Ostrich Syndrome!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Choice: Insulated Nationalism or Arundhati Roy?

Across the length and breath of human history there are instances when a person can get away with murder but being an anti-national (as defined by popular sentiment) is a crime of the highest order. In Hollywood or in Bollywood, treason is the ultimate epitome of a villainous character. Arundhati Roy’s recent essay on Maoists of Dhantewada has more or less opened a Pandora’s Box. More than the debate on subject, the conventional and the alternative media (read internet) is busy in pronouncing her guilty of treason, a charge not easy to prove or refute. In wake of what I consider as one of the most poignant pieces of honest evaluation, Ms. Roy has come under significant attack from both the right and left ends of political and intellectual class. Many have written her off as an anti-national about whom India and Indians should not worry. She has been labeled as a fanatic bohemian. She has been disregarded as an author who has a habit to describe the problem emotively without offering a solution. In a nutshell she has been criticized, spited and even threatened. Of all the comments on her platter, her being labeled as a rabid, anti-national is the one which makes interesting read.
George Orwell had once said, “by ‘nationalism’ I mean the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’”. Good or bad? Nationalist or Anti-national? The vernacular sounds familiar. As a young boy growing in a Muslim ghetto, I had heard this vocabulary on more than a single occasion. Growing up in a middle class, “secular” Muslim Indian household, my sensitivity to nationalism had been nurtured and grown into a robust beast, ready to devour any signs of sedition, treason and subversion. It was very late in life when I realized that nationalism does not necessarily mean accepting all that the state says, commands and orders. Nationalism also means asking the correct questions at the correct time even if this compromises the state’s own interests.
We all practice what can safely be labeled as “insulated nationalism”. A kind of nationalism which is kept free from external influences and affections. Pure and unadulterated. Insulated nationalism carries the smell of blood. It attracts beasts of all kinds. Human history is full of disastrous effects of insulated, thoughtless nationalism. Nationalism gave birth to Hitler. In the early nineties, it was nationalism cooked with a pinch of Hindu religion which saw the rise of right wing fascist parties in our country. Taliban and their machinery of jihadism is the end product of nationalism mixed with tenants of Islam. Jingoism post 9/11 incited the American people not only to re-elect an incumbent and incompetent George W Bush but also to support his so called war against terror. Insulated nationalism is one of the most perfect weapons of mass destruction human mind has ever discovered. A missile which can be fired without any payload; from any distance. It’s an unmanned drone which causes unprecedented destruction in its wake.
The rhetoric of insulated Nationalism can be most dangerous when the people fed on it are half literate, half hungry, half clothed and all in all half human. This half human does not realize that even his nationalism is half baked in the fire of vested interests. Day in and day out his mind is controlled by the jingoism which appears on television, radio, newspapers and other sources of state outlet. The ability to ask questions, the power to raise a finger, the insight to evaluate a plot, are all burnt in the fire of this insulated nationalism. The story doesn’t end here. The insulation of nationalism is further fortified by straps of religion, caste, and region. So, if you are a Muslim you cannot question the violation of human rights in Kashmir. If you are a dalit you cannot condemn the government’s credibility on reservation policies. A Christian cannot raise the issue of Orissa carnage on an International Human Rights forum. And on similar lines, an Arundhati Roy cannot raise a voice against the misfortune of adivasis and the tribal of Dhantewada without being labeled anti-national.
Nationalism is an innate trait which we acquire growing up in a society. The components of nationalism cannot be forced but felt. Nationalism means assimilation and integration of people on a common social stage. What kind of nationalism can we expect from the dalit survivors of Kherlenji massacre or the lucky ones from the Gujarat and Delhi (1984) pogroms? None. Their perception of nationalism and the concept of nationhood have been blurred (or should we say clarified) by their experiences of the microenvironment they lived in. The insulation from their nationalism has been ripped apart, exposing the rawness to factors around them. In fact it would be outright ridiculous to expect quantum of nationalist packages coming out from such underprivileged and downtrodden sections of the society which has been denied justice in cold blood. Strangely it would not be surprising if we see the perpetrators of these crimes berate nationalist slogans from roof tops. Insulated nationalism is surely a strange weapon.
As for the likes of Arundhati Roy, who could be more nationalist than the one who has the ability and courage to raise voice against injustice, inequality and discrimination of her own people? Who could be more patriotic than the one who fights for the rights of those whom we consider inconvenient road blocks in the agenda of OUR progress. It is frightening to see the “insect” definition of George Orwell being applied with impunity. Nationalism with insulation is like fire without warmth, like a bird without wings. It is time that we remove the insulation from our nationalism so that our raw nerves could be exposed to what is happening around us and with us. The mist of breath and the warmth of blood spilled next door can only be felt if we have this raw nerve.


Onkar Mittal said...

