David Cameron in India, 2006: on Globalization

Here are excerpts from a speech David Cameron gave in India in 2006, relating to globalization:

I would especially recommend the last 30 seconds or so of the clip.

Isn’t David Cameron essentially a reprisal of Tony Blair and the “Third Way,” with an only slightly more “conservative” complexion? How is this rhetoric any different from the pro-globalization, pro-liberalization line taken by Blair/Clinton centrists since the early 1990s? Finally, do you find his references to “compassion” convincing?

Cameron also made several other stops he made along the way during a 2006 India trip: here. He did make a stop in the Mumbai slums (link), and stop to ride the Delhi Metro (link). And he seemed to respond with appropriate sobriety when a minibus accompanying his motorcade had an accident with a pedestrian that left a woman critically injured.

Of course, this was a few years ago, when he had just become the Conservative party leader, and was not yet a household name. (I’m sure the trip would look very different now.)

And here’s a speculative question: how might the UK/India and UK/Pakistan relationships change under the new Conservative/LibDem. government? Continue reading

“Internet Hindus”: Another Twitter-versy

After reading the recent article in the New York Times on corruption in the IPL, I went over to Amit Varma’s blog, India Uncut, to see if he had any comments on Lalit Modi et al. I didn’t find anything right off, but instead a reference to yet another Twitter controversy that I’d missed, in this post.

A journalist with IBN Live, Sagarika Ghose, had posted a few Tweets (for example) lamenting that a group of what she called “Internet Hindus” had attacked her for comments she had made: “Internet Hindus are like swarms of bees. they come swarming after you at any mention of Modi Muslims or Pakistan!”

Other journalists have also picked up on the phrase. Here is an interesting column by Ashok Malik in the Hindustan Times that picks up on the critique. Amit also linked to a column by Kanchan Gupta defending the “Internet Hindus” here, along the lines of “screw the pseudo-secular MSM,” though I personally wasn’t all that impressed by the overblown rhetoric. (Call me an Internet Skeptic.)

Actually, Amit Varma’s own comments on the phenomenon of extremism on the internet seemed wisest to me:

If Ghose was, indeed, bothered by trolls, she would have done well to keep in mind the old jungle saying, ‘Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig enjoys it.’ The internet empowers loonies of all kinds by giving them a megaphone–but no one is forced to listen to them. The noise-to-signal ratio is way out of whack on the net (Sturgeon’s Law), and any smart internet veteran will tell you that to keep your sanity, you need to ignore the noise. Ghose, poor thing, had tried to engage with it.

We all know that people are more extreme on the net than they are in real life. The radical Hindutva dude who wants to nuke Pakistan on the net will, in the real world, sit meekly at Cafe Coffee Day arguing the relative merits of Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. (link)

Yes, exactly. Varma goes on to discuss Cass Sunstein’s recent study on “group polarization,” and has some thoughts on what that might mean for India-Pakistan relations. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Meanwhile, here is my own humble contribution. There is indeed such a thing as an “Internet Hindu” — by which I mean, someone who expresses extreme views online while living a very moderate or even secular lifestyle in the real world. But there are also Internet Muslims, Internet Sikhs, Internet Christians, and Internet Marxsts — all of them potentially irksome if you say something they don’t like. Hindus do not have a monopoly on saying extremist things online.

I’m really not interested in having a discussion along the lines of “who are the worst offenders?” if it’s at all possible not to go down that route. (Pretty please?)

Rather, I would be curious as to whether we could use this as an opportunity to reflect on the issue of “group polarization” Varma mentions, and how and whether the habit of talking to people on the internet is a factor in magnifying differences. How have your own views and habits changed as a result of being on the internet, talking about issues related to the Indian subcontinent? What are some positive effects, and what are some negatives? Continue reading

Dubai Can Bite Me, Ctd

We have often had harsh things to say about the treatment of South Asian guest workers in Dubai/UAE in many posts here (for instance), but here is one that hit home for me as an academic.

Syed Ali is an American citizen of Indian descent who teaches sociology at Long Island University. In 2007, he was in Dubai on a Fulbright with his family. One day before he was to leave the country, he got a knock on the door, and five men in white robes and a woman in police uniform asked him to come with them. What followed was a rather bizarre kind of interrogation by the UAE police:

Then the questioning began. Why are you here? Who do you know? He explained that he was a Fulbright scholar, on a grant by the very U.S. government that was the United Arab Emirates’ main strategic partner.

