Archive for the ‘hegemony or survival’ Category
“On the specific question of violence, the elite are ambiguous. They are violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes.”
One day, some weeks ago, as I walked down from my home in Greenland Dhapasi to a microbus at Basundhara, I noticed two young kids, maybe 11 or 12, doggedly following a Madhesi man with a bicycle. This man, dressed in loose fitting cotton pants and shirt, was studiously attempting to ignore the two boys, who were hand-in-hand and giggling. As I passed by, I distinctly heard the boys call after the man, while following him around, “Dhoti, ae Dhoti.”
“It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values…The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil.”
Even earlier, when images of Madhesi and Janajati leaders smashing and hurling chairs in Parliament flooded our airspaces, social media took on a strange, unwelcome hue. Under a thin veneer of condemning violence, the bile spewed on social media took on decidedly bigoted overtones. The barbs hurled were no doubt familiar to Madhesis: dhoti, Bihari, Indian. Some people, who on occasion had even posted that all 601 members of the Constituent Assembly, should be shot, were now suddenly concerned about the sanctity of Parliament. Most others complained of what ‘message’ this would send to the world.
Earlier this week, when news came in of the terrible deaths of security forces and protestors, social media was similarly flooded. This time, the racism wasn’t hidden; it burst forth as if it had been waiting, crouched beneath the skin. There were comments about how Tharus should have stayed Kamaiyas, comments wishing for floods to wash away the Tharus. Some regretted having donated goods to those very Tharus during the floods last year. Someone posted, “Let the security forces go around the Madhes and ask everyone there who they are. Anyone who replies ‘Madhesi’ or ‘Tharu’ should be shot dead on the spot. Anyone who replies Nepali should be let go.” And all along, that now-familiar refrain, “Are they even Nepali?”
“The native is always on the alert, for since he can only make out with difficulty the many symbols of the colonial world, he is never sure whether or not he has crossed the frontier. Confronted with a world ruled by the settler, the native is always presumed guilty. But the native’s guilt is never a guilt which he accepts; it is rather a kind of curse, a sort of sword of Damocles, for, in his innermost spirit, the native admits no accusation. He is overpowered but not tamed; he is treated as an inferior but he is not convinced of his inferiority.”
There is no defence of violence. Malcolm X’s threat of ‘by any means necessary’ does not encourage violence, it encourages only the means that are necessary. And there are those who would argue violence as necessary, but I would reply that murder is never necessary. The violence inflicted on an unequal system is the only kind of violence that is necessary and in that sense, the system must be smashed, not reformed. The structure must be destroyed and built from the ground up in a twilight of the idols. To those protesting the new federal set-up of the country, no structure has been destroyed. The new is the same as the old.
The violence of the Tikapur incident was brutal, no doubt. And there can be few who would condone or justify that atrocity. But there are many who would ask that the same outrage be directed at those who perished at the hands of the security forces, like Rajiv Raut and the five others shot dead in Birgunj. But the social media consensus seems to be that because they were protesting, they somehow deserved their deaths. Their guilt was decided the moment they joined the protest; their death was their sentence.
The point is not to belittle one death or another; it is not to say one was more important than the other. A life is a life, especially when it is extinguished. But sadly, some deaths mean more than others, some lives just more precious.
“The politicians who make speeches and who write in the nationalist newspapers make the people dream dreams. They avoid the actual overthrowing of the state, but in fact they introduce into their readers’ or hearers’ consciousness the terrible ferment of subversion. The national or tribal language is often used. Here, once again, dreams are encouraged, and the imagination is let loose outside the bounds of the colonial order; and sometimes these politicians speak of “We Negroes, we Arabs,” and these terms which are so profoundly ambivalent take on during the colonial epoch a sacramental signification. The nationalist politicians are playing with fire: for, as an African leader recently warned a group of young intellectuals, “Think well before you speak to the masses, for they flare up quickly.””
Who is to blame for these deaths? Is every man his own master or is he often misled and promised dreams by those who would seek to use this man for their own ends? On one side, the protestor and on the other, the policeman. Who is the more autonomous? The protestor is there of his own accord, he is fighting for his right to be. The policeman is there without choice, fighting for his pay. Who do we blame? Those who would fan the flames of war in order to achieve all ends, decrying the same blaze they helped ignite when the fires have charred all? Or those who would send some 50 policemen to take a crowd of 10,000 under control, even when they know there are those sowing discord?
