On becoming an Organizational Consultant

Many young and old (post retirement) friends and acquaintances ask me for pointers to enter the world of Organizational Consulting & Training which I have been in since 1985. I thought it would be good to share generally what I have been advising people for several years. I hope it will benefit many more. It is easy if you are a motorcycle mechanic. What you do is clear. The customer has a pressing need. It doesn’t cost much to repair his motorcycle. So he comes.
But with Organizational Consulting & Training you are dealing in concepts, feelings, emotions and some techniques which mostly depend on the sincerity of the learner in applying them as well as his expertise in doing so; to show their effectiveness. That is a very challenging ‘s environment. The customer’s need is not as immediate or pressing like the man with the broken motorcycle. And he must pay a jolly sight more to fulfill his need. Moreover, his benefit is far less clear, especially as it depends on what he does with what he learnt from you. Having been in this business now since 1985, I can tell you that it is perhaps the most challenging and exciting business that exists – provided you know what to do. So here are some thoughts about what works and what doesn’t.
1.     Define & Differentiate your product – What do you have to offer and how is it unique?
The more clearly you can define your product, the better. It is not what you think you do, but what your customer thinks you do, that matters. That must be crystal clear to him, so that when he has a need in the area of your work, you are his natural choice.  So, give a lot of thought to what it is that you do and how you tell people about it. Remember that the world of selling is the world of words. Not deception, but palatable truth. Unpalatable truth is equally truthful but not equally edible. So, craft words thoughtfully and take brutal feedback from others about it. Being married to your words is suicide. The key is not what you used to do but how you can use it now to help others. Don’t leave that to the customer to figure out. Spell it out for him. Not because he is stupid, but because the need is yours. Don’t tell him what you used to do but how you can help him and how that will benefit him. That will mean knowing his business sometimes better than he does himself. Certainly, in terms of an overview from the outside. That is your key differentiator because perspective is a function of distance. Leverage it and show him how it works.
2.    Define your customer
Not everyone is your customer. This is the biggest mistake you can make; trying to be all things to everyone. That way you are seen as a generalist, nothing to nobody. People like to feel that they are dealing with an expert, even if it is for a haircut. That means that you must learn to say a very definite, ‘No!’ to some businesses. I stayed out of recruitment from the beginning (1994) when recruitment was a booming business. That classified me as a confidant of business managers and owners; not as someone who would probably poach on them to grow his business. I never regretted that decision. It is not to say that all placement consultants do this but enough do to spoil the reputation of everyone. Err on the side of caution in accepting assignments. Only the hero who survives lives to tell the tale. In consulting, if the client fails, you carry the can. So never accept assignments where the outcome is doubtful because you doubt the client’s sincerity or learning ability to carry out your recommendations. Remember that both success or failures are news; often the latter being remembered more vividly. So, look for quick wins. Both parties will be happier.
3.    Define your fee
I have a basic rule. Stand in front of the mirror and say the number aloud. If you feel comfortable with it, it is the right amount. Do some hard-nosed analysis about your finances and see what you need – not want – need. Then base your fee on that. Develop a mindset of contentment, so that when that figure is reached you have no stress. Then whatever else comes thereafter is icing on the cake. Remember that once you quote a figure to a client, that is what he will pay you as long as you live. He will take an increment every six months but will moan like a cow in labor if you ask for a raise once in six years. So, be careful what you quote. “We are going to give you a lot of business, so give us a discount”, is the oldest, most threadbare line that exists. Even more than, “What are you doing tonight?” So, don’t fall for it. Giving a discount to someone who will actually give you a lot of business means that you are tying yourself down to a low productivity client in favor of others who would have been more productive. Quote fairly and confidently. Perception is in the mind of the listener but before that in your own heart. If you are confident of your product or service, then be sure that people will come to you again and again. I have not made a cold call since 1995. It is as simple as that.  
4.    Deliver premium and demand premium
Buy me because I am cheap – is not a slogan that ever appealed to me. Remember no matter what you charge there will always be someone in the market who will pay that to you, once. It is repeat business that is your bread and butter – so ensure that your customer is so tremendously satisfied that he will not only call you again but you become his natural choice. The repeat customer is the only one who can compare you to others, because he has experienced you once. Make sure that his experience with you is so superior that everything else pales in comparison. He then becomes your ambassador and there’s no better or more effective ambassador than a customer who has experienced you and is delighted.
Selling cheap has several problems: You position yourself as a low-quality provider (default implication of cheap); the client will never agree to a fee raise later so you lock yourself into a low remunerative bind and you can almost never pitch for high-end work. Nobody will consult the trainer of security guards when the Board wants advice. So, positioning is critical. I have found that positioning in terms of quality is best. If you deliver top quality, you get a very good name and people don’t care what you charge. Those who still count pennies are not your clients. Smile and leave them. The fact is that if you are not confident about your product or service then don’t expect the client to feel confident about you.
‘Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten’, (Gucci family slogan).
 
