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?
Stephen Kotkin is a historian who has written several outstanding books on Russian history and is now in the process of distilling his lifetime work into a monumental three part biography of Stalin. Volume 1 dealt with Stalin’s early life and his progress from relatively peripheral disciple of Lenin in 1917 to Lenin’s handpicked general secretary of communist party in 1922, to undisputed (though not yet completely all-powerful) boss and ruler of the Soviet Union by 1928. By the end of that volume, Stalin was firmly ensconced in this position, having successfully seen off the challenge from Trotsky, who lost out partly because almost nobody around him liked him, but mostly because he was neither as hardworking, nor as competent, iron-willed or crafty as Stalin. It is true that Trotsky imagined himself as the real “Marxist intellectual” in this fight, but the autodidact Stalin was no intellectual slouch, and Trotsky’s low opinion of him in this arena is also a (small) part of why he lost this fight; he underestimated his opponent. Of course, both of them believed fully in the Marxist-Leninist picture of history and society, complete with the necessity of class war, the central role of the proletariat and the idiocy of the peasants, so it is easy to dismiss the intellectual output of both parties as equally delusional, but that is not how it looked in the 1920s, so we should leave such retrospective wisdom out of the discussion. In any case, by 1928, Stalin had kicked Trotsky out of the Soviet Union, and had defanged or sidelined all his other rivals within the Bolshevik leadership.
“What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?” technologist Aviv Ovadya warns/asks in this interesting journey through the existing and coming technologies for manipulating words, images, networks and people..
“Alarmism can be good — you should be alarmist about this stuff,” Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligence–assisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. “We are so screwed it’s beyond what most of us can imagine,” he said. “We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we’re even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.”
That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy-to-use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined — “reality apathy,” “automated laser phishing,” and “human puppets.”
He then describes how rapidly the technologies for manipulating images, mining personal information and using AI to tailor messages specifically to each user are developing. And he fears that:
“fast-developing tools powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality tech could be hijacked and used by bad actors to imitate humans and wage an information war”
Of course they will. And the technology development will not stop just because it can be put to scary uses. I cannot think of an example from history where technological development was stopped because X “enlightened individuals” predicted it would be destabilizing. (Aviv is not saying that either, I just wanted to get that out of the way). So eventually everyone will be playing with these tools, and so? Didn’t everyone start using print and then radio, and then TV and then the internet? Maybe it made it possible to coordinate people in larger numbers towards common ends (not necessarily good ones, but I mean the game of politics did not change to some new game, it just ramped up a level), but the numbers coordinated by religion/culture in the past were not trivial either, just slower moving .. The question is this: is there a point where quantitative change becomes qualitative? and what does that mean? What will be radically different? Leaders? followers? patsies? useful idiots?
This is not a rhetorical question, I am really curious what people think will change and what will not.
By the way, i read that while he was waiting for Stalin to shoot him, Bukharin was reading philosophy and this was the question that stumped him; the question of quantitative change versus qualitative change..
Yuri Slezkine is a Russian-American historian (he is also technically Portuguese-American, since he first emigrated from Russia to Portugal and then came to the US with a Portuguese passport) who has written a number of interesting books, and “The House of Government; a Saga of the Russian Revolution” is his latest and greatest offering. At over 1000 pages, it is not a lightweight book, literally or metaphorically. What he does is follow the lives of a large number of Bolshevik revolutionaries, from their origins as young rebels (they were almost all very young; very few were over 40 when they took over the largest country in the world) to the heady days of the Bolshevik revolution, to the civil war that followed, the first compromise (the NEP), the second and more serious attempt at “true communism” (the five year plan), the terrible violence and suffering of collectivization, the victory of communism under Stalin, the insane purge and auto-annihilation that followed that victory, the second world war, the desiccation and death of revolutionary ideology, and, perhaps most strikingly, the coming of age of the next generation without any sincere transfer of the purported official ideology, leading to the final, inevitable collapse of the entire experiment.
The people on the list are Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Obviously Pol Pot does not make it because there were not enough Cambodians to qualify. Some Indians will complain that Churchill is missing, though I personally think that while he was involved, at times peripherally, in some really bad affairs (Bengal famine is the one most mentioned), he honestly does not belong in this particular list. But that is easier said than proven; which is the point of this post; that this question turns out to be more difficult the more you think about it.. Continue reading “Ranking Mass Murder..”
