Friday, 31 July 2009

What might the world look like if the bailout works? Like Sarah Palin.

She was the last clear expression of capitalism-as-usual. And if we waste this chance, it will be back to drill-baby-drill


Naomi Klein guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 July 2009 19.30 BST

The US bailout is a robbery in progress, the greatest heist in monetary history. But consider for a moment: what if it actually works, what if the financial sector is saved and the economy returns to the course it was on before the crisis struck? Is that what we want? And what would that world look like?

The answer is that it would look like Sarah Palin. Hear me out – this is not a joke. We're so busy laughing at her we may not have given sufficient consideration to the meaning of the Palin moment. Think about it, Sarah Palin stepped on to the world stage as vice-presidential candidate on 29 August 2008 at a McCain campaign rally. Two weeks later, on 15 September, Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering the global financial meltdown.

So in a way Palin was the last clear expression of capitalism-as-usual before everything went south. That's quite helpful because she showed us – in that plain-spoken way of hers – the trajectory the US economy was on before its current meltdown. By offering us this glimpse of a future, one narrowly avoided, Palin provides us with an opportunity to ask a core question: do we want to save that pre-crisis system? Or do we want to use this crisis, and the electoral mandate for serious change delivered by the last election, to radically transform the system? Progressives need to get clear on our answer now because we haven't had the potent combination of a serious crisis and a clear progressive democratic mandate for change since the 1930s. We use this opportunity, or we lose it.

So what was Sarah Palin telling us about capitalism-as-usual before she was so rudely interrupted by the meltdown? Let's first recall that before she came along, the US public, at long last, was starting to come to grips with the urgency of the climate crisis, with the fact that our economic activity is at war with the planet, that radical change is needed immediately. We were actually having that conversation, and polar bears were on the cover of Newsweek magazine. And then in walked Sarah Palin. The core of her message was this: those environmentalists, those liberals, those do-gooders are all wrong. You don't have to change anything. You don't have to rethink anything. Keep driving your gas-guzzling car and keep going to Wal-Mart. The reason is a magical place called Alaska. Just come up here and take all you want. "Americans," she said at the Republican National Convention, "we need to produce more of our own oil and gas. Take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska, we've got lots of both." And the crowd at the convention responded by chanting: "Drill, baby, drill."

Watching that scene on television, with its weird creepy mixture of sex and oil and jingoism, I recall thinking: "Wow, the RNC has turned into a rally in favour of screwing Planet Earth." Literally.

It's not a question of whether Americans are nuts enough to elect Palin in 2012. What Palin was saying is what is built into the very DNA of capitalism: the idea that the world has no limits. She was saying that there are no such things as consequences, or real-world deficits. Because there will always be another frontier, another bubble, another Alaska. Just move on and discover it. Tomorrow will never come.

This is the most comforting and dangerous lie that there is: the lie that perpetual, unending growth is possible on our finite planet. And we have to remember that this message was incredibly popular in those first two weeks, before Lehman collapsed. Despite Bush's record, Palin and McCain were pulling ahead. And if it weren't for the financial crisis, and for the fact that Obama started connecting with working-class voters by putting deregulation and trickle-down economics on trial, they might have actually won.

The president tells us he wants to look forward, not backwards. But in order to confront the lie of perpetual growth and limitless abundance that is at the centre of both the ecological and financial crises, we have to look backwards. And we have to look way backwards, not just to the past eight years of Bush and Cheney, but to the very founding of the US, to the whole idea of the settler state.

Modern capitalism was born with the so-called discovery of the Americas. It was the pillage of the incredible natural resources of the Americas that generated the excess capital that made the Industrial Revolution possible.

Early explorers spoke of a New Jerusalem, a land of such bottomless abundance, there for the taking, so vast that the pillage would never have to end. This mythology is in our biblical stories – of floods and fresh starts, of raptures and rescues – and it is at the centre of the American Dream of constant reinvention. What this myth tells us is that we don't have to live with our pasts, with the consequences of our actions. We can always escape, start over.

These stories were always dangerous, of course, to the people who were already living on the "discovered" lands, to the people who worked them through forced labour. But now the planet itself is telling us that we cannot afford these stories of endless new beginnings anymore. That is why it is so significant that at the very moment when some kind of human survival instinct kicked in, and we seemed finally to be coming to grips with the Earth's natural limits, along came Palin, the new and shiny incarnation of the colonial frontierswoman, saying: Come on up to Alaska. There is always more. Don't think, just take.


This is not about Sarah Palin. It's about the meaning of that myth of constant "discovery", and what it tells us about the economic system that they're spending trillions of dollars to save. What it tells us is that capitalism, left to its own devices, will push us past the point from which the climate can recover. And capitalism will avoid a serious accounting – whether of its financial debts or its ecological debts – at all costs. Because there's always more. A new quick fix. A new frontier.

The question that we face is whether our job is to bail out this ship, the biggest pirate ship that ever was, or to sink it and replace it with a sturdier vessel, one with space for everyone? One that doesn't require these ritual purges, during which we throw our friends and neighbours overboard to save the people in first class. One that understands that the Earth doesn't have the capacity for all of us to live better and better. But it does have the capacity, as the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said recently at the UN, "for all of us to live well".

Because make no mistake, capitalism will be back. And the same message will return, though there may be someone new selling that message: You don't need to change. Keep consuming all you want. There's plenty more. Drill, baby, drill. Maybe there will be some technological fix that will make all our problems disappear.

And that is why we need to be absolutely clear right now. Capitalism can survive this crisis. But the world can't survive another capitalist comeback.

This is an edited version of a speech from The Progressive's 100th anniversary conference. A longer version is in the August edition of the Progressive magazine

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Join the Army, be a Batman


  Manas Gupta
  Tuesday July 28, 2009
 

It's one way to serve the country. Join the Indian Army as a soldier, train to be a lean, mean fighting machine, and spend half your time polishing shoes of officers, serving their wives tea or taking their dogs for walks. And they call you a Batman.

Unfortunately, you aren't the caped crusader from Gotham City with a million gadgets and a fancy car…unless your uniform includes a cape while watering the colonel sahab's plants.

It may have been a colonial hangover in the beginning, but it's something the Army has steadfastly refused to do away with.  The parliamentary standing committee hit the nail on the head when it said "the committee hardly needs to stress that jawans are recruited for serving the nation and not to serve family members of officers in household work, which is humiliating.''

Seriously? You mean soldiers actually have to learn to fire weapons and guard our borders. And all this while I thought they were being groomed for the hospitality industry.

Unfortunately, even our government wants these soldiers to continue working as officers' 'maids'. The centre has rejected the parliamentary committee's recommendation that officers should make do without orderlies.

There's no denying that our Army is professional and well-trained and prides itself on its war record. But fighting abilities somehow don't seem to go with dish-washing talents. But with an employment crunch staring India in the face, perhaps institutions could come up with diplomas in sweeping, gardening, car-washing, dog-walking etc and the gentlemen holding these diplomas could get a direct entry as brave Batmen ready to show 'courage under fire'. I guess the only fire some of them may face may be in the kitchen.

The army feels  an officer gets a sahayak for the upkeep of his uniform, weapons and other equipment, as also act as his radio operator and ''buddy'' during combat. So, let me get this straight. An Army officer, who undergoes such rigorous training and is responsible for a large body of men under his command, can't even take care of his own uniform? He needs his 'sahayak' to polish his shoes and iron his clothes? Anyway, why would your 'radio operator' be with you 24x7 dusting your drawing room or getting 'baba' from school. Maybe he'll radio from school to inform 'sahab' that his son has reached school.
 
I don't want to deride the courageous officers of the Indian Army. We all know how bravely many of them fought on the borders. But that doesn't mean his perks should include treating a fellow soldier as a personal servant. All Army formations have been told to ensure sahayaks are not employed for ''menial household work'' since as combatant soldiers they should not be used for anything which adversely impacts their dignity and self-respect. Question is who's following this new rule?

In the late 90s, I was staying in Army Cantonment, Jaipur. The Army Chief came on a visit and in his speech advised the officers to avoid treating soldiers as orderlies and misusing Army rules and benefits. At that very time, barely a km from the venue, three tents had been set up outside a 'separated family accommodation'. In these tents were staying 4 soldiers of a particular regiment sent from J&K by the commanding officer of their unit to look after his family in Jaipur. What medals would they have taken home?




