Paki Pundits

I’m responding to Kabir’s concerns that this blog is becoming far too Islam-focussed and not in a nice way.

I have been very busy so I’ve been following the threads quite lightly. Furthermore my perspectives are beginning to align online and offline (the advantage of blogging under your own name – difficult to troll).

So while I can appreciate why ethnic Pakistanis such as Kabir & myself may constantly refer back to Pakistan as a reference point, it’s becoming a bit obsessive on this blog.

If the whole point of Brown Pundits is for some commentators to bash Pakistan & Islam then that calls for introspection.

While there can be a healthy debate on whether the Islamic conquests, Partition and Islam are positive or negative influences on South Asia; the contention that Islam is the source of all misery is simply bunk.

Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Sri Lanka are probably the least Muslim regions in the Subcontinent since Islam was brought there by traders rather than conquerors. One could argue that it has much higher HDI than the rest of South Asia (Kerala & SL) but it hasn’t been all that more peaceful (Tamil politics in both countries has been turbulent).

One could of course counterclaim that the modern day polity of India was sullied by long periods of medieval Muslim rule. However Indonesia, Malaysia and even Turkey provide examples of very vigorous & even forward-thinking Muslim polities.

I’m not giving Islam or Muslims a clean chit but to dwell on them excessively, especially when one is not of the culture, smacks of Islamophobia. We have had some interesting discussions on Sri Lanka, caste politics, voting in Gorakhpur and other myriad topics however if the commentariat wants to obsessively continue to discuss Pakistan & Islam then let’s rename this blog to Paki Pundits so that we have a very clear focus..

Islamoskepticism or Islamophobia

Religions have many aspects to it,what matters for growth is that it comes down to being able to take criticism. If criticism leads to complex arguments, then depending on the nature of those arguments one can make progress, provided they can atleast temporarily keep the religious side interested with the belief that they do have a chance to come through.  So there has to reach a (seemingly) stable equilibrium between the critics and the believers. If this isnt possible then religious believers might find it difficult to sustain belief.

Islam truly is poor in its resources compared to other religions, it is precisely for this reason for its comparative poverty in its expression. Because it is anchored to Mohammad. we need to first find a way to compare between different religions, our understanding of this phenomena of “religion” has been shaped  largely due to christian/western worldview and its impact on how other systems of belief are perceived.Reason why we have many new world isms (Shintoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Sikhism,Jainism, Buddhism). So lets compare instead by many making different criteria to see where they stand.A kind of card, too many red cards and that religion is the worst. On inequality, Hinduism is worst, on freedoms to criticize , Christianity/Islam are worst, on use of violence for conquest, Islam is again the worst with concept of “Jihad”,so is Christianity. political ambitions,theologically for expansion bringing them into conflict with others, Christianity,Islam are worst.Just look around for christian and Muslim expansion in last 1000+ yrs by both.   Finally we can come to the central pillars of religions which have founders, Jainism Mahavira,Buddhism Buddha, Christianity Jesus,Sikhism ,Islam Mohammad. Continue reading Islamoskepticism or Islamophobia

Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn

Abdul Majeed Abid

Yeh fasal umeedon ki hamdam,

Iss baar bhi ghaarat jaye gi,

Sab mehnat subhon shaamon ki,

Ab kay bhi akaarat jaye gi

(This crop of aspirations

will be ruined once again,

the toil of day and night

will be wasted another time.)

(Faiz, Montgomery Jail, 1955)

The view from jail

The year 2007 was eventful in Pakistan’s recent history. Political upheaval coupled with a rise in terrorism and a lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary gripped the country for most of the year. Musharraf, the military dictator, had forcibly removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan — sparking a movement led by lawyers across the country. Amidst all this kerfuffle arose a new band called ‘Laal’ with their song ‘Umeed e Seher’ (Hope for a new Dawn). The song became a sort of anthem for the lawyers’ movement alongside slogans against military dictatorship. The song was based on a poem written by Pakistan’s foremost progressive poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the band consisted of young academics who openly declared themselves Marxists. One of the band members was the General Secretary of a Communist Party in Pakistan. A communist party in Pakistan? That seems like an oxymoron, does it not?