We had a little discussion on Twitter about this topic. It was triggered by this post by Sam Altman @Sama, (about increasing political censorship of heterodox ideas in Silicon valley) but became a more general argument about US competitiveness and ability to attract talent, especially scientific talent. I just wanted to put a few random thoughts and questions out there, in the hope of enlightening feedback.
Clearly the US is still the world’s number one destination for exceptional scientific talent. But this is just year one of the reign of the mad king and already there are many reports of racist and bureaucratic obstruction of visas and suchlike (being both racist and bureaucratic, this process naturally has limited connection to rational priorities). There is also the general decline of US reputation across the globe (whether it reflects the reality of US life and to what extent, these are separate issues; the perception itself would likely influence SOME aspiring migrants). This is one (obvious) side of the story. There is also an attack from the Left flank (see below). Continue reading “Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?”
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) and Ahsan Butt has an excellent article about the thinking behind the genocide. You can read these, 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 and a second (and bigger) round of killings that 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 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 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 them 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 as the razakars, but with far greater enthusiasm and ideological commitment. 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 groups (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”
The following is a report prepared by the British Foreign office about the “Mujahid Revolt” in Arakan around the time of Burmese independence. It provides good background on the Rohingya issue and is worth a read..
Below that is a report prepared by a researcher at SOAS in 2005, which gives some more background..
“This document is a transcript of an original British Foreign Office document held at the National Archives in Kew, Richmond, Surrey under File Reference FO 371/101002 – FB 1015/63”
The Mujahid Revolt in Arakan
1. The Akyab district of Arakan, the northern parts of which are now the scene of a Muslim rebellion, is even less well provided with communications than are most parts of Burma, and its inaccessibility and its remoteness from the centre of government are principal factors in making the rising possible. The district is separated from Burma proper by the hills of the Arakan Yoma, and west of this range a series of rivers, running roughly from north to south and divided from one another by parallel ranges of higher ground, split the district into several parts between which, as between the district as a whole and the rest of Burma, communication is difficult. On the west, the Naf river flows south to the sea, and in its lower reaches forms the frontier between Burma and East Pakistan.
2. The northern part of the Akyab district comprises two administrative areas, known as townships, namely, the Buthidaung township consisting of the upper part of the Mayu river valley and the adjacent hills, and the Maungdaw township consisting of the lower Naf valley with the coastal strip running south from its estuary. The two townships, now the scene of so much disorder, are separated by hills known as the Mayu range. Though most of the Buthidaung township consists of hills, the Maungdaw townships contains the flat, intensively cultivated land along the lower Naf, and this is one of the most fertile and densely populated parts of Burma. In both townships, the people depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and apart from minor village handicrafts, there is no industry.
3. Owing to the nature of the country, the easiest means of communication both within it and between it and other parts of Arakan is water-transport, either by coastal craft plying to the Naf estuary or by inland-water transport along the Naf and Mayu rivers. Roads are few and poor; railways do not exist. Formerly a light railway ran from the town of Maungdaw on the Naf to the town of Buthidaung on the Mayu, passing through two tunnels on the way; it was constructed by the Arakan Flotilla Company to link their services on the Naf with those on the Mayu and to provide an inland route by which the rice of Maungdaw might reach the rice-mills at Akyab, but it was later abandoned and developed into a metalled roadway. In general, land movement in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships must be effected by bullock-cart track or by jungle-path. Thus the north of the Akyab district is essentially isolated. Continue reading “The Mujahid Revolt in Arakan in 1952 (and a SOAS report on the Rohingyas)”
“A tree won’t fall with a single blow”. Turkish proverb
A failed coup attempt by some members of Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) in July 2016 made international headlines for few days. The news quickly faded away and firm clamp down and a purge inside Turkey prevented any detailed information about the dramatic changes in Turkish Armed Forces in the last two decades.
Events of July 2016 were the final phase of the demise of the first republic established by the country’s founder Kamal Ataturk and emergence of second republic. Turkish Armed Forces assigned themselves the role of guardian of the republic and were a dominant force for almost a century. TAF directly intervened several times while at other times removed civilian governments by orchestrating events behind the scene if they perceived any deviation from the Kamalist secular vision. Turkish Armed Forces have finally met their tragic end and moved out of the power center. Continue reading “Turkish Turbulence – Shock Therapy for Turkish Armed Forces”