5.    Do only work that you are passionate about – leave the rest
That is because you can’t deliver quality unless you are passionate about something. So never do something for the money. Do it for love. Money will follow. Money is the natural consequence of all quality work. But if you do something that you don’t believe in you will never succeed. That is why I have always refused work for cigarette and liquor companies and companies who are known for corruption – no matter what the fee. I have also never done sales training because it doesn’t excite me. I teach leadership where I am paid to do it and I teach it free where the client (like schools) can’t pay me but I believe that they will benefit and need that training. That gives me practice with a variety of audiences and builds equity in the market. Work for love and you will be loved for it.
Genuinely want the best for your client. If you are not interested in the welfare of the client and are working only for the money, it will show and it will go against you. Genuine interest means that you will end up doing more work than you may have anticipated, including some that is not billable. But being genuinely interested means that you won’t grudge or regret that. Take only projects that interest you because if you want to succeed in a project and make a mark, then you will need to be mentally engaged with it 24 x 7. You can’t do that unless it genuinely interests you. That too will show. Genuine wanting the best for your client also means that sometimes you will tell your client to go somewhere else if he needs something that you know someone else can provide better than you can. It is a tough call and that is why you need to think beyond your income. Remember that in the end it all comes back. People remember and are grateful and will promote and recommend you. Consulting is not business. Consulting is friendship. I have worked with this philosophy for the past 32 years and never regretted it.
6.    Communicate, communicate, communicate
There is no getting away from this. Talk to people, write things and share with everyone. Have an abundance mentality with sharing. It all comes back. Speak at conferences and seminars. Offer to teach (even if it is for nothing) management development courses at business schools and training establishments – pick and choose of course – but do it. This will teach you the skills of dealing with people. It will energize you, expose you to your potential client base and give you visibility and credibility. I used to teach at IIM-B when I lived in Bangalore, at Asnuntuck Community College and the Government of Connecticut when I was in the US and teach at the National Police Academy, SSB Academy and others now that I live in Hyderabad. All for next to nothing in terms of money but great networking benefits.
Answer phone calls immediately, always respond to emails, call people just to say hello. Have a toll-free number where your clients can reach you. Never leave a phone call unreturned or an email unanswered. Good people skills are far more important than anything else. People hire you not because of competence but because they like you. Competence is a given. It must be there. Being liked is the decision maker. Communication is the key to being liked. Aspiring consultants who play (or are) hard to get are digging their own grave. Nobody loves you enough to chase you. That will happen one day provided you build enough equity. But it will happen after a lot of hard work. I once had a client wait for two years for me to return from America to do some work, but the exception proves the rule. If you are not reachable, someone else is. No matter that you think you are the best in the market. Even if you are, they don’t know that until they work with you and if they can’t reach you, if you don’t return calls or mails, that will never happen.
7.     Document and focus on your own training
The written word has high credibility. So, write. Record meetings, thoughts, ideas and questions. Then read them. You will be amazed at how much you will learn. Every year or so, go over what you have recorded and you are likely to have the makings of a book on hand. I wrote more than 12 books in 28 years of consulting. Almost all of them this way. You will be amazed how much research and learning happens in the normal course of life, except that we don’t record it. Beat the rest. Record your learnings. Books are an excellent way to build credibility. They are also a strong way to advertise what you have to offer without having to be crass enough to talk about it. A book is a quiet but confident statement of who you are and what you have to offer to the market. People trust the written word much more than the spoken word. In the words of Martin Luther King (Jr.), ‘If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.’ This also keeps you busy in the lull periods where you may otherwise fall prey to anxiety and stress. So, write.
