Listen Without Prejudice

I’m no pundit; I’m a person and this post is personal. Many of the themes I touch on are contested and my personal perspective may not sit well with some. That is fine, but before an attempt is made to attack what follows, ask a single question, is this personal for you? I didn’t intend to write this for many reasons, but mainly because I can do without quite possibly having to defend my personal perspective, which isn’t something one should have do. Nevertheless, it’s been written and posted now, so any and all rights except anonymity have been waived. 

I decided to write this post on what has happened, is happening and may happen in Hong Kong in response to a tweet from Bloomberg columnist Andy Mukherjee with a link to a piece authored by a former Financial Times Hong Kong bureau chief Rahul Jacob on the events unfolding in Hong Kong. Mr. Mukherjee has a significant number of readers from India and the rest of South Asia. His tweet read that the piece was “the only thing you need to read today” asserting to his followers it was definitive. I did read it in full and that was enough to provoke a response. 

I’ve been reading Mr. Mukherjee since the turn of the millennium and am aware of his background as a first-generation expat or migrant and his career as a financial journalist both in print and on television. Mr. Jacob’s background I am less familiar with but having read his definitive piece it became clear to me the assertion was misleading if not downright suspect.

The realisation occurred when the author repeated what has been said many times by many protestors, journalists and academics. That there should be sympathy for Hong Kong Chinese, who are unique and distinct from their mainland brothers and sisters, are the children and grandchildren of refugees, who fled from oppression, not poverty.  

This claim of unique identity and more importantly injury to that identity is incendiary for reasons I will elaborate on later. However, once it was made and without context, it was obvious the piece was not definitive and the author could not be credible. Having read it, I saw Mr. Jacob was unwilling or unable to tell the whole story. Instead it was yet another retelling of parts of the story that are convenient to the narrative. One constructed by a fawning international media, whose fickle attention appears bent on manufacturing the consent of domestic audiences for what appears to be inevitable future policy. 

I want to be clear; I am not a Beijing apologist and my sympathies do not lie with the Party. What little wealth I have was built on the back of the rule of law, personal freedoms and political stability. All three are what made Hong Kong an attractive destination for international companies to establish their base over rivals and for mainland companies to raise capital. I may have benefitted from unprecedented growth in China, the product of an authoritarian political system, but that has been underpinned by the three key principles without which life would have been possible but not as pleasant. All three were critical to Hong Kong’s rise as an international finance centre but only two were necessary and remain so for its continued prosperity. 

The key sentence in this post is the last one, that, in essence is the basis of my view, and if you have read my soliloquy this far and are bored already, that really is all you need to know.  Some may be surprised perhaps angry at the suggestion universal rights are not necessary for continued prosperity and I will attend to those concerns in due course with examples. The short version of my argument is that Hong Kong’s future is at risk if political stability never returns and the rule of law is undermined. Governments in Beijing and Hong Kong as well as the protestors themselves are compromising both and at this stage playing the blame game is no longer relevant. 

Continue reading “Listen Without Prejudice”

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Browncast Episode 64. We Talk with Meru Media about India, Pakistan, Hinduism, TNT, Aryans..

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

In this episode we talk to Mukunda Raghavan, who runs Meru Media (“your home for all things Indic”). We talk about Hindu drinking culture, India, Pakistan, Tambrams, Aryan Invasion, all the fun stuff. Do check it out and leave comments.

 

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An apology to Brown Pundits

My quick Election 2019 reaction article “The rock that broke liberalism” in the local English daily Dhaka Tribune seemed to have blown up in social media. As I woke up this morning, the article has nearly 9000 shares and still growing by the hour. Most probably the blow-up happened because some prominent Indian media personality with lot of followers shared the article.

I want to apologize here to BP and also to Omar Ali bhai for not mentioning Brown Pundits or his his name directly. Althought by mentioning the key words in the BP 2016 article and also the thesis question, I made it very easy to find the article with minimum enterprise through Google search (Links at the end). I wrote the article with Bangladeshi audience in mind, I did not expect it to go ‘international’. Thus I unintentionally deprived Brown Pundits from some desereved publicity and Omar Ali bhai from due direct recognition.

