New York City protests white supremacy following what unfolded in Charlottesville (and continues well beyond).
(Written for Kindle Magazine)
By Saswat Pattanayak
The shock and clamor surrounding Donald Trump’s ascension to power is entirely unwarranted. The sentimental protests, tearful mournings and fearful disbelief about how to make sense of Trump are self-serving exaggerations. Self-serving, because taking such positions merely distinguishes us from the nastiness that defines Trump. To the mortified, he is the indecency that is impossible to explain and he is the vice we have apparently fought all along. Trump is the worst of humanity, the enemy of the marginalized, the maniac who cannot be trusted with a nuclear button, the groper-in-chief who must not have become the commander-in-chief of the most consequential country in this planet. There is an inversely proportional relationship we share with his moralism. He is the anti-mirror, he is the nightmare personified, he is the friend of Putin, he is the American Modi. He is the enemy of the Muslims. He is the enemy of the women. He is the enemy of the poor. And no wonder, he even dashed our hope of having the first female president in American history. Where do we go from here now? Will our world not end now?
More ridiculous than Trump’s victory is the collective grief prevailing in its aftermath. More irksome than the erratic ignorance of Trump is the irresponsibility of our political memories. More culminating blow is landed to us from our hunky-dory imaginings of the American states of affairs preceding this poll than from the Canadian immigration website crash. It is our luxuriously privileged indulgence in our botoxed worldviews that allows our imagined future tragedies to surpass the reality of our past indifference. We are eager to lament an unseen tomorrow while justifying the legacies that have been harrowing for decades. In fact, keeping with that adulation of our rectitude, we are hoping for our noble old behaviors to be emulated in coming years. Have no fear, Obama assures us, we are all now the cheerleaders for Trump. No matter how disqualified he was, no matter the sexual predator that he was, no matter the tax evader that he was, no matter the racist, Islamophobe, misogynist untrustworthy xenophobe that he was, long live our democracy, which we shall continue to introduce in every land of this world under his leadership.
Lest the energy of dissonance and dissent is channelized differently, Hillary Clinton reminds us that peaceful transition of power is what we not only believe in, but cherish. All our banking institutions and corporations and bosses of both the big parties are not going to be overthrown. We are going to accept the results gracefully like we always have because we have unequivocal faith in the system they own. We must continue to work together with them to relish the American greatness that we have defined in all its past, present and future tense. Hallelujah!
Trump is not a miracle. Trump is culmination of American exceptionalism which has been preached by every president preceding him. Trump is the logical apotheosis of humanized capitalism, where the winners take all, where executive decisions are sacrosanct, where we feel it right to sponsor deaths and tortures and waterboarding and drones and assassinations and weaponization of regions that we consider inferior.
Today liberal America is shaking with moralist rage, in fear and anger. There are protests outside the Trump Tower. There are letters school children are writing to Trump. There are celebrities urging their fans to continue the fight. An unprecedented climate of uncertainty hovers over America. Apprehensive of what the first 100 days of Trump can result in. Will illegals be deported? Will there be wars? Will other countries now be scared of our hooliganism? Will there be visa restrictions on people? Will there now be assaults on women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights? Will black people be safe any longer? Will hardworking people flourish anymore? Will a few elites enjoy concentrated wealth? Will our healthcare industry fail? Will our education become unaffordable? Will there be public protests and police atrocities? Will the rich now manipulate taxation system? Will we ever have a female president? Will we be able to explain our children about what our president should do and what he actually does?
All these and many more questions plague the well-meaning liberals. They are finding everything surreal with Trump’s triumph. The world is no longer the same. The good old days of freedom, respect, dignity, decency, morality, virtues and values are past us. Trump has forced us to wake up from our American dreams.
Maybe it is high time that we did and maybe we owe that to Donald Trump. After all, it is not Trump who stands exposed today. It is the sheer hypocrisy of American liberals that stands exposed. Liberals conveniently forget that it is not Trump who had deported the largest number of people and separated family members in millions within past eight years. It is not Trump that built secret chambers of tortures to round up human beings that have been called “illegals”. It is not Trump that ordered the wars and interventions all around the world that resulted in assassinations of world leaders. It is not Trump who won the Nobel Peace Prize and launched the industry of drones resulting in deaths of thousands of innocent civilians – women and children – in faraway lands. It is not Trump that has made America the biggest rogue nation in history. It is not Trump who privatized healthcare and education and forced people to debt. It is not Trump who bailed out the Wall Street or launched attacks on protesters at Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. It is not Trump who caused the new Jim Crow and massive incarceration of Blacks and Latinos. It is not Trump who refused to recognize same-sex marriage for decades, or who prevented women candidates from becoming nominees of major political parties. It is not Trump who prevented Shirley Chisholm a nomination, it is not he who stopped Cynthia McKinney’s dream, it is not he who halted Hillary Clinton’s journey to White House when she aimed at it for the first time.
Indeed, Trump shall also be held accountable in coming days. But unlike Modi who had bossed over riots and massacres before being elected head of India, Trump has had no impacts on political landscape of the United States. He is no American Modi. Unlike Putin of Russia, Trump did not have any bureaucratic experience or political support for him to rise to unchecked power. He is no American Putin. Unlike any other president in American history, Trump had no sway over politics or military prior to this. He is no typical American president either.
He is a result of a democracy that the United States takes pride in. It is existential to American identity. This is the democracy that understands only one language – a language of money and competition. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump used this language to their best abilities and only one of them won by a slight margin. To be especially afraid of the newest master of this language is to be afraid of this system itself.
The values that have emboldened this system lie at the foundation of this country. From celebration of Columbus and observation of Thanksgiving to colonization of numerous lands – whether Puerto Rico or Hawaii or dozens more such annexations; from erasure of the indigenous Americans from every stream of public life to judicial killings and systematic disfranchisement of black people, America’s strength has always been its excesses. And this might of American state has constantly been met with resistance of freedom fighters throughout – from Frederick Douglass to Oscar Lopez Rivera, from Paul Robeson to the Black Panthers.
