I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.
Some questions came my way about ISPR and following was the response. Every officer posted to ISPR should read Brig. R Siddiqi’s book. It is out of print but I’ll be happy to lend them my own copy.
Battle of Narrative – Public Relations of Pakistan Army Hamid Hussain
“The expansion of its image gradually cuts the military establishment adrift from its professionalism, and it succumbs to a kind of narcissism, loving its media-contrived image too well to brook any rival image”. Brigadier ® A. R. Siddiqi; Former Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).
Army is the dominant and most powerful institution of Pakistan. Every conflict between army and civilian institutions results in a competing narrative from each party. Armed forces manage its narrative through Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). There are few officers from air force and navy but ISPR is mainly manned by army officers. During direct military rule, army chief is also President and information ministry is used for communication. ISPR is the main channel for communication when army is not directly controlling the levers of power. Public opinion in Pakistan is very positive about armed forces and any criticism on professional grounds is usually very limited. Unfortunately, any criticism is viewed by armed forces as challenging its authority and equated with anti-state activity.
ISPR has evolved over seventy years into a huge media machine with a large bureaucracy. It was a small entity headed by a Lieutenant Colonel rank officer and today headed by a Major General rank officer. Previous Director General (DG) ISPR was a Lieutenant General rank officer. It was backwater for officers not destined for further promotion. This changed in the last two decades. The importance of a stint as DGISPR can be gauged from the fact that DGISPRs have been posted to important combat formations. One DGISPR became Chief of General Staff. In the past, a brief statement was given to DGISPR to pass it on to the press. Now, DGISPR sits in important high level meetings and travels with army chief on foreign travels. The horizon has also expanded from brief press statements to frequent press conferences and extensive use of print, electronic, digital and social media as well as big budget productions. Continue reading Inter Services Public Relations; ISPR (Pakistan)
Francis Edward Peters (F.E. Peters) is Professor Emeritus of History, Religion and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University (NYU) and he has written a great review of the Haj through the ages, from its pre-Islamic beginnings to the way it was in 1926. He ends the book in 1926, so the current hugely enlarged, incredibly safer, more convenient, and in may ways, totally transformed Haj is not covered in this book. The most intetesting part of the book for me was the first; the discussion of what pre-Islamic Haj looked like and how its rituals were modified (and combined with another pre-Islamic pilgrimage, the Umrah) to creat the current Islamic Haj. This is also the most frustrating section of the book, but that is not FE Peter’s fault. We just do not have a lot information about what happened before Islam. Pagan Arabia was completely converted to Islam within one generation, and the attitude of the new religion towards the past was generally negative and dismissive. A mostly illiterate culture, it has left us with almost nothing except a few poems (preserved, ironically, because the later interpreters of the Quran felt that their language could help unlock the meaning of words and phrases in the Quran that these later generations had difficulty understanding) and whatever (generally negative and dismissive) references survive in Islamist historiography. Of course, we can learn some things from the Quran itself, but these frequently tend to be in the form of “answers without a question”, which must have been completely transparent to the first generation, but whose meaning required some explanation and interpretation by later generations. Most of this is supplied by the exegetical and historical works written in the next 2-400 years, but it can be impossible to separate fact from posthoc mythmaking. Anyway, this is what we have, and FE Peters makes a heroic effort to sift through it to find what can still be found. Continue reading Review: The Hajj, by FE Peters
Of course, unlike India, China is dominated by one ethnic group with clear genetic and cultural identity and has a long history of political unity (even though interspersed with recurrent civil wars and invasions), so there is relatively little fear of population genetics and its findings.. let the chips fall where they may, we know who is boss.. (I admit that I may not be aware of lower level Chinese debates about ancestry, where some people may indeed get hot and bothered about genetic results, but the point is that it is still not a hot-potato in the way population genetics is in India).
For background on the Indian debates, see Razib’s article here and my own (less genetics, more politics) article here.
By the way, the comments and answers on Razib’s article are very sane and add value. Please do read.
‘In a western democracy, you lose touch with your people, you lose elections; in a monarchy, you lose your head’. Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Former Saudi ambassador to Washington.
In the last two years, Saudi Arabia has gone through many changes. Absolute monarchies are not easy to decipher. There are many opacities and it is very difficult for any outside observer to have a real sense of events. Two main factors are very limited expression by Saudis in their own country and opaque decision making process in the form of decrees with flavor of palace intrigue. A Saudi will not express his honest view in the presence of another Saudi due to fear factor. In view of these limitations, the perspective of an outsider has severe limitations.
Current system of governance of the country is based on accession to throne of one of the sons of the founder of the country Abdul Aziz bin Abdur Rahman al-Saud (d. 1953). He works with other family members especially senior princes, Council of Ministers (most of whom are also royal family members) and Council of Senior Clerics in running day to day affairs of the country. There is a fair amount of competition among all these groups about various issues and King carefully balances his act to avoid open conflict.
and it reminded me of a story I heard about a particular pair of objects, two old-style massive beds (palang) in a house in Jehlum. Since I doubt that this story has been published anywhere, I thought of putting it down here for posterity:
“The Man on Mao’s Right” is the memoir of Ji Chaozhu, a Chinese diplomat who worked as an interpreter for several decades before being promoted to more substantive positions, ending his career as China’s ambassador to Great Britain and a stint as undersecretary general of the UN. His personal story in intertwined with many important events in modern Chinese history, from the Japanese invasion and a peripheral role in the communist’s rise to power (his older brother was a confidant of Zhu Enlai and more or less a Chinese communist agent in the United States), to the Korean war, the early decades of Chinese communism, the Great Leap Forward, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the fall of the Gang of Four and the rise of post-Maoist China under Deng Xiaoping.
