Where are we headed?

Where are we headed?

You may have seen the famous documentary, Four Horsemen.
In this film is this quote:
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of people living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.      ~ Frederic Bastiat
I ask myself why it is that we have written history to eulogize and applaud every rapacious bandit? Why is Alexander of Macedonia called, “The Great”? And a host of other bandits from every part of the world, whose only contribution was mass destruction, enslavement of innocent people and looting the resources of their countries. The British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and German Empires did their best to outdo each other in this race. Now the Americans are trying to beat the rest. I can’t be bothered to name all the others who I have missed not because of forgetfulness but out of contempt for this whole line of thinking and living.
As long as we continue to glorify war and plunder, we will continue to be plundered. 

That is the paradigm and conversation that we must change.
I am not for getting too stuck in our own theories and start treating them like fundamental laws. They are not. They are theories; our attempts to make sense of our world. All power to those who postulate them and reflect on them. But they are theories. The world, the earth, is not something we understand completely – to put it mildly – for I believe we don’t understand it at all. Comparing the human race to rats or bacteria in a petri dish, only goes so far. These are not absolute conclusions to be applied to ourselves.
In any case, even if they are, we have two choices: Lie down and die, or work like hell to change the conclusions. I opt for the latter. I would rather go out on my feet fighting for a better world.
That is why I say to myself, ‘I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.’
Controlling world population is not in my control. But to reduce my own carbon footprint, to share my resources, to help others and many other things are very much in my control. So, I try to do all those.
As for the articles on population control, I have read similar ones for at least over 30 years that predicted the end of the earth at lower population levels (less than 8 billion). But we are still there. Also, all these are eventually talking about reducing the population in some remote land where the people are very different from myself. It is the concept of the ‘Other’, that makes it easy to conceptualize what are essentially culls of the ‘Other’. Easy to do because they are not like, ‘Us”. Shades of smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans?
We enable ourselves into this highly homicidal way of thinking because we think within the artificial and false boundaries of our nation states; lines on maps of our own making. We forget that the earth is not like this. Africa is not different from America or Asia because we decide to draw a line or because there is a ditch which we call the Atlantic between it and America. The earth is connected. It is ONE. Whether we like to accept that or not. What happens to one will happen to all of us, whether we like it or not. Ref: Butterfly effect.
The only way therefore that we can ‘save ourselves’, is by saving others. Not by culling them. Call it what you want but that is the conclusion that all these theories of ‘population control’ are leading to. It is this thinking – I don’t need to change, but the population needs to be reduced – that produces our Eternal War philosophy. Military Industrial States need war to survive and grow. They need to build weapons, places to use them with impunity and guess what, the reward is two separate lines of revenue; weapons sales and picking up the pieces later in the form of mines, oil, loot, slaves and land.

Who does all that go to? The 1%. Those same 62. At whose cost? All the poor dumb bastards who thought they were fighting for honour, to save their glorious lands from the marauding hordes of barbarians who don’t know the taste of a Big Mac or Pepsi. Okay, Coke. Same difference. It takes two to tango. In this case, the spin doctors who write the script to suit the 1% and the dumb, unwashed multitude who believes this complete crap and are willing to lay down their lives so that the 62 are not deprived of a single fish egg of their caviar. As long as there are those who are willing to be exploited, the exploiters will have a field day. That is why I say that it is high time we – the 99% – wake up. At least die with your eyes wide open. 
I am of the belief that we need to change our lifestyles, which will stem from changing our values and rejecting the capitalistic, global domination model that we have been raised to believe. We must reject, greed and demonstrate that by ending our endless collection of garbage in the name of shopping, our addiction to self-aggrandisement and appeasing desires, our enslavement to accumulation of personal wealth at all cost and our world view which places us at the centre with everyone and everything else subordinate and subservient to ourselves. All of this is eminently possible with the right education starting in primary schools.
After all, if someone had told us to create a system where 62 people would have more wealth than the bottom 50% of global population, we would have laughed them out of the room. But that is exactly what we have accomplished and that too so subtly and quietly that I bet not one of us even realised it was happening. But believe me, we did it. We legitimized lying with full eye contact (recall George Bush and Colin Powell and Iraq’s unfindable Weapons of Mass Destruction), legitimized treating others like flies or mosquitoes, to be exterminated (recall Madelaine Albright’s comment on ABC: that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children was ‘worth it’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omnskeu-puE) and legitimized hypocrisy at levels perhaps never before seen. Come on people, wake up! Everything has an effect.
I say that because if we did this, we can undo it. We must undo it. It can’t last. It is a criminal, grossly unjust and utterly criminal way of life.
And finally, as I said earlier, we don’t even begin to understand the earth. The earth will correct itself. It will get rid of the cancer that is polluting it. It has seen many cycles of catastrophic (for its inhabitants, not for the earth itself) changes that completely altered the composition of those who live on it. And it can and will do it again.
So, let us get ready to change. Or get ready to be changed.

