Tuesday, October 9

On the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousafza: Pakistani human rights activists need to stop believing in American fairy tales

Subhas Chandra Bose

A 14 year-old Pakistani girl who idolizes Barack Obama and became famous in Pakistan and the U.K. as a critic of the Taliban and advocate for girls' rights in her country -- and received a national award for bravery for her efforts -- has been shot in the head and chest by the Taliban.  A spokesman for the Taliban said that if she survives they'll keep trying to murder her because she's anti-Taliban and a secularist.

As to how a child became a noted anti-Taliban activist in Pakistan and the U.K. -- because BBC Urdu published a journal she began keeping at the age of 11 to document Taliban brutality in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she lived, for the BBC. Although the journal was published under a pen name, after the Taliban were cleared out of Swat in 2009 her identity was revealed.

Her shooting has set off outrage in Pakistan and the U.K. and the uproar will make onto the nightly news in the USA and many other countries around the world, if the flood of press reports about the shooting is any indication. 

An Indian Pundita reader who's usually cool-headed sent me this comment and asked that  I mention the shooting at my blog:
Where is the obligation/right to protect when we need it? Hillary Clinton betrayed more than her country, she made a mockery of her status as role model and voice for girls all over the world. How is it that Romney doesn't bring up Pakistan in his campaign? Oh I know why, but am just upset.
I'm going to give an answer that the reader -- and Pakistan's human rights advocates -- might find surprising and even upsetting.

I do not know, and I am completely sure I do not want to know, how a child was allowed and encouraged to become an anti-Taliban activist. But the obligation and right to be protected is first the responsibility of the individual adult. The history and Bill of Rights of the United States of America are testament to that.

The United States and its struggles for human rights are written in human blood.  Yet many Americans don't know this because for more than a generation American history has been given little attention in the country's public schools. And what history is taught gives overwhelming attention to the nonviolent civil rights protests that began in the 1960s and the issues of human rights.

So while I do think Hillary Clinton has betrayed her country, she's not the one who thought up the fairy tale that with enough education, fair elections and peaceful civil rights protests this world can become a paradise for democracy. 

The teachings of the American democracy activist Gene Sharp and his handbook of nonviolent protest went a long way to cement the fairy tale as actual fact in the popular imagination.  This, despite the fact that NOT ONE SINGLE AUTHORITARIAN REGIME HAS EVER BEEN OUSTED USING NONVIOLENT TACTICS WITHOUT TACIT OR OVERT COOPERATION FROM THE COUNTRY'S MILITARY AND/OR  POLICE.  Anyone who says differently is lying or misinformed.

I'm going to repeat this for the benefit of 11 year-olds and all those democracy activists who've confused reality with Tinker Bell. 



Not only that, all of the successful "color revolutions" using nonviolent tactics from the Gene Sharp playbook were backed with money and tactical support from American and West European governments.

As for the great triumph of Mohandas Gandhi's nonviolent approach:  I hate to be the one to break the news but his approach had nothing whatsoever to do with the British decamping India. 

The real story is that the British government was rightfully scared that the Indian activist Subhas Chandra Bose was preparing a full-scale armed insurrection at a time when the British military was least prepared to deal with it.  That's why they finally capitulated to Gandhi's demands.  Everything else is another fairy tale.

It's the kind of fairy tale the State goes to great trouble to promote for the obvious reason that no government, including the U.S. one, wants to see replays of the American Revolution every time a large number of citizens become disgruntled with their government.

The State has a point. So what's the tiebreaker between myth and reality?   The tiebreaker is when the State is clearly unwilling or unable to protect its citizens from brazen terrorists, criminals and rioting mobs.
It's times like these that citizens have to take matters into their own hands, and by this I don't mean peace marches or writing letters to the editor to demand that the State do something to better protect its citizens. 

The London Riots were a case study in how quickly the world's goons back off when citizens band together in a show of force and demonstrate a willingness to fight to the death to defend themselves and their property.

There are many other case studies, although for understandable reasons they never get much press.  Even with the London Riots, the government tried to downplay the pivotal role that the citizen patrols played in stopping the crime wave set off in England by the rioters.

The biggest 'untold' story about Mexico's crime wave is that in several regions where Mexico's indigenous peoples hold sway, the heavily-armed crime cartels have been driven away or prevented from moving in. 

There was even one situation where the townspeople were so determined to keep out the gangsters that they dug a deep moat around the entire town to flummox the SUVs driven by the mobsters and posted armed sentries around the perimeter.

Why the rural indigenous peoples?  Why not the urbane Latino Mexicans who cower inside their homes while the mobsters terrorize them?   Because those Indians have always had plenty of evidence that when it comes to receiving help from the State, they're not even last on the list. They're off the list.

Same with the Turkish, Indian and Pakistani shopkeepers who led the charge against the London rioters.  Those shopkeepers initially fled to England to get someplace where they could get better protection from the State than in their own countries. But when they saw that England's government was deliberately downplaying the seriousness of the rioting and that the police had been hamstrung, they quite literally swung into action.  They armed themselves with tire irons and baseball bats and set up patrols -- patrols that the beleaguered native English shopkeepers joined after they got tired of waiting for the State to show up and rescue them.  

Those are the kind of things individuals and collections of individuals must be prepared to do, when the State is no help, and when they want to illustrate to thugs that they really and truly don't want to be terrorized.

The nonviolent civil rights protests in the United States that ended virtual apartheid in the American South were successful without firing a shot because the American nation was already one that accepted the rule of law.  Pakistan has never had a rule of law, much less a humane set of laws. So the country is a long way from the day that it can afford to hand out bravery awards to 14-year olds. And it's criminally negligent of Pakistani adults not to admit this.