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Monday, 20 July 2009

Sordid reality behind Dubai's gilded facade


 
July 12, 2009

 

Construction halted, westerners jailed for adultery - but prostitutes do well

The Radisson hotel in Dubai
Andrew Blair says he will pick me up from outside my sleaze-bucket of a hotel, give it 20 minutes or so, got some work to finish off. He has a job again, contracts apparently "coming out of his ears", which is good, because until recently he had earned a certain notoriety for not having a job and, more to the point, for the manner in which he went about finding a new one. He drove around Dubai, back in January this year, from the plug-ugly creek to the plug-ugly marina, in his white Porsche, with a sign in the back window saying he wanted a job; vroom vroom he went, gizza job. Scratch scratch scratch went the keys and coins along the side of his car whenever it was parked up.
Such conspicuous flaunting of vulgar affluence seems to me entirely appropriate for this foul city — especially when combined with an admission of desperation and hopelessness, that scrawled sign and telephone number in his rear window. Fur coat and no knickers, etc. But, unaccountably, the local expats found it all a little contemptible and the journalists — none of whom possessed Ferraris — sniggered long and loud in print, out of exquisite Schadenfreude. Just look at this idiot on his uppers, was the subtext. But the ploy worked, and Andrew is once again in gainful employment as a construction project manager, and therefore can remain in this country where they deport you if you're skint, so who's laughing now? Not Andrew, as it happens. The whole episode, he says, made him think, made him change his ways. Those first two years out here in this dusty and scorched semi-reclaimed desert were enormous fun: huge tax-free income, palatial apartment — "the crème de la crème" — silent or monosyllabic servants, all that sex (a city containing 8,000 air hostesses can't be bad), the fast cars, the alcohol.
But he's a changed man, he says; that epic, shallow, soul-destroying materialism and vulgarity now leave him cold. Being out of work for a while left him a little bruised but a better person, understanding that money and consumer durables are not everything. A changed man. Although not that changed, I notice, as the white Porsche pulls up.
"Why did you leave Britain?" I ask him, slung well below sea level in the bucket seat as we cruise the baked streets past the filthy, crumbling apartment blocks where the Bangladeshi slave labourers live or die, 10 or 12 to a room, and then into the hideous bling of downtown Dubai, a vast architectural experiment conducted by, seemingly, Albert Speer and Victoria Beckham. One skyscraper appears to be gilded in gold leaf, another looks like the birthday cake of a spoilt five-year-old brat — and all of them trying desperately to be taller, flashier, more grotesque than the one next door.
"Well, you know," he says, in a soft Scottish burr, "I think it was the immigration more than anything else."
"But Andrew, you're an immigrant now?"
He looks astonished at this, as if the notion had never occurred, then says: "Yes! Ironic, I suppose. But the difference is, I'm a wanted immigrant."
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Up to a point. In truth, needed more than wanted. As one local put it: "We are fed up of westerners who come here thinking they deserve an easy meal ticket. You were nothing in the West, so you came here for the houses and cars you could never get back home, you stole through taking out excessive finance that is not justified by you [sic] salaries. Then when you cannot pay you run, this is theft born out of greed and arrogance.
"Anyway despite all of this you still disrespect our cultural and religious values with your behaviour, dress and conduct in our malls and on our beaches and comments about us our race and our religion. You spend all your time critizising [sic] our laws, society and systems. Yet, you could never have the lifestyle you have here back in your system. You people are no longer welcome, please go and pollute somewhere else."
That was the message posted by a disgruntled Emirati on an expat website recently, and, as a description of the British, South African, Australian and eastern-European workers now living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it has a certain truth about it. The Emiratis are a minority within their own country, the UAE, and an even smaller minority within Dubai, the most populous city of the UAE, where they number about 20% of the population.
On the other hand, it seems a bit rich coming from an Emirati, the inhabitant of a country that lucked into oil money about 43 years ago and is now utterly dependent on foreign labour for its current, unsustainable prosperity — the ranks of the skilled and talented working class from Europe, who come here and run their absurd, extravagant and now faltering construction projects, and the traders and the dealers.
The British expats I spoke to believed, without exception, that the Emiratis are utterly useless, corrupt and indolent, and, according to several, some British managers are leaving rather than abide by a new law that requires them to employ a certain percentage of Arabs on every job. They're simply not up to it, they say. As it is, the locals make up less than one-fifth of the total UAE population, the westerners roughly half that amount. The majority population in Dubai is the criminally low-paid, enchained, abused, dispossessed peasantry from south Asia.
The Europeans work long hours, mind — you could not really call it an "easy meal ticket": 12- and 14-hour days and not much in the way of holidays. But there was, until recently, an unspoken quid pro quo: listen, you soft, decadent westerners, you can have your salary income-tax-free, providing you don't lose your job, obviously (in which case we'll deport you and you'll lose everything you own). You can have your big apartments, providing you don't default on the payments when times are hard, in which case we'll put you in prison — there ain't no bankruptcy get-out clauses here, inshallah. Owing money to people is a crime. You can swan around in your flash cars and hang out at the malls, just as if you were in Maidstone or Cottbus or Pretoria. You can dress like you were at a stag-party pub crawl in Prague, or like an infidel whore on the make, and we'll grit our teeth and smoke our hubba-bubba pipes and look the other way. You can even have that other stuff you seem to like so much, the relentless, enervating fornicating, the stuff Allah really dislikes; we will turn a blind eye to the legion upon legion of addled post-Soviet whores in your horrible Brit-style pubs, nightclubs and wine bars, the cheap babes from the 'stans. Just keep the money pouring in, please: keep building those gargantuan hotels and facilitating those loans for us.
But this long-standing deal may be in the process of disintegrating. The credit crunch hit Dubai badly, and it is clinging to its despised but less feckless neighbour, Abu Dhabi, for a very large bail-out. Troubled state-backed firms owe British companies more than £400m. The plush apartment complexes down at the marina are half-empty, investment has collapsed and property prices with it — house prices are down by as much as 50% and are predicted to fall by another 20%. It is almost impossible to put a precise figure on the rate of the collapse, because, according to one estate agent, there is no market. Nobody is buying, nobody is renting; there is no new business. An estimated £335 billion of projects have been halted or are on hold. And it is predicted that the population could decline by 17.1% by the end of the year, so things will not be getting better too quickly.
The depression in Dubai makes our own look like a vague afterthought, because nowhere else in the world was unregulated and unfettered capitalism and a belief in perpetually rising property prices embraced with quite so much ardour as here. And it seems, as a consequence, that since the crash the locals are in recriminatory mood: if you're going to bring us a depression, they seem to be saying, then you can clear off and, in the meantime, behave like dignified human beings rather than dragging us down into your gutter. The sex thing has been bothering them particularly.
Mohammed is an Emirati who owns a big dive shop a hundred miles across the burning sand to the east of Dubai, at Khawr Fakkan, in the slightly more conservative province of Sharjah. Khawr Fakkan, circled by stark and beautiful mountains, is on the Gulf of Oman and there is good diving to be had, plenty of tourists. Mohammed is a divorcee and he employed young western babes and chicks to run his business, because working in a dive centre is a sort of halfway house between backpacking and the real world for a certain sort of young postgrad western chick. Roxanne Hillier worked for him: young, blonde, pretty and half South African, with an English dad called Freddie. Roxanne's in the rather bleak Khawr Fakkan prison right now, and will be for the next few months, following an unsuccessful appeal against her sentence in late June. Would you like to hear what she did to get herself there?
It was about 2am when the old bill arrived. Mohammed had been filling up the 80 or so oxygen tanks he needed for the next morning's dive; Roxanne had returned from the last dive of the day, helped out for a bit, then, exhausted, took a nap in an anteroom. Outside, Mohammed heard a disturbance, so he went down to check it out.
"It was local people, gathered around the door to the dive centre," he told me. "They were angry, saying, 'Who have you got in there? You've got a woman in there, haven't you?' I told them, 'No, no, the dive centre is closed.' They said to me, 'Where is the key?' Later the police arrived. I told them there was nobody there, but they took my key and opened the door and searched the place and that's when they found Roxanne." The two of them were carted off to Khawr Fakkan prison (separate cells, natch) and held on remand for a week until the case came to court. Did you have sex with Roxanne, I ask Mohammed. "No, no, no, never!" Did you kiss her? "No, of course not. It is not true. It is all a misunderstanding."
Well, as regards the first denial, we don't have to take Mohammed's word for it, because the Sharjah judicial authorities were kind enough to check the whole business out for themselves. They stripped Roxanne Hillier bare and invaded her with swabs and scrapes; a little bit of Mohammed's DNA found inside her would have hugely increased the eventual sentence. As it was, she received a sentence of three months for the crime of being alone in the same building as a man who was not her husband. She didn't know this was the sentence, because the court proceedings were conducted in Arabic and therefore she could not put her case across, either. It was later they told her what had been decided. Mohammed got a couple of weeks on the same charge.
I take a cab to the beach, Jumeirah beach, and spend 3 minutes watching sarcomas grow on the semi-naked expats strung out across the sand under flimsy shades, E-number-flavoured Slush Puppies to hand, their eyes closed against the vicious glare, their bodies porky and immobile. It is 46C out here, unendurable — this is the country where you should never go outside. Thirty miles or so across the water is Iran, where they are probably not stripping off for the beach. Behind the beach is a dusty freeway and a hospital for people with bad kidneys. It was this beach upon which the British woman Michelle Palmer performed an ill-advised act of fellatio upon a chap she had just met — Vince Acors, from Bromley — and ended up doing three months in the local nick as a consequence. I just hope it was a shade cooler when Michelle went to work.
Vince did a lot of interviews bragging about the women he'd had sex with in Dubai when he got out. Reading the interviews, you feel Vince may have been the last person in the world you should ever give a blow job to on a beach. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Bromley say, or Downham.
