance and development of languages other than English; provision of services in languages other than English; and opportunities for learning second languages. The second major finding was that language policies should be coordinated at the national level.The development of a national language policy was under way after five years of speech-making and lobbying. I

In 1987, the Australian Government adopted a national policy on languages and in 1994, the Council of Australian Governments, comprising the federal, state and territory governments, adopted a report on funding of Asian languages in Australian schools and universities which I felt was the culmination of the work we had commenced 14 years earlier. There is now funding through commonwealth and state programs for Asian priority languages, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indonesian. In his 1999 Budget, Peter Costello announced $30 million funding for these priority languages over the next three years.

A new concern, however, is that while young Australians are now learning Asian languages as never before many Australian employers are reluctant to employ them. Many boards and CEOs don’t appreciate the value of Asian language skills. Our Asian linguists are now returning to Asia or turning to multinational companies in Australia to use their language skills. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a telephone call from a young Australian who has become proficient in an Asian language, asking me, ‘After the encouragement I had to learn an Asian language, why are Australian companies so uninterested?’ I don’t have an adequate answer, without dumping on Australian business.

In the early 1980s, apart from the ethnic communities, there weren’t many who were talking about foreign languages, just a few academics and a few businessmen. Professor Stephen FitzGerald, formerly Australian Ambassador in China, was one. We were probably the two principal advocates of Asian languages. He was an expert in the Chinese language and I wasn’t an expert at all. In retrospect, perhaps I had one advantage. Because of my own inadequacy I felt personally and keenly how important language skills were. Later when I went to Qantas it was a major priority, developing Asian language skills for cabin crew and customer contact staff. (But later that was largely abandoned)

Five Eyes, one tongue and hard of hearing – Australia and Asia in China’s Century

These are extracts from my autobiography ‘Things you learn along the way’, pp228-31  published in 1999.

Book Review: Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire by Priya Atwal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 10:28pm in


Asia, history

In Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh EmpirePriya Atwal offers a new study that convincingly pushes against the historiography that has positioned the Sikh Empire as a one-man enterprise, delving deep into archival sources to reveal the rich, energetic and flawed lives of the Punjabi royal elite as they tried to carve out their dynastic place in India during the first half of the nineteenth century. The book is a tour-de-force, finds Diya Gupta, with the clarity and authority of Atwal’s writing and her careful reading of historical material succeeding in revealing the contingencies of the past in all its complexity. 

Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire. Priya Atwal. Hurst. 2020.

Ik si rajah, ik si rani,

Dono margeh, khatam kahaani!

Once there was a King, once there was a Queen,

Both died, and there the story ends!

Priya Atwal’s Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire alludes to this humorous Punjabi couplet, only to highlight the book’s own impulse for resurrection. In Atwal’s deft hands, it is not simply a king and a queen who are reborn, but Shere-e-Punjab or the ‘Lion of Punjab’, Ranjit Singh himself, juxtaposed against the agency of his family – sons, grandsons, mothers-in-law and wives. Atwal convincingly pushes against the historiography of seeing the Sikh Empire as a one-man enterprise, and delves deep into archival sources to reveal the rich, energetic, colourful and flawed lives of the Punjabi royal elite as they tried to carve out their dynastic place in India during the first half of the nineteenth century. Looming over them is the ever-encroaching shadow of the British East India Company.

The book is a tour-de-force, as Atwal brings her careful reading of a wide range of historical material to reveal the contingencies of the past in all its complexity. Beginning by dismantling the belief that kingship was not inherently a Sikh attribute, she highlights how early sources such as the Prem Sumarag Granth (The Book of the True Path of Love) constructed the figure of the king as one to be emulated as well as offering service. The fact that such ideas about the role of kingship were being debated in eighteenth-century Punjab helpfully contextualises why Ranjit Singh in the early nineteenth century chose to adopt the title of ‘Maharajah’ for himself but referred to his government as the Sarkar-i-Khalsa, Khalsa being the community of committed Sikhs.

