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Under the Radar: How the Hindutva Lobbying Campaign Has Extended to the US

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/10/2021 - 9:28pm in

Under the RadarHow the Hindutva Lobbying Campaign Has Extended to the US

CJ Werleman explores the growing influence of radical Hindu nationalists in American politics

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Whereas the influence of lobby groups associated with guns, pharmaceutical companies and defence contractors in the United States is well known, the growing reach of the Hindutva lobby has flown almost completely under the radar – even evading progressive Democrats, who typically have an attentive eye for human rights concerns.

A glimpse into a growing problem within the global Indian diaspora was revealed earlier this month, when the Washington Post ran an article entitled: “Under Fire from Hindu Nationalist groups, US-based Scholars of South Asia Worry About Academic Freedom”.

The authors described how American journalists, human rights activists and academics, who participated in the first ever major online conference on Hindutva (a form of Hindu nationalism) in the US – “Dismantling Global Hindutva” – were targeted with rape and death threats, while universities, including Harvard and Stanford, were subjected to nearly one million emails and thousands of spam messages.

A key player in the email campaign was the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an innocuous sounding organisation implying official representation of Hindus among the Indian American population. But, even by HAF’s own admission, “Hindutva is not the same thing as Hinduism”.

HAF is also leading the efforts to cajole and coerce US lawmakers into supporting policies favourable for India’s ruling party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – and the radical Hindutva movement.

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In fact, the current Indian Government is inseparable from HAF. The organisation’s founding board member, Dr. Mihir Meghani, authored the ideological manifesto, Hindutva – the Great Nationalist Ideology, which guides both the BJP and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In defining the Hindutva ideology, Dr. Meghani calls India the “land of Hindus”, suggesting that the Muslim presence in India is an outcome of “Islamic invasions”, and “forced conversions”, while glorifying the destruction of the Babri Mosque.

Prior to co-founding HAF, Dr. Meghani was active within the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), having once served as a member of its governing council. The VHP-A says that it is guided by “the same values and ideals” as those of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India, an organisation designated as a religious militant organisation by the CIA, and cited as a perpetrator of sectarian violence in multiple US State Department reports on religious freedom. 

Dr. Meghani is also associated with several other Hindu extremist groups, such as Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), which is currently under active investigation for involvement in terrorist activities and assassinations of liberal intellectuals.

In 2010, HJS recognized Dr. Meghani’s contributions by bestowing upon him an award recognising his “selfless service to humanity through Hinduism based values and solutions”.

Other HAF leaders, including Dr. Meghani’s fellow co-founder Aseem Shukla, defended the massacre of more than 2,000 Muslims at the hands of organised Hindu nationalist militants during the Gujarat Riots of 2002. He and others at HAF have also attacked mainstream human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for their respective criticisms of human rights abuses by Hindu nationalists.


India’s War on MuslimsIs Escalating in Plain Sight
CJ Werleman

Over the years, HAF has been a consistent and ardent apologist for India’s ill-treatment of religious minorities, including pressuring US lawmakers to back off a congressional resolution condemning India’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in 2019, and its human rights violations in the disputed Muslim majority territory.

Working in tandem with the Indian Embassy in Washington DC, HAF has also successfully lobbied US lawmakers into adopting pro-Indian Government talking points related to Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a discriminatory law targeted at Muslims.

“Hindu American Foundation, known among progressive and minority South Asian American groups for using intimidation and the spread of misinformation to counter their advocacy work, has been at the forefront of reinforcing the embassy’s efforts – deterring members of Congress from taking critical positions on India and masquerading as a liberal representative of the Indian American community,” observed The Intercept last year.

HAF has also been a strong advocate of anti-conversion laws, meant to prevent Muslim men from marrying Hindu women, while it is hypocritically silent on forced conversions to Hinduism, as well as “Hinduisation” campaigns carried out by Hindutva organisations.

Ultimately, HAF operates as a sanitized front for India’s and the world’s largest paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which was founded in 1925 to inspire a revolution against British colonial rule but without co-operation from Muslims, who its founder Kashav Baliram Hedgewar referred to as “snakes” and “anti-national”.

One of the primary strategies adopted by HAF is to inspire online supporters to swarm critics and opponents of Hindu nationalism with vicious but baseless smears, along with threats of violence, prompting a group of academics in North America to publish the “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual,” a guidance for academics, journalists and human rights activists who become “targeted by hate”.