Ensure that you invest in yourself by upgrading your own skills. Set aside time and a budget to invest in your own learning. Read and get trained on a regular basis and you will find that to be a competitive advantage. I have found this an absolutely unassailable argument on the rare occasion when someone says to me, ‘But so-and-so charges less than you do.’ I say to them, ‘Ask them what they spent on their own training in the last 12 months.’ Nobody ever came back and I never lost a client for this reason. The hard reality is that if you have not upgraded yourself, then you are really not fit to offer anything to the client. His reality changes on a daily basis with greater complexity, more demanding challenges and an ever more ambiguous environment. How can you help them if you are still living in the stone age? Remember that consulting, especially leadership consulting is not about technology but about helping your client sell his dream and then help him to create a concrete roadmap to achieve it. It is about building trust, keeping confidence and being there for them.
8.    Finally, never compromise your integrity no matter how hungry you are
Remember that your client is not the one who feeds you and the One who feeds you doesn’t lack resources. So never do anything which is against your beliefs and values. Have the highest values and live by them. That is the biggest incentive in my view of being an independent consultant – that you can afford to live by your values. And guess what? Not only will you never starve but you will gain a huge amount of respect in the market which you can’t buy even if you wanted to. For example, I have always insisted on clients respecting copyright and never agreed to use photocopied instruments, books and so on. On one occasion, I had to walk away from a very lucrative assignment from a very famous company (you’ll be surprised if I told you the name) because the training manager insisted that I used photocopied MBTI questionnaires to ‘reduce cost’. She said to me, ‘But everyone does it.’ I told her, ‘I am not everyone.’ That was in my very first year as an independent consultant (1994) when I was very poor and hungry and it hurt very much to walk away. But I did. And as they say, the rest is history.
Another aspect of integrity is to keep the confidentiality of the client. Especially if you have high profile clients, others will try to put pressure on you to talk about them. By all means share the good stuff. But anything that is confidential like business information, personal information about anyone, any plans that you may be privy to, must all remain completely confidential. Remember that it takes years to build a reputation for integrity in consulting and it takes a single instance to destroy it. It doesn’t matter whether you did it deliberately or accidentally. If you did it, it is a bullet in the forehead. It is instant death. A reputation of high integrity is your best brand, your greatest asset. It is your signature, your key differentiator in the market and it is what you will always be remembered for. I can say with great pride that I have worked with GE from 1994, but have never been asked to sign a NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement). So also with all my other clients. I have never signed an NDA with anyone. Not that I would have refused. If someone has a policy about it, I have no objection to following it. I am saying that nobody ever asked me to do it. As I mentioned earlier, your reputation is your greatest asset. By far greater than anything material. Don’t sell it for love or money. It is simply not worth it. Guard it very zealously and jealously. It will benefit you all your life.
Consulting is hard because it means that someone else must feel that the advice that you will give them is worth paying for. So, it needs hard work, consistent results and extremely good social skills and interpersonal relationships. But like a giant wheel, it is hard work to move it but once it is rolling, it builds momentum on its own.
I hope this is helpful and gives you a start. We have to work very hard – very, very hard to begin with. That is why passion is important because it will keep going up the long uphill climb when breath is short and burning in the chest, your legs are leaden, your back is a mass of pain and the sweat is pouring off your brow like rain. But you keep climbing because you know what awaits you at the top. To sit on a rock and watch the world at your feet, your face cooled by a gentle breeze and your body slowly relaxing as you gaze down – not up – at the clouds.
www.yawarbaig.com