To suddenly lose the good old days flavor, now that a certain Donald Trump has risen to power is to insult the rich histories of struggles that have duly acknowledged and battled against American excesses, one president at a time. This placement of anger on Trump is at the same time an undermining of decades-long organizing efforts by the working class against the ruling elites. United States has never been great, and as long as its plutocracy exists – with support of both the major parties, probably never will become great. Indeed, no country is great because of its ruling class; its greatness is measured by the dignity it amasses despite its ruling class. Whether it be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, their taste of success is not a yardstick to evaluate how much Americans have been liberated. In fact, the ceremony of voting and electoral theatrics are necessary exercises to keep the power-hungry relevant, and more importantly acceptable.
The filthy rich Clintons who run dubious charitable organizations and charge millions of dollars via their political double-speak should ideally be despised. Bill “I-don’t-know-that-woman” Clinton’s assaults on women and his wife’s steadfast support for his misogyny should ideally be abhorred. Hillary Clinton’s views on black youths and gay marriage that took opportunist turns for political gains should have been grounds enough for her disqualification. As the biggest receiver of Big Pharma concerns and Wall Street interests, Hillary Clinton should ideally have been rejected by liberals who espouse progressive values. The manner in which Democratic Party bosses manipulated Bernie Sanders campaign should have distanced every conscientious liberal from her. And yet, under this obligation to hold voting as a sacrosanct exercise, and to elect that candidate who has more probability of winning, regardless of the content of character (which ensured the silencing of Jill Stein from the discourse), the liberals find a pressing need to forgive everything that is wrong about Hillary Clinton. And yet magically, they reserve the same yardstick exclusively for assessment of the Republican candidate. Likewise, Donald Trump should ideally have been disqualified from addressing any nation, considering his history of hate speeches, his admittance of being an assaulter, his tax evasions, and his fear-mongering pleas. And yet, the Republican voters feel compelled to make their candidate win at all cost and pass the yardstick unto Hillary’s.
This is the sort of democracy that Fidel Castro had long ago dismissed as phony. A system which justifies a status quo by means of validation from those it aims to oppress. It nullifies all possibilities of revolutions by using a mandate to justify continuation of a duopoly. The domination of two wealthiest parties is such that not only the presidential debates do not have provisions for third parties, but even the media at large ignore the views of political leaders that challenge both parties at the same time. People who vote for third parties are ridiculed for being spoilsports, and even blamed for all the political mishaps. This year too, it was no different – the Democrats blamed third party voters for the victory of Trump, while over 10% of Obama voters and 9% of registered Democrats did end up voting for Trump this poll – which is way more significant a number than the entire voter population that supported third parties.
The capacity to imagine beyond duopoly is systematically discouraged. In effect, every couple of terms, each party gets a chance to enjoy power with tacit understanding. The outgoing president graciously makes space for the incoming one. The same rogue policies continue to appease big businesses, they further prison-industrial complex, and the presidents outdo each other in aggressions abroad. Whether it be Kennedy or Reagan, Clinton or Bush, Obama or Trump, foreign policies of this hawkish nation rests on the idea of a few enemy states to engage with militarily. Hillary Clinton’s win wouldn’t have changed the course in any way whatsoever. Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan and North Korea were among many enemy states directly envisaged by her. Trump will end up substituting a couple at best. But the same game shall go on without interruptions.
The illusion of freedom to choose a candidate, the desire to elect a winner, the urge to submit to ruling class whims – elections are festivals to celebrate our collective surrender to our exploiters. And in these times of intense inequality, poverty, homelessness, wars and displacements, euphoria surrounding Trump’s victory is an act of political masochism. And more crucially, getting all depressed owing to Clinton’s defeat amounts to political complacency. This was indeed the nastiest battle in recent history – but only a battle between two power-hungry, egotist rich individuals. Both had irreparable flaws and neither exhibited leadership traits that could provide a vision for a better world. If Trump’s pet peeve was China, Clinton’s was Russia. If Trump did not disclose tax returns, Clinton hid her transcripts on corporations. If Trump had a history of assaulting women, Clinton had a history of standing by an assaulter. If Trump was threatening to make America “great” again, Clinton had already aided in making America “great” many times in the past. No matter who among them would have won, the world would still be dreading American intervention and drone strikes and unilateral declarations against regions it deemed helpless.
That said, there are a few critical lessons from this election. Especially for the young people and children who are failing to understand how to look upto a sexual assaulter and a bully as their role model. The answer is, it is not possible to treat Trump as a role model. But it so happens that our children are not told the whole story by the liberals. In the entire history of the United States, there was hardly a single President who had the accomplishments to be a role model. The lesson number one is that winning is not everything and often times, people do not win because they are correct. A president is basically a winner in a race to power, just as there are winners in various other fields. Simply because most people believe in a faith, a party, a person does not mean that makes it alright to unquestioningly adopt the same. Simply because there are authorities in law, politics, academics, religions does not mean the authorities are to be held inviolable. Just because plutocratic systems have been shoved down to us disguised as democracy does not mean this is the system we must protect at all costs even if the victors are assaulters. Secondly, there is no such thing as Karma. Feel-good liberals and conservatives alike tend to believe in such fatalistic theories and pass them on to next generations. If Trump/Clinton are the type of people who dominate the political stage while Stein/Baraka kind of candidates receive less than 2% of votes, it is not because of good/bad karma, but because of our comfortable indifference towards capitalism and willful ignorance of ongoing movements against it.
Finally, the lesson is not in expecting hope to be trickled down from politicians whose source of power is private capital interests, rather to painstakingly gather all the hope that we can, trace its foundations in centuries old aspirations to free the lands and people of greed and monopolies; in not allowing these corporate czars from defining what is a people’s revolution, rather to collect the scattered leaves on the paths of revolutions scarred by the martyrs bloods. The lesson is to use Trump’s rise as an opportunity to look beyond the hype of the two-party system and to reimagine the political landscape. Instead of waiting for any messiah who will “fix” everything for the working class, it is the working poor themselves whose organized efforts need to bring down the power corridors.
