Proportional responses

Whenever I write on a serious issue, I usually start by quoting an article written by a better writer and paraphrasing some of it before segueing into my own thoughts on the subject. What can I say, I’m a slave to routine: Here is the article by Kanchan Gupta on a topic that most people are passionate about, as it involves life and death. Our lives and the deaths of those who will not sit still until they decimate us.

Let me preface by saying that terrorism is never and can never be justifiable. Nothing, no kind of torture or enslavement, or infringement of any right whatever, gives one the right to kill innocent people. We have reached a point in evolution where we must be above killing someone’s loved ones to motivate or deter them. This, seems so obvious right?

What we face today is something no one has imagined before. Sure, the developed and developing world has faced threats to its life from various organizations before. The Nazis, the imperialist British juggernaut, and various separatist revolutions of individual nations come to mind. Many of such threats involved people who believed they were martyring themselves for a cause, for freedom, for independence or a life without persecution.

The extremist Muslim fundamentalist threat we face today is completely new. Before I go further, let me clarify some words and their meanings.

  • Fundamentalism refers to a belief in a strict adherence to specific set of theological doctrines typically in reaction against what are perceived as modern heresies of secularism
  • Extremism is a term used to describe the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards.

Both definitions are from Wikipedia, so you’re free to criticize their correctness, but I am including them here to indicate what I mean when I use these words.

Kanchan Gupta starts with exploring the meaning of targeted killing, and how legitimate they are. He swats like a fly the argument of apparent immorality of killing a terrorist by saying, “…since terrorism is neither morally right nor a legal expression of dissent…” Very well said. I would like to elaborate on this point more.

We cannot go eye for an eye against Islamic extremists. They believe they are in a cosmic war between good and evil, and their book tells them they’re on the good side. As Reza Aslan says (I don’t agree with him on most points, but I do on this one), “We cannot legitimize this viewpoint. We are not going to out-fanaticize these fanatics.”

That is what I say to all those who tell me that the correct response to Islamic terrorism is to go there and rampantly kill their civilians, show the wrath of the world, show what happens when the civilized world gets uncivilized. It won’t work. It might make us feel good, assuage our outrage when we see television footage of some Arab village getting blown up as our wounds of 9/11, 7/11, 26/11 are still raw. In reality, all it will do is motivate the ones remaining against us even further.

Let’s not forget that this is not a group willing to give its life for the betterment of the remaining members alone: it is a group that believes that they will be honored in the afterlife for every non-believer they kill. So, they aren’t just willing to die for their cause, they’re eager to.

We cannot use fear to motivate them; they have none. They want to die and take with them as many of us as possible. There is only one way to truly control this problem. Treat it as an infestation.

Taking a leaf out of Israel’s book

As and when terrorist groups are formed, we must find ways to kill their leaders. This will prevent them getting organized. Kanchan Gupta cites the example of the assassination of a Hamas leader in the end of his article. It is widely believed to be a Mossad operation (as intelligence agencies go, they are probably the best). The agents entered Dubai 24 hours before the leader reached there to make an arms deal. They checked into the room opposite his, choked him when they got the opportunity, and left the country that very afternoon. Amazing.

Remember Operation Wrath of God? A Palestinian terrorist outfit called Black September had killed 11 Israeli athletes after hijacking their plane. The Israeli Prime Minister had apparently said, “Send forth the boys.” A small group of agents were sent out to kill key leaders of the group. David Kimche, the former deputy head of Mossad said, “The aim was not so much revenge but mainly to make them [the militant Palestinians] frightened. We wanted to make them look over their shoulders and feel that we are upon them. And therefore we tried not to do things by just shooting a guy in the street – that’s easy … fairly.” The idea was to kill them in places where they felt most secure. What makes this approach brilliant is the clinical nature of it. There was a reason for every action. This wasn’t murder motivated by revenge or an animal desire for blood, but a surgical move based on cause and effect. They wanted to kill certain people, important people, the absence of whom would set a terrorist organization back and hence reduce the danger from them.

India Vs. The government of Pakistan

No one really doubts that our northwestern neighbor is sympathetic to the terrorists’ interests. The ISI has been linked to many groups responsible for acts of terrorism in India.