Why did Hyderabad die?

Why did Hyderabad die?

The Hyderabad Public School where I studied. A symbol of the Nizam of Hyderabad

This is not a history but an attempt to understand what probably happened in those last years that led to the demise of Hyderabad as an independent country and its annexation by the newly independent India. It is speculation; perhaps informed speculation; I hope, intelligent speculation, but speculation nevertheless.

I am not speaking chronologically or relating incidents but attempting to understand why the Nizam of Hyderabad took the decisions he did, which led to the calamity called Police Action (Operation Polo of the Indian Army). Calamity not because it was the end of the Asif Jahi Dynasty because all dynasties end. But calamity because, as is reported, thousands of innocent people died as a result of Police Action. They died in what we would today call, Collateral Damage; killed not by the Indian Army but by their opportunistic neighbors who used the period of transition to grab their land, by making them vanish. Entire families were murdered, entire villages were depopulated in a massive ethnic cleansing before the term was invented. I know that the figures range from 15,000 to ten times that and more. The reality is that exact figures are impossible to get. And the death of even one innocent person is highly deplorable and tragic, so numbers mean nothing. Whether it was 15,000 or 150,000 is immaterial when the truth is that not a single one deserved to die.

I am saying this because I don’t want you to get mired in discussing incidents, numbers of dead, who killed whom but try to look at why all this happened and what if anything can be learnt from this to be applied today. What is clear is that we are a nation which seems to be cursed with internecine conflict, brother killing brother, with or without pretext. I am saying to you that it is time this stopped. Stopped totally and completely. It is not difficult to find examples of how such things were stopped. Until 100 years ago, there was blood in the streets in Europe. Both World War I and II were essentially European wars, with Europeans killing each other. Yet out of that emerged a universal, silent, shared and solid pact, that European blood will not be shed by Europeans ever again. One wishes that this could have been extended to non-Europeans also but be that as it may, the fact remains that today in Europe, even the thought of a mob lynching an individual or attacking a neighborhood in which a certain religious or ethnic group lives, is simply unthinkable. It is high time we in India changed our direction 180 degrees and walked the same path before we reach a point of no return on our present path. We like to talk about India’s potential. 

The reality is that if we want that potential to be translated into actual development and economic growth, we must deal with social strife and lay it to rest. If we use religious and ethnic difference to constantly fan the flames of communalism and xenophobia and have our nation embark on periodic bloodletting sprees, then the result can only be one thing; civil war and total collapse. It is amazing how otherwise intelligent people seem to fail to read the writing on the wall.

1.      My assessment of the situation at that time leading to the demise of Hyderabad as an independent country was that India had just become independent paying a huge price in human life in the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. That resulted in India having a hostile neighbor on two sides, East and West Pakistan and Kashmir, still in a state of limbo in the North. It simply couldn’t afford another independent state in its center, ruled by a Muslim king, even though he was not hostile and even though the majority population of the state was Hindu. Hyderabad had to become a part of the Indian Union, come what may. Also since Hyderabad was the biggest, wealthiest and most influential of the Princely States, what happened to it would be salutary for the others. If Hyderabad retained independence and sovereignty, then it would open the doors for similar aspirations of many other ruling princes. If Hyderabad joined the Indian Union, then others would also fall in line.