Capitalism is inherently ableist, sexist, racist and individualist. Trump is its outcome and White House is its upholder. The eyes need not be set on the prize that devours us all, but on the one that liberates us all. Communism alone can offer that alternative. If we can imagine. As the capitalistic contradictions reach zenith in the citadel following Trump’s rise, the good news is, it is not going to be as difficult to reimagine. It is only inevitable.
By Saswat Pattanayak (Written for CounterCurrents)
Rohith Vemula did not just commit suicide – he was murdered. And this murder was not committed by the right-wing ABVP – it was conducted by the left-liberals. The “Dalit problem” citing which Rohith gave up his life, is not the creation of any fringe elements among communal Hindus – it is sustained by the liberal Hindus who tremendously profit from the status quo it provides. None of this is an exaggeration – these comprise a reality that must be confronted. The entire Hindu society, the Savarnas, are the perpetrators – no one among them is eligible to be member of the jury.
This is so because, whenever the colonial masters have been credited with infrastructure and development, the critical thinkers have added to the discourse a very crucial aspect – that, the ruling class of any given era also deserves to be blamed for the maladies. For instance, it is often said that the British could not blame the Indians for Satti and child marriage practices – if the British could take the credit for building colleges and for educating the Indians, they should also take the blame for the prevailing societal violence against women and widows that took place under their rule.
The ruling ideas of any era belong to the ruling class, and so do the existing contradictions. The ruling class of Indian academia are not the British anymore. They are the left-liberals. And Vemula’s suicide is not the first one to have been committed by a Dalit student at a higher education institute of India. Quite the contrary; it is an alarming continuation. The only reason why Vemula’s news has so caught up the protesting landscape is precisely because there is a right-wing government at the center and its youth wing ABVP that is purportedly responsible this time. In a macabre parallel, the Occupy and the anti-war activists have re-emerged now that the liberals need to be salvaged. The truth is the left parties and their student bodies which dominated the academia ever since India turned a sovereign republic, have consistently downplayed caste discriminations on campuses. Reason why the Left is responsible for Vemula’s demise today is because it did not sufficiently critique the hostile environment its own student leaders and professors were/are enabling all these years.
If the education system in India takes pride in being predominantly leftist, then it must also accept the utter failure in practicing the tenets of progressive politics. The hypocrisy of the Indian left is exposed threadbare in its historical incapacity to take a principled stand against caste atrocities that are systemically flourishing across top research centers of India. From policy makers, to academicians, to vice chancellors – almost all the shining stars in Indian institutes are progressive intellectuals strongly aligned with the Indian Left. College campuses have historically been dominated by youth brigades of Congress and CPI/M. Textbooks are overwhelmingly authored by leftist historians. Open Air Theaters and Ganga Dhabba meetings and the IIT/IIMs are crowded by liberal intellectuals at both student and leadership levels. And instead of addressing the legacies of segregations, all these institutions of higher learnings in India, spearheaded by JNU have remained busy with earned accolades for being tolerant and diverse.
Just as they have been rightfully receiving laurels, they must also be made accountable for what systematically continues in a parallel manner in all the major universities across India. What is it that makes the deans and heads of departments invariably always upper caste Hindus? What is it that sustains a climate where “reservation” is treated as though it is a favor, and not a right? What is it in academic environment that encourages student politics of dissent, but the dissenting voices are indeed from the profiteering social classes? What is it that labels minority students “casteists” while the students whose ancestors invented caste system and passed it down as a virtue, are labeled youths for “equality”? What is it that produces so few scientists, engineers and doctors within the Dalit students? What is it that drives so many Dalit students to suicides and yet the pattern remains unreported in mainstream media?
The Left needs to answer why most Indian universities glorify Marx and Engels, but do not even admit Ambedkar and Phule in their midst. Expulsion of Rohith Vemula and other Dalit students need not have come as a surprise, therefore. The hegemony of left politics inside campuses remains without a dispute, but its consequences upon the Dalit students deserve studious attention. It is not Savarkar or Golwalkar whose presence in university curricula overshadows that of Ambedkar or Periyar. Gandhian and Nehruvian scholars are the ones who have for decades marginalized, if not silenced the voices of Dalit icons inside campuses.
More than just the historical battle between the ideologies, the prevailing animosity against Dalits in Indian educational settings have been nothing less than ghastly. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is a classic case in point. The Medical strike of 2006 had “merit” students holding placards in broad daylight of Delhi announcing their disdain towards a possibility that their own children may end up becoming cobblers if reservations are implemented. Being the most prestigious governmental institute in medical sciences, AIIMS has continued to offer such a casteist climate that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to personally intervene and set up a three-member committee headed by UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat in 2007 to assess the situation there.
The findings at AIIMS pointed to nothing other than a climate of “Caste Apartheid”. 100% of Dalit students reported caste-based ragging, 88% complained of hostel isolation, 76% reported mess discrimination, 72% of Dalit students expressed bias in Cricket, 92% in basketball, 72% highlighted teacher bias in classroom. Regarding the caste-based ragging, a Dalit student said, “They would call us to their rooms and order us…’tell us 10 reasons why you should get reservation…if you don’t we’ll beat you.”
Despite media coverages of the above, neither the government nor any educational institute aided by powerful leftist student bodies established procedures to address the climate of segregation. Insight Foundation reported the suicide of Linesh Mohan Gawle, a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi on April 16, 2011, the suicide of Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS student from AIIMS on March 3, 2010 and even recorded testimonies of family members in a documentary “The Death of Merit”. The complete report “On Suicides of Dalit Students in India’s Premier Educational Institutions” is available on Countercurrents.
The instances of suicide among Dalit students are too many to be blamed on “right-wing political student groupings like the ABVP”. This shifting of blame to an external agency, preferably “fringe elements” is a convenient method adopted by liberal Hindus who wish to retain the status quo while coloring it progressive only because they enjoy the privilege to see published their feel-good stances of meaningless empathies. A win-win situation where the protest is registered, self-respect enhanced, and the tag of being social reformers keeps giving. In a sickening parallel to charitable organizations that need a state of poverty to remain so they can stay relevant. Bizarre but true, political parties like the Congress and the Left need caste hostilities (and despondency among Muslim youths) to remain, so that they can occasionally support the politically correct positions as progressive political outfits. Appears like Caste in India must not be annihilated, but sustained, across the spectrum – Left to Right.