Then there are the adultery cases that are stacking up. Such as Marnie Pearce, 40, sentenced to six months initially (three months plus a £600 fine and deportation after appeal) for an unproven adulterous relationship with a man she insists was just a friend: she was already separated from her husband. And the case of Sally Antia, whom the police swooped on as she emerged with a male friend from a Dubai hotel in the early hours of the morning — two months in prison reduced to six weeks on appeal. You get the feeling that the Emiratis are feeling vindictive right now.
Nor is it just sex: the Dubai authorities are getting a bit twitchy about all sorts of western behaviour when it impinges directly upon them. An Australian immigrant, Darren O'Mullane, had just finished a 14-hour shift as a nurse at a Dubai hospital and was driving home when he was badly cut up by another driver who swerved in front of him. When he finally overtook this clown, he — again, ill-advisedly, as it turned out — stuck one finger up in fury. Just one finger. Three weeks in prison, lost everything — house, car, the lot. He told me the whole process had been devastating, not least having to apologise to the idiot driver who was, as bad luck would have it, a UAE police official. "I am fed up with foreigners not respecting the rules and our culture," the puffed-up medieval official told the local Arab media later. You can tell a lot about a country from a quick look at its policemen going about their business. In Dubai they appear strutting, arrogant and faintly ludicrous, the sort of policemen you might have seen in a pre-war Third World fascist theocracy. That is not too far removed from a description of Dubai today.
The Rattlesnake bar at the Metropolitan Hotel Dubai at 10pm, just before the Filipino dance band comes on, is the place to be; this is where the Islamic blind eye is at its most consciously, calculatedly, unseeing. The whores outnumber the punters by about two to one, and that's only the lucky whores actually inside the place. There's a phalanx of about 30 of them crowded just inside the door, just standing and watching, possessed of insufficient money to buy drinks. Another 40 or so are working the rooms, their buoyant pre-recession breasts rubbing up against some happy but bewildered surveyor from Daventry, or project manager from Glasgow, or engineer from Düsseldorf. Outside, 40 or 50 more sit at tables, or stroll arm in arm along the pathways, begging western men to take them inside. These girls are almost exclusively Russian — but not from Moscow or St Petersburg, or even Kiev. They are Russians from the de-Russified 'stans, drawn here by the lack of work for people of their ethnic origin in Almaty, Dushanbe, Tashkent, Samarkand. They are a remarkable phenomenon. I will bet that right now, in a village halfway up the Andes, or in a yurt just south of Ulan Bator, Mongolia, or somewhere down a long broad river in Sarawak, Borneo, Svetlana and Olga and Zinaida are sidling up to the local menfolk, offering them a bit of vigorous glasnost and perestroika for £30 an hour.
Iliana, a pretty chemical blonde in her twenties from Uzbekistan, is telling me who she would deign to sleep with for money. "English, good. Scottish, better. Irish, good. German, okay. But no f***ing blacks and no f***ing Arabs." No locals? "Arabs?" she asks, outraged. "No Arabs."
"What if they paid you 20,000 dirhams [nearly £3,500]?"
"Oh, well, then, yes, sure," she says, laughing.
None of the Russian girls will sleep with black people or Arabs, not even Luba from Turkmenistan, who is a little older and a little brighter and a little more circumspect. There were lots of West African girls in this bar not so long ago, but the Russkies forced them out. The refusal to have anything to do with the Emiratis is not confined to the sex workers: every taxi driver I spoke to — almost all of them Pakistani — said they would refuse to pick up an Arab. Why? "Because they are arrogant scum," one driver told me. Nobody wants anything to do with the Emiratis.
Luba worked in a travel agency in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, but the money was appalling and she needed to put her son through university, so she came here. As we talk I notice her still working, trying, over my shoulder, to catch the eye of someone who might actually pay her for her time. She hates her work — most of the girls hate their work — but not Iliana. "I like f***ing men," she says cheerfully, and disappears, presumably to meet a client. Luba looks like she will not be so lucky tonight, which is a shame, because I like her, although she's quite fervently racist, as they all are. As everyone here in Dubai is, here in this lovely little melting pot, all these races gathered together, loathing one another.
At midnight I make to leave but am stopped by Keri, who is a very attractive young lady from Almaty in Kazakhstan. She hangs onto my jacket because she has found something very attractive to admire in me, too. This is gratifying, if you're me. "So lovely, so lovely," she says, holding the thing in her hands, turning it over and over, "I haven't seen one like it."
I blush a little and clear my throat.
"Um, it's a Bic," I tell her.
"Bic? What is this Bic?" she says shaking her pretty head, still stroking it.
"A lighter. Its name is, you know, Bic. I think they're, er, French."
"Aah," she says, kohl-heavy eyes flashing. "So you have been to France, yes?"
"No — I mean, yes, um, I've been to France. But you can get these lighters in England too!"
"Really?" She says, entranced.
"Er, yes. In Sainsbury's. Or a corner shop. For about 70 pence."
I give her the lighter and skedaddle, back to my hotel room. She is less pleased with the lighter now that she possesses it.
My interview at the Islamic Information Center is a brief, uncomfortable experience, albeit conducted with exquisite politeness and civility (on their part, at least). This is a propaganda arm of the government, or more properly a state-run evangelistic Islamic operation aimed at westerners, situated in a lock-up shop in a frowzy sector of downtown Dubai. What happens is this:
I sip water (they were out of beer) and ask a question like — hey, have you seen all those whores down at the Rattlesnake? Isn't that against the law? And then the five berobed interviewees talk among themselves at great length in Arabic and eventually one of them explains to me very courteously, with a shy smile and an apology, why they won't answer the question. Not their responsibility, you see. This happens seven or eight times, and eventually the interview is terminated. After many handshakes I am sent on my way with a copy of a little book about how Jesus Christ was quite a nice man but totally useless, if we're being honest. One of the men, Wael Osman, sort of agrees that the economic downturn has made relations between Emiratis and their western Gastarbeiter a little more tingly, a little more fraught, and concurred that while the government turned a blind eye to all sorts of westerner shenanigans, this was becoming harder to do of late. But when I say "agrees" and "concurred", I mean that I said this stuff and he smiled a little and in a very vague sort of way nodded his head. The man I should be speaking to was the chief of police, they said, but sadly he was away receiving a medal in Djibouti.
I didn't really have a chance to get on to the main topic, the stuff about Dubai that really, truly offends — and indeed should offend Islamic sensibilities. I don't mean Luba and Iliana, although the traffic in Russian prostitutes is brutal and violent. I don't mean the westerners in their Porsches, or the authoritarian nature of this place and complete and utter lack of democracy, or the vile architecture and unbounded materialism, or the prosecution of women for the crime of standing near men. I don't even mean the mass rounding-up and prosecution of homosexuals, who are summarily imprisoned and — the government has suggested — may face hormone treatment in order to make them, uh, "better"; this is a Sodom where sodomy carries a 10-year stretch. All of that stuff makes Dubai a fairly foul place to be, but compared to Dubai's real crimes, they are as nothing.
Maz, a Pakistani from Lahore, drives a taxi for a living (he won't pick up Emiratis, of course). He lives in a room in the grim suburb of Al Quoz, a room costing £700 a month that he shares with six other Pakistanis. His passport has been taken from him in case he nicks the car he is driving. He cannot get home, he hasn't the money or, indeed, the passport. Maz, though, is one of the lucky ones, very near the top of the hierarchy of Third World workers induced to come to this country by the promise of large wages — wages that are rarely forthcoming. Maz at least gets paid, even if all the money goes on rent.
The bar staff are also near the top of this hierarchy. Mostly Roman Catholic Goans, they get looked after by the hotels and even get a chance to visit their families once a year or so. I spoke to one barman to glean a bit more detail about his living conditions, but an Emirati overseer barked something out and the man ceased talking to me. But at least the hotels provide their staff with accommodation, even if it is in dormitories.
t is the construction workers, the labourers — the Bangladeshis, the Tamils, the Filipinos, the Somalians, the Chinese — who are the real scandal of Dubai. Hundreds of thousands of them lured again by the promise of large wages, stripped of their passports, their contracts rarely honoured — some have gone months without being paid, some have even paid just to be there. They cannot go home. They hunker down in cramped, squalid apartments in Sonapur and Al Quoz. This is Dubai as a slave state. There were serious riots recently in the Chinese quarter: the workers finally had enough of criminally low wages — 500 dirhams, or about £83 a month — and continual mistreatment. The Chinese embassy got involved. Worse still are the conditions of the south-Asian workers, the construction men and the maids, effectively imprisoned in this country, abused by their employers, scrabbling around in sometimes 50C heat to earn enough to pay the rent on their shared accommodation. The Indians rioted too last year, but were forced back to work by water cannon. In the year 2005 alone, the Indian consulate estimated that 971 of its nationals died in Dubai, from construction site accidents, heat exhaustion and — increasingly — suicide. The figure for suicides the next year alone was more than 100. The Emiratis were, to give them credit, appalled by this figure, so they asked the consulate to stop collating the statistics. In October 2007 a construction-work strike resulted in 4,000 migrant workers being flung in jail and then deported. In 2006 the campaigning charity Human Rights Watch detailed the "serious" abuses of workers' rights — the wages withheld, the high rates of injury and death with "little assurance" of medical care, the passports confiscated, the wages either criminally low or never paid. The UAE had done "little or nothing" to address the problem. You get the picture?
Local human-rights activists, when they raise their concerns, tend to receive a visit from the secret police; some have had their rights to practise as lawyers stripped from them.
Andrew Blair, he of the Porsche, is a project manager for construction work. He believes the condition of the labourers is appalling, unforgivable, almost beyond belief. I suggest to him that in his position, he could ensure that the contracts went out to firms that treated their workers fairly. He thinks about this for a moment. "Um, well I don't care about it that much," he says.
He is not a bad person, Andrew, and my suggestion is probably a little naive. He is, at least, conflicted. He acknowledges the issue and can comprehend that it is an evil. But that's what you sign up to when you buy property in Dubai, or go there to work, or to stay in one of its bling hotels. You sign up to all that stuff you condone it.
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed my taxi ride back to the airport with Tariq, the taxi driver from Peshawar (he won't pick up Emiratis); to see that towering skyscape left behind in a cloud of desert dust. Paris Hilton had just flown in to do something pointless in a mall. When that happens, you just have to get the hell out.