2.     So, if Hyderabad didn’t join the Indian Union willingly, it would have to be made to do so, unwillingly. Attempts were made to persuade the Nizam to accede to the Indian Union but when these failed, covert attempts to subvert his government were undoubtedly made by encouraging communal elements to create unrest. Religion is a very easy way to gain mass support and in an atmosphere where the Hindu-Muslim equation was badly vitiated after the formation of Pakistan, this was easy to do. Flames were fanned and new fires were set and in time, they did what all fires do – burn everything they came into contact with. Three hundred years of common Hindu-Muslim history was reduced to ashes. No doubt it helped some people to come to power, but at the cost of a great many. But history is written by victors, while those who die, tell no tales and the world goes on.

The tendency when speaking about any monarchy is to speak in terms of its king alone. Usually this is a mistake because whatever the king may think of himself, he is a man and is influenced by his times and the people around him. Some of this influence is overt but a lot of it is hidden and covert. Included in this are his own feelings, aspirations, anxieties, insecurities. At a time of transition which may result in a fall of the monarchy all these fears are hugely enhanced, because in most cases, a fall of the monarchy usually means death for the king or at least life in enormously reduced circumstances. To be able to still think with a cool head and take decisions that are morally and ethically right while being strategically wise, is no mean task. For this it is not only essential for the king to have the guidance of wise people around him, but even more importantly, for him to listen to them.

In the case of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, I believe we have a case where, to put it mildly, things went awry.

My understanding of the factors at the time, from my reasonably extensive reading of different books on this subject as well as having known some of those who were present at the time of Police Action, and were close to the Nizam, is as follows:

1.      The Nizam of Hyderabad was an absolute monarch. A very good one, who never took a single day’s vacation in his life and not given to the playboy lifestyle of his other counterparts in the Princely States of India, but still an absolute monarch. The hierarchy was feudal, which meant that, as in any other feudal system, the only way anyone aspiring to high position could get it was by birth into the right family or by special Royal Dispensation. This in turn would necessitate the attention of and promotion by one of the high Nobles so that one would get noticed. Needless to say, the number of positions at the top are very limited and usually taken.

2.     The ‘evils’ of a feudal system, even a very benign and benevolent one like the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad was, can’t be overemphasized. Its biggest evil being the death of aspiration of youth. This was one of the major reasons for the migration of the youth of Europe to America and the eventual break with Europe altogether. A new nation was born, not because people in the old country were being physically tortured or murdered, but because their hopes and dreams were still born in a system that didn’t permit them to live and grow by their ability. That is the problem with all feudal systems and the reason why democracy, with all its faults, is the best form of government that human kind has created for itself, to date.

3.     Any ordinary young person not born into a noble family but aspiring for high office in Hyderabad (the country), especially political power, had little chance of attaining it, except through exceptional circumstances and luck, irrespective of his qualifications. For such people, a time of turmoil and turbulence is a godsend. It shakes the foundations of the structures of society and briefly opens a window of opportunity to change the rules of the game. What added to this was the fact that the State was the biggest employer. Though there were businesses and industry, rather more than in other Princely States or British India, their influence and the opportunities they presented were still very limited, especially at the managerial level. Opportunities of realizing one’s aspirations outside the State’s influence were therefore very limited. This always leads to frustration for which a situation of turmoil which shakes the foundations of the State and official hierarchy is a great opportunity.

4.     To give the time its due, this was not due to any backwardness of Hyderabad but because that was the nature of the world at the time. The industrial boom of manufacture and later of IT was still about a century away. Opportunities for careers in the corporate world were limited because the corporate world as we know it, didn’t exist. There were traders, small manufacturers, almost all of them family owned, who followed in effect the same feudal rules of employment and career development. If you were born into the family or related to it in some way, you could never get into top management.

5.     With Indian Independence looming on the horizon and in effect inevitable, there was an atmosphere of change in the air. An atmosphere of high political aspirations, of ambitions of power and influence. Feudalism in India was dying, in its formal sense of hereditary rulers and nobles and leadership positions would fall vacant, ready to be occupied with those who had the vision to see the writing on the wall and the grit to work for it. Sad to see that seventy years after this time, feudalism in terms of attitudes, which really deserved to die, remains alive and well, with the new elected leaders having taken the place of hereditary rulers on the throne. But that is an aside. For our story, the world was changing and fast in which like in all times of change, you either change or die. Incumbency is the single biggest crime in a revolution as you become the logical target of attack. If you change your stripes and start running with the hounds, like the British monarchy did very successfully by converting the ruling family into Hollywood stars, then you survive and prosper. If you remain static, like the Nizam did, you become a statistic.