This double standard has been long exposed at the level of electoral politics, where the Dalits and Muslims are increasingly choosing candidates not aligned with either the Congress or the Left. But more crucially, it is also being increasingly realized among the Dalit students who are joining “study circles” to seriously examine Ambedkar and Periyar and the likes who are deliberately kept out of academic curricula.
Rohith Vemula was himself one of those who realized that the Left in India was “inefficient” to tackle caste issue and to unite the working class. Even as he remained an admirer of Marxism, Vemula was disenchanted with the left politics on the campus that was led by the SFI. He made a call to “resist the communal ABVP, reject the inefficient SFI and to support the UDA for a stronger union”. But he was not limited only to student politics on campus. More importantly, he had made a theoretical intervention that is worth analyzing. On August 13, 2014, Vemula wrote, “The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society. Thus compelling the present stratified society, perforce, to take off it’s elitist mask of generosity and solidarity in the name of seamless majoritarian cultural unity or nationalism. My core intention is to challenge and expose the upper-class hypocritical advocacy of progressiveness which shamelessly maintains it’s ties with the oppressive structures of class, caste and gender. To fight against the symbiosis of cultural chauvinism and communal politics, to popularize the subaltern, dravidian history and to shout out sharply the radical realism amidst the euphoria of freedom. With my basic world view conditioned by marxism, I dream and work for a society which Baba Saheb has always aspired.”
If the Indian Left needs a wake-up call, this is it. Yet another occasion to own upto the utter failure on its part to align with the working class interests of those who are most exploited in India. Luckily for them, despite pointing out the “upper-class hypocrisy” represented by the Indian Left, Rohith Vemula never quite gave up his hope in communism. With his astute and critical observations that shall comprise the legacy of Rohith Vemula, he refused to fall for political polarization and bourgeois opportunism. He called for the revolutionary unity of the working class instead, and for a much more efficient and radical Left that would spark revolutionary spirits.
Almost a year after his analysis on shift in his political identity, Vemula would assess and hail Marx as “one of the greatest of minds that ever lived on this Earth.” He wrote the tribute on Marx’s birth anniversary on May 4, 2015, “He (Marx) along with Engels produced the fierce theory of revolution. He explained the capitalist exploitation and gave a scientific sense to out anger. His dialectical materialism proletariat revolt idea, historical materialism and class conflict concept will forever help the oppressed sections in revolting against the oppressive systems. Long live Marx..Long live Marxism…Long live Revolution.”
No rest in peace.
Jai Bhim, Comrade Rohith Vemula!
The War on Terror has been raging since the hegemony of the West was first challenged, says Saswat Pattanayak.
By Saswat Pattanayak
Let’s not romanticize terrorism. Terrorists blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Terrorists organized the White Army to kill over 3 million Russians. Terrorists funded the Nazis and the Fascists, killing nearly 12 million Jews and Communists. Terrorists killed nearly 3 million Koreans in an anticommunist war. Terrorists killed 2 million Vietnamese, half a million Cambodians and Laotians in the name of Cold War. Terrorists killed nearly 200,000 Algerians whom the French colonized. Terrorists infiltrated into Greece and colonized Philippines. Terrorists disrupted lives in Albania and Iran. Terrorists flew into Guatemala and killed Syrians and Costa Ricans. Terrorists targeted Indonesia and Haiti and Ecuador. Terrorists colonized and killed over 8 million people of Congo under Belgian kings. Terrorists introduced death squads in Brazil and went on a rampage in Peru and Dominican Republic. Terrorists threatened Ghana and tortured working poor of Uruguay and killed Che Guevara in Bolivia. Terrorists funded Pinochet in Chile and invaded Grenada. Angola, Zaire, Jamaica, Seychelles, Morocco, Suriname, Nicaragua, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador – terrorists imported their dreaded forms of democracy through murders, rapes and territorial invasions.
All these terrorists have had one religion – Christianity. All of them have had one civilization – Western. All of these terrorists have been upholders of one ideology – Eurocentric colonialism. And they have one common claim – that, they have been fighting terrorism and civilizing the savages, one Thanksgiving at a time.
The so-called “War on Terror” has been going on ever since slavery was challenged by African freedom fighters, feudalism was challenged by the Russian communists, and colonialism was challenged by the nationalists of the Global South. In the latest instance, the War on Terror is a series of targeted attacks on the Arab countries and allies that currently challenge the unipolarity of NATO powers.
Žižek and the spectre of Western Values:
The renewed “war on terror” in the wake of Paris attacks is merely a continuation of the moral argument that the Eurocentric colonialists need to protect the cultural purity of western civilization. Slavoj Žižek’s latest argument decrying the refugees that are threatening the fabrics of “radical western roots” through attacks on the soil of western lands is an intelligent summation of racist justification for colonialism; a nostalgic tribute to the “good old days” when France used to be an apostle of “liberty, equality, fraternity” while it enjoyed brutalizing its colonies (Algeria, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Tahiti, China, Lebanon, Syria).
Advocates of Eurocentrism have not only deemed themselves superior on basis of “Western values” which Žižek pays rich tributes to in his latest essay, they also preempt the possible conjecture, if not an informed critique, that a response/retaliation may be warranted. Take the case of “pitiless” actions of France in Syria, the day after Paris attacks – 10 aircraft dropped 30 bombs hitting among other things, a soccer stadium, a museum and medical facilities and destroying electricity facilities affecting 200,000 people. Most likely, the human casualties in Syria in coming months will not even be counted, let alone mourned.
Just as there were no European tears shed following deaths of 26 in Iraq the very day Paris was attacked. Or, over the killing of 43 in Lebanon the day before, over the deaths of 66 in Pakistan, and of 56 Palestinians, last month. 300,000 have died following the NATO’s “War on Terror” in Syria. Over 4 million Muslims have died world over in the process of reclaiming Western values of liberty and democracy. And there have been no civilized grief over these.