We need to recognize in India the concept of subnationalities or perhaps a better term is bahurangi rashtriyeta. Most Indian nationalists ( Congress, BJP, socialists alike) are not ready to grant the concept of subnational sovereign entities in India. This should apply not only to tribals but also to regions, and religions.
Somewhere during the national movement the breach occurred on this issue and the fate of the subcontinent - nation was changed.

best regards

Dr. Onkar Mittal

Braja Mishra said...

Dr Khan : Thank you very much for disseminating a very rational interpretation of 'nationalism'. Hope, it will enlighten many !

Mumtaz Ahmed said...

Dear Dr. Alam,

Yes, albeit we are world's largest democracy yet we have to be very cautious in our words and deeds to avoid to be branded anti national. On certain issues our minds are set to unadjustable mode. We have yet to go long way to achieve freedom to speak.

Mumtaz Ahmed

Irfan said...

Thank you for a very well written and strong article.
It is not healthy to agree with everything, including Govt policy, which even in a democracy is only a decision by the majority. It brings to mind the decision to ban veils and minarets by "democratic voting" in certain European countries. These people were neither illiterate nor half naked. Unbridled and belligerent nationalism is fascism and results in harsh judgements based on bizzare reasoning and surreal conclusions.
I, especially liked your concluding paragraph - quite a coup de grace.

George Thomas said...

Well written Alam. Congratulations and keep it going...

Surjit Thokchom said...

Great write up, I fully endorse you Dear Dr. Shah
thanks a lot

chinmay said...

Quite a moving article...Hats off to your thought process.

Arun Kumar said...

Very well said.
The other equally disturbing and fallacious charge against Arundhati Roy is that she supports violence. This is because she questions peace, analyzes the politics of peace, exposes the current beneficaries from the real believers in peace - unlike most of the Middle Class, Corporates, Upper Class, Upper Caste, imaptient intellectuals and crass commentators and frothing Media people do.
What is numbing is the violence in their dismissal of a person (or a thought) who is different, who does not confirm to them or their norms.
Peace is doable.Violence is being done. Some march for peace. Some march against violence. These are two different roads. Hope they meet one day. Some day.

Arun Kumar

M Hasan said...

I am an avid reader of Arundhati Roy who takes on all evils headlong. Twenty years before, I had believed narrow nationalism, a jingoism or McCarthyism, was dangerous for humanity.
A true nationalist is one who pays his taxes, doesn't adulterate food and medicines, doesn't unweigh or dupe people with wrong ads of his products, doesnot hoard or do black marketeering and respect others civil rights. If this is true, then one can guess who are those who have been claiming, nay breast beating about their brand of Nationalism or Cultural Nationalism. They are the ones who are antinational and anti peace and harmony. The whole constituency of the right wing parties have earned to be declared as anti India in many ways.

Ghulam Mohiyuddin said...

Arundhati Roy is a writer of conscience, just like Emile Zola or Noam Chomsky, and hence may rankle jingoistic nationalists from time to time. After spending several days with Naxalites, she wrote her controversial article which does not endorse either Maoism or the use of violence but expounds on how the Adivasis have been exploited and why they have no options available to them other than their present insurgency. Admittedly she is an advocate of the oppressed, but she is not a statesman and she herself has admitted that she has no mediation skills.

Her "nationalist" critics have hurled abuse at her and there is even some empty talk of bringing charges against her but, thank God, the RSS or any other jingoistic group has not issued a fatwa or death threat against her. Insulated Islamic fundamentalism, compared to insulated nationalism, is much more intolerant of dissent and much more likely to lead to beheadings or other ghastly consequences. Narrow minded nationalists and religious fundamentalists should learn to refrain from suppressing freedom of thought and freedom to dissent.

Indian said...

After reading the article, I am in TOTAL agreement with author - Dr. Shah Alam Khan's views, and his wonderful explanation of INSULATED NATIONALISM. I am unaware if readers on TCN platform read OR saw various interviews that Arundhati Roy gave, both in western press - and in India. For details, you may just watch the excerpts on: YouTube.com by typing word: Arundhati Roy Interviews, but don't get distracted by usual ADS and other DISTRACTIONS.
Views expressed by Arundhati Roy pose some DIFFICULT questions for GOI, Operation Green Hunt, Mineral Mining Corridor in Naxal controlled area, who are being WRONGLY labeled as MAOISTS by ABUSING Mainstream Media.
In my view mainstream media, INSTEAD of being impartial OR neutral, are INVARIABLY taking side of Government's WRONG POLICIES - for reason(s), readers can easily understand. And most intereting FACT is, opposition party, INSTEAD of their usual DUTY of opposing - are SIDING with government.
It's time, general public instead of being SILENT VIEWERS and SPECTATORS of TAMASHA (drama) created by politicians, raise their vioce - and speak TRUTH.

Alia said...