Ali, now 41, was in Dubai researching about second-generation expatriates from South Asia for an academic paper about how professional Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in the Persian Gulf were adjusting to life and work far from home, in a place where they could live in for decades but could never gain permanent residency. He was shocked that his line of inquiry would set off alarm bells.

“It ended up I was interviewing people who were quite well off,” he said. “That’s why I was so really stunned. I never had any sense that there was anything objectionable about what I was doing. No one had any serious complaints about being there.”

Yet despite the reams of information they had on him, “there was a lack of basic information that they didn’t get or have or really understand,” said Ali, who wrote about his experiences in Dubai for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. They didn’t seem to get what a Fulbright was. “‘We think you’re working for the ‘Jewish,’ ” one interrogator accused Ali, who is a secular Muslim. “‘Maybe also the CIA.'” (link)

Note that he was researching white collar workers, not the folks working in construction (whose miserable working and living conditions have been amply documented). Eventually they let him go, warning him not to return to the country to do any further research: “The research you are doing is creating divisions in our society and we will not allow it” (See Syed Ali’s original account of his experience here.) They also took his laptop and the IPod he had been using to record interviews. They later returned the computer without its hard disk, and bought him a new IPod instead of returning the old one. So much for the months of research!

Now Syed Ali’s book, Dubai: Gilded Cage is out from Yale University Press. Revenge is a dish best served with coverage in the Chicago Tribune (above), The LA Times, and the Independent.

Maybe someone should mail a copy to Dubai’s secret police: here’s that scurrilous book by the “Jewish” “CIA” agent named … umm… Syed Ali. Continue reading

In Britain, the Ethnic Hostility is a Tad Less Subtle…

British National Party (BNP) Parliamentary candidate Bob Bailey ran into a group of three Desi toughs in East London while campaigning earlier today, and the following is the result:

If you look at the reaction in the YouTube comments, as well as in the coverage of the story at the Daily Mail, there is an overwhelming consensus by readers that the Asian “thugs” got what was coming to them.

And yes, it’s hard to deny that the smaller South Asian kid in black started the physical altercation by spitting in Bob Bailey’s face. Unfortunately, the commenters on these sites are using the incident to unleash wads of racist bile… Pretty disgusting to read.

At least at Pickled Politics, the commentary on the incident is more sane. My favorite comment there is “Platinum786,” who writes: “If someone spits at you and you punch them, fair enough it’s almost instinct. If that leads to someone punching you back, pushing you, you fight back, again that is instinct. Once they’re on the ground, kicking them, that’s BNP” (link)

My own question is this: what exactly was Bob Bailey saying as the youths approached him on the street? My suspicion is that they thought he was accusing them of being “robbers,” but he may not have intended to say that. Can anyone work it out?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter that much — a brawl is still a brawl. But I can’t help but wonder: was this thing was the result of a misunderstanding caused partially by British accent differences?

Update: Here’s a little bit of backstory on Bob Bailey. Quite the character! (Now I understand better why he was on foot to begin with…) Continue reading

Go Chili, Go Chili…

Just a brief post on this: Surya Yalamanchili, the Democratic congressional candidate from Ohio we mentioned last week, just won the primary in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District.

He defeated David Krikorian by 650 votes; last week, Krikorian made comments about the difficulty a person with the name “Yalamanchili” might have in winning an election. Yalamanchili is going on to face the sitting representative for the district, Jean Schmidt, in the general election in November.

Surya Yalamanchili has won the Democratic primary for the 2nd District congressional seat.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Yalamanchili appeared to have beaten David Krikorian by 650 votes and Jim Parker by more than 4,400 votes.

The race took an unexpected turn last week, when Ohio and Hamilton County party officials condemned remarks attributed to Krikorian about Yalamanchili.

State and county Democratic officials and Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt sent letters saying that Krikorian owed an apology to Yalamanchili and the Indian-American community.(link)

At least now he can cross “best known for being a candidate on TV’s The Apprentice” off his resume. Continue reading

Faisal Shahzad: Another Well-Heeled Terror Suspect

faisal shahzad.jpg
One detail about Faisal Shahzad’s family background in Pakistan that caught my eye is the disclosure of his father’s military background. As has been widely reported, Shahzad was arrested on suspicion of attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square, New York Monday night. Shahzad has been a U.S. citizen since 2009, and he had been working in the finance industry until sometime in 2009. He and his wife owned a house in Connecticut until the bank foreclosed on it last fall.

In Pakistan, Shahzad does have some relatives in Karachi, but his father’s family lives near Peshawar, in a suburb called Hayatabad. This story in the International News, a Pakistani newspaper, states that his father is a retired Air Vice Marshal in the Pakistan Air Force.

