Brown fat, the bad kind

Unless you have been hiding under a rock you know that people of South Asian are at more risk for metabolic disease than is the norm. More concretely we tend toward “skinny fat.”

My current BMI 24. By normal calculators I’m normal weight (barely), because the cut-off is 25. But for South Asian we should be worried if we’re above 23.

There is the caveat that muscle is heavier, so one shouldn’t take BMI literally, as opposed to seriously. You know if you have too much visceral fat, you don’t need to weight yourself. The phenomenon of brown guys with big bellies due to years of self-indulgence is a thing. And excess weight among South Asians who reach a certain affluence level seems a thing the world over.

So here’s a question: for those of you who have managed to keep the weight off and stay trim, how do you do it? Exercise? Diet? Both?

Things Indians can be proud of

Three things:

  1. The steadfast commitment to constitutional democracy, against seemingly insurmountable odds, and temptations of authoritarian rule and ‘revolutions’.
  2. The civilizational wisdom and humility to accept and improve on modernity, despite it being associated with the entity that colonized India.
  3. The enduring tolerance and curiosity to engage with varied traditions and cultures, despite the chauvinistic pressures that accompany modernization and nation building.

Institutionally, these are reflected in the success of entities such as the Election Commission, the Indian judiciary, Indian Railways, ISRO, IIXs, the BCCI and ‘Golden Age’ Indian cinema.

Building on these, we have built up a decent economy with a significant presence in the IT, automotive, pharmaceutical and chemicals sectors, and modern cultural elements such as the IPL and Indian film industries.

The key question is, how much the fundamental successes are rooted in:

  1. The independence movement.
  2. Pre existing Indian spiritual and cultural traditions.
  3. Plain good luck.

I wont delete any comments, but before clicking on ‘post comment’, please pause and reflect whether your comment is bringing something genuine to the table or is just plain schadenfreude.

Farewell to BP and my new blog

I’ve been reading BP for a long time and when Zach asked me to become a contributor (after reading my review of Shamsur Rehman Faruqi’s collection of novellas) , I was very pleased.  However, my experience over the past month or so has been quite mixed.  I have become increasingly frustrated with the amount of attention given to Islam and to Pakistan–especially from people who are neither Muslim nor Pakistani and are also not particularly well-versed in either topic.  I don’t like being cast into the role of “defender” of Islam but there are certain lines that cannot be crossed, such as insults to the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Also, I have come to the sense that the major intellectual interests of people on BP are not my intellectual interests (which is fine, it’s just an observation). I tried writing a post on Hindustani Classical Music, which did not get much traction.  Similarly posts on novels didn’t seem to inspire much interest.

I think a lot of this site is too focused on “Sanatana Dharma” (which is also fine given the current mix of contributors) but I find it boring.

Anyway, to cut a long story short: I will not be posting content on BP. I may occasionally read the blog and comment on things that interest me.

I am in the process of moving my content to my new blog: https://kabiraltaf.wordpress.com

I intend to keep a very tight focus on those topics that I am credentialed to speak on: Hindustani and Western Classical Music as well as Literature in English.  I would really prefer if this new blog does not become an Indian vs. Pakistani “shitshow”.  Those who are interested in these topics and on what I have to say about them can follow me over there.

Otherwise, good luck to you all. Some of the contributors on BP are awesome people whom I like very much (shout out to Zach in particular). Others I find frankly annoying and not very smart. But such is the nature of cyberspace.

Just as a side note: If you do ever want to get more Pakistani (or Pakistani-origin) contributors, I would tone down the Islamophobia. Even “Cultural Muslims” have some sensitivities. Being Muslim is a major part of our identities. Feeling like your identity is constantly under attack is not a nice feeling.  But of course, it is your forum and you are free to ignore this advice entirely

One last bit of unsolicited advice:  I think internet forums like this could do with more moderation. There is no reason to allow people to attack each other’s religions.  I know that we were free to delete comments on our own posts (which I finally started doing).  But such insulting and offensive language creates a very toxic atmosphere. I am guilty of responding in kind (at people’s lack of sophistication, lack of a liberal arts degree) which was also not becoming.  Freedom of speech is good (and again that is your decision to make), but beliefs that are held sacred should perhaps not be mocked.  There is a reason that Americans say “politics and religion should not be discussed in polite company”.  The nature of anonymity on the Internet also contributes. If we all know each other in some other context, we would try not to hurt each other’s feelings. If we are just internet handles, than we can say whatever we like hiding behind our keyboards.