In fact, quite the contrary. Defense expenditures among NATO nations are on an increase. If the United States as leader of the rogue nations spends $1,891 per capita on defence, the allegedly peacenik Norway is not far behind with $1,328 per capita in funding the war on terror. They are able to persist with such military spendings against the interest of working class in those countries, precisely by employing a moral parameter that defines terrorism as the act conducted by the people of Global South, by people not practicing Judeo-Christian faiths.
Scholars like Žižek and Richard Dawkins take pride in rational views, as enlightened Europeans who are clearly not conservative rightwingers. But while at it, they consistently depict the roots of Western civilization to be categorically progressive and advanced. In many ways, they conveniently overlook the subtle contradictions in their preferred narrative by overtly attacking the regressive elements, that are more obvious. A case in point is the way Dawkins refused to acknowledge the slave-owning heritage of his family estate, while attacking Islam as a religion that has produced no Nobel laureates. Likewise, Žižek refuses to attribute centuries of racist wars and genocides to European onslaughts, while riding high on the allegedly “Western legacy” of “egalitarianism and personal freedoms”.
Fanon and the Wretched:
What is the Western legacy that Žižek and Dawkins take pride in? What is this Europe if not a region built upon the sweat and blood of the Third World? As Frantz Fanon wrote on the Violence in the International Context, “Moral reparation for national independence does not fool us and it doesn’t feed us. The wealth of the imperialist nations is also our wealth…Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The riches which are choking it are those plundered from the underdeveloped peoples. The ports of Holland, the docks in Bordeaux and Liverpool owe their importance to the trade and deportation of millions of slaves…..Colonialism and imperialism have not settled their debt to us once they have withdrawn their flag and their police force from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved like real war criminals in the underdeveloped world. Deportation, massacres, forced labor, and slavery were the primary methods used by capitalism to increase its gold and diamond reserves, and establish its wealth and power.”
Fanon is right. Contrary to what Žižek claims, egalitarianism and personal freedoms do not comprise western legacy – their suppression in the name of colonialism is. One cannot rule over and plunder another country for decades if not centuries, and then blame the “backwardness” on the ruled subjects. Has Žižek analyzed the role of French colonialism in treating Algerians and Syrians as little more than animals and forcing them to be refugees in their own lands before equating the issue of terrorism with the issue of “refugee crisis”?
Žižek squarely blames the victims while ridiculing the “anti-Islamophobia” in the following words, “Multiculturalist or anti-colonialist’s defense of different “ways of life” is false. Such defenses cover up the antagonisms within each of these particular ways of life by justifying acts of brutality, sexism and racism as expressions of a particular way of life that we have no right to measure with foreign, i.e. Western values.”
A scholar of Žižek’s repute can indulge in some more word games to create a dialectic therein, but the above postulation as a normative already exists in the mainstream. He merely fuels it by using it as a proposition, no matter what conclusion he derives at the end. For instance, it is already a widespread belief, thanks to the new-age atheists, that Islamic believers are intolerant brutes. This analysis based on Charlie Hebdo shooting is Islamophobic precisely because it does not take into account the hostile pattern in France towards Muslims as a historically gruesome reality. Hebdo incident was a reaction, not an initiation. The denial of Paris massacre of 1961 was for decades not considered an act of Christian terrorism. But come Hebdo, and it was suddenly Islamic terrorism. So much so that 54 people who exercised their free speech rights to defend the attack on Charlie Hebdo were arrested as “apologists for terrorism”.
In India too, we now witness branding of Mani Shankar Iyer, Salman Khurshid, Azam Khan and Shakeel Ahmad as apologists for terrorism, simply for failing to parrot the grand Eurocentric narrative that demands unconditional regrets over acts of terrorists of a specific faith – Islam. Not only one needs to condemn “Islamic terrorism” (Iyer has been criticized for being anti-Islamophobia instead of simply calling Paris attacks as terrorism), but in case of Ahmad’s tweet, one cannot bring in religion into picture to depict a terrorist who is a non-Muslim (Chhota Rajan as a Hindu terrorist is inadmissible because the “Hindu terrorism” is still a misnomer in India, just as “Christian terrorism” finds no usage in Europe/US).
Violence: Whose Prerogative?
As a lazy researcher, Žižek repeats the charges of “brutality, sexism and racism” against the anti-Islamophobes. A closer look at the global situation would reveal that these very features are tools of oppression for the ruling elites precisely everywhere in the world. Žižek does admit to the anti-immigrant racists in power while conceding slightly – but where he fails to discern the all-important distinction is the necessary Marxist critique that is completely absent in his analysis. Who gains from these weapons and who suffers? Islamophobia has been claiming lives world over, just as Eurocentric colonialism had been. Racism/sexism/brutality as state policies are radically different consequential tools compared to those as reactionary mechanisms with the subjects. Anti-colonialism which Žižek mocks, is not an ideology created to profit those who are suffering due to NATO’s Eurocentrism. It is a necessary tool to oppose all too-familiar colonial aggression about which both Fanon and Sarte have extensively written. But it is in no way a shield to protect values of brutality, sexism and racism – whose primary manufacturers and sustainers as such happen to be the former colonial masters.
What are the wars, whether “world war”, “cold war”, or “war on terror” – if not a front to prove who is the bigger champion of brutality, sexism and racism? Imperialist wars in the name of “war on terror” have been notorious in usage of tortures and brutality – sleep deprivation and waterboarding of prisoners; they have wrought nothing if not rapes of women as prized captures, and have achieved nothing if not ethnic cleansing. The “Torture Memos” advising the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques that are otherwise illegal, but are permissible under the pretext of “War on Terror” are revealing in this regard. Let alone, “Western values”, where is humanity in all of this?
Was any humanity there when Paris attacks happened? This has an expected answer: of course not, because no matter how ghastly the past maybe, nothing can justify the killing of innocent people who are watching a rock concert. However, this type of feel-good assertions are deeply problematic, in that they assume that violence of any sort is just immoral – when it occurs in France or in the United States. When Facebook activated a “Safety Check” button for folks who have relatives in France, to the exclusion of similar buttons for relatives of victims of terrorist attacks in Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq or Yemen, then there is something else to the “humanity” question that we subconsciously overlook.