where the money comes from
GDP in 2007: £23 billion
Trading: 31%
Construction/ Real estate: 22.6%
Financial Services: 11%
Oil/Petrol/Gas: 5.8%
Dubai's foreign debt is well over 100% of its GDP
Annual incomes
Project manager, Construction: £57,576
Project manager, IT: £38,438
IT manager: £33,891
Construction worker: ± £993
Politics and human rights
1 No suffrage
2 Political parties illegal
3 Freedom of association and expression curtailed
The UAE refuses to sign the following treaties:
4 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
5 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
6 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
7 Convention against Torture
Crime and punishment
8 Death penalty by firing squad for several offences
9 Death penalty by stoning for adultery
The people
Population (Inc Migrants)
Male 75.5%
Female 24.5%



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Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Imperialism and Islamism: a View from the Left

 

 

t is both healthy and necessary for the Left to keep seeking new utopias and to re-imagine the outlines of a future classless society. But to pretend away the ugliness of the real world - or to think that all conflict today is class conflict - will get us nowhere. Current left-wing discourses give little time to a conflict that is already very important and is likely to dominate the foreseeable future - the war between radical Islam and everybody else. This includes modernism in all its shapes and forms, as well as socialism and progressive Islam.

A left-wing analysis that is reasoned, informed, and humane is missing. And so, between the xenophobes and Muslim-haters of the West on the one hand, and the illogic of Islamic radicals on the other, the choices get grimmer.

Angry at the rapaciousness of imperialism and the horrors it has wrought upon the world, some in the Left are supporting anything and everything that purports to fight America. For them, the badge of virtue belongs to those who berate America with every breath. Thus they implicitly side with religious radicals in Pakistan, oppose the pro-democracy movement in Iran, and call for Afghanistan to be turned over to the Taliban. One finds the appalling assertion that the Taliban are spearheading national liberation struggles in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Hezbollah and Hamas deserve unqualified support from the international left. However, little sympathy is shown for the Muslim Uighurs of Sinkiang, presumably because China still lies in the good books of some leftists. 

Anti-Americanism is not illogical or baseless. People across the world have excellent reason to feel negatively about the United States which, in pursuit of its self-interest, has waged illegal wars for decades. It has bribed, bullied and overthrown governments, supported tyrants, undermined movements for progressive change, and felt free to kidnap, torture, imprison, and kill anywhere in the world with impunity. Pursuing the goal of total planetary control, the U.S. military currently operates more than 900 installations in 46 countries, in addition to over 4600 bases in the U.S. homeland and territories. All this while talking about supporting democracy and human rights.

America has a bloody history of interventions: in tiny Vietnam, the US killed millions. In Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala it operated through death squads. In Iran, at the behest of Standard Oil, the US overthrew the legitimately elected prime minister of Mohammed Mossadeq. In the Middle East the US helped Israel in systematically dispossessing the Palestinians of their land and reduced them to their present state of agony and helplessness. Recently, it stood aside and watched as Israel reduced Gaza to rubble using aircraft provided by the US. A war waged on false pretexts devastated Iraq.  And there is much more.

And so if I was a Palestinian in 1948, an Iranian in 1953, a Vietnamese in the 1960's, or an Iraqi in 2003, I would have no doubt in my mind that fighting the Americans was absolutely right. This war of liberation would be inspired by the goal of protecting national resources and territory against predators, although one would want it also to aimed at creating a better, freer, and more just society.

But nothing in the world stays fixed - even the most distant stars in the sky actually move. One must not assume that international politics has eternally fixed aggressors and victims, or pretend that we live in the age of 19th century maritime imperial powers. Predatory imperialism inspired by the need to furiously export capital - as brilliantly explained by Lenin in 1916 - was indeed yesterday's threat to global peace. But today there are other forces as well.

Religion lies at the base of much conflict today. Christian fundamentalists attack abortion clinics in the US and kill doctors; Jewish settlers holding the Old Testament in one hand, and Uzis in the other, burn olive orchards and drive Palestinians off their ancestral land; Hindus in India demolish ancient mosques, burn down churches and slaughter both Muslims and Christians; Sri Lankan Buddhists slaughtered Tamil Hindu separatists. 

In this particular epoch of human history, it is violent Islamic radicalism that is the most dangerous. Its breeding grounds are everywhere and it is imbedded into communities, both in the West and in Muslim countries. In the next several decades the world is likely to see the battle between religious fanatics and everybody else - progressive and practicing Muslims particularly - become ever more intense. It is surely time to move away from fixed dogmas and yesterday's thinking.



LEFT-WING CONFUSIONS

As a product of the Age of Enlightenment, the Left is obligated to uphold reason and the scientific method. It must therefore let facts hold sway over belief. But sadly, even with evidence staring in the face, some comrades seem locked into a state of denial, choosing to direct all their anger towards America and the West - no matter what.

A personal example: a video had just been broadcast on Pakistani television channels (May, 2009). It showed a 17-year old girl in Swat writhing and screaming in pain as a hefty, hooded, Talib thug mercilessly flogged her . She was accused of going to a market unaccompanied by an "allowed" or mehram male member of the family. A rare protest demonstration by Islamabad's embattled secularists and left-wingers followed. Fearing the suicide bomber, and challenged by hostile students from a nearby madrassa, the small but noisy crowd made its way towards the Presidency. But every cry from one side "Down with Taliban" would find an echo, "Down with America", from other protesters of the same group. Onlookers were probably confused whether it was the Moulana Fazlullah or Barack Obama that had ordered the flogging. 

There are bigger examples. Hugo Chavez certainly gained the admiration of the international left (and mine too, I might add) for standing up to American bullying in Venezuela, but he was exceedingly short-sighted in defending Ahmadinejad against the unconscionable election rigging in Iran. Robert Mugabe, known for his cronyism and widespread use of torture, still receives support from parts of the Left because of his bluster against Britain.

To push their agenda, several popular left-wing writers twist and warp facts in a manner that leaves one gasping. I shall give only two examples here: that of Pepe Escobar and Eric Margolis.

Escobar writes in his 8 May 2009 column that "The wily Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law), led by Sufi Muhammad, managed to regiment Swat valley landless peasants to fight for their rights and economic redistribution against the usual wealthy, greedy, feudal landlords who happened to double as local politicians and government officials."

To any one who knows the facts: far from being "wily", Sufi is a semi-senile idiot who led thousands of tribal fighters to their death by American forces in Afghanistan, and who even the Taliban now consider an embarrassment after their debacle in Swat. As for redistributing seized lands, properties, and captured women (Escobar omits this!): handing out war booty is a tactic that Islamists used to swell their ranks. The fact is that the declared Taliban agenda has no mention of social justice and economic development, creating jobs for the unemployed, building homes, providing education, or doing away with feudalism and tribalism. The Taliban seek to build a religious fascist state in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Escobar probably couldn't care less because he won't have to live there.

As my second example, take Margolis's column of 19 May 2009. He writes "Last week, Pakistan finally bowed to Washington's angry demands to unleash its military  against rebellious Pashtun tribesmen of Northwest Frontier Province(NWFP) - who are collectively mislabeled 'Taliban' in the west.  They are not the Afghan Taliban, but it's convenient for the western media and Pentagon to slap that label on them....Equally ominous, a poor people's uprising spreading across Pakistan - also mislabeled `Taliban' - threatens a radical national rebellion similar to India's spreading Maoist Naxalite rebellion."

Sorry Mr. Margolis, your ignorance of facts is appalling. Contrary to the claim of being "mislabeled" as Taliban by the western media, those at war against the Pakistani state as well as its society are not ashamed to call themselves Taliban. They have a declared organization called the Pakistani Taliban Movement (Tehreek-e-Taliban), and have proudly claimed credit as Taliban fighters for suicide bombings of many funerals, rival mosques, hospitals, and public gatherings. After blowing up 350 girls schools they say they will blow up still more. Sadly, like Escobar, Margolis fantasizes these religious fanatics to be social revolutionaries. 

Such blind support for anti-people organizations and movements grievously harms the credibility of the Left. There are examples from the past - such as international left's support for the hideous Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. The fact that these crimes were brought to our attention by the mainstream western media does not mean that the reporting was untruthful. Surely, a spade must be called a spade.


WHY RADICAL ISLAM?

Many of us on the Left have chosen to understand the rise of violent Islamic fundamentalism as a response to poverty, unemployment, poor access to justice, lack of educational opportunities, corruption, loss of faith in the political system, or the sufferings of peasants and workers. As partial truths they are indisputable. Those condemned to living a life with little hope and happiness are indeed terribly vulnerable to calls from religious demagogues who offer a happy hereafter in exchange for unquestioning obedience.

Much harder to accept is the claim that all problems come from Western imperialist domination, past and present. The premise is that if West accepts guilt for colonialism and mends its ways, the conflict will disappear. This is plain wrong. Like poverty and deprivation, imperialism and colonialism alone did not create violent Islamism.

Consciousness is not simply a consequence of material conditions; less tangible, psychologically rooted factors are key. The most dangerous religious radicalism is deliberately produced by carefully cultivating grievances, both real and imagined, by the fulminations of religious ideologues to which the poor and rich are both susceptible. The systematic conditioning of minds has been frenetically propagated by religious ideologues in mosques, madrassas and over the internet. This has created a climate wherein external causes are automatically held responsible for every ill afflicting Muslim society. Shaky Muslim governments, as well as community leaders in places where Muslims are in a minority, have also successfully learned to generate an anger that steers attention away from local issues towards distant enemies.