 

Entrepreneurial Dilemmas and their answers


Spirit
‘In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow, wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.’
~ Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus
First question of course is to ask if I am qualified to write about this issue. Let me tell you how I started and let you decide if you want to read beyond that account.
I have been an entrepreneur, formally (in the sense of owning my own business) since 1994. I started business however while I was still in a regular full time job (in 1983), with the full knowledge and blessing of my employer and paid for it by working on my business during my vacation and unpaid leave. 
I worked at learning and building a management consulting business for 12 years. I invested every available paisa (cent) on books and train fares (3rd class – a bare wooden plank for a seat) and every available day of vacation leave, interning with one trainer or another. I did not take a single day off in 12 years. Then in 1994 I started my own company (Yawar Baig & Associates www.yawarbaig.com ) in Bangalore with all of Rs. 3000 ($ 60) in my pocket and a dream in my heart, of becoming an internationally recognized leadership trainer with a global business. That in my view is typical of being an entrepreneur – to dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” This is 2013, 13 years after my first international assignment. Today I have a business with clients on three continents.
It is this innate aspiration for excellence that I believe is at the root of all successful entrepreneurial activity. It is the desire to differentiate. To be different in a positive way. To stand out from the crowd; not to blend in with it. To express your identity in a unique way such that it is recognized and honored. That is the meaning of ‘Branding’. Without that you are a grain of rice in a sack. Excellence is to take responsibility not only for your own well-being but that of others. To lead others on the road which will not only help you to make your dream come true but to weave the dreams of others into the fabric so intrinsically that when they look out on the achievement of your vision, they will also see their own visions becoming reality. To leave behind a legacy by which you are remembered with affection and your passing regretted. Entrepreneurship is to always act with this consciousness about the long term effects of our actions. To be willing to give an account, because we know that we will be held accountable.
Entrepreneurship is all about spirit. It is recognizing that you did not come into this world either randomly by accident or by your own choice. Your parents did not choose for you to be born. I believe that we were sent and we were sent with a purpose. When we discover that purpose we enter a state of grace. A fish out of water is the most clumsy, awkward creature in the world. It can’t move, it flops desperately, it gasps for breath. But the same fish when you put it back into the lake disappears like a flash – the epitome of grace, speed and beauty. When we are in our appointed task we are like a fish in the water. The world conspires to help us to succeed. But first we must recognize our purpose and then we need to consciously accept it. That is the scary part. But that is the threshold that must be crossed to demonstrate that we are in and not out. Without crossing the threshold of owning responsibility for our own lives, we can’t expect anything to happen.
We are never compelled to make one choice or another. But the doors that open, the vista that unfolds before our eyes and the road that beckons ahead all depend on the choice that we make. Behind each door is a different destiny. We get to choose which one we want to open and walk through into the world that it opens for us. 
Choices are not always easy. As a matter of fact all the important ones are difficult. The most difficult thing is to choose between two apparently good alternatives. But the choice must be made. Everything else depends on that. We complain about difficulty. We forget that difficulties come to test us so that the prize can be given once we surmount the difficulty. Success goes to those who can overcome difficulties. Each difficulty resets the bar and creates a new definition of excellence without which we would have been lulled into a false sense of security which hides fatal flaws. Only winners get medals, remember? Those who fail are relegated to the garbage pile of the detritus of history. 
Without the challenge of Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy. But when he stood up against the might of Goliath and his army, Allah guided his arm which swirled the sling about his head and the stone met its mark. That was the destiny of David which opened up before him when he took the step forward. The same destiny was not written for those who did not take the step forward, when the King of the Bani Israeel, Talut (Saul) called for volunteers to fight Goliath in single combat. Taking the first step forward was the key to the door that led to David’s victory. Similarly our destiny waits for us to stand up and say, “I am ready.” Then the challenge stands forth. Faith is to remember all this and to take the first step. 
Every time we stand and say, “I am ready!” a challenge will come forward. If we see the challenge and run away then we are back to square one. It is only when we take a step forward towards the challenge that we actively make the choice which will lead to victory. Notice that I use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may, can or probably’. That is because I speak as an entrepreneur who knows that every time you take a firm step in the direction of the challenge, victory has already been written. The first step is a sign of that. When we take a step towards a challenge and we don’t succeed, the answer lies in the way we took the step. It was not a firm step with conviction. It was a step with one eye looking backwards over the shoulder looking for escape routes. We did not burn the ships upon landing on the distant shore, with the resolve that in this new land, we shall make our home. The burning of the ships is symbolic because it signifies commitment. Commitment that we will live here in our new homes or we will be buried in our new graves. But there is no going back. Commitment is the line we cross between wishing and doing. And that is what I mean by the first step. Entrepreneurs take it with conviction. They don’t look back.
I believe very passionately and firmly in the fact that in the end, it is quality that scores over everything else. I know that every entrepreneur worth the name shares this belief with me. I have met many along the way who cut corners, pretended to be what they were not and compromised quality for short term gain. Most of them no longer exist. Those who do, live with a reputation that constantly sabotages their effort. I believe that everything that we do or choose not to do defines our brand and reflects our character. Therefore all initiatives and effort must be measured against this standard to see if it stands up to the mark. Compromising standards and values for gains is a very expensive bargain and adds no value at all. Indeed the most profitable way to run a business is to work to the highest standards and become the benchmark in the industry against which others measure themselves. Then you can claim a premium where your competitors are busy competing on price. 
‘Buy from me because I am cheap’, is a slogan I never liked.