“A part of the problem is that most people in America have never heard of Hindutva or of Hindu nationalism. This, however, has been changing in the last couple of years because of the accelerating human rights abuses of the Modi regime that have garnered more and more international attention,” says Aubrey Trushke, a historian of South Asia and associate professor at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.

The other part of the problem is US lawmakers. Many people have been fooled into believing that HAF advocates for Hinduism and not Hindutva, which means the United States is asleep at the switch when it comes to identifying the threats that such an ideology poses to religious minorities.

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The post Under the Radar: How the Hindutva Lobbying Campaign Has Extended to the US appeared first on Byline Times.

More's Utopia and the Reform of Christianity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/10/2021 - 10:27pm in

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Religion

‘People who have made up their minds to rush headlong down the opposite road are never pleased with the man who calls them back and points out the dangers of their course. But, apart from that, what did I say that could not and should not be said everywhere? Indeed, if we dismiss as outlandish and absurd everything that the perverse customs of men have made to seem alien to us, we shall have to set aside, even in a community of Christians, most of the teachings of Christ. Yet he forbade us to dissemble them, and even ordered that what he had whispered in the ears of his disciples should be preached openly from the housetops. Most of his teachings are far more alien from the common customs of mankind than my discourse was. But preachers, like the crafty fellows they are, have found that people would rather not change their lives to fit Christ’s rule, and so, following your advice, I suppose, they have adjusted his teaching to the way people live, as if it were a leaden yardstick. At least in that way they can get the two things to correspond in some way or other. The only real thing they accomplish that I can see is to make people feel more secure about doing evil.--Thomas More Utopia, Book 1, translated by Robert M. Adams

The quoted passage is part of the response by Raphael Hythloday to Thomas More's suggestion to use an "indirect approach" in one's attempts to offer expert advice to sovereigns, to use tact, and to try "what you cannot turn to good, you may at least make as little bad as possible." (37) I leave aside here the delicate question to what degree the character Thomas More stands in for the views of the author Thomas More. The character More (echoing Cicero) promotes a mitigation or amelioration strategy in contexts where one knows that there is no appetite for uptake of better, minimally decent courses of action.  

And Hythloday claims that the strategy advocated by More (the character) is a dangerous form of self-deception. Because one ends up legitimizing, even advocating true evil (even if -- one can stipulate -- it is less evil than it otherwise might be). And because More (the author) understands the problem and its complex temptations first hand, the issue is treated in timeless fashion. As I have noted before (recall; and here) the theme is pursued throughout Utopia.

But what I had not quite noticed before is that Hythloday uses the occasion to point out that speaking truth to power is as difficult as speaking truth to ordinary people (assuming, for the sake of argument, he believes in the truth of Christ's teaching). And not unlike the early Protestants who are just about to arrive on the historical horizon, Hythloday claims (in very Epicurean fashion) that the clergy have corrupted Christ's teaching in order for it to be acceptable by the people. (The point survives the further thought that on balance, Hythloday's pure religion is a rather Spinozistic Christianity [see here; here; and here.] He had made the same point -- the key role for the opinion and sentiments of the governed -- about the nature of royal authority in his vignette (recall) on the Achorians a few pages before. Interestingly enough, in both cases ordinary opinion dramatically constrains the ambitions of a ruling authority, in the case of royalty for the better (it makes it more responsible and pacific) and in the case of Christianity for the worse (it undermines the core teachings of the religion).

But the situation is a bit more complicated yet. As I noted when I was still writing at NewAPPS, earlier Hythloday contrasts, (i) Moses's legal code and the more gentle rule of Christianity. (Both are treated as mediation's of God's will.) And an implied contrast (ii) between the way one rules a barbarous people (recently liberated from tyranny) and the way one rules a more civilized people. The implied contrast (ii) effectively historicizes the Bible, whose commandments are now understood as fitted to a people at a particular time and place in need of strict rule. But in the passage quoted above, it becomes clear that the gentle rule of Christianity is in some sense felt to be too demanding for kings and people alike in the context of Roman empire and European feudalism.

Now, one way to go at this point is to look for a renewal of Christianity by a legislator with Moses' political skill. And it is not farfetched to see Utopus and (say Bacon's refounder of Bensalem, King Salomana) as an example hereof (recall here; here). And there are echoes of this project throughout the early modern period (up to Rousseau's divine legislator in the Social Contract).