Islamic radicalism may be bad news for Washington. But it is much worse for Muslims because it pits Muslims against Muslims, as well as against the world at large. Only peripherally directed against the excesses of corrupt Muslim ruling establishments, and taking purely opportunistic advantage of existing injustices and inequities, the primary targets of extremists today are other Muslims living within Muslim countries. Some religious fanatics terrorise and kill others who belong to the "wrong" Muslim sect. The Shia-Sunni conflict accounts for the majority of those killed in Iraq. In Bangladesh, religious fanatics set off 400 bombs in public places in just one day. These fanatics accuse "modernised Muslims" of being vectors of hellish sinfulness - the so-called jahiliya - deserving the full wrath of God. The greatest ire among them is aroused by the simplest of things, such as women being allowed to walk around bare-faced, being educated, or the very notion that they could be considered the equal of men. What on earth has this to do with imperialism?

Contrary to its claims, Islamic radicalism is indifferent to the suffering of Muslims; the victims of suicide bombings are often those praying mosques or at funerals. On the other hand, fundamentalist fury explodes when the Faith is seen to be maligned. For example, mobs set afire embassies and buildings around the world for an act of blasphemy committed in Denmark; others violently protested the knighthood of Salman Rushdie. Even as Muslim populations become more orthodox, there is a curious, almost fatalistic, disconnection with the real world. This suggests that fellow Muslims do not matter any more - only the Faith does.

During relief efforts after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, my students and I encountered people in desperate situations who refused help because they would be touched by the infidels who eat pork, drink wine, and whose women had uncovered faces. In particular, etched in my memory is the face of the old man who told his son that he would rather die than let his gangrenous leg be amputated by a group of Cuban doctors that had flown in to help. He was eventually taken to an Iranian relief team but it was too late.

Blindness to facts is by no means a prerogative of extremist Muslims: a majority of Americans had uncritically rallied around George Bush after 9/11 and then agreed to go to war in Iraq although, 1)The existence of WMD's was a transparent fake, 2)Saddam's involvement in 911 was a concocted lie, but many Americans still like to believe that it is true, 3)The Iraq war was illegal under international law. For a majority of Americans, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the Blackwater murders are just tiny blips on their radar screens. The American media focuses upon the 3500 Americans killed in Iraq but rarely mentions the horrific toll of Iraqis which, by one estimate, exceeds 600,000.

But, while the mainstream media and writers can cover up for their side and lie and deceive, the Left does not have this option. Like the Pope we have no army divisions - and even less money. Instead, our potential power lies in providing help to oppressed peoples using clarity of thought and taking the moral high ground. We cannot do even this without introspection and being honest to ourselves.


WHAT WOULD AN ISLAMIST VICTORY BRING?

My question is to those leftists who want to see a Taliban victory.

In my opinion, an Islamist victory would transport some countries into the darkest of dark ages. The fanatics dream of transforming the world into a religious state where they will be the law. In Pakistan they stone women to death, cut off limbs, kill doctors for administering polio shots, force girl-children into burqa, threaten beard-shaving barbers with death, blow up girls schools, forbid music, punish musicians, destroy 2000-year statues. Even flying kites is a life-threatening sin.

If the militants of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or of Iraq and Egypt, ever win it is clear what the future will be like. Education, bad as it is today, would at best be replaced by the mind-numbing indoctrination of the madrassas whose gift to society would be an army of suicide bombers. In a society policed by vice-and-virtue squads, music, art, drama, and cultural expressions would disappear. Countries would re-tribalize, and all social progress would be wiped out. 

The hatred of Islamists for the West must never be mistaken as a call for equality or class struggle. Hitler and Mussolini too waged war against America - after wiping out the communists. But Muslims tolerate Islamists because they claim to fight for Islam. This is sad because the fanatics know nothing of the diversity and creative richness of Muslims, whether today or in the past. Intellectual freedom led to science, architecture, medicine, arts and crafts, and literature that were the hallmark of Islamic civilization in its golden age. Progress was possible in those times because of an open-minded, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and multi-cultural character. Caliphs, such as Haroon-al-Rashid and Al-Mamoun, brought together scholars of diverse faiths and helped establish a flourishing culture. Today's self-declared amir-ul-momineen, like Mullah Omar, would gladly behead great Islamic scholars like Ibn Sina and Al-Razi for heresy and burn their books.



HOW SHOULD THE LEFT LOOK AT ISLAMISM?

A nuanced, critical, and impartial left-wing agenda is needed. What principles should the Left owe its moral allegiance to? I would propose the following essentials:

1.    Theocratic rule is totally unacceptable. Only those who struggle, whether hard or softly, for creating a secular society run by rules made by humans properly belong to the Left.

2.    Women's rights are non-negotiable. Any system which forbids women to show their faces, receive education, work outside the home, drive in a car or ride in a taxi, go to a market, or be treated by a male doctor, grossly violates rights that lie at the essence of civilized human existence. These are universal rights, and the claim that these are mere "bourgeois rights" is wrong and unacceptable.

3.    Oppressed peoples and communities wronged by the West, or by any locally dominant power, should be strongly supported. But this should not translate into uncritical support for organizations that purport to represent their interests. There should be no blank checks for any protagonist, just a case-by-case critical appraisal. In certain complex cases, it is better to have no opinion than a wrong opinion.

4.    Militarism must be opposed. With the US still in the lead, several countries are embarked on a reckless pursuit for advanced weaponry while neglecting the needs of their people.

5.    Class struggle is by no means dead and the Left rightly believes in economic justice. Whereas social and economic classes very much exist, their definitions vary much more widely than was possible for Marx to anticipate. Space-age and stone-age societies share the same planet, and the criteria for social justice must be continuously re-invented.

In conclusion, the left-wing agenda is a positive one. It rests upon hope for a happier and more humane world that is grounded in reason, education and economic justice. It provides a sound moral compass to a world that is losing direction. Being a product of Enlightenment thought, it insists on democratic politics and shared values for all humans.

No 'higher authority' defines the left agenda, and no covenant of belief defines a leftist. There is no card to be carried or oath to be taken. But secularism, universalistic ideas of human rights, and freedom of belief are non-negotiable. Domination by reasons of class, race, national origin, gender or sexual orientation are unacceptable. In practical terms, this means that the Left defends the dispossessed from the occupiers, the colonised from the colonisers, Muslims from Western Islamophobes, populations of Western countries from terrorists, workers from capitalists, peasants from landlords, religious minorities from state persecution, women from male oppression, and so on.

It is for the Left to bring sanity to the world by opposing imperialism, religious extremism, xenophobia, and cultural determinism. Its role should be to draw the attention of people back onto their real problems through encouraging critical reasoning and promoting universal human values.



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Managers doomed to repeat the mistakes of history


 

 

By John Kay
Published: July 14 2009 19:14 | Last updated: July 14 2009 19:14
John Kay, columist
 
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a young man called Tex Thornton was appointed to manage a statistical control group for the US Air Force. Thornton recruited a group of individuals like himself – smart, self-confident and very numerate – who were nicknamed the "Whiz Kids". They brought order to the chaos of US military logistics.
 
The Whiz Kids went on to deploy these methods across American corporate life. Their activities would change the ways people thought about both business and public policy, although not always in the ways they intended. The most famous Whiz Kid was Robert McNamara, who died last week.
 
In 1946, Thornton sold the services of the Whiz Kids as a group to Henry Ford II. Henry had just taken over a business left in chaos. But, hedging his bets, he also hired a group of General Motors executives. Thornton quickly clashed with the inward-looking culture of the Detroit motor men, and left to develop his own company, Litton Industries.
 
Litton was built on the premise that if you controlled the numbers, it didn't really matter what the product was. The company's activities included shipbuilding, electronics and convenience foods. Litton pioneered the model of the acquisitive conglomerate. By the 1960s, it was high on lists of most admired corporations. The legend was international: the British management journalist Robert Heller wrote of it that "every so often one particular American company acquires in British eyes a legendary reputation, a strong status as a management enterprise whose virtues dramatically point out British faults".
 
McNamara stayed at Ford, increasingly influential, until in 1960 Henry named him president of the company. But not for long. The newly elected President John F. Kennedy, trawling for the best and brightest of US business leaders, offered McNamara – whom he had not yet met – the post of defence secretary. McNamara went to Washington, began the task of streamlining America's military bureaucracy, and stood at Kennedy's side as the president faced down the Russians in the Cuban missile crisis.
 
Those years of the 1960s were the heyday of planning. Thornton's Litton Industries and McNamara's defence department stood for the belief that the computational techniques which had cracked codes, built jet fighters and taken troops to Berlin could be applied across all aspects of business and politics.
 
Computers would transform the management of business. Planned development strategies would enable former colonies to move quickly towards the standards of living of their former colonial masters. Even advanced economies would benefit from the implementation of national plans. The greatest worry was that such planning would enable the Soviets to deploy advanced technology and overtake the west both economically and militarily.
 
But the dream of the Whiz Kids was already falling apart. The myth of Litton lost its lustre. As with all such conglomerates, the trick was to use overvalued paper to make ever larger acquisitions. Once earnings growth lost momentum, the share price faltered, and the business began to unravel. Through the 1970s, Litton would struggle for survival.
 