So what are the questions that arise when you are thinking about becoming and entrepreneur and what are their answers?
1.      But am I ready?

That depends on what you mean by ready. There are two aspects to this question: an emotional aspect and a material aspect.

a.           Emotional Aspect: Please answer these questions:
a.   What does it take to make you content?
b.   How much faith do you have in yourself and in Allah?
c.   How much support do you have from your environment?

b.           Material Aspect: Please answer these questions:
a.   What is the market need? What does your research tell you?
b.   What is your value proposition? What is your differentiator?
c.   Does your target customer agree? What’s in it for him?
2.      When is it the right time?

Now is the right time simply because ‘now’ is the only time in your hands. The past is gone. The future may never come. The present is all that we have. So when should you take the first step? Right now.
 3.      How do I sell, especially when I may not be a technology expert?

a.      Have basic overall knowledge of the product/service so you don’t seem ignorant.

b.      Gain in depth knowledge of the customer and his business …the more you know, the better.

c.       Know and speak the language of the customer. Speak to as many people in the industry as you can and get as much anecdotal data as possible.

d.      In your meeting speak the language of the customer. Use their internal words and phrases but do it unobtrusively and seamlessly.

e.       Draw attention to how your product/service can help him (benefits)…not on what the product/service does (features).

f.        Don’t leave him to make the linkage. Make it for him which demonstrates to him how well you know his business and gives him peace of mind and adds to your credibility.

g.      Then keep silent and let him decide.
4.      Caveats:

a.      Never fall into the trap of organization building for a non-existing business. Sell first. Then depending on the need build infrastructure and hire people. People start with an office. Big mistake. Your home is your office, warehouse, bedroom and kitchen all rolled into one.

b.      Remember that all that you spend on infrastructure and overheads is expense. And all that you save by working without these two is income. So be very careful before you build or add anything. Keep your money.

c.       Hire only salespeople and put them on a revenue sharing scheme. Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t like the idea of sharing revenue and wants a salary (I want my money whether I make any money or not! You don’t want someone like that, believe me.)

d.      Outsource all other functions. That’s why experts exist. If you are honest you don’t need two account books and any good accountant can do all your accounts and file your tax returns for less than 10% of what a full time accountant will cost you. Same applies to everyone else.

e.       You go out there and sell. Do it yourself simply because nobody can do it better than you can and that is experience you need like a fish needs air. It is invaluable and without it you can’t even survive, much less grow.

f.        Every evening sit down with a notebook and pen and ask, ‘What happened today and what did I learn?’ And make notes. There’s nothing more valuable than this documentation. So do it religiously and every day.

g.      If you take partners be sure of what billable value the partner is adding. Holding your hand is not billable value. That is a psychological placebo. Make sure the partner brings something that you can’t do. If he replicates (or wants to replicate) what you do, he is a competitor, not a partner.

h.      Have the partnership strictly on a profit sharing basis. That is better for the self-respect of both partners.

i.        Document the partnership clearly in terms of duties and deliverables. That is better for your friendship. Taking friends for granted is the single biggest reason for partnerships going sour. You lose the friend and the business.

j.        Take someone you trust as an advisor/mentor and listen to his/her advice. Listen, not necessarily follow. Listen, don’t argue or try to convince them. Listen and take your own decisions. It is your life, after all.
For more read my book, ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary, 

Appreciation of return is directly proportional to investment

In my life every developmental activity that I invested in was done at a personal cost. In one case, I sold my car and borrowed money (which I repaid over three years) to pay the fee to go to the IIMA for my MBA. In another case I spent every cent of my holiday allowance for 12 years to learn how to be a trainer. In a third case I took a loan to do a certification course at the Carnegie Melon University in the US.