Atwal then directs us to a significant shift in Ranjit Singh’s use of marriage as a political instrument within the Sukerchakia misl or Sikh sovereign state, of which he was a third-generation member. By taking on wives who came from across the regions and communities of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh was able to broaden his kinship ties and establish his ruling base – similar, Atwal argues, to the practices of the Mughal emperor Akbar before him.

Indeed, the synergies established between Punjabi and Mughal rule form one of the highlights of the book. Atwal, for instance, notes how ‘the Maharajah’s court lavishly celebrated many of the key festivals observed (often jointly) by Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus throughout the year’ (65). Going beyond the Maharajah and his family, these observations provide crucial insights into the long history of the syncretic, pluralistic traditions on which modern-day India is based – which are, in the twenty-first century, under threat.

Gouache painting of Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Punjab, with his child and wives. Artist unknown; image courtesy of Wellcome Collection.

Ranjit Singh’s expansive and strategic attitude to marriage, Atwal argues, led to ‘young women who were themselves interested and skilful in supporting and enhancing the dynastic project – in their own ways and for their own purposes’ (65). She points to how his first two wives, Mehtab Kaur and Mai Nakain, chose to live on their own jagirs or estates rather than at court in Lahore. Muslim queens Moran and Gul Begum, who came from the tawaif or courtesan class, also took full advantage of the possibilities afforded to them. Moran commissioned the building of a mosque and madrasa in Lahore, while Gul Begum authorised the construction of a pavilion and insisted on managing the finances of her own jagir herself. These examples forcefully drive home Atwal’s point – ‘Despite the repeated reference to the queens being purdahnashin (observing the veil or purdah), these women were not secluded’ (59). Orientalist gender stereotypes, which pitted masculine martial prowess against the ‘feminised’ space of the court, are confidently undercut here, as are modern idealised conceptions of Khalsa history mythologising Ranjit Singh and the men surrounding him as warrior-heroes.

Where, then, do the English fit into this story? Atwal believes that Ranjit Singh repeatedly decided that cordial relations with the East India Company and the British Crown would cement the foundations of the Sikh Empire, and thereby signed the 1809 friendship treaty. His ambitions, she claims, soared even higher – ‘the goal Ranjit Singh had in mind as he shaped the Sikh Empire’s foreign policy was nothing short of projecting the name and fame of his kingdom onto a global royal stage, and securing its position there for generations to come’ (90).

The East India Company, she argues, shared the same perspective – that an alliance rather than animosity worked in both parties’ interests. Atwal’s analysis here is abundant in detail, drawing upon material as varied as Bhag Singh’s influence upon his nephew Ranjit Singh, durbars or court sessions hosted by the Maharajah in 1831 and 1838 for welcoming two British Governor-Generals and the political purpose underpinning ceremonial gift-giving. This was a dynastic participation in politics, she stresses, with Ranjit Singh’s sons and wives performing as ambassadors for a cosmopolitan audience.

But how, after only ten years following Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, did the Sikh Empire crumble? Atwal believes that our fixation with this date needs to change – the untimely demise of the Maharajah’s son Kharak Singh and grandson Nau Nihal Singh within five days of each other in 1840 was just as catastrophic. A whole array of players now laid claim to the throne – from junior royals to aristocrats, from the Khalsa Army to the East India Company. Eventually, it was the young boy Duleep Singh who inherited the Sikh Empire, with his mother Jind Kaur, legitimised by the Khalsa Army, becoming Regent in 1844.

Atwal’s examination of the contesting narratives constructing Jind Kaur is fascinating. Mythologised as the ‘mother of all Sikhs’ on the one hand, and misogynistically seen as emotional and incapable of ruling as surrogate on the other, this rebel queen never gave up the fight. Even after the Khalsa Army was defeated by the East India Company in 1846 and the Punjab was annexed in 1849, Jind Kaur escaped from imprisonment and made her way to Nepal, seeking a base to continue fighting for her son’s right to the throne.