Another way to go, if you think religions are in part a function of context and popular uptake, is to suggest that traditional Christianity has outlived its possibility. And that what is needed is a new kind of religion better suited for time and place. Comte is the best known example of an explicit attempt at this. But plenty of religious reformers between More and Comte can be said to fall in this category. I actually think an option like this is explored  in Book II of Utopia, but that's for another time.

At this point one may well wonder 'why religion at all?' Rather than treating the question as an anachronism, it is pretty clear that there is an answer to it in Utopia; where throughout religion is treated (anticipating Spinoza and Kant) as a regulator of moral life. And, as the quoted passage reveals, at least Hythloday believes strongly (anticipating Spinoza's eighteenth century critics) that without the restraint of religion people would be even more evil than we find that they are. People claiming to be Christians act in very unchristian fashion.

I will stop here. But I don't mean to suggest this exhaust the issue in Utopia. Of course, that people claiming to be Christians act in very unchristian fashion may also suggest that the problem is Christianity. Whatever else Book 1 of Utopia establishes (recall) is that people respond to incentives and that one must design and reform social institutions accordingly. It also establishes that monopoly power (in economic and political life) without countervailing powers is very dangerous to public or "common good." So, Book 1 also invites us to consider to what degree one needs religion to promote common good, and if one does, how it should be organized given a given material context. And if I understand More (the character) aright, this will be articulated in an indirect fashion.

 

 

We Anti-Zionists Speak for a Quarter of U.S. Jews

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/09/2021 - 6:20am in

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Religion

The newest poll numbers show that a quarter of U.S. Jews fundamentally oppose the Zionist project.

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The post We Anti-Zionists Speak for a Quarter of U.S. Jews appeared first on New Politics.

On Revolutionary Leadership and Feminism (in early Islam)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 8:54pm in

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Politics, Religion

I want to suggest here that during the years that interest us - from year 3 (the defeat at Uhud) to the beginning of year 8 (the conquest of Mecca) - the Prophet's project for equality of the sexes foundered because he refused to minimize the sexual aspect of life, to hide it, to consider it marginal or secondary. The Prophet was in a vulnerable position. His aims came to nothing because he always refused to separate his private life and public life. He could only conceive of the sexual and the political as being intimately linked. He would go to prayer directly upon leaving ~A'isha's bed, using the small door that linked her room to the mosque. Despite 'Umar's advice, he continued to go on expeditions accompanied by one or two of his wives, who, accustomed to being directly involved in public affairs, moved around freely and inquired about what was going on. One scene in al-Tabari depicts 'Umar as being beside himself at seeing 'A'isha strolling around the battlefront beside the trenches: "But what brings you here?" he cried out. "By my life, your boldness borders on insolence! What if a disaster befalls us? What if there is a defeat and people are taken captive?"--Fatima Mernissi (1987 [1991]) The Veil and The Male Elite: a Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam. Translated by Mary Jo Lakeland, p. 162.

Mernissi's Beyond the Veil is, of course, better known than The Veil and the Male Elite. In fact, while scholar.google tells me that the latter book is cited plenty, I have never seen it discussed in high theory in political philosophy. This is a shame because in addition to the themes announced in its title and subtitle, it is a wonderful study in the challenges and trade-offs of revolutionary, political leadership. And while the narrative is not as gripping as, say, the masterpiece of the genre, Black Jacobins (recall here; here), it certainly held my attention through out while discussing key years of the Prophet Muhammad's early struggles and their significance to Islamic jurisprudence, historiography, ethics, and political life. 

As the quoted paragraph indicates, Mernissi treats Muhammad's original program for Muslim political life as fundamentally egalitarian. (The language of 'rights' in the sub-title is a bit misleading rights don't figure much in the book.) Throughout the book, she recounts his progressive views on women's inheritance, property ownership, and agency more generally. And she offers a plausible account how the history narrated in Qu'ran supports her argument.

In fact, in her hands Muhammad recognizes over thirteen hundred years before the second wave feminists that the political and the personal are intrinsically intertwined. And she shows this, in part, through a fascinating discussion of the spatial structure of the first mosque built in Medina with 'A'isha's apartment having its own entry into the mosque. 