6.     The other factor that was in play in these times was the anxiety of the Nizam and his nobility about their own fate in the new world order which was dawning. In this context they had Jinnah’s divisive rhetoric on one hand and the assurance of the British Empire on the other guaranteeing the Nizam that the territorial integrity of his kingdom as well as his sovereignty as a monarch would be defended and maintained. In my opinion, the Nizam and his nobility’s biggest mistake was to believe both these narratives. It raised their anxiety to a level where their minds stopped working and had them grabbing at straws (promises of the British Empire) to save themselves from drowning. Ask anyone if a straw can save a drowning man and you know what happened to the Nizam and Hyderabad State was inevitable.

7.     The third factor was Qasim Rizvi and his Razakars. Qasim Rizvi was an opportunist who took advantage of a nebulous situation and tried to play ‘King Maker’. The fact that he ran away when things didn’t go as planned and left those who allowed him his time in the sun to face the music, is proof that he had no commitment either to Hyderabad or the Nizam. He was in it for himself and escaped when things fell apart. What he had going for him was demagoguery that capitalized on the anxieties of the ruling class as well as the Muslims in Hyderabad who were already affected by the demagoguery of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Add in a heady mixture of fantasy, distorted historical references and people’s own ignorance of history as well as their inability to critically analyze what was being presented to them by QR and you can see how and why his rhetoric was remarkably rabble rousing. Religion as they say is the last resort of the scoundrel, an analogy that fits QR like a glove.

8.     Finally, the demise of Hyderabad was also the most colossal collective failure of leadership that one can imagine. If you look at the nobles and notables around the Nizam, you have a list of luminaries that can hardly be bettered. Yet they failed as a group to guide their king and country in a direction leading to safety and progress. Instead they all seem to have collectively become victims of Qasim Rizvi’s crazy rhetoric either actively or passively to a point of no return. The fact that the Nizam was himself in QR’s thrall, would have, I suppose, stopped many from openly disagreeing. All these are the price of a feudal, autocratic system wherein dissent is dangerous and severely restricted. All autocratic systems fall prey to this and so did Hyderabad State.

What should the Nizam have done?

I think that is fairly clear and I don’t really need to write this but am doing so in the interest of closing the loop as it were. Here is what should have happened:

1.      The Nizam and his advisors should have realized the reality of Hyderabad and its future in the context of the Indian Union. For details please refer to Point No. 1 above i.e. my assessment of the situation at the time. They should have seen that remaining independent was out of the question and so should have bargained for the best deal and joined the Indian Union. That single action would have avoided all the bloodshed and turmoil.

2.     They should have realized that the British have a very famous history of telling lies to those they rule and work only with one interest in mind; their own. The history of the British in India was no secret to anyone with eyes to see. As it was, the British were leaving India in a great hurry and really didn’t care a hoot about what happened to India or Indians. What value can the assurance of such an ally have? Once again, that meant, the joining the Indian Union was the not just the best option but the only one.

3.     Qasim Rizvi should have been shown the door. His kind of rhetoric was so alien to the history of the Nizams of Hyderabad and their treatment of their subjects irrespective of religion that it is almost impossible to believe that not only did QR get a foothold but that to all intents and purposes, he became the defacto ruler. Furthermore, especially given the recent formation of Pakistan and the massacres that happened as a result, it was suicidal to allow the very same rhetoric to become dominant in Hyderabad. To allow Hyderabad’s long history of harmonious relationships between the two major communities of Hindus and Muslims to be destroyed was totally tragic and inexplicable. It was like an onset of momentary insanity from which a man awakens to witness the destruction that he had wrought while insane.

