A quick reaction to Indian Election

I wrote the following article for one of the English daily newspapers in Bangladesh. The main idea is directly borrowed from a very good post in Brown Pundits (2016) by always superb contributor Omar Ali bhai.  “Is Islam the rock on which the liberal order broke?”  https://www.brownpundits.com/2016/12/05/islam-is-rock-on-which-liberal-order/

Link to my article here.  Text follows. Just as a reminder, newspapers op-eds are not suitable place for good elaboration and defense of ideas. This is not an analysis or theorizing, just a reaction.

The rock that broke liberalism

https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2019/05/25/the-rock-that-broke-liberalism?fbclid=IwAR3cQVWjO1PYe6muE33Dijy44kR90fJRH1Iv6UBqS9KYqHr9e7AlTHKjvdo

I was watching live streaming of the India Election 2019 results on the NDTV website. Panelist after panelist was commenting on how significant were Balakot strikes in boosting BJP’s re-election prospects, and how ignorant are the liberal elites of India about the appeal of national identity among the masses.

This was NDTV, as a reminder, one of the citadels of India’s liberal elites. BJP’s triumphant re-election under Narandra Modi underscores the wave of right-wing populist nationalism sweeping across democracies of the world — Europe, Australia, Latin America, the US, Asia, maybe soon in Canada also.

With every election, every referendum taking place in established democracies, it is becoming apparent that this wave may not be just yet another right turn in the cycle of politics soon to be corrected by pivot to the left, but a fundamental shift in the people themselves.

A couple of years ago, in a South Asia focused blog I frequent, a much-admired Pakistani-American writer wrote a post posing a great question: “If and when modern humanism and liberalism crashes and burns, will future historians look back and say that Islam was the rock on which it first and decisively broke?”

His point was not that Islam single-handedly threw a powerful challenge to the liberal order, or “end of history” would have been achieved if Islam didn’t throw a wrench into the gears of civilization.

He argued that by obdurate refusal to accept the fundamental assumptions of post-enlightenment worldview, by obstinate resistance to assimilate with the mainstream when in the minority and by dogged persistence in recreating antediluvian theocracies when in majority, Muslims not only undermined the universal validity of the whole liberal project, but also sowed deep doubts about the liberal project among its previously most faithful adherents.

Muslim recalcitrance has hastened delivery of the contradictions that the liberal project was pregnant with from the beginning.

And the contradictions are huge indeed. The liberal order is prone to breakdown because it doesn’t sufficiently account for the fact that human nature itself is broken. People are not just utility or satisfaction maximizing beings. Enjoyment and suffering are intimately co-mingled.

People do not just want to reach heaven together; they want some, preferably who are somewhat different, to be confined to hell as well. Apart from the contradictions, surely undercurrents of technological and economic change, the shift in global power balance, the inevitable decay of political order, played a far more important role in undermining the liberal dominance than obstinate resistance of the followers of Islam?

However, it’s hard to deny any causative role of Islam. The emergence of right-wing, national identity politics was perhaps inevitable in India, but BJP’s astonishing dominance must be partially attributable to Pakistan’s persistent spoiling and nightmare-neighbour role? Right-wing majoritarians everywhere are scapegoating Muslims as the principal other; morality of their methods can be questioned, but the success cannot.

Moreover, I would argue that Islam has not undermined the liberal order by sowing doubts within liberal ranks or exposing its contradiction, it has weakened liberalism by emboldening and consolidating the enemies of liberalism in established democracies which were scattered and disheartened after the bloodbath of WWII and subsequent emergence of liberal world order.

Stubborn defense of group identity by Muslims of the world has made upholding group identity respectable for all groups, majority or minority, powerful or weak. In the age of mass politics, group identities like religion or nation have more elements in common than in difference. If Muslims can be unabashedly assertive about the sanctity of their religious identity and traditions, other groups can be unapologetic about their respective identities too.

Muslims may be a small minority in most of established democracies, but they comprise nearly one-fourth of humanity, and they have a very emphatic presence in Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe. To people of different faiths, Muslims, regardless of their actual numbers as minority, represent the much talked-about demographic threat from the south.

Muslims, whether in majority or minority, are on the other hand deathly afraid of the political, cultural, and economic threats emanating from the leading political and ethnic groups of the world. It’s a mutual cycle of fear spiraling downwards. Muslims cheering the probable demise of a liberal world order is the height of folly.

As the world’s most powerless and disunited major group, they will continue to pay the major price of breakdown in blood and misery. Uighurs of China portend that bleak future.

In established democracies, Muslims are generally politically allied with liberal progressives, and this alliance has opened liberals up to accusation of double standards in protecting a very illiberal minority identity. Abandoning universalism and embracing identitarianism is hollowing out liberalism from within. Either the principles of liberalism apply for all groups or none at all.