Air Vice Marshal (R) Baharul Haq, father of Faisal Shahzad, the accused in New York’s failed bomb plot, hurriedly vacated the family home in Hayatabad town here late Tuesday apparently to avoid attention.

Eyewitnesses said he packed some belongings in a vehicle and left the house located in Phase IV of the posh Hayatabad town along with male and female members of the family. Their destination wasn’t known.

Earlier, members of the media, in particularly TV crews had converged on the house in a bid to talk to family members and learn more about Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested Tuesday in the US on charges of plotting the vehicle bomb attack and now accused of an attempted act of terrorism. However, nobody in Air Vice Marshal (R) Baharul Haq’s household or the neighbours were ready to talk to reporters. A Geo TV reporter was shown outside the house trying to engage in conversation with neighbours. Some people in the neighbourhood expressed ignorance about Faisal Shahzad’s arrest in the US. (link)

What is there to learn from this? First, I think it reaffirms that potential terrorists could come from virtually any economic and educational background; a surprising number of major terror suspects in recent years have had advanced degrees (Shahzad has an MBA). Second, there’s hardly a long history of identification with extremist ideology here. With a big smile and a bluetooth headset in his ear, he looks like he should be selling me cell phone accessories at the AT&T store, not wiring amateur bombs. Finally, this guy is the son of a senior officer in the military, a powerful institution in Pakistan, with several other male family members apparently also in the military. They are undoubtedly deeply embarrassed by all this.

In the days and weeks to come, I’m sure we’ll learn more about Faisal Shahzad. Judging from the many mistakes he made in assembling a bomb (with the wrong kind of fertilizer! propane tanks that weren’t opened! completely useless wiring and timers!), my guess is that he had little, if any, “training.” It seems more like a version of the American dream gone horribly awry: something snapped. Continue reading

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Outsourcing Issue Also Not Dead: More Nasty Politicking

Via DailyKos, I came across this ad, in the current Arkansas Senatorial Primary race. Bill Halter is a Democratic challenger to the sitting Democratic Senator, Blanche Lincoln. The ad is technically sponsored by the Arkansas Chamber of Congress, not Blanche Lincoln’s campaign.

You thought it was dead, didn’t you? Nope, the “our jobs are going to India” bogie is also still alive and well in American politics.

According to Kos, the backstory is that Halter was once on the Board of Directors of a firm called WebMethods Inc., which had opened an office in Bangalore some years ago, though there’s no evidence that the opening of that office actually cost any American jobs. This type of ad is a bad precedent, since it basically puts anyone who has run a high-tech company or a financial services company at risk of attack.

The ad is also clearly a form of “race-baiting” — a cousin of the nasty kind of racial attack ad that would prominently feature some sort of threatening black person (sometimes a criminal) to scare white voters. But apparently it’s not Willie Horton with which these folks are trying to scare people in Arkansas, it’s smiling middle-class people in Bangalore!

Here’s Bill Halter’s website. Continue reading

‘Funny Names’: The Issue that Refuses to Die

Ohio, congressional primaries… I’ll let this story in the Washington Independent speak for itself:

With the Democratic primary just days away, state and local party leaders are ripping into David Krikorian, one of the hopefuls to challenge GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt in November, for disparaging remarks he’s made recently about his chief primary opponent, Surya Yalamanchili.

According to accounts given to local politicians, Krikorian has appeared at campaign events to ridicule Yalamanchili, an American of Indian descent, by dramatically pronouncing his name to emphasize its foreign nature.

“Now do you really think that a guy with a name like that has a chance of ever being elected?” Krikorian allegedly said to members of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Clermont County.

The comments — which Krikorian denies – drew a quick response from local Democratic leaders, who shot off a letter to Krikorian Wednesday calling his behavior “deeply disturbing.”

“Your comments on Surya’s name are are best insensitive and worse appear racist,” wrote Timothy M. Burke and David Lane, the Democratic chairmen in Hamilton and Clermont counties, respectively. “It is deeply disturbing to us that you would use his name, which is obviously derived from his ethnic heritage, against him in a denigrating manner, especially considering how strongly you value and celebrate your own heritage.” (link)

Now, there’s no excusing this comment (hmm, I have $10 burning a hole in my pocket; can I donate it to a Congressional candidate somewhere…? Aha.). But arguably, in Krikorian’s defense, “Yalamanchili” is a bit of a toughie as far as complicated Desi names goes.

Yalamanchili, of course, was already well aware of this, judging by his campaign slogan: “Vote Chili”.