It is testament to the clarity and authority of Atwal’s writing that she is able to bring in an unmistakable note of tragedy towards the book’s conclusion. Not only did the ten-year-old Duleep Singh lose his Empire and familial wealth, but also his personal freedom. He would not return to the Punjab, ultimately dying ‘a broken-spirited man, alone in a Paris hotel room in 1893’ (213). And the Punjab itself would never be the same again – controlled by the British until 1947, it was traumatically partitioned on communal lines between the newly independent countries of India and Pakistan. Perhaps that is what makes the history of the Sikh Empire so emotionally resonant today. But the story, as we have seen, does not end there: Atwal’s act of resurrection skilfully recreates the men and women of Ranjit Singh’s dynasty ‘not as the weak, dissolute figures of British colonial accounts, but as the dynamic, ambitious players that they were, battling for power in a world and era of great change’ (213). As another royal, Mary, Queen of Scots, would say – In my end is my beginning.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: ‘Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Punjab, with his wife and child accompanied by his secondary wives. Gouache painting. Page 140.’ Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).


Gandhi or The Strange Case of Dr Peter and Mr Hartcher.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 5:43pm in

The two faces of Janus. [A]

Standing on the shores of the Arabian Sea, Mahatma (the Great-Souled) Gandhi collected a muddy lump of salt from a salt pan. Then, as he raised his hand for all to see, he proclaimed triumphantly: “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.”

Absurd as it may seem, that is exactly what he did. Some seventeen years later, the Raj collapsed and the British quit India. Gandhi’s deceptively simple act snowballed and inspired millions all over India.



To Winston Churchill, in the early 1930s, Gandhi looked like a half-naked fakir. Today commentators in the English-speaking world regard Gandhi more favorably, as a kind of prophet straight out from the Bible.

Gandhi collecting salt from the beach.[B]

Superficially opposed, both assessments are similar: they privilege appearances over reality.

During their rule of India, the British held a monopoly on salt. Laws had been enacted declaring the extraction, production and sale of salt by natives unlawful. Only the British were allowed those activities.

Whatever else he was, Mohandas K. Gandhi was astute; he also was a lawyer, from University College, London. As a lawyer, Gandhi knew that the words “lawful” and “just” are not synonymous. For the British their lawful monopoly was extremely profitable; for the Indians, it was deeply unjust. The Salt Laws made an unjust practice lawful; by extension, the laws themselves were unjust.

He also knew that human laws, unlike natural laws, are the creation of humans. There’s nothing we can do about natural laws, even if unjust, but we don’t need to suffer unjust human laws. If the British enacted the Salt Laws, they could repeal them. Before leaving for Dandi, he wrote the British Viceroy demanding precisely that on behalf of all Indians. Given a chance to do something, the Viceroy  – no doubt with encouragement of opinion-makers at home – chose to do nothing.

It was up to the Indians then. When Gandhi, the lawyer, picked up that lump of salt, he knew he was breaking the law. He made no secret of that; evidence was abundant (see the photo above). He, furthermore, assumed responsibility for his action and was arrested, making no attempt to resist.

Civil disobedience against unjust laws is meant to be peaceful. But the colonial police were not as restrained. This, however, only strengthened Gandhi and his followers: it highlighted the injustice the protesters were protesting against.


But why did the Viceroy make such a fuss about something as trivial as salt? Why didn’t he just get the damned Salt Laws repealed?

Because salt wasn’t trivial at all. British colonial domination of India was built upon unjust laws. To put this differently, it wasn’t the Salt Laws that made the Raj unjust, it was the Raj that required unjust laws. To repeal the Salt Laws alone wouldn’t have changed that.

The Viceroy found himself in the same position Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam would find herself some ninety years later: after one demand is accepted, others would follow until the whole building crumbles.

Nowadays, those who see Gandhi as a messianic figure would never dare to utter the words “sedition” and “subversion” in a sentence, next to his hallowed name. Churchill was bolder. Although what people most remember is his “half-naked fakir” malicious putdown, he also called Gandhi “seditious lawyer”. Of the two descriptions, the second is the more relevant and perceptive: Gandhi was indeed a subversive. A peaceful and highly moral one, subverting an unjust order. Believe it or not.