Now, for Mernissi later Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh), which governs Islamic communal life in practice, was corrupted, in part, by some dubious Hadith (sayings) attributed to the Prophet (these were promoted by interested politicians);  and, in part -- and this is more interesting -- by a flawed empirical method that treats all the data on par without regard to the systematic and ethical principles that might unify the Prophet's vision. And without some such principles, the evidence that is shaped by pre-Islamic patriarchy (and aristocracy) and by the late years' tactical regressions has no counterbalance (despite clear evidence in the sources that these regressions were challenged by important political agents in the moment).

In her book, Mernissi never mentions the Islamic philosophers (Falsafa) or Ibn Khaldun. But with them she shares a treatment of Muhammad as a political leader who, unlike failed prophets, recognizes that without arms the ethical message may not have successful uptake. And with them, there is an implied criticism that The Prophet did not handle the problem of succession very well (although with them she recognizes that the way succession was initially handled for the rightious caliphs at least has democratic potential). Because his companions are left without the right sort of guidance, within half a century the Umayyad have re-established the contingencies of (monarchic) birth as source of succession (familiar from trival life) and shortly thereafter the battle of Karbala shatters the very possibility of a unified community committed to justice (forever, it seems).

Okay, with that in place, we can now make more specific the significance of 'Umar to her narrative/analysis. 'Umar was Muhammad's father in law, one of the leading companions of Muhammad, and later the second caliph after his death. And in Mernissi's analysis 'Umar becomes the archetype of a key element in Muhammad's political coalition: strongly attracted to Muhammad's vision on intrinsic moral and political grounds, which provides a chance to overcome political and social crises, but unable to let go of what we would call male entitlement or patriarchy rooted in (tribal) martial virtues.

For Mernissi 'Umar represents resistance to "Islam as a coherent system of values that governs all the behaviors of a person and a society, and Muhammad's egalitarian project, are in fact based on a detail that many of his Companions, led by 'Umar, considered to be secondary: the emergence of woman's free will as something the organization of society had to take into account." (184)* And she describes the political circumstances in which Muhammad has to tack toward 'Umar's commitments in order to ensure the survival of the Ummah.

Now, it is important to recognize that for Mernissi 'Umar is not merely a traditionalist who lacks understanding of a part of Muhammad's vision. For she grants that the crisis years at Medina were fundamentally unstable. And she recognizes that he is not all wrong that part of the cause of the crisis or disorder were the Prophet's women (and women generally), who "were objects of envy." (185) And she implies that this crisis is not just due to the revolutionary internal regulation of Muslim communal life, but also to Muhammad's attempts to change the laws of warfare for his followers. In particular the abolition of using war as a means of enrichment and (sexual enslavement) if that meant turning fellow Muslims into booty (and slavery). (I was reminded of the issues surrounding Republic 470-1). Here's how Mernissi discusses the circumstances of the key decision at the height of the crisis:

In the circumstances of the military crisis in Medina in years 5, 6, and 7, the Prophet did not have many choices for coping with the insecurity in the city. He could either accept and live with this insecurity while waiting for the new source of power, God and His religion, to become rooted in the people's mentality, or he could reactivate the tribe as the police force of the city. The first option meant living with insecurity while waiting for God to show His power through military successes. With the second option, the tribe would assure security in the city immediately, but Allah and his community would disappear forever - at least in their original perspective. Muhammad's message - his dream of a community in which individuals are respected and have rights, not because they belong to a tribe, but simply because they are able to believe they have a link with a God - was dependent on the role that the tribe was called on to play during this transitory phase. Tribal power was the danger. Tolerating it, under any form whatever, as a means of control was a very grave compromise with the Muslim idea of a reasoning human being who exercises self-control. (187-188)**

But because tribal power is needed to make a successful transition from the crisis to Arab unification, 'Umar's more limited vision wins out. I don't mean to suggest that this is all of Mernissi's analysis--she roots the ultimate decision also in the fragility of age (and declining sexual prowess) of The Prophet. So, on Mernissi's view what Islam became after the crisis years is an unsteady mixture between Muhammad's original vision and the demands of realpolitik

Structurally, these circumstances are analogous to the way the initial outcome of the French revolution was a victory for men, while simultaneously a step back for women's political participation (and an unexpected disaster for slaves). The underlying problem here is a more general feature of transition problems. Recall that (here, here, here, and here), I understand the transition problem, as how to move from an unjust status quo to an ideal (or vastly improved) state and, in particular, with a population raised under bad institutions (or, if one conceives this [as I would not] in eugenic terms, bad breeding). This is intrinsically challenging. But the problem is made all the more difficult when there are foreign enemies or when the war-economy is a central feature of the pre-revolutionary society. 

