East Pakistan 1971

This topic comes up every year in December (for obvious reasons) and this year Dawn has published an unusually good summary of events (from a liberal/progressive/reasonable Pakistani POV). You can read it, or read one of the many good books written about the events leading up to the Pakistan army’s surrender in East Pakistan. I have something of a personal interest in this subject (my father and two uncles served in various capacities in East Pakistan in 1971).  In this post, I just want to share my personal opinion about a few aspects of this story. This will likely upset many people, both in Pakistan AND Bangladesh, but my aim is not to upset people, just to get as close to the truth as possible. So here goes..

How many people were killed in East Pakistan and who killed them?

This question gets debated every year; Bangladesh says 3 million Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani army in one of the great genocides of the 20th century. Pakistani nationalists either deny the killings altogether, or insist that “only a few thousand” were killed (which is pretty awful in itself, when you think about it) and that shit happens in civil wars, everyone should move on. In addition, Pakistanis also blame the Bengalis in turn for two separate rounds of killings. The first one in March 1971 when Bengali mobs are accused of killing West Pakistani civilians and Biharis during the civil disobedience phase of events (the army’s refusal to call a national assembly session after the Awami League had won the elections led to province wide and near-total civil disobedience in early March 1971; civil disobedience was so complete that the military leadership was unable to find a Bengali judge willing to administer the oath of office to their new governor; banks, post offices, civil administration, everything ground to a complete halt; cantonments were running short of food because no one would sell it to them). The second (and bigger) round of killings took place after the Pakistani army surrendered, when the Mukti Bahini and Bengali mobs took revenge against collaborators and against the Bihari community in general. The Biharis were Indian immigrants (mostly, not exclusively, from the state of Bihar; they were Urdu speaking, generally leaned Islamist, and supported the army during its crackdown against the Bengalis; many of the collaborators joined special “Razakar” (volunteer) groups that fought alongside the Pakistani army and served as their eyes and ears. Many of their members also took the opportunity to settle personal scores and grab Bengali (especially Hindu Bengali) property. Biharis also played a disproportionate role in  two paramilitary organizations set up by the Islamist Jamat Islami party (Al Shams and Al Badar) whose members did much the same, usually with much greater enthusiasm than run of the mill Razakars. Incidentally, both the razakars and  AlShams and Albadar did have Bengali members, though this is now underplayed in Bangladeshi historiography.  The Jamat e Islami related group (Alshams and Albadar) are also the prime suspects in a major crime that occurred on the eve of surrender, when many leading Bengali nationalist and progressive intellectuals in Dhaka were mysteriously picked up and killed, most likely as a heinous and calculated attempt to “decapitate” the new state whose independence seemed to be imminent.

So who is telling the truth? No one will ever know with total certainty because the opportunity to systematically examine these events, interview survivors, collect records and produce statistics was lost in the chaos that followed the independence of Bangladesh. What follows is my personal opinion, based on all that I have read and heard: Continue reading “East Pakistan 1971”

Muslims, Non-Muslims etc

This post is essentially a response to the newest fellow blogger on brownpundits, AnAn. In my response I’ll try to open up the debate on some of the points (many valid and some questionable) that AnAn made.

To my mind, there are 2-3 crucial points that I would like to respond to:

many Indians have proposed a combined ban on both pork and beef as a way to respect both Muslims and Hindus.

This is apologising for something quite retrogressive, namely competitive offence-taking, and makes “sensitivities of communities” trump individual rights.

The problem that pits a Hindu “community leader” who wants to ban beef against a Muslim “community custodian” who wants to sacrifice cows to his god is a deeply mistaken construction. Rights and freedoms are well-posed for (adult) individuals, not communities. And the right to buy/procure food of one’s choice is an individual’s right.