It points directly to the dehumanization of black and brown people. While flags of many countries went half-mast in many countries to honor those who lost lives in France, and many monuments lit up with colors of French flags, there was no such display of official mournings by these countries when terrorist attacks were occurring in countries like Pakistan and Palestine and Lebanon. What explains this is a climate of extreme racism amidst media and their consumers in the world today, which in turn remains entirely Eurocentric. And this invalidates Žižek’s longing for the missing Eurocentric values. Indeed, the Eurocentric values themselves are central to this crisis, not alien.
The Eurocentric tears are in the backdrop of a denial that the countries worst affected by terror attacks are indeed Muslim countries themselves. According to Global Terrorism Index (GTI), in 2014, 82% of those killed in terror attacks were in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. And ever since the “War on Terror” has been launched, the number of deaths from terrorism has in fact increased five-fold: from 3,361 deaths in 2000 to 17,958 in 2013.
Not only NATO member-states have suffered the least from terror attacks so far, more importantly, they have enabled terror organizations through direct funding and military assistance to “rebels” who have subsequently grown beyond their intended purpose (if at all). If Taliban was enabled by Reagan administration to destabilize the secular fabric of Afghanistan in an effort to contain the Soviets, and Al-Qaeda was funded to destroy Libya’s stability under Obama, it was Bush and subsequently Obama administration which were also responsible for funding the hate that produced ISIS at the first place. Thus far, these outfits have been causing significantly more havoc among the Islamic societies than in the NATO countries. It is to the credit of the Islamic countries that they are not only bravely fighting these terrorists who have been emboldened via foreign fundings, but these societies are also retaining a calm that is infinitely more surprising than it is praiseworthy.
The video clips of women and children on the streets of Baghdad beating their chests and cursing the aerial bombardments in search of the mysterious WMDs are not isolated ones. The Abu Gharib torture and Guantanamo Bay abuses are part and parcel of inhuman foreign policies instituted and indeed continued to this day by the NATO member states, principally led by the United States. To assume that there will be retaliations on part of those we have “othered”, is infinitely more prophetic, than it can ever be justified.
Glorification: Gun, bombs and violence
Gandhi did remind us once: “an eye for an eye only ends up making the world world blind”. And he was right. We are headed that way. But if we must take shelter in Gandhian ideals, then we should be in a position to condemn violence in all its manifestations. It is wrong when people take up arms and aimlessly shoot others. And it is all the more evil when the state uses military force to strategically eliminate innocent people of foreign lands under the pretext of killing a select few terrorists. Violence needs to be treated as bad each time one violates the principle of non-violence. One cannot endorse political parties that retaliate swiftly with drones and indiscriminate shootings and then blame a handful of terrorists for what was coming. One cannot remain indifferent when people are bombed to deaths in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Libya and then get all teary-eyed at Paris shootings.
ISIS has spared none and has been criticized by all sections and people across all religions. Precisely due to this then it is like the inspector who called in; the conscience gone wrong, horribly wrong. ISIS aside, the deaths of innocent beings in Paris still must be looked within the prism of manifestation of reactions. Waterboarding and torture tactics done by NATO folks are equally evil, more so, because they are carried out in the name of taxpayers. As citizens, we partake in the glorification of militarist exhibitionisms. Our violent-prone culture is such that the decorated war hero of Indian origin in Canada is actually being applauded for being a “badass” defence minister because some reports suggest he is expert at torturing enemies. One Putin meme is circulated widely because it shows Putin saying he can send the terrorists to the God. Killing of human lives whether through capital punishment or via cop “encounters” are cheered by enthused citizenry. Indeed, the foremost patriotic song of India that make us emotional has these lines, “Thi khun se lath path kaaya, phir bhee banduk uthaake // Das das ko ek ne maara, phir gir gaye hosh ganvaake”.
Gandhian/Buddhist/Christian values do not distinguish between people as they do between values. What sort of violent world we are building up for the future generations depend on our endorsements of terror tactics or opposition to them, regardless of who is the perpetrator. As long as we use guns and bombs and drones as tools to resolve crisis, both the state and non-state agencies will take the cues and up their games in the contests within the ambit of conventional warfare/terrorism. When police officers can be awarded in India with medals who torture and sexually abuse women prisoners like Soni Sori, then we have a real lack of humane values. Against the backdrop of violence and flaunting of “license to kill”, from Singham to James Bond, our popular culture overflows with justifications for gory violence to end all ills.
A few months ago, one of my articles opposing death penalty for Yakub Memon had invited the wrath of the lynch mob, one member of whom publicly stated on a Facebook page that I should be handed over to the RAW for torturous interrogation so that I can confess to my ties with terrorist groups of Pakistan. The audacity to make such serious remarks in such casual fashion points to the level of normalization in ourselves regarding the acceptance of terror tactics, and any tool of violence as a legitimate measure to win even an argument.
Unsurprisingly and not entirely unrelated to the issue of terrorism in civilized lands, the gun violence in United States does demand special attention. In this year alone, from gun violence, 11,696 have dies so far, and 23,787 have suffered injuries. There have been 293 incidents of mass shootings within last ten months. 627 children (age 0-11) and 2,329 teenagers (age 12-17) have lost their lives so far. Violence has become not just commonplace, but also the preferred method to reach a resolution.
However, not all violences are condemned and therefore gun violence is not taken as seriously within the United States. That is because, unfortunately in the current world, which of the mass shootings are acts of terrorism indeed depends on the religion of the perpetrator than on the nature of shooting. And the spiraling silence around this prejudice, while pitiless responses await innocent civilians outside the zone of NATO member states, should have been disturbing us even all the more. Alas, thanks to an Eurocentric world, we still need an imperialist narrative to define what should be considered to be terrorizing us today.