What does that mean? It means that for 12 years from 1983-1994 we didn’t take any vacation. I got married in 1985 and my wife supported me fully in my quest for learning. She would go to her parents place while I went to this or that school or this or that course or more often than not, played apprentice to this or that consultant or trainer; traveling third class by train, sleeping in dingy hotels and cleaning black boards and getting tea and coffee for the trainer. In the evening we’d go over what he did and why and I’d take notes.

What does that mean? It means that for the entire duration of that period (and remember at the time I didn’t know it would be 12 years) we didn’t own a TV, couldn’t change our car (I had a beat up Ambassador which spent more time in the garage than on the road; and a Royal Enfield motorcycle), or as I already mentioned, take a holiday.

But those were there most satisfying days of my life.

And of course once I had paid the price of enrollment into the leadership cadre of life, the returns started. Not that suddenly things became easy. They didn’t. Tests continued and continue to this day. But I had enough history to see them as excitement. I developed the confidence to face them from a position of strength and to laugh at the challenge they presented. But that was because of the risks I took and the investment I made at a time when there was no return to show at the end of it.

Biggest lesson I learnt in life was to realise that life is the name for the choices we make. Nobody compels us to make that choice. That’s why it’s called a choice. But every choice opens a door. The seed is what you plant in the earth. The harvest is what you hold in your hand. But unless you let go what you have in your hand and plant it in the earth, there will be no harvest. But when you do plant the seed there’s always a harvest which is more than the seed you planted. The choice is ours to make.
Excuses don’t change either the reality or the result. No seed, no harvest.

So today when people complain about the cost of any learning activity I tell them, ‘Don’t do it.’

Because if they can’t see the value in it, it won’t benefit them anyway. So why waste money? Go watch a Formula 1 race or a cricket game. That’s what slaves and victims do. 

Investment in self-development is strictly a leaders only activity.

Do I sound unsympathetic? Good. I am a great believer in congruence. The alternative in Arabic is called Nifaaq (hypocrisy). And a hypocrite, I’m not.

The One who controls the language controls the debate

May Allahﷻ help this Ummah but we are living in very difficult times. The biggest challenge seems to be to maintain emotional and psychological equilibrium in the midst of the battering as if in a storm. While we are battered by storms, some of our own making, we still have to keep walking on the path of life, trying to make sense of whatever little we can see through the haze and fog and keep hoping that when we step off into the darkness of the unknown, there will be something solid to stand on or we will be taught how to fly.

 

In times like this it is only natural to fall into the trap of defining ourselves in the terms that the propaganda wordsmiths set for us and to respond in their language without realizing that by definition, it is to our disadvantage.

 

Language has and will always be a weapon in the hands of the experts to be used to color the picture in the hue of their choice. For example, British historians called the 1857 War of Indian Independence, “The Sepoy Mutiny”. Intrinsic in the term being the need to legitimize the colonial rule. If you call it a ‘Mutiny’ then any draconian measure to crush it becomes justifiable and that is precisely what they did. Of course, to our own eternal shame as Indians, Maratha and Sikh troops fought under the command of British officers and did the deed and literally hundreds of thousands of brave Indian patriots, Hindu and Muslim, were brutally murdered. Same story in the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre where on the orders of Col. Reginald Dyer troops of the 2-9th Gurkhas, the 54th Sikhs and the 59th Sind Rifles, fired on a gathering of Sikhs. Ask how and why Sikhs killed Sikhs? The power of language and how it can brainwash you so that you no longer know friend from foe.

 

Today the same tactics are being used where freedom fighters are called ‘insurgents’ and ‘terrorists’. Their brave attempts to fight an overwhelmingly superior force invading and illegally occupying their countries are called ‘acts of terrorism’. And the real terrorizing of the whole world is called ‘War on terror’ and the people committing these terrorist acts are called ‘democratic forces.’

 

When they die in this unequal fight at the rate of about 1 to every 100 of the freedom fighters (ICH: as on August 29, 2007 – 3732 US troops to 1,025,092 Iraqis) their death is called ‘heroic’. And when whole neighborhoods and cities are wiped out in genocidal acts, this is called ‘collateral damage’. When random acts of violence happen where misguided people take the law into their own hands and attack innocent civilians, their actions are and are called ‘dastardly’. But when bomber pilots of the so-called ‘Democratic Forces’ shoot missiles that destroy hospitals, schools, mosques, bomb shelters with men, women and children smashed to rubble it is called a ‘surgical strike’. I can go on but won’t.