I titled this post based on an episode of The West Wing I had seen a long time ago. The newly elected Democrat president is required to authorize an American response to an act of Syrian terrorism. The president (in the show) is supposed to be a democrat and hence is afraid of being perceived as soft-on-terrorism, which is compounded by the fact that one of the American casualties was his own personal physician (who had a small baby at home). Martin Sheen, who plays the president, says, “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, gentlemen – you kill an American, any American, we don’t come back with a proportional response. We come back with total disaster!” Of course, in the show, he actually cools down and decides to adopt a proportional response, realizing that his earlier outrage was more personal than presidential.

We all go through that cycle. When the 26-11 happened, I wanted the Indian government to bomb Pakistan just like the US started bombing Afghanistan after 9-11. That was my belligerent knee-jerk response. After sobering up a little, and with more clear thinking, I realized that if we don’t maintain a clear distinction between us and those groups based on what we won’t stoop to no matter what, we will soon end up blurring the line between good and evil. Under no circumstances should we formulate a war plan that revolves around killing civilians. It is not worth it. It is a Pyrrhic victory at best and will germinate more terrorism at worst.

The youth

When Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University in 2007, the President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in his introduction, flamed the man so much that pundits predicted that it would end up endearing him to the youth of Iran. The young students and adults of Iran were impressionable, and introducing them to social liberalism would have been a much better idea, as it would have helped them distance themselves from the Islamic rule of the Shah and Ahmadinejad. Instead, the president of Columbia University, as well as a lot of the American people, insulted Ahmadinejad categorically and ended up insulting the pride of every Iranian. That is sooo not the way to approach this.

I bet the youth of these countries are interested in free speech, the right to do what one wants as long as he is not encroaching on others, the rights of women, the right not to be cruelly and unusually punished. We can engage them in friendly dialogue and develop lasting harmonious relationships with them. Of course, this is hard when you’re bombing their families to hell and back.

Conclusion

Islamic terrorism is unlike any enemy encountered before. They cannot be intimidated, or blackmailed. The only way to control them is to keep trimming their groups. The militant groups need to be spied upon more efficiently, and their leaders need to be neutralized as soon as possible. If they elect new leaders, they should be sanctioned promptly. As Dumbledore said to Harry about Voldemort in The Philosopher’s Stone, “[W]hile you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time – and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power.”

This only seems like a losing battle. If every member of society put his two cents each time, and keeps doing so, we might be able to get a world as peaceful as possible.

DISCLAIMERS:

  1. While I think this goes without saying, let me make extremely clear the pain I feel for most of the Muslims in this world, who, like the rest of us, want peace more than anything else, and are unnecessary maligned by the few who use this religion to do harm. I apologize to any and all such non-violent Muslims for any affront they might have felt while reading this post.
  2. I must also make it clear that while all the evidence I have seen leads me to believe that the establishment in Pakistan is sympathetic to terrorism, I don’t believe for one moment that the entire population of Pakistan supports it. I am sure most of Pakistan is like most of India: people who want to go to work, make their money, enjoy their life, and mean something to the people who mean something to them.

 

 

The French Burqa Ban – My take

“I was a fan of Nicholas Sarkozy, but what he’s pushing for now is reprehensible,” said a friend – a Muslim who chooses to wear the head scarf. We tend to banter on religion, and for a religious person, she’s a good sport. My jibes and taunts are often well received, and now and then, when one remark steps innocently over the line, I am gently but curtly reminded of the distance we should maintain for an argument not to turn personal.

The French ban on the veil is famous, and has polarized the public. Let us exclude the opinions of devout Muslims from this analysis, for they can hardly be expected to be disinterested in this issue.

I myself find the burqa to be an abomination: a image of imprisonment that we should have evolved out of by now. Political correctness aside, Islam and women’s rights have always seemed like oil and water to me, but that’s a topic that requires a blog of its own.

Today, the issue is of liberty. People often view the Western (developed) world as a land of plenty, where the basic conditions are good enough, and hence our laws can favor the rights of the individual over the rights of the population as a whole. The idea of a government telling us what not to do is an indirect way for everyone else to control us – for a majority to determine what is good or necessary.

There are many reasonable arguments for this ban. Most people connect the overt religiosity of many Muslims to a refusal to assimilation. Wherever they go, they are Muslims first. Hence the wearing of the burqa is regarded as a slippery slope to madrassas proliferating and even to imposing Sharia law among the Muslim diaspora. Our bogeyman is the honor rape/murder that is a product of a conveniently literal interpretation of the Qur’an. There is no proof linking madrassas directly with terrorism. They do produce fundamentalists, but no one has proof of them breeding terrorists. Hence, I am not thoroughly convinced that the slope between legalizing the burqa and the festering of terrorism is slippery enough to ban such an important civil liberty. Frisk them as much as you want at airports, and select them for additional screening, but such a huge step is not warranted now.