Ji went to school in Manhattan and was a scholarship student at Harvard before most of the family moved back to China to help Chairman Mao build the new China. He is a Chinese patriot and a thoroughgoing Confucian Mandarin at heart, who managed to retain these ideals through decades of purges and ideological twists and turns in China, so he is not inclined to kick up controversy and cross the party’s red lines even in his old age. The memoir seems honest and frank enough when it comes to his personal life, but the politics and political commentary are filtered through a lifetime of extreme care and awareness of what words can mean and what limits are to be kept in mind. He may have exactly these beliefs and attitudes, or he may think these are the beliefs and attitudes he considers safe to share. Either way, opinions that the CCP now considers safe are freely shared, those that could upset the CCP apparently never entered Ji’s head. That’s just how it is in this book.
A few days ago, Razib posted a piece about “Castes of Mind” that discussed Historian Nicholas Dirk’s book that argued that the Indian caste system as it exists may be (mostly) a colonial creation. I have not read Dirk’s book, but it is my impression (from hearing about it) that it is not superficial and has useful information and perspectives in it. Still, what less informed readers take from it, or what residue remains in the Zeitgeist from that book, is a tendency to blame evil British colonialism for whatever is worst about the caste situation in India. In that sense, it has joined the long (and growing) list of “Right Hand Path Orientalism” pieces, written by Western scholars eager to exculpate orientals when it comes to practices that are not in line with current fashions and opinions (as opposed to old fashioned “left hand path Orientalism”, which was much better informed (and far more useful), but frequently racist). Currently the most favored (and sometimes unwilling) recipients of this largess are Muslims, some of whose cultural and religious practices are now considered passe, but since the RightHandPath orientalists do not wish to “blame” Muslims for these views and practices, they prefer to find some way to blame colonialism, capitalism or some other aspect of modernity. A trivial but truly outstanding example is this astoundingly ignorant and illogical (but extremely well-meaning) piece about dogs and Islam.
The debate about the origins of the “Aryans” and their arrival in India has flared up again, this time triggered by new genetic findings that appear to confirm with a great deal of certainty that large numbers of Indo-Europeans herders migrated into the Indian subcontinent about 4000 or so years ago. Razib Khan (one of the best informed and unbiased bloggers on this topic) has written in detail about this topic in several posts, the most recent of which is here. I am not going to go into the genetics or the details, I just wanted to recap the story in very simple layperson outline and focus mostly on some of the politics around this topic. My basic argument is that the Hindutvavadi reaction to the politicaluses of “Aryan Invasion Theory” is relatively justified, but opting to take a stand against population genetics and common sense in the form of a relatively recently concocted (and very unlikely) “Out of India” (OIT) theory is an unfortunate and self-defeating mistake.
The Indo-Europeans who migrated into India were one of several migratory stream that, between 4000-2000 BCE, spread in all directions out of the Pontic Steppe (what is now Eastern Ukraine and Southern Russia, North and North-East of the Black Sea). They were cattle herding, horse breeding steppe dwellers who, like practically all other human populations, were themselves a product of the layers of human settlement and migration that have woven the intricate net of human racial groups since the first emergence of modern humans in Africa. They were also a very successful, capable and warlike people who had developed light, fast, spoke-wheeled chariots (and possibly, the composite bow) that were the wonder weapons of their time.
Qatar’s Dilemma “Everyone is critical of the flaws of others, but blind to their own.” Arab Proverb
On June 05, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and also placed land and air embargo. This move came as a surprise to many as this immediately followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s high profile visit to Saudi Arabia where most heads of Muslim countries gathered. The simmering differences between Qatar and its Arab neighbors reached the boiling point resulting in the June shock therapy. Qatar is a small country but in the last two decades it has gradually shown its presence on the international diplomatic scene. Qatar began its foreign policy as a broker of negotiations and mediator of conflicts. This combined with softer image of involvement in humanitarian and cultural interactions increased its profile and earned genuine respect. However, in the last few years, it got directly involved in armed conflicts resulting in negative fallout. Continue reading The Qatar Crisis
This is a frustrating, though still useful, book. Historian Peter Frankopan’s title claims this is “a new history of the world”. He then proposes that what the world needs is to reorient its focus from Europe to “the silk roads”, vaguely defined by him as “the region between East and West.. from the Eastern shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to the Himalayas”. This almost certainly reflects the fact that the core of this region happens to his particular area of interest (Turkey, Persia, Central Asia and Russia) as a historian. Having made this decision, he has to force the rest of the story to keep coming back to this region, to somehow keep his argument afloat. My recurring thought on reading this book was that all this is unnecessary. He could have written a history of the region without pretending that this was the REAL history of the world, and it would have worked fine. Or he could have attempted a history of the world and not bothered with this tendentious framing. But he insists on doing both, and it causes endless (and needless) irritation. Continue reading Book Review: The Silk Roads