There are valid (moral) limitations to this right, of course – the most obvious being the problem of cannibalism. The issue of animal rights too is a valid objection and can limit choice of food. However, none of them is an arbitrary community-based diktat, they have a basis in moral philosophy and can be solved without violence – technologically circumvented (e.g. one can in principle grow dog meat tissue without breeding sentient dogs for meat).

Some things are true even if medival Arab cattle-herders believed them. And some things are not true even if medival Arab cattle-herders believed them. There is great wisdom and beauty in parts of the Koran; and parts of the Koran that I am not wise enough to understand . . .

Is it possible that ancient civilizations (such as ancient China, ancient Crete, ancient Egypt, ancient Ethiopian, ancient Sumeria, ancient Vedic Aryan) had great wisdom and knowledge of various kinds?

I whole-heartedly agree that truth value of an idea has nothing to do with whose mind it originates from. E.g. we know for a fact that Adolf Hitler was a dog-lover and deeply committed to animal welfare. Just because somebody as evil as Hitler thought so, it does not taint the morality of animal rights. However, that is not the original point I was making.

My point is that we know more-or-less where medieval Arabs got their Science and morality right, where they got it wrong (which was most of the time). This has nothing to do with Arabs per se, but true of all civilizations (some of whom you list) to a greater or lesser degree. So, there isn’t anything Quran is an authority on (any more than Adolf is on animal rights) and our best theories of epistemology, in fact, reject the very assertion that anything can be known by fiat.

Whatever Quran gets right (scientifically or morally) it did not do so as a result of an epistemologically sound process i.e. there are no recipes in it to replicate experiments. Indeed Quran (unlike other major revelatory texts) proclaims the finality of its experimenter extraordinaire and outright rejects any attempts at replication as blasphemous. This makes it arguably the most unscientific (in spirit) book ever written. Furthermore, any scientific/moral rules-of-thumb it may have, we have abstracted away to even more fundamental scientific or moral explanations.

Finally, open-mindedness is a good idea, but a better idea is to not open one’s mind so much that one’s brain falls out. So you are wise enough to understand Quran (warts and all) – it is simply a question of how much time you are prepared to set aside for it. And we have basic meta-rules we judge the validity of any knowledge by. E.g. how parsimonious an explanation is, how universal it is (how many caveats), how repeatable its experimentation is, how easy it is to predict future behaviour using the theory, how consistent it is with other esp. independently-motivated theories etc. Modern epistemology gives a formal framework to study and apply these meta-rules to any knowledge generating process, but some of them are also common-sense. Quran and texts of its nature fail many of these validity tests by a mile and rely on emotive appeals and tradition for their perpetuation.

Why nonmuslims treat muslims so badly?

Hi, this is anan. Omar invited me to post at Brown Pundits. I am deeply honoured [Queens English spelling versus US spelling] to participate in this community, which I have read since its inception. If it is okay with all of you, I would like to write a series of articles on why nonmuslims treat muslims so badly. Please watch this video on how the UK mistreats UK muslims:

UK statistics on honor crimes are from the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service]:

  • “honour” based violence includes forced marriage and FGM reported to the police
  • However, despite the rise in reporting, the volume of cases referred to the CPS for a charging decision is the lowest it has been for five years.
  • The number of “honour” crimes reported to the police increased from 3,335 in 2014 to 5,595 in 2015 – a rise of 68%, according to data collected by the charity from every police force in the country.
  • The number of reports dropped slightly to 5,105 in 2016.
  • However, the latest figures published by the CPS show only 256 “honour” crimes were referred to the organisation by police in 2016/17 – just 5% of the cases reported over a similar period.
  • The 256 referrals resulted in 215 prosecutions and a subsequent 122 convictions.
  • a man was to be charged for FGM, following an investigation by the Metropolitan police. If the prosecution is successful it would mean the first British conviction for FGM since the practice was outlawed in 1985.
  • Insp Allen Davis who leads Project Azure, the Met’s response to FGM, said: “These are hidden crimes and police data is never going to reflect the true scale of the problem. The data is really useful for shining a light on this complex area but it needs to be taken in context.
  • “For example, with FGM, we get a lot of reports where a child may be at risk but it doesn’t necessarily mean a crime has occurred. It will be counted as a police report but the response may involve obtaining a protection order.”