Imagine a woman who wears salwar-kameez exclusively, and is forced by law to wear skirts. She would view this as violating her modesty. She would either wear the skirt grudgingly, or leave the country that legislates her wardrobe, or, worst of all, never leave the house; a giant leap in the backward direction. A woman who’s used to wearing the burqa all her adult life (regardless of whether she was brainwashed into doing so), would be even more skittish about showing her body to other men. Of course, there are various groups arguing that any woman who’s wearing a burqa is doing so out of compulsion or out of some kind of Stockholm-syndrome to a victimizing religion. Based on whatever I have read on this subject, and the arguments of Muslim women who’ve chosen to wear the burqa, I would agree. This doesn’t seem like complete free will.

However mean this might sound, emancipating Muslim women is not my problem, and I certainly don’t want the government to spend taxpayer money on researching which woman is acting out of her free will and which one has been brainwashed. Let the privately funded NGO’s do all that. I would even volunteer my services.

Forcing a Muslim woman to shed her religious attire is violating her free expression and the freedom of religion. Readers of this blog know what I think about religion. Freedom of expression, no matter what the expression, is sacrosanct to me, and curbing it using the might of the law needs more justification. The ban on the veil is unconstitutional, and does not behoove a free country.

I apologize for the offense any woman has felt while reading this post.

P.S: This topic was on my mind for a long time, but I decided to write a post on it only after reading this fine post by Greatbong. His arguments are different from mine, but we both seem to agree that the ban violates freedom.

The better ‘one-third’

Courtesy: manjunathsinge.com

I have been commenting on various blogs for the past few days steadfastly opposing the bill to reserve one third of parliament seats for the fairer sex. I guess I was taking a sledgeghammer approach to a subject that does require some fine observation. So, here is my nuanced opinion. As such, I oppose reservation of any kind, and it annoys me to no end that people can get to certain positions through shunt-pathways that others simply have no access to. Also, I do believe that corruption in politics is widespread, and highly profitable. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is a man or a woman.

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Pakistan, politics and cricket

The recent snub of the Pakistani cricket players by IPL teams was unbelievable and believable at the same time. I remember as a young cricket fan listening to my father complain that we should not play cricket with Pakistan while they’re condoning the terrorist activities against India. I, of course, was so young and myopic that all I cared about was watching Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain and their ilk in action.

Over the years, as I (hopefully) got wiser, and as terrorist activities meted out against India by groups enjoying the sympathy of the Pakistani government have got more frequent, I saw more clearly into what my father had said.

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A chhoto mayor tale…

“Reverse racism!”, cries the right, while the left screams, “About time!”

The centrists are left to do the math. Sotomayor has good qualifications. She is a graduate of Princeton and Yale law. She does not have any skeletons in her closet (yet!), which leaves the right splitting hairs on her rulings.
Hispanics used to occupy a sizable portion of some parts of the USA. This can be evidenced by the Spanish-sounding names of many cities and towns. They are a large enough portion of this country to deserve representation in the Supreme Court. Only if the person is qualified of course. So, why is the right not finding any real fault with Sotomayor, even though they are screaming bloody murder.
The right had nominated a person named Clarence Thomas, and he was a redneck in a black camouflage. Incidentally, he has been silent for a long time on the bench, and one wonders if he has another opinion left in him, or if Scalia does the talking for him. In contrast, Sotomayor is brown inside and out, and that seems to incense the right more than anything else.
There is another angle to consider here. In almost all civilized countries equipped with a detailed and functional constitution, the judges are a little above review. Phrases like ‘independent judiciary’ are not uncommon in the civics curriculum of most countries. These judges cannot change the law. They are allowed to rule on cases based on their interpretation of the laws. An activist judge is one who, based on what he thinks the law should be, rules over cases by stretching the bounds of the existing law (within his discretion) to accommodate his rationale. Chains of such rulings would slowly bring about a change in the law. In this, the Supreme Court wields awesome power.
As the judges are (in a way) above the law, one wonders if they need to represent the people exactly. For example, one would not insist that the US Olympic swim team be a perfect representation of the population. We just want the most qualified people. It seems like an oversimplified analogy, but upon close examination, it has some weight. So, the argument of the left that we need a Latino person on the bench, or that we simply need more women, needs to be swiftly swatted. Obama was always going to tap a minority candidate for this, or a woman. What he did by this move is to shore up some real liberal populist mileage by going for a minority woman. One hopes that no person more qualified for the crime of being a white male. It was politics, but he is a politician, and he has to play the game. You can’t blame him for that.
However, for all the screams from the right, I don’t see them providing any alternatives. I see no evidence being presented by them of white men who are more qualified but simply passed by. Where is their list of qualified, jilted people who are being the victims of reverse racism?
In the end, the one thing that should be balanced on the Supreme Court is the left-right ratio. With Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, Thomas tilting the bench so emphatically to the right that it now resembles a suspended bar magnet pointing north, it leaves Breyer and Stevens as somewhat moderate, with Ginsburg being the only seemingly liberal one. Sotomayor, one hopes, will help make this bench more horizontal.