Why does it take acts of senseless violence to bring those powerful to the table to talk? Why is that when unspeakable acts of violence are enacted, it is only then that the politicians spring into action? If your early action could have stopped murder, at the end of the day, whose hands are really bloody?
“Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men.”
What the second Janaandolan, with its toppling of the monarchy, set in motion cannot be stopped. It has acquired an inertia of its own—it will continue to move forward unless acted upon. And even then, if it has momentum, it will sweep all obstacles out of the way.
No one is ever really comfortable with repression; it’s a human trait. Being beholden to someone else rankles. We all would rather be our own masters. Those protesting know this, but perhaps those in ivory towers do not. Sometimes, it might look like they’re losing but the struggle is long and it is arduous.
All excerpts taken from ‘Concerning violence’ in The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
(A shorter version of this article appeared in Republica daily on October 12 2011: http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=37041)
In the belly of the beast
Marxism and Baburam Bhattarai in New York City
PRANAYA SJB RANA
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
– Marx, Theses on Feuerbach
NEW YORK – What really is the relevance of Marxism in the 21st century? In Kathmandu, I look around at the explosion of buildings: the malls, the ‘cheap’ housing, the shiny, all-glass office towers. There are laptops and iPods, Coca-Cola, KFC and Pizza Hut. We have the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB. We are part of the global world of capital. And though many may roll their eyes when Baburam Bhattarai talks of ‘imperialistic capitalism’, it is no less an accurate term. Capitalism carries on the legacy of imperialism, only now through culture and globalisation. It is the subjugation of the world under the banner of the dollar. One for all and all for none.
So what really is the relevance of Marxism in the 21st century? Capitalism took a dangerous blow this past decade, with the American economy is shambles, drained by its warmachine, and its monolithic debt to China, not to mention the crumbling economies in Europe, led by Greece and Italy. But capitalism doesn’t die so easy. It’s a many headed hydra, each time one of its heads is cut off, another two sprout to take its place. But these are trying times. We’ve sold our souls to many devils. Each corporation and conglomerate a different devil and each World Bank, each IMF a neoliberal shaitan in disguise. In an era that puts so much stake in material, a new house, a new car, money in the bank, cash to spend, new furniture, new clothes, its hard to take Marxism seriously. Wealth is defined as individual property: how rich are you? The social structure at the heart of Nepali society is slowly being eaten away by this very notion of wealth: that things belong to me, not to us, not to a whole but to one single individual who claims independence from the group. Even though this very individual is but one node on a matrix of relations: as mother, father, brother, son, student, teacher, sister, writer, artist, academic, businessman, shopkeeper, farmer, conductor.
Baburam Bhattarai realises this. He is a smart man, a clever man, a political man. A man whom Gramsci might have been proud of. He seems to embody praxis, that confluence of the theoretical and the practical. This is at the Theresa Lang centre of The New School in New York City, where three years earlier Comrade Prachanda gave his own New York talk. Contrary to Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal though, Baburam Bhattarai is quiet, confident and restrained. When he comes up to speak, he looks smaller than everyone else. His moustachioed face is broken in a small smile, one that betrays the irony of speaking about Marxism in America, in New York City, only few blocks north of Wall Street. First he speaks as an academic, neatly excusing himself as a scholar lured from the world of academia by the call of revolution. He speaks of historical dialectical materialism and how no other system can really explain, to him, the functioning of the world. He mentions that the struggle of the world is a class struggle, one of the working class. Nepal doesn’t have a proletariat but we have peasants, says our Right Honourable Prime Minister saap. More than a decade ago, our PM, then known as Laldhoj, along with Comrade Prachanda, armed these farmers, these poor from the villages and a bloody bloody revolution was fought. And it was won.
Baburam makes reference to the Paris Commune, a model that he gravitates towards even in his academic writing. He distances himself from Stalin, even though Comrade Joe adorns the party flag. He calls Stalin’s regime “mechanistic and codified.” Baburam’s version of Marxism, under the tutelage of Maoism, is adaptive. For Baburam, Marxism is “a combination of universality and practicality.” This a reference to Marxism’s universal applicability but only through a mediation of local social forces, hence its practicality. “This is my belief,” he says emphatically.