Known as the Salt March, that episode is a prime example of civil disobedience, but there are many  others.


Meet Peter Hartcher, international and political editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

As international editor, no doubt he’s heard about Gandhi, although he may have forgotten the particulars. And he’s written about the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests, showing himself deeply sympathetic to anti-CCP Hongkongers

The protests started out as a textbook example of civil disobedience, protesting peacefully against a notorious extradition to China bill. Protesters opposed that bill because they considered it unjust; faced with a Legislature rubber-stamping whatever Beijing presented, civil disobedience was not only morally justified but the only realistic option, even if local authorities declared it – as they repeatedly did – unlawful.

Soon, however, the protests became more violent. That’s when Hartcher decided to remind protesters of Gandhi’s example. He also advised them – wisely, in my opinion – not to place too much faith on foreign help, particularly that of Donald Trump.

Commenting on events thousands of kilometres away, international editor Hartcher is all admiration, understanding, reasonableness, even solidarity and comradeship – almost revolutionary, I dare say. Protesters in Hong Kong didn’t use the words “sedition” and “subversion”, but that’s precisely what they were doing (as Hong Kong authorities knew well) and if one agrees with the protests, “sedition” and “subversion” were just, even if unlawful.


The moment Hartcher takes off his international editor cap and puts on his domestic politics editor cap, commenting on Australiam affairs, things change. No more sympathy, solidarity or admiration.

Don’t believe me? Check this out. Hartcher quotes Sally McManus:

“I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right. But when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”

But in this piece Hartcher makes no reference to Gandhi. In other places laws can be unjust. Not so in Australia, where all laws, by the fact of being laws, are just and if they were enacted by Labor, then only creatures as twisted as workers can disagree with those laws. Civil disobedience, which Hartcher recommends Hongkongers, is out of bounds for Australian workers.

More sober – or less imaginative – than Churchill, Hartcher somehow avoided calling McManus “half-naked fakir”. Instead he used the formulaic “militant”, which for those like him is the most terrible sin. To gain their approval unions must be the opposite of militant: apathetic, restrained, passive, conformist.

While Hongkongers are brave, McManus and the union movement are – in Hartcher’s opinion – shrills: dogmatic, retrograde, power-hungry and thuggish (another all-time favourite of Australian bosses).

I wouldn’t be surprised CCP propagandists described Hong Kong protesters in terms not unlike those Hartcher used to describe Australian workers.

So what were McManus’ demands? Here’s one, in Hartcher’s own words: “banning outright any enterprise agreements that are agreed without a union”. You see, Aldi treat their staff well without the need for pesky union representation – or so he writes. Therefore, no unions are needed.

A second example: ACTU wants a return to the “old system of negotiating workplace agreements to apply across an entire industry”. This, Hartcher writes, would force “smaller or struggling companies” pay their staff the same “big, profitable companies” pay their staff. So, to make him happy, workers employed by struggling companies need to subsidise their employers until they are big and profitable, at which point employers – full of gratitude – will spontaneously raise their wages and improve their working conditions, presumably like Aldi allegedly does. That sounds a lot like the Seven-11 model of flexibilty. You see, employers need flexibility more than workers deserve adequate pay and working conditions – at least for Peter Hartcher, political editor – and his wrath will fall upon anyone saying otherwise.


Amazing how the same person can go from the moderately thoughtful to the outright ignorant and puerile, as soon as workers’ rights are involved. It makes one believe in split personalities.

Image Credits:

[A] Ultima Thule, 1927. Image in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.

NARA Treaty debacle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 5:58am in


Asia, Politics

Today our intelligence agencies and bureaucrats tell us that China is the enemy. But less than 50 years ago the same agencies and bureaucrats (or their predecessors) were warning us that the enemy against which we had to prepare was Japan.