Of Pale kristols, and wright stuff

William Kristol has written an Op-Ed in the gray lady, which has, at best, betrayed his conservative dogma, and at worst, brought the newspaper of record to disrepute. Based on a telephonic interview of Sarah Palin, this piece, penned with an adulation quite resembling feverish worship, goes on to cover various softball questions lobbed sweetly at her by this articulate, posturing, conservative fundamentalist. Remember this is the man who said that the US entry into Iraq would not result in a sectarian scuffle. He is clearly not given to rational analysis of every word or thought coming across his way.

This column reminded me of Sarah Palin’s tv interview conducted by Sean Hannity (cruelly but accurately termed as an infomercial by Crooksandliars.com’s John Amato). Hannity, though seems like a redneck who would put party before principles. Somehow, Kristol seems like the intelligent but misled person from whom you would not expect such pandering cynicism. I would argue that Hannity knows not any better, but I would find it hard to believe that Kristol is a stupid person. He is a true cynic, for he knows that Sarah Palin is a joke, but still supports her.

Her response to every question is to launch into a jingoistic tirade devoid of substance or rational argument but well garnished with words like maverick, Washington-outsider, country first etc. She is saying things that are so removed from the truth that one might as well believe that the earth is flat if one believes her. She refuses to believe in evolution, is a clear Jesus-freak, believes abortion is a sin even in cases of rape and incest, believes in abstinence education but has an unwed teenage daughter. (By the way, how come there are no criminal charges of statutory rape leveled against Levi Johnson, the boy who knocked up the underaged, but over-fertile Bristol Palin?

I feel sorry for her son Track, who is in Iraq. While anyone who goes to fight for his country no matter what the mission is deserves praise, this boy has the added microscope following his moves. While she claimed to have studied for the debate, her son said that he was praying for her success. The smart Republicans who are cynically supporting her must have said the Bible to themselves twenty times over praying that she remembers the talking points (which she sort of did) and she learn to pronounce nuclear (that did not work as we were treated to the more folksy nukular along with a lot of winking and references to hockey-moms and Joe-sixpacks.)

At the head of the debate, she said that her answers may not have anything to do with the questions. She was right. When I was going through school, we always had mediocre professors who were very nice to the mediocre students, but preferred to crush precocious minds. The US electorate is similar. Instead of shelving its ego, and voting for the best person possible for the job, they will tend to vote for the person who seems the most like themselves, for this country is filled with the Lotto crazies who believe not only that can they win a small fortune in an instant, they even believe that they deserve it. Hence the desire to vote for the common-seeming person, which betrays their narcissism.

I will never understand why Obama attends Reverend Wright’s church; that man seems to have some serious issues, and Obama had to publicly denounce him in the primaries to even have a chance. In this country, you have to have faith to run for elections. The people attach a moral compass to a person who goes to a room with other people on Sundays, and pledges his undying loyalty and inferiority to a fairy tale told to him when his mind was young and defenseless. Palin however, need not attack him on that. Forget that Obama’s health care plan covers most people, forget that he plans to cut taxes for 95% of the middle class and the underprivileged, forget that he actually has a plan for bringing US troops safely home, forget that he has the wisdom to surround himself with economic experts to pull the country and in a way, the world out of this crisis, forget all that…what everyone is focusing on is that Obama is an educated elitist who seems like a smart snob and McCain is a maverick because he says so.