I want to believe this man because I want to believe in Marxism. I want to believe that the hard fought revolution that cost so many Nepali lives is not going to be wasted. I want to believe it is possible to hold on to your soul, despite losing your body to capital. I want to believe that we are all capable of treating each other with the worth that we treat ourselves, not as commodities, not as sources of labour but as human beings that are an end in and of themselves and not just a means. We have toppled the monarchy, we’re rewriting the very fabric of our country, we’re negotiating footholds and handholds for every caste, creed, group, religion and affiliation. I want to believe that this is the man who will not disappoint, who won’t be just another jogi with his ears pierced. I want to trust in this man’s knowledge and dedication to Marxism as a tool for social reform, not as authority or as oppression. I want to believe that this man has learned from ten years of bloody war. “It is better to be a revolutionary than to talk about it,” he says himself. But the revolution hasn’t ended, in fact, the hardest part begins now.
Andrew Arato, professor of Political Theory at The New School, questions Baburam stridently. He is clearly sceptical and doesn’t believe any of Baburam’s claims. There are others who question Baburam, Partha Chatterjee, Mary Des Chene and Sanjay Reddy but none are as critical as Arato. Baburam brushes the questions aside, answering them as evasively as he can. He replies with vague promises and assurances of commitments to various nebulous causes. Now he is politician mode. He isn’t lying outright but he is shifting the truth, evading it. Sitting there in the audience, I watch as pieces of paper are collected from the audience and sifted through. A series of critical questions about land reform, the Tibetan community and the economy are levelled at the PM. He is unfazed and proceeds to answer just as he did to the academics. The final question, more of a statement than a question, comes from Afghanistan and Baburam smirks. He knows when a question is not a question.
I am disappointed when I leave. I talk to Nepali friends outside and some American communists. We Nepalis agree, it was a disappointing talk but the Americans seem pleased.
A few days later, I come across an article online with pictures of Baburam with his family: his beaming wife and smiling daughter. The man in those photographs is the same Baburam, sometimes a slight smile, sometimes a stare. But the photographs are strangely comforting. They connect Baburam the father, the husband to Baburam the politician, the Maoist in an oddly human manner. I wonder if this is the same man who led the Maoists during their insurgency. I wonder if he had ever held a gun to someone’s head. I wonder if he has ever killed a man. But I also wonder if he’s a devoted father, a devoted husband. I look at Baburam and his family next to a green metal armoire, a familiar Godrej to every middle-class Nepali household.
I think I want to believe in Baburam a little longer. I trust in Marxism as an antidote to this rabid disease that is capitalism. I hope that Baburam is not just content with interpreting the world. He needs to change it. This is my belief.
(originally published in The Kathmandu Post, July 28 2011: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2011/07/28/oped/terrorism-by-other-name/224547.html)
Media speculation was rife immediately after the twin terrorist attacks on Oslo. Experts weighed in and fingers were immediately pointed at radical Islam. Before all the facts has even been ascertained, the western media was overrun with reports of non-existent Islamic groups ‘claiming’ responsibility and terrorism ‘experts’ speculating on the involvement of al-Qaeda. Even the New York Times, that bastion of western liberal media, fell victim. They reported: “Powerful explosions hit Oslo; Jihadis claim responsibility.” Similar reports appeared on the BBC, The Washington Post, all focussing on how the heinous acts, which have taken the lives of 76 people, were the acts of Islamic terrorists. They were right on one account and wrong on another. It was an act of terrorism, but it wasn’t Islamic.
It has by now emerged that the prime suspect in the Oslo attacks is Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing nationalist, Muslim-hating xenophobe, contributor to the conservative blog Atlas Shrugged (after Ayn Rand, patron saint of the US Tea Party) and for any and all reason, a terrorist. The New York Times was still attempting to pin the blame on al-Qaeda, pointing out that other terrorist groups and factions around the world were learning from al-Qaeda and mimicking their ways. As if no one knew how to improvise bombs before al-Qaeda, as if no one had thought to bomb government buildings with a political agenda before al-Qaeda. Richard Silverstein, on his website, points out the New York Times fallacy: “Are the only terrorists in the world Muslim? If so, what do we call a right-wing nationalist capable of planting major bombs and mowing down scores of people for the sake of the greater glory of his cause? If even a liberal newspaper like the Times can’t call this guy a terrorist, what does that say about the mindset of the western world?”
