Clouded Judgement


                    The Conversation

Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with a gentleman, who received his education in an ivy league college, a writer, and who actively participated in the civil rights movement of the 60’s.

A man of some stature and morality, or so I assumed.

I was having an informal conversation when the subject drifted to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. All of a sudden his nostrils flared and there was an anger in his voice.

Note: I do not consider myself pro Palestinian, I simply want justice to be done.

Here are some of the arguments presented by the gentleman. Some of which I responded to at the moment and some which I let go, but nonetheless would like to provide an answer to in this blog.

Argument 1

Gentleman: “These aren’t even the historical Palestinians to begin with, they settled later”

This argument is particularly weak. If we were to accept that this group of Palestinians have absolutely no relation to historical Palestinians- not even a single one of them, the fact is, this “new group” of Palestinians have lived in this area for atleast 700 years. The historicity doesn’t matter as much as the logic of the argument in this case.

Now, what was suggested is because these people weren’t the original inhabitants it became ok to expel them. As it did happen in 1948 in order to form a Jewish state. There is no “if” in this argument, the Palestinians were expelled. Former Israeli foreign Minister Shola Ben-Ami accepts this view.
Argument now hinges on whether this qualified as ethnic cleansing.

Well, if this policy of expelling people who weren’t historical inhabitants is made into a standard. Then following the argument the Native American population has the right to expel by force all Non Native Americans living today in America even though they personally had nothing to do with settling America in the 16th and 17th century.

Argument 2

Gentleman: “Israel and Jordan are the only countries to allow Palestinians into their country in the region”

Setting aside the fact that there wouldn’t be any Palestinian refugees if they wouldn’t have been chased from their homes by Israel to begin with. Israel “lovingly” taking in Palestinians, has nothing to do with the central question i.e. whether Palestinians have a right to form a state.

Argument 3

Early in the conversation on a separate topic the Gentleman stated, “History is written by the victors of war. I am an old school historian I like to go to the ground level and find facts”.
Later on, while talking about the Palestinian issue I said, “the world court has ruled that Palestinians are under occupation and my position is in alignment with that ruling”. To this his response was, with a wry smile, “the powerful and victors”.
To which my riposte was, ” how are the Palestinians victors in this equation of yours” I did not get a response. 

Argument 4

Gentleman: ” You know they deny the holocaust and want Israel wiped off the map”
Who is they, Hamas, Iran, Hizbullah, Arab states or all of the above?
I asserted, not me. I want to see Israel exist and prosper. But I added, taking the rhetoric of countries in the region and Hamas does not give Israel the right to hinder the right of Palestinians to form a state.

And what does denying the holocaust have to do with anything? If the Palestinians want to deny the holocaust ever happened (not that they were involved in conducting it) it does not give Israel the right to occupy Palestine. How does the argument progress, you deny the holocaust ever happened, well this means we must continue our occupation? It is rather shameful to suggest because the Jews suffered and Palestinians deny it, it gives the state of Israel a right to inflict suffering on the Palestinians. Like it or not they are entitled to their opinion.

Now compare the facts with rhetoric. Israel is the only country with nuclear weapons in the region. Therefore, in reality Israel is the only country in the region with real capability to wipe off a country from the map. Furthermore, Israel is currently occupying Palestinian land and actively works to make sure Palestine, as a state, does not exist on a map. Ironic isn’t it given Israels repeated claims that they fear being wiped off from the map.

This conversation was an eye opening moment for me personally. This is a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with African Americans for their rights. This was a man educated in one of the best  institutions in the world. But when it came to something that he was emotionally attached to all logical arguments seemed as anti Jewish and anti Israel.

I got a deeper understanding into what biases do to the human mind and how it is extremely difficult to be sound and reasonable when something is so close to the heart is at stake.



Good Luck Ms Nepal

Oh Tis the Season….

In the past few months every Nepali with a facebook page probably had this msg, (that’s message for Ye olde folks) which went along the lines of, “Like” and “Share” if you are a patriotic Nepali with Ms Nepal 2012 Shristi Shrestha’s glamourous pictures cascading on their facebook wall.

The amount of interest that has been generated around her is staggering. So, why has this Ms Nepal become the darling of the populace? Ms Shristi brings glamour, poshness, and finesse in celebrity deprived Nepal. Her chiseled face, raised eyebrows, and semi curled hair, a throwback to the 90’s, seems to have captured the nations imagination. This is not to say, we don’t or haven’t had celebrities in Nepal before she came along, but a new standard has definitely been set. She has that oomph, that others have lacked. But the aforementioned, all to familiar, blue screen, has played a massive part as well. Facebook, has been an important catalyst in generating this tide of interest which shows no signs of abating. It is perhaps safe to say we may never see another Shristi for a decade or so.