The reason why I was shy about mentioning Brown Pundits is that I wanted to keep my column writing profile in Bangladesh and occasional Brown Pundits contributor and commenter seperate. Firstly, I regard BP as a forum where one can freely speak their minds about sensitive issues (very unwise I know. In internet nothing is safely hidden and everything is permanent). Secondly, as a Bangladeshi who wishes to travel to home country regularly, speaking freely about sensitive issue is a very ill-advised for me. Thus my reluctance to let my contributions/ comments in BP be known among home-circles.

This is the dilemmna of the era for us. We want to talk, yes just talk, debate, analyze, about issues that interest us but there are great number of people from all sides for whom talking freely is the biggest existential threat in the world. Of course Razib is a prime example of the reality of the threat. Awarded NYTimes op-ed contributor just for a day because the internet outrage mob mobilized in milliseconds.

https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2019/05/25/the-rock-that-broke-liberalism

Is Islam the rock on which the liberal order broke?

 

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Between the saffron and scimitar

On my other weblog I have a post, On The Instrumental Uses Of Arabic Science, which reflects on the role that the idea of science, the Islamic world, and cultural myopia, play in our deployment of particular historical facts and dynamics. That is, an idea, a concept, does not exist on an island but is embedded in a cultural environment. Several different contexts.

My father is a professional scientist, and a Muslim who lives in the West. In our house there was always a copy of The Bible, the Qu’ran and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge. To those not convinced about the beliefs of Islam, as I never was, it was not a convincing book. But it played a particular role in my father’s life of the mind as both a Muslim and a scientist. Its arguments were less important in their detail than that a French scientist had written a book showing that Islam and science were compatible and that in fact, the Koran had prefigured scientific truths.

The intellectual achievements of medieval Islam, particularly the phase focused around the House of Wisdom, are a real thing in and of themselves. But more often they exist as tools for the implicit or explicit agendas of particular peoples with ends which are separate and distinct from an understanding of the past on its own terms.

For many Muslims, this period defines what Islam could have been. Should have been. More traditionalist Muslims will have a relatively understated take, and perhaps attribute the passing of this period due to external forces (e.g., the collapse of central authority by the end of the 9th century). More progressive Muslims will make a bolder claim, that Islam, that Muslims, made the wrong decisions internally (al-Ghazali often emerges as a villain).

A modernist, perhaps Whiggish, take would be that the 9th century of Islam was a “false dawn.” Illustrative of the acidic power of rationality, but an instance when it receded in the face of faith (the Mutazilites often become heroes in these tales). A more multiculturalist and contemporary progressive Western take would likely emphasize that Islamic cultural production was just as ingenious as that of the West, and its diminishment was due to the suffocating effect of colonialism.

But there are even more exotic takes one could propose. The shift from the Umayyads in Damascus to the Abbasids in Baghdad was a shift of the Islamic world from the west to the east. The prominence of Iranian culture during the latter period was palpable. The Caliph al-Mamun was half Iranian, and almost moved the capital of the Abbasids to Merv in Khorasan. The Barmakid family were ethnically Iranian, but also originally hereditary Buddhists. The historian of Central Asia, Christopher Beckwith, has alluded to an “Indian period” of Islamic civilization when the influence from Dharmic religion and Indian culture was strong. For example, Beckwith and others have argued that the madrassa system derives from that of Central Asian viharas.

But ultimately this post and this blog is not about Classical Islamic civilization and history. Rather, I want to pivot to the discussion of Islam and India.

This blog now gets in the range of the same amount of traffic as my other weblog. But a major difference is the source of traffic. About two times as many visitors to this weblog come from the USA as India. So Americans are dominant. But, on my other weblog, 15 times as many visitors come from the USA as India. Additionally, since this is a group weblog, I’m pretty liberal about comments, and so this weblog receives between 10 to 100 times as many comments as my other weblog. Obviously, since most people in the world are stupid, many of the comments are stupid. I try to ignore that.

Rather, let me focus on the “hot-button” issue of Islam and India, and how it impacts people here. In the comments of this weblog. Let’s divide the comment(ers) into two stylized camps. Or actually, one person and another camp. The person is commenter Kabir, who has taken it upon himself to defend the honor of Indo-Islamic civilization. On the face of it, that’s not a major problem, but he tends to take extreme offense and demand linguistic and topical policing that’s frankly rather obnoxious (this tendency extends beyond Islam, as he is a living personification of Syme). He’s a bully without the whip. Kabir is somewhat annoying, but I can honestly always just delete his comments. He’s one person.

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