4.     Hyderabad (Nizam and nobility and the State) should have invested heavily in industry and invited the Tatas and Birlas to set up manufacturing plants. Both were in operation having started in the 1800’s. This would have had three beneficial effects.

a.     It would have created massive employment opportunities for youth, the best way to deal with all kinds of social unrest, give them something to lose.

b.     It would have increased the personal wealth of the Nizam and his nobility and made them free from dependence on Privy Purses and State charity.

c.      It would have acted as a shield against any political adventurism, just as the presence of Trump business interest in Middle Eastern countries has kept them safe from his travel ban on Muslims. The travel ban as you know, applies only to countries where Trump has no business interests.

The purpose of this article is to encourage us to discuss this matter with the sole purpose of looking for lessons about living and working harmoniously together. With that end in mind, all comments are invited and most welcome. 
Which way to go?

Which way to go?

There is a beautiful teaching story from Korea of a Zen master and his disciple. The master took him to the bank of a stream that flowed between rocks. There he made a small paper boat and floated it on the water. He told his disciple to follow the boat and report back to him about its journey. The disciple trotted along the bank of the stream and watched the little boat riding the current, dodging between the rocks until it finally vanished around a bend. When he returned, the master asked him, ‘What did you see?’

‘I saw the boat as it raced on the current, riding the waves. It was so exciting.’

‘What else did you see?’

‘Nothing else,’ said the disciple, perplexed about what he may have missed seeing.

‘What did the boat do when it came to a rock in the stream?’

‘It went around the rock,’ said the disciple.

‘What would have happened if it had tried to break the rock?’

‘It would have failed.’

‘And its journey would have ended. But the rock would still have been there. Think, what was the purpose of the boat? To ride the current and see the world or get involved with a rock that is going nowhere?’

Today, we Muslims, worldwide are like the boat, trying to break the rocks which seem to block our passage instead of seeking a way around them. The way around the rock is always there, but sometimes needs a little seeking.

In another article I have described what I believe is happening with Islam and Muslims, globally. I would suggest you take a break here and read that article.

We must remember that the history of nations is like the wave of the ocean. It rises and falls and rises again, only to fall again. Permanence is not a phenomenon of this world, though mankind has eternally wasted its time in trying to find it. Be that freedom from death personally or a legacy that will be everlasting. What we Muslims are going through now is neither new nor the last time we will see this. This happened before and it will happen again. What happened before and what will happen again is also the height of civilization, power, influence and the opportunity to benefit the world. How we use that will dictate how long we will have that opportunity. History taught me two lessons:

1.      Only those who benefit others remain while those who take for themselves from others, will be removed.

2.     When we don’t learn from history we are condemned to repeat it.

I am mentioning this more as a caveat about what we must do, going forward, to get our boat out of the trough in the ocean and back on the peak of the wave. In the trough, all that you can see are the massive deep blue seas around you, each enough to swamp and sink you a thousand times. Terrifying, depressing, despair.

On the peak you ride the massive blue and see the horizon, the shoreline and safety, while racing towards it with the wind in your hair and the ocean foam flecking your brow. Exhilarating, exciting, hope. In one situation, the power of the ocean seems to be your enemy, bent on destroying you. In the other it is taking you to your goal, supporting you and using its massive force to drive you forward.

In reality, nothing changed in the ocean. It is the same ocean, the same waves with the same power. What changed is the position of your boat. In one situation, the power of the waves is a lethal danger. In another it is an asset, support and your motive power. We don’t control the ocean. But the boat is ours. The one who tries to control the ocean and despairs at his own insignificance is bound to perish. While the one who focuses on his boat and tries to use the force of the ocean to his advantage always succeeds. That is why they say, ‘There are no favorable winds; only good sailors.’ The choice is ours, for the boat is ours and we are in it. So, let us learn how to sail and enjoy the ride.

This article is in the nature of a heart to heart – Ghar ki baat, apno say. We are the boat and are in the boat. It is for us to chart our own course and use the challenges that face us to become stronger, more positive and more beneficial for all those around us.

I base my contention about the possibility of success of what I am going to propose also on some research based data which we know as the ‘Butterfly Effect in Chaos Theory’. The Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory is not restricted to weather. It affects us in all aspects of life. It talks about the significance of the smallest action and its ability to have a profound global impact, though this may not be apparent at first.  It is the flapping of the wings of the butterfly in New Mexico which creates the tornado in China; both figuratively and actually. 