However, there is more at work here. Our infatuation with a pageant, betrays more than it ostensibly suggests.
For a country struggling with political impasse, stagnating economy, soaring unemployment rate, poverty, and a sense of hopelessness in some quarters, this is perhaps our psychological defense mechanism hard at work to divert our attention to something as superfluous as a beauty pageant. It is the same mechanism that has controlled India’s Bollywood for so long and limits Nepal’s Kollywood today, dreams and escapism sell well, not hard hitting movies that tell the real human story. The Nepali audience would rather watch romantic love stories, with a hero and heroine dancing with bright balloons and helicopters hovering around rather than a teenage kids struggles growing up on the streets of Kathmandu. Shristi is beautiful, successful, intelligent, going places, wearing the finest clothes, center of attention, but, she most importantly is, an escape.

Another real problem which no one wants to talk about is the fact that Nepalis deep down are faced with an inferiority complex. And it this lack of self worth which flares up whenever anything perceived as “anti Nepal sentiment” surfaces from any segment. Take your pick from Colbert’s misunderstood satire to any notion questioning the birthplace of Buddha or Indian books falsely claiming Mount Everest as part of India. The evisceration and vitriolic attacks which follow is mind boggling. And Ms Nepal herself was on the receiving end of it.

The hungry net savvy youth wanted more of Shristi and when the now infamous video of an old off hand interview surfaced on YouTube. Shristi went from a beloved Nepali to (insert the nastiest Nepali words for women here). Ms Shristi and her media consultant ( if she has one) surely did not see this coming. An old interview before Shristi’s crowning, in which she simply brushed away a few questions about her origins to protect her families privacy was perceived as an anti Nepal gesture. Damage control was conducted and order seems to have been restored.

But the backlash for such a nonstarter illuminated the Nepali mindset, and we are talking of the young educated netizens of Nepal and not the older generation shackled with religious bigotry and traditions.

Well, at the end of the day, no matter what happens when the contest does get underway, one thing is clear Nepalis will be keeping a close eye on it. It will fill them with pride and joy. The mundane struggles of daily life and hawkish politicians who are omnipresent will be forgotten. If, and that’s a big if, she does manage to charm the judges to find herself on the winners podium the world will remember her. However, if she does fall short she should take comfort in the knowledge that her fellow Nepalis will never forget her, because just for that little moment in all our lives, we Nepalis shared a dream and hoped together, something that is, unfortunately, hard to come by these days.

Good luck Shristi.

By (Shah-nepalifreethinker)

Road Expansion or Runaway Govt

My Rights for a Few Meters of Tar

A few weeks ago, a road expansion project was started amid a furore from residents directly affected by this project. I mulled over what could be achieved by expanding a few meters of metalled road. And given my experience in metrapolises such as New Delhi, Boston and New York, I concluded, not much and snickered.

My snickering gave way to horror when I realised that the expansion was being conducted at the cost of private properties being demolished with little or no compensation.

I am not a town planner so I will leave the efficacy issues of road expansion in historic metropolitan cities for engineers and planners to chew over. My focus will be on the destruction of private property. However, even if road expansion in kathmandu increases efficiency this does not mean the state has the right to destroy private property without due compensation.

Now before we move on, I would like to cite Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines the right to property as follows: “(1)Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property” Now, ask yourself, were the actions of the Maoist government, when it comes to destruction of private property which we have observed arbitrary or not?

Well, let’s proceed. What angers me is what has occurred is undemocratic. Democracy, as we understand it, without being pedantic, is termed as liberal democracy (although Nepals democracy falls short of liberal democracy it is in essence closer to it then what we are led to believe by some quarters – another discussion another day). This distinction is important so that we don’t confuse ourselves with other forms of political systems of governance which masquerade as democracy. For instance, Iran claims to be a “democracy” but secularism, a pillar of democracy, is nowhere to be found in that country.They do hold elections to elect Presidents, which are somewhat fair incomparison to elections held in other countries in that region. But in reality a council of bearded perverted old men who call the citizens their “children” rule the country. Whereas, China labels itself as a “democratic republic” but unlike Iran it does not have popular elections for Presidents but what it has is limited local level elections and only one party contesting in them. Why the Chinese politburo even bothers calling China a democratic republic is lost on me.

Liberal democracy (true democracy) holds certain fundamental principles and right to property is one of its foundations. The ideas which underline liberal democracy are a direct result of liberal thinkers like John Locke. John Locke postulated that Man (or woman lets not get sexist now) can through labor transform nature to create goods and participate in trade of such goods    i.e. participate in economic activites. These goods and wealth generated are his property ( we are of course talking of legal property).