From other crime reports, honour [Queens English spelling versus American spelling] crimes against young muslim females are prosecuted at a much lower rate than other types of crime in the UK. I don’t understand why this is. Is it because of widespread bigotry, sectarianism and racism in UK society? A sense that young female UK muslims “deserve it”? What am I missing?

I think society should bend over backwards to be respectful of muslim culture and religion. For example, if a patriotic UK muslim family wants to nonviolently punish their minor daughter for what they see as inappropriate conduct; they have the right to do so. Any UK muslim family can ask their relative who is 18 or older to leave their house and excommunicate her. What is illegal is to use violence. What is wrong is not to give young UK muslim females the same legal protection and help that non muslim UK females get. What is wrong is to treat muslims worse and differently than nonmuslims.

I believe that when nonmuslims fail to protect muslims from Islamists, this hurts not just muslims, but all nonmuslims too. This makes muslims afraid of Islamists and resentful of unequal treatment by nonmuslims. Which in turn ends freedom of speech for muslims and kills dialogue with Islamists, since muslims are afraid that they won’t be protected from Islamist violence. I believe that dialogue with extremists is the only way to ameliorate Islamism. For dialogue to happen, those who engage in dialogue need to be protected. And that starts by protecting vulnerable young muslim females from “honour” [Queens English spelling versus American spelling] violence. Muslim families and communities have the right to engage in “honour” social ostracization, but don’t have the legal right to engage in “honour” violence.

To be clear FGM is a complex issue. I don’t think that male circumcision should be banned, and perhaps that logic might apply to some very light forms of FGM to accommodate muslim culture. But most FGM is far more dangerous and intrusive than male circumcision. Global society needs an open and honest discussion about FGM and what to do about it; including banning very dangerous types of FGM.

The UK isn’t the only country that mistreats her muslims. The same is true for many other countries around the world, which might be the subject of future articles.

My views on this and most other things are not set in stone and I am open to changing them based on new information. Please let me know the many things I am missing or misunderstanding.

Thanks again for letting me be a part of the Brown Pundit community.

Review: On China

“On China” is a curious mixture of history, geopolitical analysis and self-serving memoir (concentrating mostly on the last two elements). Kissinger reviews some of the highlights of Chinese history; ancient and medieval China is covered quickly and superficially and the material is pretty much standard issue, but the level of detail increases after greatly from the opium war onwards and the book becomes much more interesting at that point. Kissinger makes the case that the Qing bureaucrats, in dire straits thanks to internal revolts, financial crisis and administrative decay, were not completely clueless or apathetic. Faced with determined, ruthless and far more technologically advanced European powers who had already overcome or overawed other great non-Western empires, Qing diplomats did their best to play European powers against one another and try to use (very limited) breathing space to try some fitful reforms, but the court was too far gone and the situation could not be salvaged, which led to 100 years of defeat, disorder, revolutions, famines and other disasters. Continue reading “Review: On China”

What does Ajit Pai’s race have anything to do with net neutrality?

Not a surprise that Hari Kondabolu goes there. The problem with making everything about racial dynamics is that more white people in the United States might take a page from that. I don’t wish to encourage that.

Also, believe it or not racializing a topic that the majority probably agrees with you on might make it less popular. But if you now talk to people who just agree with you all the time on these things you might not remember that.

Children’s Day

It was Children’s Day in India.

There’s a constant worry about being “outbred” in democratic societies. Instead humankind needs to have a much more rigorous (cultural rather than legal) approach towards child-breeding. Unfortunately our biologies don’t really help; peak fertility coincides with peak career-building time.

Prior to having children, couples should make sure that they are firmly on the path to success.