(Written for Kindle Magazine)
Saswat Pattanayak investigates what it means to be politically incorrect in contemporary times. Is it a ploy to maintain the status quo and further the capitalist cause or is it to give a voice to the truly marginalized?
– Kindle Magazine
If the concerns over free speech are due to AIB controversies, then there is a possibility that those are perhaps not valid concerns after all. The problem with free speech is that the freedom to espouse the contents belongs to those who own the means to circulate them. The question then would be if Bollywood celebrities ever lacked their platforms to express politically incorrect statements.
Whereas political incorrectness must be allowed to be expressed without reservations, the idea that it has somehow lacked platforms in India or elsewhere in the world today could be purely hogwash. In fact, the culture industry in capitalistic societies thrives on political incorrectness – both monetarily and spiritually. Usage of sexist slangs, rape jokes, fat-shaming or skin colorism are not exceptions to Bollywood; they are the mainstay. Although what AIB has aired was deliberately orchestrated to come off as controversial, a careful inspection of its content would reveal a mere continuation of dominant on-screen norms.
An enormously fat child as a reject is not an AIB discovery – it is evident in the industry’s obsession with “six-packs”. A dark-skin being the same as illegal money in Swiss banks is not a surprise statement – even male actors like Shah Rukh Khan endorse fairness as key to their successes. Jokes on how someone “ugly” does not deserve to be dated is not a shocking revelation for the majority – as the leading actors have to inevitably exceed the standards of beauty. Alia Bhatt may not take offense to being called ignorant and silly by her male co-stars – but women across the globe are anyway proclaimed as intellectually inferior by the male academic superstars. Deepika Padukone may be used to humors that reduce her to be a “good thing that Ranveer Singh was in” – but commodification of women is among the most profiteering industries today. Parineeti Chopra may have genuinely got scared of getting metaphored into a gang rape victim that night – and yet, rape as a funny metaphor is a constant that refuses to die – from usage by stand up comedians to supreme court judges. Raghu Ram being imagined as a wife-beater, Karan Johar imagined as a casting couch enabler, Ranveer Singh imagined as the pervert photographer of an actress who in her erstwhile feminist standpoint had pleaded the country to stop humiliating her – suddenly all this is good humor now, because the industry bigwigs are expecting us to get matured. Shouldn’t we have also matured into accepting Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “boys will be boys” statement regarding rape, if it is alright to laugh at the manly Ranveer Singh getting a hard-on from pepper spray by his next conquest?
What is amiss in the mature argument is that, none of these are objectionable because they are simply politically incorrect or because a society lacks a sense of humor. They are objectionable because a bunch of elitists continue to find these funny at the expense of those who are victimized by actual acts of domestic violence, sex discriminations and standards of beauty that effectively and unjustly exclude majority of people from the mainstream culture industry. AIB is no big deal though, only because it was not a breakthrough – it was just more of the same. It was just as objectionable as was Yo Yo Honey Singh’s poetry in his “Choot” volumes; little surprise that the rapper was instantly embraced by the industry that met its match in avowedly celebrating misogyny.
Roots of Roast:
Political correctness and political incorrectness are different shades of the same spectrum. They are not rigid, fixed unchangeable notions – indeed quite the contrary. Like culture itself, they form an unending line. What used to be politically incorrect a few decades ago is perhaps politically correct today, and vice versa. It is the content, the impact, and most importantly in the Marxist sense – the beneficiaries of certain consciousness that should determine what is to be considered politically correct or politically incorrect. It is upto the artists themselves to decide their directions, and to that extent raising hue and cry over AIB is redundant at one extreme and reactionary on the other. But to surmise that AIB discourse is in a victimized state crying out to be heard by the people, lest artistic freedoms will meet untimely deaths, is a ridiculous exaggeration.
Contents aside, the form also needs to be reexamined. Roasting might be a new phenomenon to hit Indian consciousness, but so has been rap. The tragedy is we perhaps have imported the worst of both forms while showcasing them to be the best we can be, that we need to the urge to defend what went for roasting on AIB. What was on display without anyone paying tribute to the roots of it (Bollywood surprise!) has been historically called “signifying”, “joining”, “snapping” and “playing the dozens” – deeply rooted in African-American heritage. Actively participated by the enslaved to amuse and distract themselves, they have accumulated political coinage and unique underground significance over the decades among the oppressed of America. Just like the use of N-word, some of the snaps may have derogatory feel to them, but the cultural usages by the specific groups of people lend them the context that needs to be respected, especially if the media are all agog over the novelty of this art form.
Consider rapper Biz Markie’s snap: “Your mother’s hair is so nappy, she has to take painkillers to comb her hair”. Or, actor Doug E. Doug’s snap: “Your family is so poor, they go to Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people’s fingers.” Or, comedian Nipsey Russell’s: “Your family is so poor, the roaches have to eat out or go hungry.” Not only are these legendary acts by the blacks, they are also reflective of a need to speak to the societal realities in the most cutting-edge manner.. For one “Your father is so poor, he can’t afford to pay attention,” a brilliant joining could be, “Your family is so poor, when I asked your mother if I could use the bathroom she said, ‘Sure, pick a corner’”.
Instead of exploring the historicity of this tradition, or of the underground political hip-hop that are emancipatory for a purpose, we have now started off on a wrong foot, with a bunch of narcissistic celebrities that are misappropriating a subculture to falsely portray themselves as victims of sorts. Strictly from the standpoint of a review (considering an important film reviewer was a panelist), what AIB came up with were just gross. One “roast” that met with laughter was that of a person being so black that a white cop got away with killing him. Another one caricatured Santa Claus giving away gifts to wrong kids only when he is Muslim. Nothing to laugh about racist justice system and Islamophobia unless one is actually a victim of those and chooses to make light of the situation. Sadly, the panelists were not. Certainly not enough to cry for their freedom to be politically incorrect.
It is not the politically incorrect that are tortured in a society like India. It is the political correctness that is still looking for outlets, amidst the prevailing platitudes of glorified incorrectnesses.