Continue reading Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn

Indian Diplomats in Pakistan harassed

New Delhi: Some Indian High Commission officials out for shopping in Islamabad’s main business district were aggressively followed and abuses hurled at them, the Foreign Ministry complained to the Pakistan government today. 

This is the second incident of Indian diplomats being intimidated and harassed over the last three days, Foreign Ministry sources said in New Delhi.

An Indian diplomat and his family on their way to a restaurant in Pakistan were chased by two men on a motorbike on Thursday this week, hours after India had called “harassment the new normal for Indian High Commission personnel in Islamabad”.

Pakistan: Land of the Impure Continue reading Indian Diplomats in Pakistan harassed

Shocking Sexism towards Kareena Kapoor

My wife alerted me to this shocking 20 second clip:

Such an extraordinarily offensive question by Rajdeep Sardesai. He basically asks Kareena if she’s educated and whether she was intimidated in joining the Pataudi family, who apparently are Rhode Scholars & Oxford. A few obvious observations:

(1) I was at the memorial conference for Pataudi Snr in London a few years ago. The handlers had to ask the press not to focus on Kareena, who was there with Saif & Sharmilla. She’s like the Ash of the Bacchan family, her star eclipses the family she’s married into entirely (that’s why Amitabh omits her quite obviously and Shweta/Ash have a hate-hate relationship).

Where is Ash in this tribute? Continue reading Shocking Sexism towards Kareena Kapoor

Why tribalism wins

Why tribalism wins ?. For this we need to consider what would be the alternative of tribalism?. Individualism. However individuals collaborate to achieve goals . The act of collaboration leads to competition between different kinds of ideas . Here there is big difference between complicated ideas which require deep study which cannot be done over short period of time and simple ideas which require less study. The more complex an idea, the less numbers of people shall be able to follow and the simpler an idea, its easy enough to get many to support them. It should also be easier to get many to debunk them as well. But here we end up with cognitive biases of the mind. No matter the ease with which one might debunk the simple idea, one might still not win the case for the complex idea precisely because it is complex, one might debunk it in favor of another simple idea. This leads to evolution of rhetoric, branding, a way to compress very complex set of ideas into simple enough ideas that can gain support .

In all this, we are now faced with the logistics of how ideas are disseminated , the fidelity with which they are disseminated, all options are made available, how well are all options equally explained. All this requires commitment of workers. So, the requirement of nuance, the logistics of the entire exercise, the need to motivate workers , the simple minded ideas and rhetoric one needs to deploy to win over others to one’s side , especially if one’s own ideas are too complex. This leads to a need for improvisation, rhetoric, taking advantage of cognitive hacks of our minds.
And once these methods are put in place, this machine becomes self sustaining, the use of cognitive hacks will keep getting deployed. All this lead to dominance of tribes over individualism.As it will be the efficiency of how these are run that shall decide the success.

Individualism also leads to spectrum of different positions. As Steven Weinberg once put it, “Without religion, good people will be good and bad people bad, with religion, to get good people to do bad,that takes religion”. As simple as this might sound, One might discover that the personalities of these “good people” might diverge from each other as well. If so, one might find that these good people might further divide themselves as their individual exploration space would be different from each other, their cognitive capacity, their methods of reasoning and subjective experience might all differ. The narcissism of individualism leads to the bizarre culture of validating people for discovery of their personal truth , popularization of phrases like “speaking your truth” comes to the mind. The narcissism of individualism will lead to a culture of much internal bickering and be taken over by the more tribal groups, whether they be internal or external.

Truth is not easy to find for all. At some point one has to go by trust due to the impossibility of one individual gaining perfection in diverse fields .Even in one field, one is far away from experts. This is true at both at the level of knowledge but also at the level of governance. The requirements of building systems of governance to scale leads one to also trust large numbers of people as part of the system. The constraints alone make Tribalism seem necessary. Add to it the divergent thinking styles of people to it along with diverse beliefs of people, how can it not be the case that tribalism would win. Once a tribe is formed based on certain markers, it becomes self sustaining and change the world in unique way in consonance with those tribal markers.

The difference is one therefore as to how an eco system of tribes tame themselves over time and evolve strategies of not trying to out compete each other to harmful effects but to help enable each other and to also solve the trouble of freeloaders .