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Browncast Ep 41: An Indian Muslim on Maharajah Modi

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…).

We speak to Jahanara, a Cambridge student who has extensive experience with the Delhi education system and who happens to be an Indian Muslim.

Image result for maharaja modi

I’m joined by MJ & LV (this is part 2 of Episode 38; I plan to do part 3 with Kushal of Carvaka) as we discuss the ramifications for India; it was a balanced podcast in the sense I felt that we respected all viewpoints and respectfully disagreed but enjoyed listening to one another.

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post; Jahanara is the “ideal Indian Muslim” by Indian standards. I don’t want to delve into her life details, to protect her privacy, but I can’t think of a prouder or more assimilated Indian. But it seems to me that her “Muslimness” is now almost being foisted on her; making her an incidental Muslim.

I get from the podcast that Indian Muslims, who are a multiplicity, are increasingly becoming a minority who have to prove their “Indianess.”

But listen to the podcast and make your own views. I did take LV & MJ to task for their “Hindu privilege”; a bit like white privilege, it’s so invisible in India that once can take it for granted.

I also called LV a Left-Liberal Hindu, her Hinduism isn’t necessarily important to her, but becomes an issue when she feels it’s being hijacked by Rightist forces.

So it was an interesting back and forth and as always I try to keep my views fluid so that the podcast can reflect the right balance of views. I did point out that Modi, in terms of his personal austerity and immense work ethic, is an enviable leader. He has no progeny to leave office to and no dynastic politics at work; he is all about the country. Incidentally Imran may be the same as I can’t see any of his three children succeeding him in terms of PTI.

I also feel that if India is heading towards the same type of governance as Pakistan (God forbid) then the idea that Hinduism is somehow manifestly superior to Islam is a bit weak. I do sense Indians want to keep the tagline of secular, liberal democracy but with overtly Hindu characteristics, which is fine albeit majoritarian.

MJ, as per usual, is off to good and great things; giving a speech today on Brexit and Dharma with Hindo Sengupta.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Triumph of the Gujarati

Election 2019 reflects a victory of the Gujarat model. But not the model you are thinking of. Not even that other, more sinister model. It is something very fundamental, rooted deeply in economic ecologies.

Human beings are shaped fundamentally by the networks they find themselves embedded in. In India, these networks overwhelmingly take the shape of caste groups marked by an occupational role, social status and marital rules.

For the North Indian peasant, with an economy driven by land and service to an imperial power, caste identity emphasizes kinship and honor. Biradari literally means brotherhood, and membership is conditioned on izzat.

For the Gujarati merchant, in a dry region of relatively unproductive land, caste identity emphasizes pooled resources, adherence to fiscal norms and shared interests. Even for the peasant Patels, caste is today fundamentally an economic union, channelized into farming and dairy cooperatives.

2019 might well be the year that the North Indian peasant realizes the futility of imbibing a kinship and honor based caste identity. On the one hand, these networks simply do not provide the resources to grow and thrive in a post-agrarian world. And even if optimally politicized, the sheer number of caste groups makes the gains from achieving political power limited and concentrated.

The North Indian does realize the need for new kinds of networks. And Modi’s opening up of North India to the world, via a liberal visa policy, river transport from the Bay of Bengal all the way upto Noida and big ticket global engagement platforms like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shinkansen would not have escaped the eye of the sharp Yadav and Jat, who realize that they will have to reach out to the world to grow.

After all, previous engagements with foreigners in the recent past have given Indians globally important automobile and IT industries.

India today is more open to the world than ever before. Everybody from Peru to Russia to Ghana to Indonesia can come in after submitting a simple electronic form. Less than 7 million people visited India in 2013, by 2016 that number more than doubled to 15 million. Modi’s Gujarati mind grasps the decisive role of networks in the growth of individual, and he might have well coaxed the North Indian to look beyond his caste tunnel.

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Browncast Ep 38: Indian Elections

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…).

Razib & I played host to MJ, Kushal (Carvaka Podcast) and Vidhi.

It was a very long podcast (1hr 40 minutes) and it was really entertaining. Kushal & MJ are BJP-lite while Vidhi (if she was forced to vote) is Congress. We skipped the technical discussion since we will serve that after the elections. Continue reading “Browncast Ep 38: Indian Elections”

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As India Saffronises, 9 Questions on her Za’faran sister (IranZamin) with Professor Foltz-

A degree of uncertainty surrounds the origin of the English word “saffron“. It might stem from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which comes from the Latin word safranum, from the Arabic za’farān,[13] which comes from the Persian word zarparan meaning “flower with golden petals”.[14]
As an aside I pilfered this interesting piece from Kabir’s facebook

Continue reading “As India Saffronises, 9 Questions on her Za’faran sister (IranZamin) with Professor Foltz-“

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Contemplating the weave of the world

    [ exploring various versions of how the world of concepts can itself be conceptualized ]

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Have patience with me: Omar Ali has invited me to post here, an honor I greatly appreciate, and I am introducing myself.