Mernissi's feminist reading of the history of early Islam is an invitation to her fellow religionists to reject a millennium worth of jurisprudence and for a renewal from within (in this respect she is not unlike the fundamentalists who would have little time for her). But it is also a reflection on the challenges or constraints that pre-existing practices and beliefs generate to or impose on even the most successful projects of revolutionary renewal. To put this poetically, no prophet of political society can truly emulate God's creation from nothing, but s/he has to work with materials that cannot be fully cleansed from the effects of history, at least not at once. 

 

*I hope somebody can check the French because I think Mernissi's argument only requires the claim that women have agency and moral/political standing not the claim about free will.

**Yes, here Mernissi does does discuss political entitlements in terms of 'rights.'

 

 

The Great Covid Panic: now out!

It’s here, the booklet I am sure you have all been waiting for. The one which Gigi Foster and Michael Baker slaved over for 10 months. It is also on Kindle. It is dedicated to all the victims of the Panic, in poor countries and rich countries. They include our children, the lonely, and the poor.

The short publisher blurb: How to make sense of the astonishing upheaval of Spring 2020 and following? Normal life – in which expected rights and freedoms were taken for granted – came to be replaced by a new society as managed by a medical/ruling elite that promised but failed to deliver virus mitigation, all in the name of public health. Meanwhile, we’ve lost so much of what we once had: travel freedoms, privacy, a democratic presumption of equality, commercial freedoms, and even the access to information portals. Something has gone very wrong.

The longer blurb that our publisher chose for it is over the fold! There is also a website that will tell you where book launches will take place, which bookstores sell it, and who has liked it sofar.

To make sense of it all, the Brownstone Institute is pleased to announce the publication of The Great Covid Panic: What Happened, Why, and What To Do Next, by Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker. Combining rigorous scholarship with evocative and accessible prose, the book covers all the issues central to the pandemic and the disastrous policy response, a narrative as comprehensive as it is intellectually devastating. In short, this is THE book the world needs right now.

In the Great Panic of early 2020, nearly every government in the world restricted the movement of its population, disrupted the education of its children, suspended normal individual liberties, hijacked its healthcare system, and in other ways increased its direct control of people’s lives. Attempts to control the new coronavirus in most countries made the number of deaths from both the virus and other health problems rise. Some countries and regions snapped out of the madness in early 2021 or even before. Yet other governments, still in 2021, were ever more fanatically obsessed with control.

Why did 2020 become, so suddenly and so forcefully, a year of global panic over a virus that for most people is barely more dangerous than a standard-issue flu virus? This book reveals how the madness started, what kept it going, and how it might end. This is also a book about stories and experiences, some real and some fictionalized to protect identities. Join Jane the complier, James the decider, and Jasmine the doubter, the three core protagonists of the narrative part of the book. Their experiences illustrate what happened to individuals and through them to whole societies, telling us — if we care to listen — how to avoid a repeat. This literary presentation is mixed with detailed reports of the actual data and deep research that has generally been obscured in the midst of media madness and obfuscation by public-health authority.

“A tour-de-force on how the pandemic response was driven by fear, crowd thinking, big business and a desire for control, rather than by sound public health principles. This is bound to be a classic.” ~ Professor Martin Kulldorff, Harvard Medical School

“When I received the manuscript, I was hooked from the first page and knew then that I would miss a full night’s sleep. I did indeed. My heart raced from beginning to end. As the publisher, I must say that this book is a dream for me, the book I never thought would exist, the book that I believe can change everything.” ~ Jeffrey Tucker, Founder Brownstone Institute.

Guest post from John Burnheim

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/08/2021 - 12:59am in

John sent me the text below in response to reading my essay on John Macmurray. As you may know he trained as a priest and after many decades lost his faith. He is now in his nineties and must have things read to him. I presume he dictates his correspondence. I have enjoyed corresponding with him over the last few years and asked if I could reproduce his email on Troppo which I found both moving and characteristically powerful in its analysis.

Hi Nicholas

Macmurray belongs to my clerical days, from 1940 to 1968, in which he figured as a great ally in my squandering every strand of my life to reformulating and defending the validity and supreme importance of Catholic orthodoxy.

