Thursday, July 31, 2014

Israel's Attack on Gaza

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Israel has shocked the world with the savage violence it has unleashed against the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, a thin sliver of land with an area of 365 square kilometers.  Nearly 2 million people crowd that strrip making it one of the most densley populated areas of the world. And Israel has been bombing the civilian sectors of the Gaza Strip for the past three weeks without any letup. The death toll has crossed 1200 already and is climbing. The fact that Barack Obama, the Nobel Prize Winner has not said a word condemning the barbaric conduct of Israel is eloquent.  The death toll among children is horrendous as Israeli air force has struck schools, hospitals, UN compound, shopping complexes and residential areas. The justification give by the israelis for the savage attack is disingenuous: The rockets fired by HAMAS has not killed a single Israeli civilian and in retaliation the Israeli Air Force that the IDF have killed more than thousand civilians. Thee objective seems to be to terrorize the entire population of Gaza into absolute subjection.

The people living in Gaza are facing a whole range of problems created by the blockade imposed by Israel and shortages of food, fuel and medicines have become part and parcel of life in Gaza. Hospitals such as Kamal Adwan, European Hosp[ital and al-Shifa Hospital have been bombed so badly that the buildings have been reduced to rubble and these were the institutions in which the wounded in the earlier attack were being treated. The UN Compound in which women and children took refuge has been attacked killing nearly 20 refugees. The most amazing aspect of this savage war is that the Palestinians continue to  go about their daily chores paying little heed to the Israeli war machine. The UN has become a silent spectator and I am afraid that the uN is also headed the League of Nations way. F16s presented by the uS to Israel have been used in these attacks and USA under Obama has not expressed even the proforma concern at the loss of civilian life.Israel has perfected its regime of terrorization: Operation Protective Eagle as this wave of attack is called was preceded by Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012,Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Hot Winter in 2008, Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006, Operation Summer Rains in 2006, Operation Days of Penitence in 2004 and finally Operation Rainbow again in 2004.

In all these operations Israel has targeted civilians in direct violation of International Law. A case can be made against Israel for potential arraignment in the International Court of Criminal  Justice at the Hague. The violent and disproportionate attack on civilian non combatants constitute war crime and it is time for the International Community to gather evidence and bring up the case before the UNHRC. The death of a few civilians during the closing days of the Sri Lankan Civil War has come before the   world tribunal. However all the European countries who are baying for the blood of Rajapaksha are now ominously silent when it come to the crime of Israel. The Arab nations which should be supporting the Palestinians have all but abandoned the residents of Gaza. Egypt and Jordan wary of the influence of HAMAS are eagerly encouraging the depredations of Israel. The tragedy is that rather than degrading the HAMAS, Israel by its savage attack is helping the regime strengthen itself. The rocket fired by HAMAS are nothing more than fire crackers and Israel uses the rocket attacks as the pretext for savaging Gaza from time to time. What Israel is doing is making the people of Gaza suffer collectively for the actions of HAMAS.

India under Narendra Modi has followed a rather tepid policy with regard to the crimes committed by Israel. The BJP has always enjoyed a stable relationship with Israel whenever it is in power. Many of us believe that Israel is an example worth emulating especially in the manner in which it deals with terrorism. However, the recent attack on Gaza should disabuse Indians of the notion that Israel is a peace loving country willing to extend the hand of friendship to the Palestinians. Each time the world moves toward a two state solution, Israel scuttles the issue by its festival of gore and bombings. It is time for the world to say No to Israel just as it did with South Africa.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Romila Thapar and her critique of Y Sudershan, Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