Anyway, goodbye and good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

Semitised Iran, Aryanised India

There had once been a comment on this blog that the Kashmiris were more Aryan in cultural heritage than the Persians (even if the genetic contribution was the same). At the time I was a bit surprised but in retrospect when I think to modern Persian identity and the Iranian super-strate on top of it (what is Iran; the plateau, the people or the language family?), it’s astonishing to see that most of the influences are Safavid.

When I deconstruct my Persian national identity apart from the Sassanians, Achaemenians and Zoroastrians; it’s really to do with Sa’adi, Ferdowsi and Hafez. The evolution of Persian culture, under the rubric of Islam, has been so complete that as an example even the most hardcore Persian nationalists wouldn’t dare mess with the alphabet.

The Persian language, which is absolutely fundamental to Iranian identity, has wrapped itself around the Arabic alphabet. The pride in the “Aryan racial heritage” is at best correlated with being light skinned etc (in the West lots of Iranians like to bandy about being Aryan to fit in; good for them). However the Aryan heritage doesn’t really figure in a substantial way about what it means to be Persian.

In contract to India where the Aryan heritage is dominant and uninterrupted, constantly tussling with the Arabic-Abrahamic faiths (Islam is equally Arabic as it is Abrahamic; to be a part of the House of Islam is to accept that Arabs are primus inter pares, not exactly equivalent to Brahmins).

Of course Persian is an “Aryan language” but to deny its Semitisation and the glories that the Arabic infusion brought; as well as being the lingua franca (in a literal sense Persians has always had some similarity to France & French culture; is Iran the France of West Asia?) of the Great Gunpowder Empires.

The irony of course is that while Iran is an explicitly Aryan term; India probably is not. While Sindhu is a Sanskrit name for sea, it’s origins are obscure (am to be corrected).

The Conundrum that is Husain Haqqani

I was recently asked by AnAn to write a detailed post about Mr. Hussain Haqqani (henceforth HH) and his three books that I’ve read. I find it difficult to write about someone who is still active in his field of work and someone who arouses so much anger and partisanship among the commentariat in Pakistan. I decided to write about things that I know definitively, publicly available information about him and testimonies from two reliable witnesses about HH and then briefly discuss the three books (Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Magnificient Delusions and India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t we just be friends) that I’ve read (I just started reading his fourth one, ‘Reimagining Pakistan’). It is hard to label HH as a turncoat or opportunist because most major politicians in Pakistan changed course in their political life starting with Zulfiqar Bhutto, followed by Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto(BB) and Imran Khan. People and their ideas evolve or else, they are ossified and become part of history while they are alive (Exhibit A: Most of the left-wing politicians of Pakistan).

HH comes from a Muhajir family based in Karachi and went to Karachi University where he was an active member of Islami-Jamiat-Tulaba (IJT), the student-wing of right-wing, religio-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). He claimed in Magnificient Delusions that he stopped students from burning down the American Consulate in Karachi in 1979 when Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by ultra-Wahabi rebels and the conspiracy theorists put the blame on the US initially (the Embassy in Islamabad was burnt down by a mob of students). His claim has been debunked by several members of IJT at the time. He worked as a journalist for a few years after graduation. In the late 1980s, he was a media-consultant for Nawaz Sharif, the center-right politician from Punjab who rose to prominence as Punjab’s finance minister under General Jilani’s governorship (1980-85) and later served as the Chief Minister of Punjab (1985-90). Nawaz Sharif was part of an Islamist alliance, Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI) which opposed Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 1988 elections. It is beyond doubt that the character of Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto was mercilessly attacked during the election campaign. Helicopters were used to throw fliers over major cities in Punjab with explicit photos of the Bhutto ladies to malign their reputations. According to witness number 1, he saw HH in New York during that campaign where HH was offering nudes of Benazir Bhutto to anyone who was interested to see them. IJI still couldn’t win the federal election and ended up winning in Punjab, where Nawaz Sharif assumed the Chief Minister-ship.

Due to Palace intrigues and constant bickering between Punjab and the Federal Government and unrest in Sindh, BB’s government was dismissed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the President, after twenty months. In the ensuing elections, IJI succeeded in winning the election (there was massive rigging taken place on orders of the Presidency and funds were distributed to various IJI politicians, details of which can be found by googling ‘Mehran Bank Scandal’). HH served as Sharif’s spokesman till 1992 until he was sent to Sri Lanka as Pakistan’s ambassador. In 1993, the Sharif Government was dismissed by President Khan (with prodding and backroom deals by BB and Co). HH flew back from Sri Lanka and became a spokesman for the BB government that followed (1993-1996).