I have always rejected suggestions that I should attempt to set out the reasons for my long service to the Church and my disillusion with it. I have always seen that to do that is inevitably to give support to the atheist contrary with its reductionism. What is needed is to get beyond theism etc and the assumptions it shares with atheism.

In traditional metaphysics the core assumption is that what constitutes the workings and meaning of all things is the substances of which they are composed. A substance is a stuff that can exist by itself.  By contrast relations exist only when they are exemplified by substances.

I could write a long treatise and fail to convince anybody that it is more than jargon.

My theory is that the importance attributed to self-sufficiency is due to thinking that it favours power, whereas in fact it is a matter of lack of significance. Things have significance only in relation to webs of other things and these webs are different in flexibility and complexity. The key for understanding what things are lies in getting access to richer levels of complexity. But we lazily and selfishly prefer simplicity.

Love is greatly various and complexly positive. Hatred is simplistic, like its object evil which is often just a poor and uninteresting illusion of power.

The following has been written since I have now been able to access your essay, read to me by my wife since I am separated from my readers by the ravages of the lockdown.

I agree with most of Macmurray and with your appreciation of him. My differences both with him and you might be summarised briefly by saying that you are wrong to see the world of politics and business as full of lies while refusing to recognise that the worst lies in the history of civilization have been the major religions, which have lived on the sort of false beliefs that put politics and greed in the shade.

However, my point is twofold. The adherents of real life religion are not properly called liars any more than Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher, but sincere believers; like all of us driven by a way of looking at the world and deluding themselves about what ought to be the remedy for its ills.

The vice of all the major religions is to set an impossible standard as the core of morality so as to convince the moral agent that they are hopeless and can be saved only by rejecting their nature as soaked in evil.

It is one of the great improvements of our day that morality has come to be based on the sort of rational analysis that the great Scots Hume and Adam Smith advocated and a sense that its role is to bring to all a life of respect of oneself and others. What was sometimes valid in religions was the set of myths that gave a more humane sense of human life. It was not all bad and many of us thought that the authority that promoted them must have a fundamental role in social life.

If I had more steam I could elaborate on this and other sources of self-deception. More constructively I could explain why I think that the most important discovery of the twentieth century is that logic and mathematics are one but infinitely diverse. Different methodologies produce different results each of which has a limited validity in a certain context. However many of the themes that govern our lives are like sports and poetry, inventions to provide activities that acquire meaning quite independently of objective reality.

Sex and war in Afghanistan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/08/2021 - 11:51pm in

Tags 

life, Religion, terror

I visited Afghanistan only once, on a brief visit in 2014. I fell off a donkey to great hilarity of the local villagers, slept in a compound with the armed owner keeping watch the whole night, heard stories of how life was in Soviet times, and got a glimpse of why the Afghan problem was so intractable.

There were two related elements about how the country functioned that struck me at the time. The first was that there were at least three different security groups operating within the government, each taking a cut of whatever could be cut. There was the local police, the security officers at the border, and the military. They dressed differently, spoke different languages, and were deeply distrustful, like wolves circling each other. Each had to be bribed separately to get anywhere. It seemed a very uneasy truce to me.

The second thing that struck me and filled me with foreboding is that all the top men I met had multiple wives. The local chief of police, who was also the mayor, had seven wives. His son, who was among the better educated, told me he had no hope of getting married there and thus kept asking me how to apply to a visa in Germany where he hoped to find a job and a wife. Two sides of the exact same coin.

The other young women in the area were taken by the other ‘top’ men: the clergy, the security officers, the local top businessman, etc. This was the case all over the North, in the quiet part of Afghanistan where I understand polygamy had not been in the culture for a long time. The custom had spread from the South where taking multiple wives had become a sign of status.

What about the other men? What happens to millions of young men if all the desirable women are taken by the elites? What will those without be willing to risk and do? The answer is obvious: they will take up arms and dream of conquest. That was totally clear in 2014, with the Americans doing little to stop or reverse the practice. By neglecting the sexual politics of the place, they ensured the inevitability of ongoing wars, quite apart from any other dynamic.

Will the Taliban regime 2.0 bring peace to Afghanistan? You need only ask how many women their leaders have to know the answer. The last two leaders apparently had three wives each, with the current one having two. It seems nearly all the top brass in that movement have multiple wives. Future conflict seems guaranteed.