Macaca. Piyush Jindal. D-Punjab. Gogol Ganguli. The mis-naming issue is surprisingly persistent. Continue reading

Pakistan’s New 18th Amendment: More Stable, Democratic Government

Though the news hasn’t gotten a huge amount of attention in the U.S., given our discussions of Pakistan’s political situation a couple of years ago, it seems worth noting that Pakistan’s Parliament just passed, and President Zardari signed, a series of reforms designed to make the Parliament stronger and more independent of the executive. The package of reforms is included in a new Amendment to Pakistan’s constitution. Along with the Parliamentary change, there is also an attempt to clarify the relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive branches of Pakistan’s government, so we don’t see a repeat of the power struggle between the Chief Justice of the Pakistan supreme court and former President Pervez Musharraf that began in 2007.

The most detailed summary of the reforms are at the Center for American Progress. I would recommend readers read the whole article, but here is a list of the changes that will affect the relationship between Parliament and the President:

Removing presidential powers to circumvent the normal legislative process and limiting the amount of time the president may consider bills passed by parliament before approving them (Article 75)

Transferring the power to submit matters directly to parliament for a yes or no vote to the prime minister (Article 48)

Removing the infamous Article 58-2(b) instituted by President Musharraf, which granted the power to unilaterally dismiss parliament under vague emergency provisions

Consulting with the outgoing prime minister and opposition leader on presidential appointments of caretaker governments to manage the transition to a new government when parliament is dismissed (Article 224) ()link)

And that’s just one part of the Amendment. The part of Amendment 18 that leaves open some future areas of contention is the reform of the judiciary appointment system, where it seems like some of the planned changes are still up in the air. According to the CAP author, the most contentious issue in the Amendment thus far has actually been the plan to rename the NWFP along ethnic lines, as Khyber-Pakhtunwa. Riots by members of the Hazara community in the region have left several people dead. It’s too bad that there is some dissatisfaction, but the change does certainly make sense to me — Northwest Frontier Province is an old, colonial name that only made sense under the British Raj.

I’m curious to know what readers who have connections to Pakistan think of the changes. Will they be good for Pakistan in the long run? And what about India-Pakistan relations? Overall, I think it’s a really impressive roll-back of executive power — the real end of the Musharraf era, if you will. President Zardari has exceeded my expectations. Continue reading

The BJP Turns 30: Time for New Coke?

Journalist, author, and blogger Chandrahas Choudhury has an excellent, in-depth piece in Caravan Magazine, on the BJP’s 30th national convention, which took place this year in Indore. The party suffered losses in the Indian elections last year, so one is especially curious to see where they are going to go next.

I know some readers at least may not be interested in Indian politics, and I would recommend this piece by Chandrahas particularly for those who don’t follow Indian politics all that closely. It’s more in the vein of New Yorker articles, which blend closely observant journalism, personal memoir, and analysis, than what one sometimes sees in mainstream Indian journalism. Chandrahas also doesn’t write with the presumption that readers know all of the back-story already.

Here is how Rajnath Singh, the BJP’s former president, frames the debate:

Rajnath was not willing to concede, as some had argued after the failure of Advani’s campaign in 2009, the prospect of the exhaustion of the politics of Hindutva or a rethinking of the party’s self-definition. The BJP found itself today in a predicament, declared Rajnath, similar to that faced by Coca-Cola in the 1980s, when the company found itself steadily losing market share in the cola wars with its big rival–Pepsi.

Convinced that it no longer appealed to mass taste, Coke decided, fatally, to change its original formula. The company then produced and enthusiastically advertised a new Coke similar to its competitor–with more lemon oil and less orange oil– explained Rajnath, whose research on this subject appeared to have been very thorough. But, far from winning back those who had jumped ship, the new product was a disaster in the market, and Coke fell away even more. Only when, chastened, it reverted to its original formula and kept the faith in its original identity did it eventually make up its lost ground. For Rajnath, the BJP was now in the position that Coke was in the 80s. Learning from history, it had to avoid the temptation to abandon its ‘original formula.’

That original formula was, of course, Hindutva. (link)

Chandrahas doesn’t say it, but it might be worth pointing out at this point that Coca Cola tried this experiment as a market-leader. The “stick to your guns” strategy might less effective for a political movement that’s trying to grow, as opposed to maintain dominance. But even if Rajnath’s message fails to resonate, there are nevertheless some signs of life within the BJP — though they are coming from the party’s new president, Nitin Gadkari, rather than from more familiar figures: Continue reading