Your lucid articles are not just interesting reads but I think a neccessity in the times that we live in. Thanks and do keep on writing not only on TCN but in print media too-Tehelka, The Hindu, Frontline etc. Truth needs to be told, maybe some of our sleeping citizens might wake up and realize that the one who shouts loudest about being a nationalist, need not necessarily be one, it is the actions which tell the most.

Satwa Gunam said...

Author has written this article as usual what can be expected of the intellentia in the muslim community.
There is never a soul searching to see what needs to be changed that is the reason you get fatwa like women working, insurance policy.
Probably it might not have been in the culture and belief of arab but in india, the mythology teach from the behavour of lakmana "piran manai nokan peranmai enapadum" literal meaning is "great man never look at other man's wife"
Coming back to arudati roy, will she have back bone to comment on the great reasonable fatwa issued of late. No, that is the reason the public see the one sided criticism of her and just ignore her. Any thing needs to be normal and balanced.

Sameer Doon said...

Excellant write-up, thought provoking, need to be widely circulted among the masses and also taught in school so that we learn to understand the difference between write & wrong, good & bad, truth & lie and so on. What is good for our nation and for the masses should be learnt at an early age so as not to be influenced by fake nationalism.
Humans have naive mind unless it is properly guided, it will malfunction. In the guise of nationalism, cruelty and killings of innocents with impunity is also the mental malfunctioning. May God save all of us from such malfunctioning of mind.
We indians are generally sensible people. If proper guidence is given will surely lead the world in science, technology, research, literature, business, sports.

hissan said...

Interesting read; however the naively liberal view of education comes to the fore in the piece, when you mention that nationalism more dangerous when the people are half-naked, half-literate etc. If this was the case, then how does, one explain the Tea Party movement in the U.S or for the support for the Taliban amongst the petty bourgeoisie and middle classes of Pakistan. I think you should problematize the issue.

hissan said...

Also on a very basic level you seem to be conflating nationalism and patriotism when you mention Roy as nationalistic...

Satish Jha said...

Its time we begin to share facts when people try to create false perceptions. Arundhati's story is a moving one and is as factual as facts get as well. Its interpretation is a matter of which side one may choose to stand on. The default is that anyone has the right to voice their opinion and the state must protect the freedom of expression even for those who speak only against it, at all times. That is the meaning of our human evolution that we will no longer have a Galileo hanged for his opinion.
Let us debate the facts. Let us debate the perspectives. Let us all have the power of the pen or the keyboard that Arundhati has and let us support her right to say what she needs to say and offer our view points and facts as best as we can and let there be an informed opinion on the matter.
I think on the issue of resurgent Maoism, we have Sonia Gandhi stand up for Arundhati insofar as she called for understanding the deeper roots of this unrest. So did Narendra Modi once and so does Laloo. That is a pretty diverse set of folks indeed. And that is how India as a nation should take it.
Sometimes, those who stand for humanity, seem to question their national sentiments. Its for the good of us all that such opinions be respected to help become our nationalism a bit more humane!

Akash said...

Dr. Alam,
Very few of us have any objections to Ms. Roy questioning things. The things we take umbrage to are her slip shod analysis and simplistic view points. For the life of me, I fail to understand how blowing up trains and killing innocent people constitutes a valid struggle. Her essay "Gandhians with a gun" was an exercise in fatuousness. She takes a whirlwind tour of Naxals and comes out all starry eyed about their "struggle". She is just a publicity hound and a articulate bimbo. My village is affected by Naxalism and we know what these people are made up of. They are a little better than Taliban, in that their ideology can be easily countered. Syrupy words cannot mask the truth. No one denies that our state has failed the tribals, but to conflate that with the dubious plank of Naxalism, which was in existences for a long time, reeks of chicanery of the highest order. Roy has made a living out of being a farcical spokesperson of redundant struggles. Wonder why we don't hear her giving nonsense excuses for Taliban anymore. It's because there have been some recent articles by Pakhtuns themselves who, paradoxically, have welcomed the drone attacks by the US. Please do read the articles by Farhat Taj in this regard.

Gujju Girl said...

DR Alam,

Please don't advocate for publicity hungry bimbos like A Roy, Megha Parkar or Tista Setalwad. (Of course there are lot of others !)

They are just waiting for any issue which can give them a chance to bark against the majority ( definitely not only Hindus) of this country. This type of personalities should be exported to China to learn the 'social responsibility'. Here in Bharat they know they can get cheap publicity by expressing their USELESS views which MUST differ than the one expressed by the public in general.

God bless such .... (what word I should use for them?)

Bob Stokes said...

I like how Dr Khan thinks. With him with the overall picture. Need to nitpick though. As far as pogroms goes, Dr Khan should have counted Pandits being killed and hounded out of their ancient homeland among other pogroms in our recent history. If he doesn't do that, he is only marginally better than those apologists we see every day.