The next time the Americans or anyone else invades the place in the hope of pacifying it, I recommend they have a realistic plan to tackle its sexual politics. Its not the only thing the Americans got wrong, but certainly a major element. As long as the top men monopolise the women of Afganistan, the other young Afghan men will do what desperate men down the ages have done: find an excuse for war.

Review of On Life’s Lottery, by Glyn Davis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/08/2021 - 6:42pm in

This review was first published in The Weekend Australian.

*

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison assures us, ‘if you have a go, you will get a go’. In other words, those who make an effort are guaranteed a shot at success. It follows that if you don’t make an effort, you only have yourself to blame when success remains stubbornly out of reach.  

Professor Glyn Davis begs to differ. In his short book On Life’s Lottery he argues that life is significantly crueller, and poverty more entrenched, than such sound bites would suggest. For single parents, recent migrants, Australians living alone, the elderly, the disabled, Indigenous people and others, life is not a level playing field, but a region of Himalayan extremes.

The question at the heart of Davis’ essay is what to do about this situation, or rather what it is possible to do in a country in thrall to low taxation and suspicious of the welfare state. Davis’ parents were Christian folk who volunteered for St Vincent de Paul, and Davis himself has followed their example. He feels the plight of the poor acutely. But he is also convinced that our sunburnt country is unlikely to become a European-style social democracy, and that one therefore has to be realistic about what its citizens will tolerate. There are limits, he writes, to voters’ ‘largesse’.

Davis’s solution is to combine the ethic of charity at the institutional and community level with a (moderately) more activist state. In particular, he recommends ‘collective impact’, which commits actors from a number of sectors to solving specific social problems, and ‘social impact investment’, which involves financing organisations dedicated to addressing social needs, with the expectation of a financial return. ‘Working together,’ he writes, charity and government can direct money where it makes a difference, combine talents, encourage social investment and dissolve old assumptions about welfare.’

The problem with these solutions, however, is that they do not fundamentally challenge the system that necessitates inequality. For if a society is arranged as a competition, it’s inevitable that there will be winners and losers. Davis wants to treat the problems of poverty and disadvantage as a policy challenge, and suggests that a careful recalibration of public and private is the way to go. But in doing so, he misses the fundamental unfairness of a society arranged around competition and profit.

This failing becomes particularly apparent in Davis’ occasional comments on merit. For while he is right to note that Australia is far less meritocratic than it likes to think, and right too to suggest that we cannot be held responsible for our innate gifts or for the circumstances of our birth, he never penetrates to the real problem with the meritocratic principle, which is that it justifies material inequality in the name of ‘equality of opportunity’. That’s why the British socialist Michael Young coined the word ‘meritocracy’ in the 1950s: to warn the world of an emerging moral system that would not just rationalise inequality but create resentment in the poor and hubris in the rich.

There is also an odd, and possibly telling, mix of moral registers in On Life’s Lottery. The essay begins with an account of the short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by the late speculative fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, in which a prosperous city depends for its affluence on the imprisonment and torture of a small boy. Le Guin’s aim in the story was to counterpose two different traditions in moral philosophy: utilitarianism, which says that actions are good insofar as they maximise social utility, and a duty-based (or deontological) morality that stresses our absolute obligation to one another as fellow human beings and equals. Given his regard for Christian charity, one might expect Davis to accept the latter view and reject the utilitarian calculus, precisely because it is a calculus – because it reduces morality to a question of arithmetic. But if anything he leans towards the utilitarian view. As he puts it: ‘Our obligation to others is not an absolute moral imperative which overrides all other considerations, but a judgment about consequences.’

In the end, then, Davis appears to accept the logic of the current system, even as he laments its current state. And while I’m sure his own ‘judgment about consequences’ would land us in a much happier place than Morrison’s meritocratic mantra, I am far less confident than he is that his personal compassion will have impersonal resonance. ‘If poverty was easy to solve,’ he writes, ‘it would not long endure.’ I just don’t think that’s true.

*

Glyn Davis, On Life’s Lottery

Hachette; $16.99; 73pp

The Dead End of Liberation Theology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/08/2021 - 11:41pm in

We as socialists do ourselves no favors by treating religion less like an ideology or an institution that can be ruthlessly critiqued like any other and more like a quasi-natural part of one’s very being.

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