As America became entangled in Vietnam, McNamara managed the campaign by numbers; but reporters and returning soldiers told how these numbers bore little relationship to what was happening on the ground. In 1968, McNamara went to the World Bank, where he presided over huge lending growth. The optimism of these expansive years faded into the Third World debt crisis.
 
One of the most intelligent men ever to hold public office, McNamara mused in retirement on why a project that promised so much had gone so badly wrong. Decentralised markets had systematically outperformed central plans, planned development strategies had failed. Detroit's obsession with numbers had fallen victim to the Japanese passion for quality, and the American military machine was defeated by the forces of North Vietnam.
 
In his memoir In Retrospect McNamara recognised that the world was a more complex place than his decision-making tools had acknowledged, and many of the complications defied quantification: "Our misjudgment of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics." The Whiz Kids' capacity for analysis far exceeded their knowledge of the world to which it was applied. With Russian archives opened, McNamara recognised that the Cuban crisis had brought the world much closer to annihilation than Kennedy had understood. America had completely failed to understand the culture and motivation of Vietnam.
 
But the mistakes of that era are repeated. McNamara described 11 errors in Vietnam: every one was also made in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when Litton crashed in 1969, Forbes wrote that the time had returned when investors were going to talk about products, not earnings curves. Forbes spoke at least 40 years too soon. McNamara began his memoirs with a quotation from T.S. Eliot: "The end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." Perhaps the acquisition of such knowledge might be his memorial.


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Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Pip was right: nothing is so finely felt as injustice.

Pip was right: nothing is so finely felt as injustice. And there the search beginsThe idea of justice calls for comparisons of actual lives and iniquities rather than a remote quest for ideal institutions

Amartya Sen guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 July 2009 23.30 BST

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in the preface to his first major book in philosophy, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published in 1921: "What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent." Wittgenstein would re-examine his views on speech in his later work, but it is wonderful that even as he was writing the Tractatus, the great philosopher did not always follow his own exacting commandments. In a remarkably enigmatic letter to Paul Engelmann in 1917, Wittgenstein said: "I work quite diligently and wish that I were better and smarter. And these both are one and the same." Really? One and the same thing – being a better person and a smarter guy? Who is Wittgenstein kidding?

I am, of course, aware that modern American usage has drowned the distinction between "being good" as a moral quality and "being well" as a comment on a person's health (no aches and pains, fine blood pressure, and such), and I have long ceased worrying about the apparent immodesty of those of my friends who, when asked about how they are, reply with manifest self-praise: "I am very good." But Wittgenstein was not an American, and 1917 was well before the conquest of the world by vibrant American usage. So what was this pronouncement about?

Underlying Wittgenstein's claim may be the recognition, in some form, that many acts of nastiness are committed by people who are deluded, in one way or another, on the subject. It has been argued that some children carry out odd acts of brutality to others – other children or animals – precisely because of their inability to appreciate adequately the nature and intensity of the pains of others. There is perhaps a strong connection between being antisocial and the inability to think clearly. We cannot, of course, be really sure about what Wittgenstein meant, but if this is what Wittgenstein meant, he was in the powerful tradition of the European Enlightenment that saw clear-headed reasoning as a major ally of making societies decent and acceptable.

The leaders of thought in the Enlightenment did not, however, speak with one voice. In fact, there is a substantial dichotomy between two different lines of reasoning about justice that can be seen among two groups of leading philosophers associated with the radical thought of the Enlightenment period. One approach concentrated on identifying perfectly just social arrangements, and took the characterisation of "just institutions" to be the principal – and often the only identified – task of the theory of justice.

Woven in different ways around the idea of a hypothetical "social contract", major contributions were made in this line of thinking by Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century, and later by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, among others. The contractarian approach has become the dominant influence in contemporary political philosophy, led by the most prominent political philosopher of our time, John Rawls – whose classic book of 1971, A Theory of Justice, presents a definitive statement on the social contract approach to justice. The principal theories of justice in contemporary political philosophy draw in one way or another on the social contract approach, and concentrate on the search for ideal social institutions.

In contrast, a number of other Enlightenment theorists (Adam Smith, Condorcet, Mary Wollstonecraft, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill, for example) took a variety of approaches that shared an interest in making comparisons between different ways in which people's lives may go, jointly influenced by the working of institutions, people's actual behaviour, their social interactions, and other factors that significantly impact on what actually happens. The analytical, and rather mathematical, discipline of "social choice theory" – which can be traced to the works of Condorcet in the 18th century, but has been developed in the present form under the leadership of Kenneth Arrow in the last century – belongs to this second line of investigation. That approach, suitably adapted, can make a substantial contribution, I believe, to addressing questions about the enhancement of justice and the removal of injustice in the world.

In this alternative approach, we don't begin by asking what a perfectly just society would look like, but asking what remediable injustices could be seen on the removal of which there would be a reasoned agreement. "In the little world in which children have their existence," says Pip in Great Expectations, "there is nothing so finely perceived, and finely felt, as injustice." In fact, the strong perception of manifest injustice applies to adult human beings as well. What moves us is not the realisation that the world falls short of being completely just, which few of us expect, but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate.

This is evident enough in our day-to-day life, with inequities or subjugations from which we may suffer and which we have good reason to resent; but it also applies to more widespread diagnoses of injustice in the wider world in which we live. One of the limitations of the social contract approach to justice, which is so pervasive in contemporary political philosophy, is the unjustified conviction that there could only be one precise combination of principles that could serve as the basis of ideal social institutions. In contrast with this rigid insistence, a social choice approach allows the possibility of a plurality of competing principles, each of which is given a status, after being subjected to critical scrutiny.


Thanks to this plurality, we may not be able to resolve on grounds of justice alone all the questions that may be asked: for example, whether a 40% top tax rate is more just – or less just – than a 41% top rate. And yet we have every reason to try to see whether we can get reasoned agreement on removing what can be identified as clear injustice in the world, such as slavery, or the subjugation of women, or extreme exploitation of vulnerable labour (which so engaged Adam Smith, Condorcet and Mary Wollstonecraft, and later Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill), or gross medical neglect of the bulk of the world population today (through the absence of medical facilities in parts of Africa or Asia, or a lack of universal health coverage in most countries in the world, including the US), or the prevalence of torture (which continues to be used with remarkable frequency in the contemporary world – sometimes practised by pillars of the global establishment), or the quiet tolerance of chronic hunger (for example in India, despite the successful abolition of famines).

The idea of justice demands comparisons of actual lives that people can lead, rather than a remote search for ideal institutions. That is what makes the idea of justice relevant as well as exciting in practical reasoning.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Is Nehru Coming Back?


  

Looking at the ongoing world-wide economic crisis and serious attempts at exploring ways and means to overcome it now and prevent it from recurring in the future, the return of Nehruvian approach seems to be a strong probability. Jawaharlal Nehru's return from exile after more than a quarter of a century has been forecast by none other than the greatest living historian Eric J. Hobsbawm in an article 'Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?' (The Guardian, April 10).

 

It will be interesting to note that it is the same Jawaharlal Nehru, the process of whose banishment was begun by the first non-Congress government, headed by Morarji Desai and joined by Charan Singh, the self-appointed guardian of Indian peasantry besides all sorts of Nehru baiters from the followers of Dr. Lohia to the RSS, in addition to some frustrated ex-Congressmen. This process got accelerated during the regime of P. V. Narasimha Rao when India embarked on economic reforms, inspired by the ten points of the Washington consensus, reached between the 15th and 19th streets of Washington, DC and formulated by John Williamson. A horde of economists and propagandists descended from America on India, especially New Delhi and Mumbai with their baggage of received wisdom. Some could manage entry into the corridors of policy-making process while others began spreading their wisdom through the media.

 

The collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union, the virtual death of NAM and withering away of Congress Socialist Forum besides financial bankruptcy of the country, brought about by the V.P. Singh-Chandrashekhar governments had so demoralized the intelligentsia that, rightly or wrongly, it came to believe that there was no alternative to what was being done in the name of reforms. People like Gurcharan Das, a former sales executive of the US multinational, Procter and Gamble, arrived with his book India Unbound, blaming Nehru and his policies for all the economic ills of India. The book was showered with praises by protagonists of the Washington consensus, but eminent economists like Amartya Sen and Dani Rodrik pointed out the absurdities in Das's claims. Sociologist Dipankar Gupta logically countered the formulations and conclusions of Das by publishing his forceful book Mistaken Modernity. Yet the corporate-controlled media went on applauding him. The grapevine has it that he is soon coming up with a new book which is said to have traced the roots of the Washington consensus to the Mahabharata. One may recall that a former chief of the RSS had written a piece that was included by the then BJP government of Rajasthan in a school text book. It had asserted that nuclear weapons existed in ancient times in India and there was a non-proliferation treaty whereby only Brahmins and Kshatriyas were allowed to use them. As ill luck would have it, there was a big uproar in Parliament and this "great discovery" was deleted.

 

Let us turn our attention to Eric Hobsbawm. He says, even though we are living in the 21st century, we are still in the grip of the basic ideas that are no longer credible. In fact they have "patently disappeared down the plughole of history." We have made two practical attempts to realize our ideal socio-economic formation in their pure forms. They were "the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because the globalization of the economy was then not as far advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don't yet know how grave and lasting the consequences of the present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that captured the world and its governments in the years since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.

 

"Impotence therefore faces both those who believe in what amounts to a pure, stateless, market capitalism, a sort of international bourgeois anarchism, and those who believe in a planned socialism uncontaminated by private profit-seeking. Both are bankrupt. The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another. But how? That is the problem for everybody today, but especially for people on the left."