In his, My Quest for the Middle Ages, Jacques Le Goff the celebrated French historian writes: History emerges from the questions posed by historians.  Unfortunately, Indian historiography is so caught in the trap of personalities that even the most celebrated historians of India, and Professor Romila Thapar is undoubtedly one in the galaxy, is not able to come out of that trap. Even since 1969 when India Gandhi and her regime decided to create a "secular" history for India, the writing of Indian history has degenerated into a never ending game of name calling and label sticking: Communal, Reactionary, Obscurantist, Ultra Nationalist etc are some of the label bandies about and a great historian like Romila Thapar is not expected to lend her authority to this charade. The fact is that India became a Nation in a historical process that is both complex and controversial. It was with an air of misguided triumphalism that Nehru declared in his speech that that at the "stroke of the mid night hour when the world sleeps India will wake to life and freedom". In reality India awoke to the most horrendous nightmare of violence on both sides of the border and the triumphalist rhetoric of Nehru has become the credo under which two generations of post Independence historians wrote history and taught a Nation centric history to their innocent acolytes in Universities such as JNU and Delhi University. Anyone who questioned the wisdom of the ruling paradigm was dismissed as a communal RSS tainted pseudo scholar. Therefore sensible questions about Indian's march to freedom were not asked and it was left to a Western scholar, perry Anderson to expose the "communal" politics inherent in the politics of the Congress party. Therefore instead of blaming the so called Communal forces, is it not possible to view the Congress  politics especially after 1939 as being fraught with dangerous consequences for the future of Indian nation, making Partition a possibility.

Romila Thapar has in a recent issue of India Today (July 21st 2014) criticized the appointment of Prof Y Sudershan Rao to the post of Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. If she addresses the larger issue, whether the State should be in the trade and business of funding History, I might say that there is merit in her critique. However, her criticism is directed at the present Chairman at a personal level. She says that he is not "visible" in terms of research. The fact is that "highly" visible historians converted ICHR into a bailiwick of historians who in the name of :secular" history only wrote history that upheld the political settlement of 1947. The fact that India's freedom came with a fatal flaw was conveniently ignored. The attack mounted by Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra and Harbans Mukhia nearly 45 years back in a little pamphlet, Communalism and the Writing of Indian History is still the battle cry under which these historians gather the usual suspects. It is tragic that after six decades of Indian Independence  historians still bicker over the very idea of India. Y Sudershan Rao apparently has an interest in the textual basis of Indian history and this is sufficient for the scholar to declare his interest trivial and irrelevant. In her book, The Past Before Us, Thapar herself has used literary text for the purpose of reconstructing the different configurations of historical consciousness in early India. Of course, every historian has the right to ask the questions he or she chooses to ask and I do not think that the questions posed by one set of historians can be dismissed tout court.

Another criticism launched against the present Chairman is that he seeks archaeological validation to the epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana. In fact it was during the regime of Nurul Hasan that the Archaeological Survey of India started a project of identifying and excavating sites associated with the so called epics. The discovery of the Painted Grey Ware Culture and the Northern Black Polished Ware was taken to represent some sort of archaeological horizon of the cultures represented by the epics. In any event, these historians remain silent when regional cultures such as Tamil region start using literary sources and in this case the historically promiscuous Sangam Texts for the purpose of historical reconstruction. There is no place for apocalyptic rhetoric like "turning the clock back" etc when all that is being done is to appoint the administrative head of a Government of India body.

Indian historiography has come a long way inspite of the shenanigans of some historians. And the house of History has several rooms and there is place for everyone in that mansion. I do not know why there is attempt made to stifle voices of dissent. Of course, History is a serious endeavour and unless there is attempt at denying or falsifying the past, no historian should be declared an exile from mthe sacred land.  

Monday, July 14, 2014


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The State of Israel owes its origin to the crimes of the Europeans, the Germans who massacred around 6 million Jews during the last two years of the Second World War. Of course this horrendous crime had to be expiated and the Americans and the British made the Palestinians pay for the crimes of their fellow white men. Israel is fast losing the sympathy it has rightly won for its several outstanding achievements: its civic programme, its educational institutions, its fairly successful practice of democracy. However, in its treatment of the displaced Palestinians, Israel is showing its true colours. Even John Kerry, the US Secretary of State in an unguarded moment called Israel an Apartheid State. one in which racial discrimination is legally enforced. The Arabs living in the territories are treated as second class citizens with limited access to education, employment or health. And the Right Wing parties like the Likud are further aggravating the situation by opposing the two state solution. The cycles of violence unleashed by Israel as retaliation for the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers from one of the settlements that has sprung up in the occupied territories is both disproportionate and beyond the limits of civilized state conduct. Without unleashing such fire power against the people of the Gaza Strip, Israel could have dealt with the crisis in a more balanced manner. In any event, the Israelis too extracted their revenge when they killed a young boy, by beating him and burying him alive. The silence from the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, the President of USA, Barack Obama is disquieting. Both Obama and Kerry are not willing to even condemn  the aerial attacks on Palestinian civilians.

The Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel and the Israeli media justifies the full blooded attack on unarmed civilians by saying that Hamas deserves to be punished for firing rockets. It must be stated that Hamas rockets have not caused a single casualty in Israel while in the current round of bloodletting, the Israelis have killed 166 Palestinians and wounded more than 1000 civilians. It appears that the motive behind this state sponsored massacre is to weaken the resolve of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip who are supporters of the Hamas. Therefore the killing of civilians is part of a strategy pursued by Israel and if the Bosnian Serbs can be tried for killing Muslims during the Balkan Crisis of the 1990s. by the same logic the Israeli political leadership is also culpable. The Arab League, the organization of autocratic Oil Rich state which legitimized the invasion of Iraq and Libya are keeping quiet. Saudi Arabia which is usually very eloquent on issues dealing with Muslim affairs is keeping a deathly silence over this entire issue. It appears that the Arab world has decided to allow Israel to solve the Palestinian Question like Hitler solved or attempted to solve the Jewish Question. The UN has lost its legitimacy before the entire world due to its inability to prevent USA from invading Iraq in 2003 and most people now believe that UN is just a facade behind which the white nations hide to carry out their atrocities on non white people. Unfortunately the discourse on Palestine centers around the muslim identity of the people forgetting the fact that a considerable number of them are Christians.

In 2009 when Israel invaded Gaza Strip it killed more than  hundred people and wounded around 1, 500. With this kind of violence unfolding can the World be silent.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"The Case for Books": Reading in the Digital Age

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Reading has become increasingly dependent on technology. The book under review by the celebrated historian Professor Robert Darnton is an interesting analysis of the ways in which the advent of digital technology has changed the reading practices of people. The joy of reading the printed book cannot be experienced by one reading the most thrilling novel on kindle. The sight and smell of a book is a delightful experience and only those who savour the joy of reading can understand what we lose by shifting to the digital mode.

Robert Darnton, the historian who gave us such classics of Cultural History as The Business of the Enlightenment, The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History, has been a prolific writer who has published extensively on topics such as Censorship in the Ancien Regime and the attempts made by the Bourbons to police the literary world on the eve of the French Revolution. His approach to the subject essentially derived from the pioneering work of Lucien Febvre who wrote the Coming of the Book, an early attempt at book history. Since then, thanks largely to the efforts of Robert Darnton and Elizabeth Eisenstein, the history of print and the cultural impact of print has emerged as an important area of study, Robert Chartier contributed to the field and he brought "reading practices" to the fore. In a printed book, the codex, the eye is trained to move from left to right and the page is taken in as a unit. In the case of the Old Scrolls which had to be held in the left hand and unscrolled by the right, reading was limited to at best a short paragraph or so. The emergence of Printing made possible a rapid and almost instantaneous dissemination of texts creating the first pre digital Information Revolution. Ann Blair has been writing about how the scholars in the early modern age coped with the explosion of information brought about by print technology. In Too Much to Know Blair has documented the difficult beginning of scholarly apparatus which culminated in the humanists of the sixteenth century inventing the Footnote as a central metaphor of critical historiography as Anthony Grafton has documented in an interesting book.

Robert Darnton, the Librarian of Harvard University, was responsible for the University participating in the Google project of digitizing books from all the important libraries of the World. The Google Book Search which enable historians to search libraries which they could not dream of even seeing in their wildest dreams, is a noble attempt at making knowledge  to everyone everywhere in the Globe. The fears that Google is bebt on turning public assets into private corporate profit has turned out to be unfounded and we are all beholden to Google Book Search for making some of the rare books available at the click of the mouse. Robert Darnton has shown in the book under review the complicated legal issues that had to be negotiated before the Google Book Search took off. Historians from countries such as mine will remain grateful to Google Book Search for making rare books available. India has launched its own version of Google by launching the Digital Library of India which contains a number of interesting books.

The Case for Books is an excellent study of the importance of books in the cultural landscape of the civilized world.