Blogs like Electronic Intifada were the first to point to how quick the liberal media jumps on the it-was-the-Islamists bandwagon. It is clear the western world doesn’t regard terrorism as being carried out by anyone other than Muslims. To them, that is terrorism, anything else is extremism.
Terrorism has now been relegated to who accepts responsibility for it. Instead of focusing on the horror of death and destruction, terrorism is now a name game. If linked to an Islamic group, then it is terrorism. That is why, the US and its liberal media is careful to use terrorism when it suspects a Muslim is involved and when a white, Christian, anti-government radical crashes a plane into a building, it is termed merely ‘extremism.’ This is why when the Palestinians launch a rocket at the Israeli Defence Force, it is called terrorism and when the IDF indiscriminately bombs a Palestinian settlement, it is called retaliation. The civilian bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan and the drone attacks on Pakistan by the US are not termed terrorism, even though it spreads a more palpable terror. No, that is merely democracy in action. But when Iraqi and Afghani locals, be they al-Qaeda or not, target specific military bases, specific military operations of an invading, occupying army, it is termed terrorism.
In Europe, the biggest threat is not from radical Islamic groups but from nationalist extremists like Breivik who are virulently afraid of what they call ‘Islamification of Europe.’ Of the 294 terror attacks attempted or executed on European soil in the year 2009, only one was linked to radical Islam, reports Glenn Greenwald for Salon magazine and Robert Lambert on Al Jazeera, Mehdi Hasan, editor of the New Statesman, quotes figures compiled by Europol, the European police agency. In 2006, only again only one out of 498 documented terrorist attacks across Europe were linked to “Islamists”; in 2007, it was four out of 583.
Terrorism is not always so blatant, there is also terrorism of propaganda and terrorism of rhetoric. Such rhetoric is always divisive and creates an insider and an outsider. Whenever there is trouble, it is always the outsider who is blamed. There were Twitter reports from Norway, immediately following the attacks, of violence against Muslims. An innocent, vulnerable minority was targeted based on assumptions alone. This is the kind of violence rhetoric breeds. And it leads to a culture of fear where you fear cops if you’re brown, you pray that you will not be singled out for a ‘random’ check of all your baggage, your check your facial hair before you leave for the airport.
Glenn Greenwald asks ironically, “Will tall, blond, Nordic-looking males now receive extra scrutiny at airports and other locales, and will those having any involvement with those right-wing, Muslim-hating groups be secretly placed on no-fly lists? Or are those oppressive, extremist, lawless measures — like the word Terrorism — also reserved exclusively for Muslims?”
That the western world is so quick to blame is no surprise. It still reeks of Bush’s “either you are with us or against us” rhetoric. Even President Obama’s address after the Oslo attacks made veiled references to an “international” threat. But it is an even sadder state of affairs when the so-called experts on terrorism, the so-called liberal media like the New York Times, fall sway to stereotyping. The disappointment with the leftist liberal media is not new. It has been growing for some time. That is why people are migrating to social media blogs from traditional news outlets, where regular folk, not just experts, hold sway over opinion. On blogs, there is room for debate, and it is blogs like Electronic Intifada that expose the hypocrisy of the leftist western media.
(Originally published in The Kathmandu Post, 25 June 2011, http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2011/06/25/oped/rise-of-the-subaltern/223294.html)
Nepal is not just about Kathmandu anymore. Nepal is not just about men, about Bahuns and Chettris, about hill-folk, about rich-folk, about middle-of-roaders. We are about women, about Janajatis, Dalits and Madhesis. We are not just about Marxist-Leninists and the Congress but about Maoists too. We are no longer about a monarchy but about a republic, about decentralisation. We are not just about the hills but about the mountains and the plains.