 

The "pure, stateless, market capitalism" had different names in different countries. New Labour in Britain believed that socialism was irrelevant because the new strategy would generate more wealth and social-democrats had to see that it was equitably distributed. In India, the 10 points of the Washington consensus were dished out in the garb of economic reforms. Consequently, jobless growth became prominent, regional disparities and social inequalities increased rapidly. Vulgar display of wealth and ostentatious living styles became the norm. All these led to increase in corruption, crimes, kidnappings for ransom, terrorist activities and regional chauvinism.

Anand Giridhardas in International Herald Tribune (April 10, 2009) observes in the context of the ongoing economic crisis: "I worry far more for the developing world, for places like India, which has been mimicking the American superstructure without building an equivalent foundation, pursuing the effect without the cause.

 

"India seems, on the surface, to have arrived. There are the requisite global luxury boutiques; restaurants that serve sophisticated food in tiny portions with something called coulis drizzled across the plate; Indian firms that make multi-billion dollar acquisitions; software companies that write code for the world; songs that win Oscars and hearts many thousands of miles away.

 

"But perhaps it has all come too quickly, and served to crowd out the hard slog of constructing a modern society in more than name alone. Yes, India has Louis Vuitton, but how easy is it to be gay there? Yes, its companies have dazzled the world, but why do their workers complain still about the hierarchical, soul-draining work culture? Yes, it won an Olympic gold medal last year, but why has it been so hard to recast servants as people paid, not born, to serve?"

 

We have to ponder over the economic strategy we have pursued since 1991, after banishing Nehru. If we want a prosperous India for all, we have no alternative but to give up the belief that private profit-making enterprise is always better, more efficient way of doing things. We have to, in the words of Hobsbawm, "return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people.... The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the "capabilities" of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing public accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy - not maximizing economic growth and personal incomes."

 

Prof. Amit Bhaduri in a recent article "A Failed World View" in Economic and Political Weekly (January 31, 2009) has very convincingly argued that the very basis - the Washington consensus - of our economic reforms and strategy is flawed and is not going to satisfy the masses of this country who look towards the Congress-led UPA for eradication of poverty, rapid increase in job-opportunities, lessening of regional imbalances and inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. Liberalisation, privatization and unbridled profit motive cannot fulfill their aspirations. Planning and public sector have to be revived and state has to intervene effectively in the removal of regional disparities in development.

 

It is high time that Nehru is brought back and the Washington consensus and their votaries are given a goodbye. All those experts roaming in the corridors of power and advocating full convertibility of rupee on capital account and privatization of public sector commercial banks should be politely told to go back. The G-20 summit on April 2 in so many words underlined the irrelevance of the Washington consensus and asserted the increased role of state in economic affairs. Now with elections over and a popular government in the saddle one expects a statement that Nehruvian strategy is indispensable in the present circumstances.




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Indian Economy 2008-09

 

Indian Economy 2008-09

Slightly more than two years ago, the worst recession since the Great Depression, set in, notwithstanding all the claims from big-wigs of economic science that the days of ups and downs were long past. It was recalled that similar claim was made on October 15, 1929 when one of the tallest economists of America, Irving Fisher of the Yale University, declared that stock prices had reached "what looks like a permanently high plateau." Just a fortnight after this claim, Wall Street went down, taking the entire world, except the Soviet Union, with it. It took the world economy 25 years to return to the 1929-level. Thanks to Keynes, the myth of rational market was given up.

 

This myth was resurrected from the oblivion towards the last quarter of the 20th century by Thatcher and Reagan regimes under their mentor, Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago. Friedman, to quote Justin Fox (whose recently published book The Myth of the Rational Market is being widely discussed), "never believed markets were perfectly rational, but ... they were more rational than governments."

 

This thinking came to inform the Washington Consensus that became the basis of globalization, sought to be thrust on the world at large by the USA and institutions and economists, aligned to it. Propagandists like Thomas L. Friedman pontificated that the world had no alternative but to fall in line. In our country, the economic mess created by V. P. Singh-Chandrashekhar governments, created conditions for Washington Consensus-based economic reforms to be launched and carried forward during the Narasimha Rao regime. The role of the government was curtailed, public sector undertakings came to be fully or partially privatized, the removal of social inequalities and regional imbalances no longer remained priority for the government, welfare measures were frowned upon, and even health and education sectors were being left at the disposal of market forces and subjected to profit maximization. Nehruvian strategy of development came to be derided and the government's hands were tied by bringing in the wisdom of Arthur Laffer, embodied in the Laffer curve and zero deficit financing. Labour was to be disciplined by giving employers unrestrained power of hiring and firing. SEZ was to be kept totally out of the purview of labour laws and trade union activities.

 

The collapse of this scheme began on June 12, 2007 when Bear Stearns fell to the ground and with this came a chain of companies declaring bankruptcy and downing their shutters. This process continues unabated. The latest is General Motors. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and more are going to lose in the days to come.

 

Only the economies of two countries, India and China, continue to march forward though at a slower pace. As far as India is concerned, its plight is better than most countries of the world because it did not give up the Nehruvian strategy totally, as was underlined by the Congress president Mrs. Sonia Gandhi while speaking at a function organized by the Hindustan Times. It was due to her insistence that NREGA, rural loan waiver scheme and other welfare measures have not only been launched but have also been expanding despite opposition from economists like Kaushik Basu and Raguram G. Rajan. Economic Survey 2008-09, just released highlights this.

 

The rate of economic growth came down in 2008-09 to 6.7 per cent from the average of 8.8 per cent achieved during 2003-04—2007-08, yet, looking at the plight of most countries of the world, it is quite impressive. Despite this deceleration investment continues to be buoyant as is indicated by the fact that "The ratio of fixed investment to GDP consequently increased to 32.2 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 from 31.6 per cent in 2007-08. This reflects the resilience of Indian enterprise, in the face of a massive increase in global uncertainty and risk aversion and freezing of highly developed financial markets."

 

Fortunately, food grains production did not suffer any major decline in 2008-09. It was 229.9 million tonnes as against 230.8 and 217.3 million tonnes in 2007-08 and 2006-07 respectively. Index of industrial production grew only at 2.6 percent as against 8.5 per cent in the previous year. The situation as regards electricity generation too was not a happy one as its rate of generation declined from 6.3 per cent to 2.7 per cent. Inflation continued to cause worries. The 52-week average inflation, based on wholesale price index, rose from 4.7 to 8.4 per cent. If one takes into account consumer prices, the rate of inflation was higher. Both exports and imports declined largely because of recession in trade partners. Government's foreign exchange reserves declined. The budgetary position showed deficits. Gross fiscal deficit came to 6.2 per cent as against 2.7 per cent in the previous year. The revenue deficit rose to 4.6 per cent as compared to 1.1 per cent a year earlier.

 

Economic Survey 2008-09 expresses some kind of fatalism and helplessness when it says: "The global financial meltdown and consequent economic recession in developed economies have clearly been major factor in India's economic slowdown. Given the origin and dimension of the crisis in the advanced countries, which some have called the worst since the Great Depression; every developing country has suffered to a varying degree. No country, including India, remained immune to the global economic shock."

Obviously, this is not in accordance with traditional nationalist thinking as embodied in the documents of the Congress and the governments-led by Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Had these leaders been around, they would have explored the possibility of decoupling from the US economy by reviving NAM and persuading China, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and so on. Did not they reject the theories of the "learned" economists from the West, aimed at discouraging India from industrialization and setting up public sector undertakings? Exploring the possibility of "decoupling" needs to be seriously pursued notwithstanding the efforts by the Survey to pour cold water on it. So long as Indian economy remains subjected to FIIs and hot money wandering in search of quick profits, it will continue to experience violent ups and downs.

 

The Survey has underlined the importance of inclusive growth and highlighted some of the ongoing programmes. This is, in fact, accepting the line pursued by Nehru and Indira Gandhi and rejecting the nonsense like 'moral hazard', 'no free lunch', and 'encouraging idleness' through NREGA. In fact, our democracy based on adult franchise is a big restraint that discourages toeing the line of economists like Basu, Rajan and others, deriving their wisdom from neo-liberalism. Yet they have not retreated as is clear from the basket of policy prescriptions, put forth in the Survey. These include: "Reform of Petroleum (LPG, kerosene), fertilizer and food subsidies... Limit LPG subsidy to a maximum of 6-8 cylinders per annum per household. Phase out Kerosene supply-subsidy by ensuring that every rural household (without electricity and LPG connection) has a solar cooker and solar lantern." "Revitalize the disinvestment program and plan to generate at least Rs. 25,000 crore per year. Complete the process of selling 5-10 per cent equity in previously identified profit making non-navratnas. List all unlisted public sector enterprises and sell a minimum of 10 per cent equity to the public. Auction all loss making PSUs that cannot be revived. For those in which net worth is zero, allow negative bidding in the form of debt write-off." "lift the remaining ban on futures contracts to restore price discovery and price risk-management." "Retrenchment of workers: At present prior permission of Government as per Chapter V-B of Industrial Dispute Act is needed for this purpose. This needs to be removed with simultaneous increase in compensation from the present 15 days wages for every year of service." "Factories Act needs to be amended to increase workweek to 60 hours (from 48 hours) and daily limit to meet seasonal demand through overtime."