The core argument of free speech advocates that art must be allowed to exist for the sake of it – and not as a means to a certain social purpose. But is that really a concern, going by the trends? When was art not existing for the sake of it in India? Barring a few socialist filmmakers, when have the huge majority of directors and producers made anything other than art for the sake of art? Most of the blockbusters celebrate themes that sustain on the absolutely irrational, illogical and impossible. Same is true of the prevailing dominant Hindu festivities across the states, regardless of the political party in power. What is politically correct about Durga Puja celebrations in the land of the Party Line? For all its shocking disclosures, what AIB aired was hardly more than a religious rhetoric that knows quite a few things about the free flowing use of “choots” as a liberating phrase. Did they even utter a fraction of “roasting” that is done while pulling the carts of Lord Jagannath in Puri every year at Rath Yatra? Sexist slangs and rape jokes comprise mainstream religious India’s constant preoccupation – a major factor that contributes to success of Bollywood movies and to the prolonged marital success stories of decent majority Hindu households.
Majoritarian supremacist speeches are so taken for granted in everyday life that we often assume them to be struggling for representation when rarely they are even slightly choked – akin to the predicament of an upper caste student who occasionally does not get what is automatically due, because some new movements are demanding reservations in education and employment. To grasp its scope, we may just need to consider the religious cultural givens and the atmosphere permeated by them. For atheists or minorities in religious beliefs, that climate is neither conducive nor desirable. If one were to raise a child as an atheist, where would that option really be? And yet somehow that lack of possibility is not considered as a systematically stifled right to free speech and expression. Only when the religious folks are not allowed to perform a public ceremony that they have historically been doing, is there a major hue and cry about human freedom being throttled.
When was the last time objections were raised because indigenous peoples of the lands were not allowed to address to a global audience to express how the State has been exploiting them? Let alone that, we even do not let someone from among us – Priya Pillai – board a plane. It is not simply the freedom of speech that is at stake – the question that needs to be asked is, whose freedom? The Solzhenitsyns, Rands, and Nabakovs were perhaps politically incorrect, but the freedoms of those they were representing are what must guide the discourse as to which ideology is inherent in artists’ works. Are they the purveyors of an oppressive status quo, or are they the champions of the underrepresented and the despised. Standing up for the freedom of affluent kulaks, greedy individualists and child rapists are not about desirable ways to justify political incorrectness – they are indeed necessary components of feudal and capitalist societies.
Art for the sake of art is not some unfulfilled remote possibility worth a struggle – it is the status quo in our political economy. The demand to prolong it in the name of “free speech”, where freedom is a byproduct of plutocratic enterprises is a needless lamentation. Most artistic endeavors today are rewarded for gearing towards “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment”; what is perhaps needed is for the politically correct artists to emerge – the ones who according to Ritwik Ghatak have the nature to “bring forth collective feeling…to seek not only to utter the reality but also to learn the cause of it and the remedy of it.” Like Frida Kahlo and Picasso, Guthrie and Seeger, Zinn and Chomsky. Langston Hughes and Neruda. These politically correct figures rooted in struggles for social justice are the marginalized – without a need for corporations and industries to carry forward their works. Yet they are the organisers themselves who have as Robeson once stated, “taken their sides”.
Artists choose their sides through their works. Whether or not they are suppressed, by whom, and for how long – these are not the real questions. The real questions investigate what sides they have taken. Are they using a platform to end religious intolerance or to promote it? Are they using satire to condemn a misogynistic order or to encourage it? Are they glorifying individual liberty at the cost of social equality, or vice versa, in their quest for free speech? Are they refusing to articulate historical privileges of propertied class, or are they exposing the contradictions with a vision to end that culture, instead of perpetuating it in the name of good humor?
Political correctness did not evolve because artists wanted to submit to the whims of some oppressive ruling class; quite the contrary – it emerged out of a need felt by progressive artists to go beyond individualism. It emerged when the duties of an artist prevailed upon the rights. When the idealists turned realists in the face of the “proletarian culture”, which to Lenin was the “result of a natural development of the stores of knowledge which humanity has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist society, landlord society and bureaucratic society.”
Progressive artists are rightfully disdainful of bourgeois art. Even as Robeson and Picasso were themselves victims of censorship and travel restrictions, they were vocally unsympathetic towards reactionary works. The battle of ideologies is a constant where the ruling art form and historical narratives are representative of the ruling order. That point is lost in these times, when bourgeois art is suddenly celebrated as some sort of beacon for human freedom – where liberty and equality are not seen at odds. Thereafter, at the very least, this marketplace of free speech undermines the effects of hate speech and silencing of the religious, racial and sexual minorities.
The advocates of free speech principles employ “pressure valve” argument in justifying the status quo with the assertion that casteists, religious fanatics and misogynists are just blowing off steam that is harmless. It’s a paternalistic justification that overlooks the fact that hate speech indeed harms the minorities more. For instance, rape jokes are not going to make a victim of sexual violence feel empowered because she still has access to that same pool of free speech rights.
“Same pool” argument is also used to project free speech rights as especially beneficial to the minorities – conveniently forgetting that ruling powers do not employ the same set of rules when it comes to the dissenters. For instance, Maoist sympathizers do not enjoy the same level of freedom as do the sympathizers of corporate monopolies – even if it is erroneously assumed for a moment, that both these groups have similar vested interest in exploiting the natural resources of India.
Finally, the argument that more speech is better for democracy rather than regulated speech is also seriously flawed. It is presupposed at the peril of the oppressed that “talking back” will earn them rewards, while that is rarely the realistic scenario. Nonviolent protesters are routinely lathi-charged and imprisoned by the same system that prides itself on right to free speech and expression of the powerful elites.
The censorship argument just as the artistic expressions themselves needs to be politically correct – the position must spring from the point of raised consciousness where the needs of the times – taking into consideration various locations of exploitations and associated struggles for social justice – are well understood and articulated. For the freedom to be equally distributed, the downtrodden should be able to express dissent, while the rights of privileged need to be moderated. What needs to be a matter of concern is not the occasional inconveniences faced by celebrities for being just their usual selves, but what begs an answer is a probe in the Gandhian terms – whether a civilized society passes a test in the degree of protection it affords its most marginalized.