We have transcended monarchy and feudalism, we are trying to get rid of patriarchy and nepotism. We are going to be a republic, a federated one. Maybe it is my naive optimism or maybe I’m just tired of being pessimistic, but when I see the composition of our Constituent Assembly, it sends shivers down my spine. Each time I think of the responsibility they shoulder, it makes me squirm with nervous pleasure. We are rewriting the constitution, the document that is the very fabric of our nation. And although it is taking much longer than we would’ve liked, we do need to understand just what is at stake here. We have people whose voices have long been denied. There is a lady who was selling handkerchiefs outside New Road when she found out she was a CA member. There are Maoists who have fought in a bloody civil war, held dead bodies in their hands and wept over lost husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. There are CA members who had never been to Kathmandu, who had never set foot in an airplane, who had never left the country. They have been labouring for a long time, many of them fighting for issues that they believe accurately represents their communities. There are women demanding a 50 per cent representation in all organs of the state. There are Madhesis and Janajatis demanding proportional representation. To echo prominent columnist CK Lal some weeks ago, the promulgation of the constitution is not something to be hurried and it is definitely not a 9-to-5 job where you earn a salary—a “jyala.”
They were subalterns, as per Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha. It is not just that they have been discriminated against, marginalised and neglected, but that they have been forcefully and categorically denied a right to expression. This expression can take the form of representation in politics, in art, in culture or in voice, it doesn’t matter. Until now, they weren’t even been blips on the radar. The hegemony of Kathmandu, of the upper-class that resides in Kathmandu, of Bahuns-Chettris who form the crux of the political elite in Kathmandu, they have been doing the denying. Subalterns are outside the sphere of influence, outside hegemony. They are not simply Newars from the Valley, who, although Janajati, cannot claim the subaltern. For they have long been members of hegemonic discourse, simply by being a part of Kathmandu and its imperialism. It is no fault of their own, it is simply the state of things. So while they may not have had as much access to the discourse itself, they are still located within the power structure and therefore, not strictly subaltern. But Dalits and Madhesis and Tharus (to name a few) are subaltern. They possess a power that is frightening to those in dominance. Once visible, they are able to subvert the system and their very presence threatens those who hold hegemonic power. This is because they present a portrait so alien that they cannot be denied. They are present in their nakedness, unabashed and all one can do is gaze. And in that gaze, recognise.
Women are subaltern, especially in a country like ours. They have always been here, as wives, mothers, daughters, but mostly behind their husbands, sons and fathers. But they are growing, slowly and nightly, like Sylvia Plath’s mushrooms. Their foot’s in the door at 33 per cent and I hope they’ll widen the crannies, to a full 50 per cent. It is bodies like the Women’s Caucus that is attempting this widening. It is refreshing to see, and empowering. In the Caucus, women take their own stage, they tell their own stories. It is an extension of the CA, where men still rule the roost. But not much longer, for women are now telling their own tales, they are demanding the right to be able to tell their own tales. No longer will it be for men to say “Tell me your story and I will tell the world.” For no matter how sympathetic, women remain objects and men their keepers. The act of telling someone else’s story is itself hegemony, and unless women take charge, take control of their own stories and tell it like only they can, power will never change hands. The Women’s Caucus encourages such discourse. It attempts to bring these subalterns out of their state of shadow, to provide them with a voice uniquely and privately their own. It is not a gift, it is not a hand-me-down; it is a thing bloody and hard fought.
To represent, that too, faithfully represent, is difficult. I am not so presumptuous as to try and give advice but only to remind what I think is important not to forget. Being Nepali is not a simple thing anymore, although I doubt it ever was. There is a multitude now and we aim at a society where each identity is as important as the next. The fight for an identity is often fraught with conflict, between oneself and the identity one chooses and those different. To become woman, one must not be man. To become Dalit, one must not be Bahun-Chettri. To define is essentially to define against. But even within this definition, we, all of us, must not forget that we are rhizomes. Our borders and boundaries are permeable and no matter how many walls and fences we erect, how much barbed wire we line, there will always be a point of escape and a point of entry. This is the challenge the subaltern faces, to not fragment while defining and to always recognise that we are parts of an assemblage, that nothing exists in a vacuum and we are always linked, one way or another, to everyone else.
While the Maoist-called indefinite banda goes on for another day, I have Claude Channes’ Mao Mao for Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise:
Vietnam burns and me I spurn Mao Mao
Johnson giggles and me I wiggle Mao Mao
Napalm runs and me I gun Mao Mao
Cities die and me I cry Mao Mao
Whores cry and me I sigh Mao Mao
The rice is mad and me a cad
It’s the Little Red Book
That makes it all move
lmperialism lays down the law
Revolution is not a party
The A-bomb is a paper tiger
The masses are the real heroes
The Yanks kill and me I read Mao Mao
The jester is king and me I sing Mao Mao
The bombs go off and me I scoff Mao Mao
Girls run and me I follow Mao Mao
The Russians eat and me I dance Mao Mao
I denounce and I renounce Mao Mao
It’s the Little Red Book
That makes it all move.