In absence of clear cut answers one can only go by heuristics and methods to help us. In science and math, it is the consistency of methods, experiments that helps us. They act as guard rails .  We need to educate people about guardrails, one such guard rail could be skin in the game and belief in progress in incremental steps, experimental groups one can track over period of time and test for intervention  rather than to force experiment on everyone with no way to convince others that one’s ideas are indeed true.

Padmavati quip; Jauhar or Jihad?

We watched Padmavati last night (I have a longer post on that) but I thought I would share this funny story.

I was reading up on the history of the Chittor Fort (where Padmavati is centred):

Beginning in the 7th century, the fort was controlled by the Mewar Kingdom. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the fort was ruled by Paramara dynasty. In 1303, the Turkic ruler of Delhi, Alauddin Khalji defeated Rana Ratan Singh’s forces at the fort. In 1535 Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, defeated Bikramjeet Singh and took the fort. In 1567 Akbar defeated Maharana Udai Singh II‘s troops. The fort’s defenders sallied forth to charge the attacking enemy but yet were not able to succeed. Following these defeats, the women are said to have committed jauhar or mass self-immolation. The rulers, soldiers, noblewomen and commoners considered death preferable to the dishonor of surrender.[1]

I made the slightly off-colour joke to my wife that Jauhar seemed to be the best strategy of Chittor.

Her immediate quip back: “in the 13th century Hindu women were commuting Jauhar, in the 20th century Muslim men are committing Jihad so you tell me Zach which culture is more advanced?”


Review: The Storm Before the Storm

A relatively short (265 pages), fast paced and lively account of the Roman Republic from 146 BC (the fall of Carthage and Corinth) to 78 BC (the death of Sulla), covering the period in which the Republic saw major social upheaval, conflict and civil war and in which many of the constitutional checks and balances of the Republic fell by the wayside, setting the stage for the final overthrow of the Republic by Julius Ceasar and his grand nephew, Augustus Ceasar. Mike Duncan is known for his Roman history podcasts and in this book he makes the case that the decline of the mos maiorum (the “mores”) of the Roman Republic in this period of crisis was the crucial factor that led to the final fall a few decades later. WHY the mos maiorum fell apart is a big question, and it is not really answered in this book (a book that really tries to answer that question would probably be much denser and longer than this book) , but is beautifully described, and that is enough to earn 4 stars.

This period of Roman history and its main characters are not as prominent in popular memory as the final crisis of the Republic. Almost every educated person has heard of Julius Ceasar, the ides of March, Antony and Cleopatra, and Augustus, but relatively few people are familiar with characters such as the Gracchus brothers, Gaius Marius and Sulla, which is a tragedy, because their stories are as fascinating (if not more fascinating) than anything that happened in the final crisis of the Republic. if you are not a Roman history nerd and are not already familiar with these compelling characters, then this is a great introduction to the era and its most famous personalities. Colleen McCollough’s historical fiction (the “Masters of Rome” series) is far more detailed and richer in texture because in historical fiction she can fill in details where the historical record is silent (she is very careful to stay faithful to the historical record as far as it is known), but if you just want the story that is in the history books, this is a great place to start. Its all in here, the increasing immiseration of the peasant proprietors who were the base of the ancient Republic; the corruption that came with increasing wealth; the fight to extend citizenship to all Italians; the rise (and violent fall) of the Gracchi, aristocrats who championed the cause of the downtrodden; the incredible (and incredibly long) career of Gaius Marius, the “new man” (novus homo) who rose from outsider to outstanding general, savior of Rome and 7 time consul but just could not bear to retire; and last but not the least, the life of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, impoverished aristocrat, brilliant general, harsh conqueror and even harsher dictator, who tried to reform and re-animate the ancient Republic and actually managed to retire at the height of his power, but whose reforms failed to prevent (and whose personal example probably aggravated) the final crisis of the Republic. As you read, you cannot help wondering why 20 famous movies and TV serials have not been made about these people. Marius’s escape from Rome alone is worth at least one great movie, with more hair-raising chases, captures, escapes, betrayals and last minute twists of fortune than any fictitious adventure movie could possibly squeeze into one character’s life.
Overall, a great read, well worth a look.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Gaius Marius

Brown Pundits