The “Social Contract” theory which provides basis for and legitimizes why we have a government, and the origins of it concludes that You and I, gave up some of our natural rights in order to create a government so that we all can live in a society to benefit individually and as a group by having our rights protected. Hence, the role of the state is to protect the rights of individuals, which includes the right to property. True democratic States today work towards fulfilling this role.

The Maoist government

When the Maoists came into the fold of mainstream politics they committed themselves to democracy and pledged to work under the democratic framework. However, what they have shown by destroying private property without due compensation is that they disregard an individuals right to private property. And that the “welfare” of the community and groups supersede that of an individual. Let me stress this, we are not in a state of emergency. So there is no basis for some of our rights to be temporarily suspended. These houses weren’t demolished for security reasons or to prevent disasters nor were they a risk to health and safety of the public. This was simply done for road expansion even though alternatives are available,such as, building up a good public transportation system.

The actions of Maoists suggest that their pledges and assurances were nothing but a Trojan horse in order to get us to open the gates to the parliament. And now that they have the keys these mongrels ride around the country masquerading as swashbuckling protagonists trying to “save” the country by imposing their policies. It seems we are now likely to suffer at the hands of morons who wish to keep beating a dead philosophy hoping it might just work.


A Different Perspective on Nepal’s Political Struggles

So it has come to this, drawing of state lines based on ethnic divides. Ironic isn’t it, the very idea that has thrown our fledgling democracy into chaos is in effect (in most cases) possible only in a democratic society. Perhaps, I am being a little cheeky since any demand by the citizens is- without having to face the barrel of the gun and tanks as we see in Syria- possible only in a democratic society.

To understand Nepal’s chaotic politics we might have to turn to Francis Fukuyama’s “thymos”. The Greek word “Thumos” roughly translated as “spiritedness” or that need for human recognition was used by Socrates to explain human actions. Francis Fukuyama furthered this thesis and determined “Thymos” to be the psychological undercurrent responsible for shaping human history. Recognition, according to Fukuyama, is raison d’être for most Homo sapiens sapiens.

Nepal isn’t a homogenous nation like Korea, where one language and ethnicity dominates the landscape. It is a nation cobbled together by Kings bent on chivalry. Nepal’s diversity is due to conquests of one ethnicity over others, in the not so distant past. The Royals and ruling elites need for recognition morphed into megalothymia- the need to be recognized as a superior to others. Satiety for which could be pursued through conquests. After successful conquests, the kings of Nepal and the ruling elite shared a master slave sadomasochistic relationship with their “subjects”, fueled by a need for recognition.

But with the end of the age of chivalry, and the slaves having finally gone through, ostensibly, the phases of slave mentality, the slaves of yesterday see today as an opportune moment to regain their worth and dignity to be equal to others, this is known as isothymia. They believe a federal nation with ethnicity based states will be a projection of their new found dignity and worth manifested in space and time. On the flipside, it has dawned on the conservative forces, which have retained their semi master status throughout history, that dusk is approaching rather quickly as their hegemony over for the socio-economic and political landscape is coming to an end. The conservative forces are therefore fighting for their survival in a way they’ve never had to, in fact they feel they will lose their recognition.

Atavistic Tendencies
I must add here that masochism and serf mentality seems to survive, or perhaps is going through a renaissance in today’s “modern” “liberal” youth. The desire for shiny armor and chivalrous past can be found on facebook pages with paeans for the dead King Birendra and his family. It goes further, recently, I was sent a Youtube video of a Royal megaphone, former army chief whose jingoism wasn’t put a stop to by the TV presenter, who dared to call himself a journalist, where are our standards people. But if Burke who pushed for American freedom from the monarchy in England could be mesmerized by the French monarchy and its queen perhaps we should be a little forgiving of our new old generation.

John Lennon “Imagine” syndrome
Let us just hold hands and just get along appears to be the cry, oh wait I meant peaceful rhythmic persuasion played by a torn jeans wearing guitar playing youth of Nepal. This is the same youth who holds stultifying words such as “Unity” with high regard, and suspect more honorable words like “division”. Even the cells in nature have to divide in order to grow and multiply to become more complex organisms. The youth seek compromise before exploring and exhausting all avenues, in fact they suspect debate.
Anyways, so should we just draw lines across our nation and ask the ethnic groups to simply “get over it” for the cause of “unity” ask them to “make sacrifices for the greater good” as was evident in “peace rallies” themed on Unity, led of course by the youth. Dear reader always be suspicious when you hear the “greater good” phrase more often than not the sacrifice is demanded from those who are judged to be worth discarding. It is demanded from pulpits by hysterical despots and demagogues.