The world leading country is slowly being filled with a bunch of hayseeds, incapable of critical thinking, and swallowing as gospel what anyone tells them, just like the owners of the country wanted it. (Refer George Carlin)

Another Palin rant

Charles Gibson interviewed Sarah Palin in her hometown in Wasilla, Alaska in a quasi-journalistic way. He asked her tough questions alright, but not enough follow up ones. There wasn’t the journalistic bite as we would have seen from Helen Thomas, or our very own Karan Thapar or Prabhu Chawla.

Without taking the spotlight away from the huge liberties against logic this woman takes, I would like to focus on one particular set of words she spoke. When asked whether a mother of five can be an effective VP or Prez, she answered yes unequivocally and attempted to substantiate it by saying,

“What people have asked me when I was — when I learned I was pregnant, “Gosh, how are you going to be the governor and have a baby in office, too,” and I replied back then, as I would today, “I’ll do it the same way the other governors have done it when they’ve either had baby in office or raised a family.” Granted, they’re men, but do it the same way that they do it.”

Why are the women not outraged? This woman clearly is implying the male and female experience of having a baby. Tell that to all the women who fret and fume that the male contribution to their children’s birth is an orgasm and forgetting to use contraception.

I may be viewed as sexist for raising this topic, but I am worried. A woman can surely be qualified for the highest office, but going through pregnancy and childbirth while the 3am phone call is anticipated is a scary proposition. We need to get an assurance from Gov Palin that she is done breeding before we even consider her for high office.

Mea culpa

Here is the time for me to accept a mistake, and cede a little. I have said formerly that without a doubt, Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee. I am having some doubts about this now. Not because I am convinced that he is not leader material. It is not a result of the “bitter” remarks. It is the result of the pseudo-republican fake outrage machine, (known simply as Hillary Clinton.) Her reaction to this is as fake as the bullshit she says about her grandfather who worked blue-collar shifts in Scranton. It was class-A pandering to the working class whose votes she has a predisposition to anyway.
First of all, Barack Obama seems elitist because he made some sweeping remarks about people probably clinging to religion, guns and antipathy in economic woe. Instead of deigning to qualify his statements, Barack Obama should have used this to attack the credibility of the current administration. He should have said that “People will naturally cling to these, as these are the parts of the Bill of Rights that they haven’t relinquished as part of the Patriot Act.”
The amendments to the US constitution guarantee a person the right to free speech (1st amendment) the right not to have their person or their privacy violated without reasonable suspicion (4th amendment), the right not to incriminate themselves (5th amendment), the right to a jury trial if accused of a crime (7th), the right not to be subjected to cruel & unusual punishment(8th).
All of these rights are obliterated under the garb of national security and this free-market capitalist democracy is giving way to a socialized capitalism where taxpayer money is used to bail out big rapacious multi-billion dollar companies which are filing chapter eleven. What is converting this to a fascist system is that the only rights remaining are guns (2nd amendment), religion and, of course the right to antipathy is mainstreamed whenever there are times of danger.
So, when Hillary Clinton criticizes Obama, she is inadvertently helping Mc Cain so much. Barack keeps accusing her on issues, where she would not be hard done by when (& if) competing against Mc Cain. But Hillary is being extremely republican in accusing Obama, thus giving him a raw deal in the general election. In the Pennsylvania debate, Hillary announced that while Obama & she are fighting it out now, she will make sure that a Democrat will occupy the White House. Somehow she is fighting so dirty that she might ensure a victory for Mc Cain. She needs to mature some and realize that if she wants a Democrat to win, she has to take the high ground.

If however, by pandering to the working class and their misled republican ideologies, she is planning to secure a position in the highest office in the country, and then be the same radical hippie who wants socialized medicine and real benefit for the common people, then I salute her intelligence. Only, I don’t think she is that smart or has it in her to take that big a risk.

Here comes my mea culpa. I take back my categorical statement that Obama will win the nomination. I do believe that the average American needs to understand that for the country to work well, he has to hand over the power to a much above-average person. If such a person makes a remark which seems sweeping, let it go or better still weigh it with all the good this man did on the streets of Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law, when he could have landed himself the cushiest of jobs, had he wanted.

Also, let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton’s popularity is largely because of her husband being president. Let both candidates make good on their statement that a Democrat should become president.