A better link: http://vimeo.com/5773377
Sometime back, I came across a Facebook profile that shocked me. This was a Nepali, a few years younger than me, from Budhanilkantha School. His profile picture was of a military jet, against the backdrop of the Israeli flag, with the words “I Stand with Israel” underneath.
There is a genocide going on. The state of Israel has carried out and is still in process of carrying out, systematic ethnic cleansing. To put it in context, ethnic cleansing is what the Nazis did to Jews during the Holocaust, it is what the Hutus did to the Tutsis during 1994’s Rwandan genocide. Of course, in the western world, no one calls the massacre of Palestinians by the Israelis a genocide. For most of the west, the Palestinians are to blame.
Israel calls it a ‘war’. BBC and CNN call it a war. Whenever there is news of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is always accompanied by photos and videos of Arabs in turbans, carrying assault rifles, rocket launchers and grenades. These are the terrorists. They hurt Israel, they massacre peaceful Israeli citizens, they bomb peaceful Israeli cities. These are the Muslim scourge of old, armed to the teeth and always ready to die for the cause. This is the image that Israel wants to impress upon us.
Israel is engaging in a two-faced conflict, the first is the military occupation of Palestine. Not a war, not defense, but aggressive occupation of territory that belongs to another country. The second is a very covert and all-pervasive PR campaign. This PR campaign is crucial to Israeli zionism. It paints the Palestinians as the aggressors, those who’ve instigated the conflict and those who’re unwilling to work for peace. It encourages the mass media image of the Arab as terrorist, as suicide bombers of peaceloving Israelis. This campaign is spread far and wide, but mostly through the BBC and CNN, for England and America are two of Israel’s biggest allies. (America more so.)
But it is not a war. It is an occupation. Ever since the First World War, the Jews moving into Israel have displaced ethnic Arab Palestinians by the thousands. The mandate by the League of Nations was for a Jewish state along with provisions for a Palestinian state and a UN-controlled Jerusalem. Already grossly unfair to the Palestinians, even this mandate was casually ignored by Israel. With the support of America and the west, Israel slowly but surely occupied almost every inch of territory from the Palestinians. All that is left now is tiny tiny bits of land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Take a look at this map:
Ethnic Arabs, who’ve been living in Palestine for centuries, were driven out in droves, their homes taken from them, thousands of them murdered and killed along the way. Ever since the the early years, Israel has been engaging in systematic ethnic cleansing, targeting Muslim Arabs who, by all legality, have more right to be there than the Jews. This is western imperialism at its finest. Fuelled by America, Israel continues its doctrine of terror, driving a stake into the heart of Palestine.
Palestinians need papers to go from one place to another. Within the West Bank itself, there are more than a 100 checkpoints. There is a wall around the West Bank. The Gaza strip is relentlessly bombed, again and again, despite the fact that there are little to no terrorists there, except for women and children. The average age of residents of the Gaza strip is 15. Sure, there is terrorism. But from both sides. Only, who do you blame? I’m not non-partisan. I am not of the opinion that pointing fingers is not going to solve problems. I believe that Israel is to blame. If I had a large enough finger, I would point it at Israel and scream ‘Murderer!’ Just like I believe America is responsible for the thousands of dead civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those guilty need to be brought to justice. They need to pay for their sins. Israel and America need to answer for Palestine.
Hamas picked up weapons, and even won the election. The same election that America oversaw and proclaimed fair, all until Hamas won it that is. Hamas might be a terrorist group but they’re only the effect, no one looks at the cause. Everyone sees Islamic fundamentalism as the root cause of dischord. No one seems to care why these terrorist groups exist. They arose out of decades of western hegemony and imperialism. They are a response to violence, not the progenitors of violence. Violence begets violence and that is what we have with these terror groups.