 

The point I want to make here is not about what the wordsmiths of the fascists do. But about our own people falling into their trap. For example, as we speak Buddhists in Myanmar are carrying out a state sponsored genocide of the Rohinga people who are inhabitants of Burma/Myanmar for centuries. Men, women and children are being slaughtered, burnt alive and their homes, mosques and schools are being torched. All this while the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama are silent witnesses who don’t even speak a word against the oppressors. I believe it is essential to look at the reality and stop fooling ourselves if we want to find a solution to the problem. As long as we keep calling it a problem of Islamic fundamentalism there is no solution to the problem. Once we accept that the problem is to do with the ongoing push for Western Imperialism (albeit today in the name of ‘democracy’) push for global domination, then we will be well on the way to solving the problem.

 

Frankly I am not even against the idea of global domination because I recognize it to be the natural outcome of economic and military power. However, it is the means adopted to dominate which must be questioned. When these means sow the seeds of global suffering and slavery hiding behind a veritable fog of lofty ideals, then they must be resisted and exposed for what they are. For a nation to seek markets is not wrong provided others can share in its economy and are not reduced to abject slavery albeit in another name. However, the West, which is the ideological heir to the Roman Empire, continues to use the language of Julius Caesar and Imperial Rome – ‘bringing civilization to barbarians in the name of the Republic’. That enabled them to create a state which was based on the logic of perpetual war which was the engine behind their commerce and trade. I believe that for anyone wanting to understand global politics today, reading a history of the Roman Empire is essential.

 

To return to our subject of how language is used as a tool, even weapon, of domination, unfortunately we see independent journalists also using the language of the oppressors when defining Muslims and calling them ‘Islamist’, ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and so on. This is a big mistake and an indication of mental subjugation that many of us have become the victims of.

 

Muslims or Muslim countries have not invaded any other country. They are not the ones who are imposing their economic, religious or moral system on anyone. They are not the ones stealing others’ assets, looting their countries or attempting to overthrow their governments. They are not the ones who are imprisoning others for no cause, torturing them in heinous ways or passing life sentences on them because they demanded justice and spoke against oppression. The citizens of these countries, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and others, who happen to be Muslims are fighting for their rights. The right to life, to dignity, to not being murdered, tortured or raped. The right to education and clean water not contaminated by depleted uranium or sewage from the illegal settlements deliberately being dumped into the Palestinian aquifer that is the only source of their drinking water. The right of their children to play in the street without being picked off by snipers taking pot-shots at human beings. Yet they are called fundamentalist terrorists, most painfully of all, by their own simple-minded brethren.

 

We as bystanders have a very important task. One that history will hold us accountable for and which we will answer to our Creator for on the Day when all will be called to account for what they did. And that is the task of bearing witness. Being truthful recorders of what is happening. We may not be able to change what is happening or to stop it from happening. But we can bear witness to it and name the beast correctly. This is a sacred duty of every citizen, irrespective of nationality, religion or race. To bear witness to the blatant oppression that has been unleashed on the world. Remember my friends to bear witness truthfully and not to use the language of the oppressors when you do it.

 

Call genocide, genocide. Not ethnic cleansing or riots. Call bombing cities and killing civilians as such, not collateral damage. And call Muslims, Muslims, not Islamists, Talibanists or Fundamentalists. ‘Terrorism’ is bad English. Terror is not an ‘ism’ – and ideology but a tactic used by various ‘isms’ to achieve their own ends. Anti-Semitism is to speak against Semitic people. While one may argue the purpose of isolating a single race to become the target of the world’s love, if one is to accept that Anti-Semitism is a crime, then to say anything disparaging about the Arabs will be a crime as Arabs are as Semitic as Palestinian Jews while European Jews are not Semitic at all. As in the story of the white bull, we die not on the day they come for us, but on the day we fail to raise our voice against the first innocent killed. The greatest cowardice is to stay silent in the face of injustice and the pinnacle of faith is to speak the truth in the face of the tyrant.