Their story begins in the early 1970’s when Tokyo began to revive its long-standing request for the same kind of  friendship, commerce and navigation (FCN) treaty as it had with most of its main trading partners.

There had never been any good reason for Canberra to say no – other than postwar anti-Japan sentiments and the problems of protecting Australian firms competing with Japanese goods. But Tokyo had pr omised trade safeguards for those goods anyway.

In 1973, Gough Whitlam, fresh from his success in opening relations with China, and with some media pressure from myself in Tokyo and Max Suich at Fairfax, felt the time had come to do something about Japan.

He was due to visit the country in October 1973.  And to show he was a progressive not bound by the stodgy conservatism of his predecessors he decided he would offer Japan much more than the common-or-garden FCN treaty refused by previous conservative  governments in Canberra.

Instead he would offer a treaty that would cover the full ambit of relations with Japan. And since he would be visiting the city of Nara during the Japan visit, he would announce the plan there and have it called the NARA Treaty –  the Nippon Australia Relations Agreement.

Early in 1975 as a member of PM&C’s Policy Coordination Unit I was asked to join the IDC, or Inter-departmental Committee, already considering the treaty.

When Tokyo had produced its initial draft all hell had broken out. It had Included something that came to be called retrospective MFN (most favoured nation) trading treatment.

Normally a FCN treaty will include a clause calling for MFN treatment.  In effect it says I will offer you the same privileged trading conditions – lower tariffs etc – as I am currently offering other important trading partners

But with Australia, retrospective MFN was seen as allowing Japan the right to demand the same privileged conditions as we had given the UK and US over many years past.

This was out of the question the bureaucrats said.  It would allow Japan completely to dominate the Australian economy.

So Tokyo quietly dropped the idea. It said it was happy just to have the standard MFN provision provided there was a guarantee of ‘fair and equitable’ treatment.

And that normally should have been that.

But not in Canberra’s IDC. Headed by Foreign Affairs conservative, Michael Cook, we were told we had to be ultra-cautious about the fair and equitable wording.

Why had Tokyo asked for retrospective MFN in the first place? And had they really withdrawn the dangerous idea? Surely deep down lurked some kind of plot to dominate Australia’s economy.

Aiding the speculation was the long dormant voice of an intelligence agency type based in Tokyo.  He said his secret sources had confirmed how the Japanese demand for retrospective MFN still existed, and would emerge after the NARA treaty was signed.

This was just the confirmation Cook wanted. Further negotiation on the treaty was impossible, he said.

I tried to argue that if the Japanese draft of the treaty said just MFN, then that was that. The other side to the treaty could not turn round later and say it was retrospective.

That argument went nowhere.  The Japanese request for fair and equitable treatment seemed reasonable I argued. But that too went nowhere.

The Japanese were ‘slippery pigs’  in the words of one IDC member. They would find a way round to get what they wanted whatever words were used.

I said we should simply ask them what was the meaning for them of the words MFN in the final draft of the treaty. That would get rid of any ambiguity.

No way, said Cook.  He had read books about how the Japanese negotiated and knew their tricks. They could not be trusted with words.

Just to ask them for definitions would open the path for more devious tricks.

In that case, I said, we would write into the treaty our own meaning of the words MFN and demand the Japanese side accept that.

Once again it was a negative from the FA man. The only answer to Japanese duplicity was silence, he said.  That would force them to realise we were aware of their tricks and bring them to their senses.

If the result was no treaty then that would have to be that. Deadlines could be forgotten.

Meanwhile another battle was going on within the Whitlam camp.

For them dumping the treaty was a firm no-no.  It had been  promised by The Leader (as they called him).

Besides, any kind of information from the spies was suspect.

But the Melbourne spies had already been working to break down Whitlamite suspicion. Their favourite technique was passing on DSD decoded Japanese materials to prove they had inside views into Japanese plots and plans.

It worked well, even if it meant the DSD operation would later be exposed front page in the Financial Review by the well-known journalist, Brian

Toohey, close to the Whitlam camp.