It's not by education or economic prosperity or demonstrations on behalf of the downtrodden that one establishes a rule of humane laws.  There's only one way such laws are established and protected, and that's when citizens show a willingness to kill and be killed to achieve the principles upholding the laws  A terrible paradox, to be sure, but that's the way things are.

So nobody should wonder who and what is going to end up running Pakistan. No matter how much can be said against the Taliban and al Qaeda, they've demonstrated that they're willing to kill and be killed to bring in the strictest form of Sharia law and rule the country as its guardians.

If Pakistanis who don't want that kind of rule think they can best such resolve by shaming their government and imitating the American Civil Rights Movement, they should become aware that in this, they're leaping over much American history. 


Unknown said...

Your mention of Subhas Chandra Bose is interesting--apparently not many Westerners are aware of him, while for Indians with awareness of the Freedom Movement, Bose is deeply embedded in the DNA.

In historical hindsight, Bose's Indian National Army must have made the British feel like someone was walking over their grave, which Indians had started digging in 1857, when the British Indian Army soldiers rose up against the foreign conqueror, to be eventually suppressed, sure, but announcing to the British that they are not welcome in the subcontinent, and shucking them off was only a matter of Indians getting organized and giving the word.

With the defeat of the Axis, the veterans of the Indian National Army--incidentally a consciously integrated army (in contrast to the clanwise segregated British Indian Army), and featuring women's combat battalions--were put on trial in Delhi. That trial was a tiger that the British soon became anxious to unride, since it became clear that any sort of conventional punishment meted out to the prisoners would unleash boundless fury among the Indian millions. in the event, they were cashiered and let go.

The Indian people's relationship to Bose and Gandhi was complex and nonlinear. Like nearly all activists of the time, Bose started his political career in the Movement, in Congress as a disciple of Gandhi, after a stunningly brilliant passage through school and college. Like many activists, he clashed politically with Gandhi over the latter's gradualist, some said accommodationist, policies toward the British.

Things came to a head when WWII hit, with Bose proposing to use the opportunity to finally throw off the British, and Nehru and Gandhi wishing to support the British as the lesser of two evils. The sympathy in the Congress party as well as in the nation at large was with Bose. For Indians, Gandhi was the revered paterfamilias who was owed devotion, while Bose was the brilliant brother who represented the pent-up Indian aspiration to fight the foreigner like proper men (and women) should. This rebellion was reflected in Bose winning the crucial Congress Presidency, only to resign and break with Congress when he could not get Gandhi's blessings.

The rest is history, once and still mostly well-known in India, but obscure in the Western world. In the political landscape of the time, Bose played approximately the role that Malcolm X later played in the Civil Rights movement in America--a charismatic and brilliant leader creating political space for a centrist non-violent coalescing figure. The analogy of Martin Luther King and Gandhi is well-known, but perhaps Bose supplies the missing piece that matches up with Malcolm X.

Pundita said...

Thank you very much for the crash course. Bose, and indeed the history of Indian independence, is virtually unknown to most Americans who aren't of South Asian heritage. Indians shouldn't take this is as a slight, by the way. Much American history is unknown to most Americans lol.

I have only one quibble and it's with your reading of Malcolm's role in the American Civil Rights Movement. I am saying this from memory, as someone who lived through those events, and not from scholarly treatments of the topic:

My recollection is that Malcolm's role was not a factor in the federal government's intervention in state affairs in the South. Nor was it a factor in the support that the movement garnered from the majority of Americans

I'd say that more than anything, it was television that played the pivotal role, both in bringing Martin Luther King to a national audience, and in bringing the reality of life for Blacks in the south to the American heartland.

Americans throughout the country, even many southerners, were horrified by the televised images of police dogs being set on children during protests and other strong-arm tactics used by the local authorities against the protestors.

The brutality against Americans simply asking for their rights was seen, quite rightly, as un-American, and this view was strongly communicated by large numbers of Americans to their elected representatives to Congress.

A pity that Chandra Bose's struggle -- and the struggles of earlier Indian activists who demanded the British immediately quit India -- didn't occur in the era of television.

Madhu said...

Funny, I wrote up a comment about the rebellion of 1857 too, but it got "eaten" somehow by the system.

When I've got time, I'll post a couple references I found by retired generals from the period. One talks about how fear underscored everything post 1857, the Raj was brittle from then on, and the small amounts of self-governance introduced after that period set up some of the non-Violent freedom movements. Violence and non-violence were always present, side by side.

The other, also by a retired Indian, talks about the decreasing secularism of some parts of the British Indian Army so that it would have been impossible to keep things together (with mention of Patel).

Curiously, it's not just the Americans that have created a fiction. Some of the Indian polity (from my outsider view) is invested in a Gandhi mythology that is devoid of context.

Madhu said...

The other thing I find interesting is the deep dislike for Gandhi by some in the West because of his views about World War II and his comments about the Nazis. But what would have happened had he not "won" the argument in some senses, what would the outcome have been had it been more violent on the subcontinent and the resources of India not available?

Much is yet to be written, historywise, from both the Indian and American perspectives. We've (American of Indian origin here) forgotten our own history in the region at that period and the clashes with Churchill about independence.

Pundita said...

Madhu, the comment you sent this morning had a url string in it, which this old version of Google doesn't like.

So what I did was pull out keywords from the post:

"The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-59
Columnist AH AMIN re-interprets the so-called 1857 Indian Mutiny."

The link can now be readily found at Google by anyone interested in it.

And here is your comment about it, "Here is one of the reference. You have to dig around in the various sections, it's a bit confusing, but interesting. In Indian Defense Journal."

I have tentatively penciled in Sat. Dec. 1 for the day I'll be able to find time to read the piece.

Pundita is unfortunately one person, not a team :-)