Frankly, I’m saddened to see the state of the world today. The more I learn, the more I read, the more I know, the more depressed I get. I understand how things work and I understand how the evil of so few people can harm so many more. I’ve learned that the root cause of every problem in the world is imperialism. Imperialism is evil at its worst. It is the basest, most foul thing in existence. Because of imperialism, Africa is fucked up, because of imperialism, Asia is fucked up, because of imperialism, Palestine is dying. I cannot understand how we got this way. Maybe William Golding was right in The Lord of the Flies, maybe we are born evil, innately evil and humanity is just us constantly striving to be good. And in imperialism, humanity is at its worst, its most horrific.
It is not Israel thats under attack. It is not Israel that deserves our sympathy. It is not Israel we should stand with. We need to recognise what Israel is doing in Palestine. We need to come to terms with the fact that Israel, with the help of America, is slowly but surely eradicating Arab Palestinians from the face of the earth. We need to understand that this ethnic cleansing is not just an outcome of war but a premeditated, pre-planned, well thought-out operation.
As for me, I stand with Palestine. Not with terrorists, not with suicide bombers, not with war, not with violence, not with murder, rape, death and destruction. I stand with Palestine.
(For a detailed history of the occupation of Palestine, please read Ilan Pappe’s great book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.)
A half an hour ride from the city of Dharan in eastern Nepal brings you to a vast expanse of rice fields. Stretching as far as the eye can see, lush green rice shoots swelter in hot turgid plots of marshy soil and sway easily in the afternoon winds. My photographer friend and I were on a walk, him out to shoot rural Nepali life and I, just along for the ride. We passed through isolated little houses, two or three mud huts clustered around each other, sharing the same plots of land. Occasionally, someone would call out, ask us who we were. My friend, the Singaporean intern, couldn’t speak any Nepali so naturally, he deferred all questions to me. I replied that we were journalists from Kathmandu, the capital a 22-hour bus ride away. Some would let it go at that, while others would often invite us into their homes, for a glass of water and for some news of the capital.
This was soon after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had won the Constituent Assembly elections in a victory sweep that surprised Kathmandu to no end. But here, the victory didn’t seem so surprising. An old man, whose name eludes me, called us in, offering us cold water respite against the sweltering heat of the Nepali flatlands, known as the tarai. While my friend fiddled with his camera, I talked to the man about the recent election.
He confessed to being a Congress man through and through. Even since the days of BP Koirala, founder of the Nepali Congress, he said. But the days of the Congress seemed numbered, I said, since the Maoists had won so easily. At that, he offered us lunch and after some obligatory polite declining, we agreed. It was a simple meal of dry beaten rice, a chutney made of peppers that made my friend blow steam from his ears, and cool water from the well. While we ate, he started to explain to me, the way politics worked in his little village.
There were people like him, Hindus, he said, and loyal to the Congress. The Congress was Nepal’s oldest political party and it had done more for Nepal than any other political body. It had led the first people’s movement and had played a prominent role in the more recent second one. He would forever be loyal to the Congress, no matter who came into power or what happened to the country. But the Muslims, he said, were another story. They are easily swayed, he continued. The Maoists came and brainwashed the Muslims with promises of food, employment and a better standard of living. This was how they won, he said to me in confidence, because they won over the Muslims.
The old man may not have been entirely right but he wasn’t entirely wrong either. Later that day, as we passed through more villages, I asked them the same questions. What did they think of the elections? Did they think there would be any change? What did they of the Maoists? Most places, people refused to say who they voted for at first. But as we conversed, and as my foreign friend snapped picture after picture on his digital camera and showed them the result on the small LCD display to their unbridled amusement, they became more forthcoming. Yes, we voted for the Maoists, they said. We want a change, they said. And by the end of the day, I had hit upon the one thing that Nepalis wanted most of all: change.
Barack Obama’s mantra of change swept America just recently, but before Mr Obama’s messianic prophecy of ‘Change: Yes we can!’ the Maoist party is far-off Nepal was promising change, just like every new political party does everywhere. Nepalis wanted what anyone who has suffered long and hard wants: a change in the status quo. After being devastated by a decade long civil insurgency, the only thing normal Nepalis wanted was a change, from a state of unrestrained violence, murder and mayhem to something akin to peace, some semblance of order where a normal hardworking man is able to put food on his family’s table.