The material from the man in Japan warning of continued Japanese plotting was on the table. Even Whitlam had come to accept that he would not be able to get his NARA treaty until the Japanese had been made to realise we could not accept their nefarious plotting.

Meanwhile I was using my own sources to find out what was going on.

The Japanese diplomat sent down from Tokyo to handle the treaty negotiations, Hideo Kagami, had been a good friend from Moscow days.

His explanation was simple.  Whitlam had said Japan was especially important for Australia and had promised a special treaty going beyond the standard FCN.

Tokyo had taken those words seriously.  In their eyes that meant the standard MFN clause could be made retrospective.

Whitlam had promised to shake Australia free from its US and UK shackles.

But if that was a problem for Canberra then fine.  It could easily be deleted.

But even that did not sway the FA man and the coterie of security cleared officials around him. As one of them put it to me; ‘Greg, we are working from top classified material and if you could see what we see it you would agree this treaty is bad for Australia.’

I never got to see any of this material. And Whitlam was never to get to see his Treaty.

He went on to the Dismissal and a bad defeat in the 1975 election.

It is unlikely that the NARA debacle meant much for the voters. But it was made clear to me that preventing Whitlam from being able to declare a diplomatic victory with Japan did mean a lot for the hard-eyed US-Australian cadre who saw themselves as the controllers of our destiny.

Cook went on eventually to be ambassador to the US. I went back to my files in a backroom.

That he and the spy agent in Japan were able so easily to derail a victory for Whitlam says much.  The sequel also says much.

With the 1975 election out of the way, Malcolm Fraser in power, and me packing my bags for Japan (I had already had a few more arguments with the Canberra establishment over East Timor, economic policy and the stupid Vietnam Cables affair) Canberra decided it could talk to Tokyo about a treaty after all.

The bureaucrats came up with the draft of what was to be called the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation.

It was very similar to the treaty Whitlam had wanted. Once again there was no hint of retrospective MFN. But one of the negotiators later told me an interesting story.

In a bid to disabuse Tokyo of its evil retrospective MFN obsessions Canberra had sent to Tokyo their expert on international  law – Elihu Lauterpacht, QC

There he was shown the authoritative guide to international law, which happened to have been written by his father. In it was a chapter on the first trade treaty ever written – between the UK and Portugal in the 19th century.

There it had been agreed MFN should be offered on a retrospective basis.

Needless to say, none of this appears in the glossy pamphlet later produced by FA to celebrate the signing of the Treaty.

There we are told how the negotiators under Cook had taken the original Whitlam idea and through skillful and prolonged negotiation had turned it into a treaty over which both countries could feel pride.

In his memoirs published well after the NARA Treaty wrangling, John Menadue, head of PM and C during the affair, writes:

‘They (the intelligence agencies) are, however, adept in doling out juicy bits of information that are often untested but draw one into the inner circle of people with privileged information, a twilight world of secrets and gossip. Perhaps we all read too many spy thrillers and vicariously want to be part of the action. Few are immune.’

I wonder if among the juicy bits doled out by the spies was the false information aimed to destroy Whitlam’s NARA treaty.

I wonder also if it was part of the strategy leading to the Dismissal.

More details on my website, Life Story .

Kill Your Heroes: A Filipino Anarchist Discussion about National Heroes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/12/2020 - 2:47pm in

image/png iconKill your heroes.png

On December 30, the day set aside to commemorate Dr. José Rizal, scientist, author, and icon of the Philippine Republic, it is only right to emulate his example by analyzing and critiquing our society. Our contributor Malaginoo focuses on a concept that informs how we regard Rizal and his contemporaries during the ascendance of “Filipino nationalism”: Heroes. Specifically, national heroes.

We need to kill our heroes—because legends and stories are ghosts that will scare us into submission to those lording over us. Kill our heroes, because statues and memorials won’t rescue us from pain, injury, and death. Kill our heroes because we can’t rely on anyone else.


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