In 1996, the second BB government was dismissed by President Laghari and Nawaz Sharif’s party started ruling again. It was toppled during October 1999 and General Musharraf became the ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan. According to witness number 2, he saw HH begging Musharraf (or one of his generals) for the Information Ministry. The request was denied and HH spent a few years running a consultancy. In 2002, he arrived in Washington DC, as a guest of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 2004, he joined Boston University as an Associate Professor of International Relations. He also headed a project by Hudson Institute on Islam and Democracy. Post-9/11 was a time in which the issue of Islam and Democracy was selling quite well in the ‘West’.

In January 2005, ‘Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military’ was published. It is a very good book detailing the history of Pakistan and the Mullah-Military Nexus that rules Pakistan today. The book was written with the help of Carnegie Endowment and the audience in mind was definitely American (with emphasis on post 9/11 understanding of Pakistan). It touches on all the relevant bases (quoting Ayesha Jalal, Khalid bin Sayeed, Margret Bourke-White, Stephen Cohen, Lawrence Ziring), the way Islam was used by Muslim League (and in certain instances, Jinnah himself) during the ‘Pakistan Movement’, the paranoia induced by newspapers and politicians about threats to Pakistan’s existence, the trifecta of Pakistan Ideology (Islam, Urdu, hostility towards India), suppression of dissent by ethnic groups using the tools of the Ideology (branding anti-state elements as anti-Islam is favored strategy even today), the way history was shaped from an anti-British perspective to an anti-Hindu perspective (since we got Independence from the British, not the Hindus), the first Kashmir War, the first Martial Law, attempts at a revisionist historiography, the disaster that was the 1965 war with India and so on. The book reveals very little new information (if you have read the liberal-secular version of Pakistan’s history) but is a very good collection of various liberal-secular  and diplomatic sources and serves as a good primer on Pakistan’s political history. I’ve always maintained that HH’s writing is often much better than his politics or his past.

It is often said that Pakistan’s political landscape is dominated by 3 A’s (Allah, Army, and America). The discussion on US-Pakistan relations in the first book forms the basis of his second book, Magnificent Delusions. Four years ago, I wrote a couple of articles, titled ‘Good Ally, Bad Enemy?’ reviewing US-Pakistan relations with excerpts from HH’s second book alongside the works of Carlotta Gall, Gary Bass and Daniel Markey (1. https://nation.com.pk/27-Jul-2014/good-ally-bad-enemy 2. https://nation.com.pk/04-Aug-2014/good-ally-bad-enemy). I’ll mention some quotes from HH’s book that I used in those articles.

“Anti-western propaganda was often unleashed precisely so Pakistani officials could argue that the United States had to support Pakistan against India, so as to preserve its alliance with them. Few Pakistanis knew how much their country and its armed forces had become dependent on US assistance.”

‘James L. Langley, American Ambassador to Pakistan (1957-59) wrote, “Pakistan’s forces are unnecessarily large for dealing with any Afghan threat over Pashtunistan. Pakistan would be of little use to us should perchance worse come to worst and India go communist… One of the most disturbing attitudes I have encountered in the highest political places here is that the United States must keep up and increase its aid to Pakistan, and conversely, that Pakistan is doing the United States a favor in accepting aid, in addition to the Pakistani pro-Western posture in the Baghdad Pact and SEATO and the United Nations, when actually these postures are in part dictated by Pakistani hatred for India.”

“India’s Prime Minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, ‘tried to persuade [Henry] Kissinger to recognize the need for more robust US involvement. She said that Pakistan has felt all these years that it will get support from the United States no matter what it does, and this has encouraged an “adventurous policy.” India is not remotely desirous of territory, and to have the Pakistanis base the whole survival of their country on hostility to India was irritating.”

“When Zia was approached by an American diplomat who conveyed the anxiety on America’s part regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, Zia said: ‘I am an honorable man. We are an honorable people. I ask you to tell your President that I give him my word of honor as President of Pakistan and as a soldier, that I am not and will not develop a nuclear device or weapon.'”

In his third book, HH focussed on certain aspects of the thorny India-Pakistan relationship: History, Kashmir, Nuclear Bombs, and Terrorism. The book is peppered with anecdotes and is a useful read as a primer on the relationship and the difficulties therin. One gets the impression after reading the book that if it were left to the civilians, the two countries would have patched out most conflicts, however, Pakistan’s military and India’s diplomatic bureacracy took maximalist positions to thwart that ambition time and time again.

Why is HH so controversial in Pakistan now?