 

In spite of continuously increasing economic growth rate, India ranks 132nd from the point of human development. As many as 125 nations have more per capita GDP and 126 have greater life expectancy at birth. We have more adult illiteracy rate than 147 countries of the world. The Survey admits that malnutrition continues to be a big problem. "Malnutrition , as measured by underweight children below 3 years , constituting 45.9 per cent ... has still remained much higher. ... Poor feeding practices in infancy and early childhood, resulting in malnutrition contribute to impaired cognitive and social development, poor school performance, and reduced productivity in later life. ... While per capita consumption of cereals has declined, the share of non-cereals in food consumption has not grown to compensate for the decline in cereal availability." It is needless to add that this exposes the claim that mere high rates of economic growth are sufficient to lift people above poverty line. The infatuation with economic growth must be given up and development objective needs to be pursued.

 

A recently published study "India 2039—an affluent society in one generation" emphasizes that India's wealth gap is sure to threaten its growth. To quote Financial Times (June 24): "India needs to curb a concentration of wealth greater than that seen in Brazil and Russia or risk becoming hostage to a corporate oligarchy that will depress the rapid economic growth." The group that has authored the Survey does not seem bothered about because of their obsession with carrying forward the discredited Washington Consensus.





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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ghost of Marx haunts China's riots

 Ghost of Marx haunts China's riots
By Jian Junbo

SHANGHAI - The weekend violence that has left 156 people dead and more than 816 injured in Urumqi, capital of northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is the latest example of growing conflicts between China's majority Han ethnic group and ethnic minorities.

At the heart of the escalating problem are China's antiquated policies towards its ethnic minorities - a raft of Marxist measures that are now pleasing neither the ethnic Han, nor the minorities. As China's gargantuan economy has advanced, former leader Mao Zedong's vision of political and economic equality between Han and non-Han has gradually been undermined.

The end result could be seen on the bloody streets of Urumqi. On Sunday, more than 300 ethnic Uyghurs - mostly Sunni Muslims - staged a protest in Urumqi's People's Square to demand an investigation into a June 26 brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong province. Riots began when police began to disperse protesters, soon spreading across the remote city of 2.3 million people.

Groups of rioters broke down guardrails on roads, torched automobiles and beat Han pedestrians. The mob attacked buses and set fire to a hotel near the office building of the Xinjiang Regional Foreign Trade Commission, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Hundreds of cars, shops and homes were smashed and burned during the violence, Xinhua said.

China Central Television on Monday aired images of Uyghur protesters attacking Han men and women, kicking them on the ground and leaving them dazed and bloodied. Images were shown of smoke billowing from vehicles as rioters overturned police cars and smashed buses.

As of Monday evening, at least 156 people were found dead and more than 800 others injured, including armed police officers, the Xinjiang Public Security Department said. More than 50 dead bodies were found in back streets and alleys, officials said, adding grimly that the toll may rise.

Official statistics did not give any breakdowns to show how many Uyghur protesters were killed. A spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a United States-based organization of pro-independence Uyghurs in exile, told Voice of America that police opened fire on protesters. The Chinese government has blamed the WUC for masterminding the violence,

Xinhua said "the situation was under control" by Monday morning; police had shut down traffic in parts of the city and arrested over 1,000 protesters. Among those detained were at least 10 of the most prominent figures who fanned the unrest on Sunday, the Xinjiang Public Security Department said.

But on Tuesday, over 200 Uyghurs, mostly women, staged a new protest in Urumqi in front of foreign reporters and it was reported that in the afternoon Urumqi Han residents began to counter-attack on Uyghurs. The women demanded the release of their families arrested during Sunday's violence. The foreign reporters had been organized by authorities to visit post-violence scenes, where protesters engaged in a tense stand-off with police, Hong Kong media said.

The Xinjiang government that evening warned that "hostile elements" were plotting to stir up violence in other Xinjiang cities such as Yining and Kashgar.

"We deeply regret the loss of life" in Urumqui, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "We call on all sides for calm and restraint."

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon also called for restraint. He told a press conference on Monday: "Wherever it is happening or has happened the position of the United Nations and the secretary general has been consistent and clear: that all the differences of opinion, whether domestic or international, must be resolved peacefully through dialogue."

According to Xinhua, a government statement claimed the violence was "a pre-empted, organized violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad and carried out by outlaws in the country."

In a televised address on Monday morning, Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri accused the WUC led by Rebiya Kadeer - a former businesswoman now living in the United States - of fomenting the violence via telephone and the Internet. "Rebiya had phone conversations with people in China on July 5 in order to incite ... and the Internet was used to orchestrate the incitement," read the statement.

Kadeer's spokesman, Alim Seytoff, told the Associated Press from Washington that the accusations were baseless.

"It's common practice for the Chinese government to accuse Ms Kadeer for any unrest in East Turkestan and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for any unrest in Tibet," he said. East Turkestan is the name of the state Uyghur pro-independence groups and militants wish to create in Xinjiang.

One the exile groups, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is listed by the Chinese government and the UN as a terrorist organization. The WUC denies any connection with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

The violence in Urumqi echoed last year's unrest in Tibet. In March 2008, a peaceful demonstration of monks in the capital of Lhasa erupted into riots that spread to surrounding areas, leaving at least 22 dead. The Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the violence. The Dalai Lama denied the charge.

Whether the riots were instigated by pro-independence activists or not, the fact remains that violent conflicts are easily stirred up by the mutual distrust between the Han people and ethnic minorities. Internet rumors were also involved.

The brawl in the Shaoguan factory on June 26 was started by a post on an Internet website that claimed at least two female Han workers were raped by Uyghur migrant workers, many of whom work at the factory.

In response to the allegation, Han workers stormed into dormitories of the Uyghur workers. In the ensuing battle, two Uyghur were killed and many workers from both sides injured, according to local police. Authorities later arrested a Han worker for uploading the rape rumor to stir up trouble.

The end of class-struggle identity
The increasingly frequent conflicts between Han and other groups indicate the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) policy toward ethnic minorities has become ineffective in maintaining harmonious relations between peoples.

For the past 60 years, the stated aim of the CCP's policy has been to maintain national unity and stabilize civil society. The communist government considers all ethnic groups to be Chinese, but encourages all ethnic groups, especially minorities, to keep and develop their traditional cultures. The government has even helped minorities with only a spoken language create their own writing system.

The idea that all people in China belong to the "great family of Chinese" is not the invention of the communists. This attitude began with the founding father of modern China, Dr Sun Yat-sen, and was supported by early Chinese enlightenment thinkers such as Liang Qichao and Hu Shih.

In the era of chairman Mao Zedong, the ethnic policy was dictated by his class-struggle doctrine, by which all Han and non-Han working people shared one common identity - socialist labor. The term "labor" meant they were also the owners of the country - constitutionally and ideologically. Capitalists, land owners, serf owners and other "exploiters" - regardless of their ethnic origins - were the enemies.

This policy successfully surpassed ethnic differences and constructed a shared identity for all working people. To an extent, this policy under Mao united all ethnic groups in the "class struggle" against the "oppressors". It also made the former elites of ethnic minorities diehard enemies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The working poor of China's ethnic groups gave much support to the CCP government, and accepted their new socialist identity. Han and non-Han people became equal economically and politically, and the idea of ethnicity was gradually faded out by the idea of class.

The concept of a common class, which gave equality to all people in the same class regardless of their ethnicity, surpassed the idea of ethnic identity and forestalled ethnic conflict.

But when the class-struggle doctrine was practiced to the extreme particularly during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, it gave the Red Guards - consisting of mostly Hans - the ground to attack China's cultural and historical heritage - Han as well as ethnic - in the name of the revolution. These attacks tremendously hurt the feelings of ethnic minorities.

After the Cultural Revolution, apparently as some form of compensation, the Chinese government began to award some privileges and preferences to ethnic minorities.

For example, the tough one-child policy applies only to Han couples. Accordingly, the birth rate and population proportion of the Han are decreasing, compared to other ethnic groups. Meanwhile, privileges have been granted to ethnic minorities for employment and education opportunities. To boost economic growth, the government in recent years has poured much money into ethnic minority areas.

Many Han are upset at what they see as discrimination. In the aftermath of the Shaoguan brawl, Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang visited and consoled the injured Uyghur workers, but allegedly ignored the injured Han workers. This angered the Han workers and increased their suspicion of the government's policy.

Even as ethnic groups, such as the Uyghurs, complain they are being exploited or discriminated by the Han, many Han accuse the government of doing the same. In the end, as China's economy advances, political and economic equality between Han and non-Han is being undermined.

The wealth gap is expanding between the Han, who in general live in rich areas, and those ethnic minorities who live in relatively poorer areas. The economic inequality between different regions is also a case between Han and non-Hans. Although this imbalance of economic development is due to many factors, it's easy for minorities to feel exploited by the Han.

As the influence of Marxism as the dominant ideology is diminishing in China, the sense of political equality is also abating. Today, common people aren't really considered the owners of the country, and laborers are no longer a respected class. Capitalists have become the government's guests of honor.

In China, political equality based on class equality has collapsed. For the past 60 years, this idea of class equality was a basis on which all common people, including minorities, could maintain an identity as one member of the Chinese political community.

Now, the economic and political marginalization of ethnic minorities is destroying the foundation of some ethnic groups' Chinese identity. At the same time, this marginalization is deeply misunderstood by many of the majority Han ethnic group.

The shared identity of the Chinese - as socialist labor - is gradually falling to pieces. The resulting riots in Urumqi may be just the start of something much, much bigger.

Dr Jian Junbo is assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China.



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