When, the British empire exhausted itself, and its colonies it signed half baked treaties with factions and “representatives “and drew almost straight lines across maps in various parts of the world. The capriciousness, callousness and ineptness with which this was done created fertile, and in some cases virgin ground for future conflicts in Africa, the middle east and Asia (Nepal’s border disputes with India is an example) in these conflicts demand for the right to self determination and or enfranchisement are central. I hold that taking the British approach would be calamitous to say the least. The feeling of marginalization could mean another civil war, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme” that’s not music to any ears right now.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that ethnic groups are disenfranchised today. They have become an important element in our political discourse. In fact they have garnered enough muscle to shut the entire country down at will, so the argument they are not represented or are disenfranchised doesn’t really hold water. So the solution isn’t necessarily bowing down to parochialism either, I ask for your forgiveness but the dreaded word “compromise” must take center stage since ostensibly at least it seems all avenues have been explored.
But, aren’t we missing the point, we seem bent on undermining democracy as we squirm along in pursuit of it. One of the fundamental principles of a secular democracy is the protection of theindividual by the state irrespective of caste, color, race, ethnicity, religion, gender… The right of the individual must be protected at all cost, this means a Tharu, a Sherpa, a Bahun, a Chetri all have equal rights in the eyes of the law, and these rights are the basis for a democratic society. The tragedy is that the democratic demand by ethnic communities in our democracy arises not from pursuing the ideals of it, but rather the fear that democracy will fail them. They seek assurances for their survival out of fear. Fear the pillar of slave morality and mentality. Alas! The slave mentality still persists. Question is, are we alert, are we guarding our democracy from individuals driven by megalothymia to capitalize on our serf mentality.

Lastly, ask yourself what determines ones ethnicity- being born, or simply put, chance. Just the very act which you and I had no control over has determined this label, this burden, which we now have to carry all our lives. I hope for a day when ones ethnicity will mean as much as having a birth mark in an awkward place and its value is found only in humoring others over drinks of its location. I personally am a cocktail when it comes to ethnicities. And the only value I attach to that statement is the muffled laughter’s it can sometimes elicit.
By (Shah-nepalifreethinker)

Every Nation Gets the Leaders it Deserves

“toute nation a le gouvernment qu’elle me’rite” Joseph de Maistre

Every nation gets the leaders it deserves

As the tide of ignorance sweeps into our houses of democracy, our reaction, it seems, is to roll up the cuffs of our trousers and mutter under our breath, with disgust “thieving politicians”, as we wade our way onto drier land. Those that do put up defenses against this tide ,their voices are simply drowned out by the clamoring empty vessels.

The youths response to our socioeconomic and political vagaries can be summed up as yelping, and bleating of a few non intelligible sentences “politicians are corrupt”,  “police are corrupt” “India…….” (I ll let you fill that portion out, I am sure you have heard a myriad of ways describe our “brotherly” neighbor). I hope the word Dhoti hasn’t been omitted, rarely has a garment transcended its basic necessary purpose to that of an insult and become symbolic of our ignorance and xenophobia. The dhoti, I must admit is quite comfortable- don’t worry I am sticking to my pants it was a little too airy, catch my drift -I apologize. I digress.

Well, I must ask how often have we sat back with a sense of having said something intelligent and incisive. Accompanied with look of self validation of ones existence- Decartes, el cogito ergo sum should perhaps have been “I think (critically) therefore I am”. It might have done us more good. How much effort does it really require to spew out “politicians are corrupt”.

In ancient Athens, Socrates wandered around the agora questioning common truths held by Athenians, as to what it is to be noble, or what is bravery… this questioning method is what we have come to know as the Socratic method. Socrates of course was persecuted, and later died tragically but honorably for his beliefs ( as it is usually the case with people who are beyond their time). The parliament is our agora, and we must ask our representatives, like Socrates did with the Generals and Senators of his day, what they think, and more importantly bring to light how they think. But to do this we must also “grow up” as it were. We need to lead an “examined life” as well, we need to question any hint of racism, casteism, religious bigotry wherever we find it, whether it is in ourselves, Facebook pages or chai pasal conversations.

Let us become the generation that isn’t swayed by slogans, and speeches. But, rather become citizens who are able to question domestic, foreign, environmental and financial policies with in dept knowledge, rather than discussing sound bites. To think like everyone else, and live in the comfort of consensus is a poisoned chalice. Let us question everything, let reason prevail.

Think of how history will remember us, will our progeny, remember this generation as the one that finally turned the tide or the ones who were swept away without resistance.

By (Shah-nepalifreethinker)