I’m an outsider. I’m your guest, and I only just arrived.. To be precise, I’m a Brit, resident in the United States:

If I’m to write on BrownPundits, I need to you know how ignorant I am in many respects, before I shed some of what knowledge I do possess — and also to focus myself in the Brown direction, because this place is devoted to “a discussion of things brown” — and while I’ll no doubt wander far afield as I post, I want to acknowledge and honor the purpose of this blog as I introduce myself here.

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My interest, my fascination, my obsession even, is with the weave of the world. And indeed, if my friends Omar Ali, Ali Minai, and Hasan Asif can be any indication, the Punditry of Brown extends intellectually across all of history, geography and genius, to encompass the world of ideas and the world world to which the ideas refer in their combined entirety..

And thus the weave of the thing. That’s how the Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta’s concept of the oceanic streams of story caught Salman Rushdie’s eye, and Rushdie reference to it —

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.

— it’s a universal mapping of the sort that enchants the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, librarians both, encompassing the realm of human thought in narrative terms. And it’s one subcontinewntal form of the universal map, or model, or metaphor — the Net of Indra in the Avataṃsaka Sutra would be another.

Outside the subcontinent — but well within the compass of Brown Punditry– there are other such metaphors for the whole of the whole. Teilhard de Chardin’s oosphere is another, as is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s >World Wide Web, in which complex weave of thoughts we now find ourselves.

But for my own purposes, the most interesting figure of the whole, the universe as we are able to think and name it, conceptually speaking, is the Glass Bead Game as described by Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of that name

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My own personal predilections run from cultural anthropology through comparative religion to depth psychology, and from violence to peace-making. But that’s a huge sprawl at best, and to bring all that into some kind of focus, to learn how to map that immense territory, and the vaster universe beyond it, I turn not just to strong>Hesse’s novel, but particularly to the Game which he describes in that book:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

You’ll see how that description covers much the same ground as Rushdie’s description of the Kathasaritsagara, and Edward Tufte’s image of the Ocean of Story which I’ve placed at the top of this post could also be a depiction of Hesse’s great Game.

There are many voices in the Ocean, and many voices in the Game, and they are interwoven: they form which a musician would recognize as a polyphony — their concepts and narratives at times clashing as in musical counterpoint, at times resolving, at least temporarily, in a refreshing harmony.

And what better model of the world can we contemplate at this moment, that one in which a multitude of at times discordant voices wind their ways to concord?

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[ above: conventional score, bar-graph score and keyboard recordings of JS Bach, contrapunctus ix

Johann Sebastian Bach is the master of contrapuntal music, and, be it noted, a great composer for and improviser on the organ. And it is Bach whose music I listen to as I approach the business of modeling the world of ideas.

My mantram ca 1999/2000 was:<To hold the mind of Bach..

Where Bach devises and holds in mind melodies that collide and cohere, I want us to hold thoughts in mind — at times clashing thoughts — and learn to weave them into a coherent whole..

That’s my approach to making the Glass Bead Game which Hesse conceptualized, playable. And my playable variants on Hesse’s Game, the HipBone family of games, will be the topic of my next few posts — thanks to the kind inquiries of my BrownPundit friends, and Omar’s generous invitation to me to post here.

And perhaps, if you’re interested, we’ll play a few rounds of my games, or explore across the world of ideas and your and my interests, what I’ve come to think of as the HipBone style of thinking..

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Charles Cameron is a poet and game designer, managing editor of the Zenpundit blog, and now an invited guest at BrownPundits. You can hear a discussion of the overlap between the Glass Bead Game and Artificial Intelligence featuring Omar Ali, Ali Minai and myself on this BrownPundits podcast — with an appreciative bow to Razib Khan.

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The Post-White World

As I was scoffing down my lunch (I jest; I actually eat really healthy food) a thought came into my mind that a good book title would be “The Post-White World.”

Since 1492 (when Granada fell and Columbus set off) there has been an increasing consolidation of the West. It reached its apogee in the Victorian Era, where it was unabashed racial hegemony, and it took two World Wars to really shake it off. It’s interesting that Islam experienced so much “innovation” in the 19th century simply because the incursion of the West was finally being internalised. Continue reading “The Post-White World”

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Our most popular categories

I’ve given myself the thankless task of “tagging” all my past posts. I noticed that we don’t have a tag on “Kashmir” (the only sub-region we do have is NWFP). It sparked a thought that for a Desi blog we really don’t discuss Kashmir all that much (even though it was going to drag the region into war earlier this year).

This mirrors the larger discourse on Kashmir where Indians & Pakistanis don’t seem as animated or defined by it as before. Two reason comes to mind: Continue reading “Our most popular categories”

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