But I must clear something up first. When I talk of normal Nepalis, I mean those living outside of Kathmandu. I believe that everyone who lives in Kathmandu, lives in a bubble. A safe opaque bubble that shields them from the desperate poverty and the horrible inequity of life in the rest of Nepal. As a resident of Kathmandu myself, I know exactly what this bubble is like. Even during the heights of the civil war, when people elsewhere were being abducted, murdered and raped, we in the capital could sleep peacefully in our warm beds, knowing that there would never come a banging on the door in the middle of the night. It was only until I started to travel outside of Kathmandu, that I saw the horrible disparity of life inside and outside the capital.
This is not to say that life in Kathmandu is a cake walk. Kathmandu is by no means easy. There are acute shortages of petrol and cooking gas, 16-hour power cuts a day during the winter, even no water in the taps. Even though the world is composed of more than 70 percent water, there are desperate shortages of water. Then how much harder must life be outside of Kathmandu?
So what happened to the promises of change? Unfortunately, the Maoists turned out to be like everyone else. Grubby powerhungry despots, desperate for their share of the pie. Since the Maoists came to power, instances of dacoity, kidnappings and crime have risen exponentially. The tarai is now patrolled by militant factions of groups that broke from the Maoists when they went mainstream. Journalists are regularly abducted and murdered for daring to report on atrocities committed by these militant groups. And the status quo still remains. Life is more abject that ever, if not, more so. The change that was so promised has been rudely denied.
I didn’t vote for the Maoists. Maybe it reflects my own middle-class sheltered upbringing but I never agreed with their methods. I voted instead for the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninists), the party that I thought were the most moderate, neither right-wing Congress nor left-wing Maoist. So why did most of Nepal vote for the Maoists? Despite the terror they spread, the abductions, the killings, the threats and the propaganda, why did normal working-class Nepalis choose to vote for the Maoists? I think it was because they were the only party that wasn’t based out of Kathmandu. For too long, Kathmandu has dominated Nepal. So much so, that some old folk even refer to Kathmandu as Nepal.
Kathmandu has the largest concentration of everything: roads, schools, hospitals, teachers, doctors, everything. If you travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara or Dharan, the two second largest cities, the difference is enormous. But I’ve realised that that is how it works in third world countries. The gap is not just a gap, it is a chasm. There is one between the cities and villages, another between the rich and the poor and even one between religions. Which is why the Muslims voted for the Maoists, as my old friend opined.
When the developed world thinks of developing or underdeveloped countries, they think in terms of poles of extremes. That there is poverty, that it is unclean, that diseases run rampant, and that people are oppressed. That is almost exactly how people in Kathmandu think of those living outside of Kathmandu. Despite the worsening state of the capital itself, it is always the dominant view that it is worse out there. And unfortunately, in most cases, they are right.
What we need is decentralisation. It is the single most important factor in Nepal’s path to development. That Kathmandu not be a tumour in Nepal’s choked artery. From east to west, what we need is a decentralised governance system. The Maoists had the right idea, in trying to adopt this type of government, but they made a mistake, trying to fragment the country along ethnic lines. Dividing a country along castes, religions and ethnicities will further compound the problem. Nepal is already divided into five developmental regions. All of those five need equal importance. Importance doesn’t equate to equal financing, some regions need more and some need less, but it needs to be fair and aimed at development. Kathmandu can never have enough schools and hospitals, but they are needed elsewhere. The push for infrastructure needs to come from the government. Instead of squabbling over seats in the cabinet like they are doing now, they need to formulate an integrated development plan, that takes into account all of Nepal, not just Kathmandu. And there are some issues that need immediate attention, like famine. In western Nepal, food shortages push more and more lives closer to the edge, while the government fights among itself.
It is time that we in Kathmandu break out of our bubble. We have been blinded by our complacency for too long. And it is not just us but our government and the people we’ve elected that need to do the same. Think beyond immediate gratification. We have lived too long as a nation of hedonists, doing only what provides instant pleasure, instant relief: burning tires to protest, throwing bricks to release anger and calling for lockdowns at the slightest infraction. For Nepal to progress, to lift itself out of the dark dank hole it has dug for itself, we need to look beyond the hills that surround beautiful Kathmandu. We need to look towards the rolling hills of the west, the lush green tea fields of the east, the craggy mountain faces of the north and the endless fields of the south. Only then can we truly progress.