He was appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US by the PPP-led government (2008-13). It was a turbulent time for Pakistan because barbarians were literally at the gates (Taliban in Swat and Al-Qaeda+TTP in Waziristan). HH has certain views about Pakistan that are not palatable for the military establishment/Deep State. Those views include his insistence on civilian supremacy in the country, deceptive attitudes towards the United States and over-reliance on religion in political discourse. In addition, HH was trying to be a conduit between Pakistan’s civilian government and the United States during his time as the Ambassador (as opposed to a majority of Pakistani Ambassadors to the US who are appointed only after a firm nod from the GHQ) and that irked the establishment even further. It was during his tenure that Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbotabad (May, 2011). HH, in an op-ed published last year in Washington Post (read here), took credit for helping the Obama administration in that endeavor (which, in light of Trump’s recent ascension to power, seemed an opportunistic move). Soon after the raid, a conspiracy theory was hatched by the Military Establishment in Pakistan implicating HH. It was alleged that HH had sent Admiral Mike Mullen a memo (on President Asif Zardari’s advice) through a shady in-between named Mansoor Ijaz asking for help from the US in case our generals tried to topple the government in the wake of the OBL raid. The case dragged on in the court and later, a judicial commission but the charge was not proven. HH had to resign as the Ambassador. He has since been at Hudson Institute. In recent years, he has started, with the help of another Pakistani-American, Dr. Mohammad Taqi, SAATH forum (South Asians Against Terrorism and Hatred) that gathers progressive voices in London every October to talk about the future of Pakistan. (Full disclosure: I have been invited to the last two versions of this forum but the first one i couldn’t attend because of visa refusal and the second because I was doing an internship in Houston at the time). I personally agree with most of his views regarding Pakistan but I think his name has been tarnished so much by the Deep State that it is hard to advocate for his name/ideas/books in Pakistan. I believe that he is worth-reading and worth-engaging. If only the military establishment could fight ideas with ideas instead of slander and mis-information.

 

Is White Privilege really “sui generis?”

Considering the increasingly South Asian nature of our readership I thought I would add to the mix about some issues, people of colour face in the West.

Namely is “White Privilege” and it definitely is a thing; particular in certain sectors like entertainment. Furthermore it’s gotten to the point where the mighty and clever get away with enough to make sure they are still able to field white American stars in ethnic roles. Case example is Isle of Dogs, which is set in Japan but is entirely Euro-American in cast (I could be wrong but I didn’t check this in detail but Bryan C, Ed N, Frances D & Jeff G were the star cast among others).

This is not the point of my post to discuss white privilege. So far there have been two approaches to WP:

(1.) Angry Minority Approach: The tack taken by African Americans, Latinx & a smattering of Muslim-Jews-Hindus to tear down the edifice of institutional racism.

(2) Model Minority Approach: sort of the Jewish mode now followed by Asians. Let’s reach the top and be twice as good as the best.

However my approach is simple, which is to mock white privilege simply because it’s an ego-boost for under-achieving woke white liberals to feel good. I have a few example I can link to but I don’t want to cast aspersions..

The way we are subjected to the concept of white privilege is as though it is some mutated form of noblesse obligee. While I’m happy to concede that HM the Queen and Prince William are born with some privilege (the reigning monarch was Queen of Pakistan at some point) I’m not really going to assume that just because someone is white they are automatically better placed than me.

I do tire of Instagram and Facebook videos of woke white people educating other white people (there was an issue on redlining) featuring the token minority to insulate against claims of racism.

Being white or light is really no big deal; it’s only when society gives so much credence or Weight to it, do we make it a thing. When liberal white dudes are declaiming the construct whiteness they are in fact parading their own status; it’s all very warped..

Ps: My title refers to the fact that in India, there is Parsi & Brahmin privilege, there is WASP/Persian (subtle) privilege in the Bahá’í community etc.

Brown Pundits, big in India!


I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll reiterate something I’ve noticed recently: this website is getting bigger and bigger in India. More precisely, though traffic is increasing in the USA, traffic is increasing from Indian IPs even faster.

Here is the breakdown for the last month:

Country % Users
United States 35%
India 29%
UK 6%
Canada 5%
Pakistan 5%
Australia 2%
Germany 1%
France 1%
UAE 1%
Bangladesh 1%

In terms of where the traffic is coming from, the map above shows the cities.

I’m of two feelings about this.

  1. This is going to cause issues because of cultural differences. Educated Indians speak English, but norms and idioms differ. In general, my personal strategy is to hegemonically impose American norms.
  2. Over the past few years I have become bearish on the United States, and bullish on India and China. I’m very curious what people in Asia think, because I think the Asian future is coming at us more quickly than I’d anticipated just a few years ago (American decline, rather than Asian ascension being a cause).