You can read more about that here:  

Islam is the name of a practice. Not a philosophy or theology. Like Judo only the one who practices it can benefit from it. Islam is not related to any particular race, nationality or country; anyone who practices Islam will benefit from it. I begin with this statement to define what being Muslim means. It means you practice what you profess to believe and face the music that goes with it. Some of that music is very pleasant, especially from those you touch and interact with. Those who know you by name and face. But from the rest who don’t know you and for whom the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ have been demonized, the music you face is not very nice, to put it politely. There is an old adage, ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him.’ It means that the poor dog didn’t do anything to be hanged but was the victim of a media campaign against him. Dogophobia got him and he was hanged. That is what those who spend their time and money behind demonizing Islam seem to want to do. Islamophobia is a multibillion dollar industry which like the pre-World War II, anti-Semitism of Germany and Europe is run by those who are trying to make hay while the sun shines.   

The good thing about bad times is that they strengthen you. The blow that doesn’t break your back only makes you stronger. In that context, I thought it would perhaps be useful to share some thoughts. None of this is easy. But nothing worth having is easy. Today we are fast reaching a stage where our choices are sought to be limited more and more. All the more reason to act with wisdom and after serious thought to ensure that we remain safe and effective. Here’s what I believe we Muslims need to do.

1.      Never react. Always respond. Reacting means that you are the puppet and your strings are in someone else’s hand. They have your remote control and press the buttons and you dance to their tune. A puppet can never be his own master unless he cuts the strings. So, never react.

2.     Always respond. But respond after serious thought to the consequences of responding. Ask, ‘Does this need a response? If so, how?’ Remaining silent is also a response and many times, the most powerful one. There are many examples of Gandhiji’s responses in the face of great provocation. Once someone wrote a very long and very abusive letter to him. When the letter was delivered to him, Gandhiji read it and removed the paper clip that held the pages together and threw the pages into the garbage bin. The person who gave him the letter asked, ‘Aren’t you going to reply?’ Gandhiji showed him the paper clip that he was holding and said, ‘I have taken what was valuable in the letter. Thank you.’

3.     Remember that restraint takes more strength of character to exercise than reacting. The strongest person is one who can remain calm in the face of provocation. However, this won’t happen automatically and must be cultivated. Like body building, it is very painful at first, but once you get the hang of it, you realize that there are few pleasures more enjoyable than to see the frustration of your opponent when you refuse to rise to his bait.

4.     Restraint comes from confidence. Confidence in yourself and what you believe in. Confidence that you don’t need anyone’s approval to believe what you do and to live by that belief. Confidence comes from knowledge, so it is essential for Muslims to learn about their religion. As I said, Islam is the name of a practice. Practice without understanding can also give you some benefit, but if you practice with understanding, the benefits are multiplied, one of which is gaining confidence. The other is the ability to respond appropriately when the need arises. Apologetic Muslims are no good to man or beast. They live in fear and contaminate others with it. As Jesus is reported to have said, ‘The truth shall set you free.’ (John 8:32). Learn the truth about Islam so that you can practice it with confidence.

5.     Understand that strangeness enables stereotyping and having a face to a name is the best defence against it. It is not possible to hate or malign someone you know personally and have had good experiences with. I learnt this lesson very early in life and used it with great success in some of the most hostile and adversarial situations in management union agitations in Guyana and India. I was in the middle of several very tense situations, surrounded by armed union members, but was never in the slightest danger personally because for me, every one of them had a name and a history with me. They knew it and I knew it. I was not a stranger.

6.     This is not a tactic. It is something you do out of your own belief and value system. You are good to people because that is who you are and how you have been raised. Not to get something out of them. It is not a manipulative technique. Let me warn you in advance that if you try to manipulate, you will fail. People see through it and the reaction is much worse. Values, not PR strategies, must drive behavior. Be good to people because that is what Islam teaches us. Help people because that is what Islam teaches us. Stand up for the oppressed because that is what Islam teaches us. Give more than what is due and focus on excellence in everything you do, because that is what Islam teaches us. You do it because Islam teaches you to do it. Others will react to it because you did it. Eliminate strangers by eliminating strangeness; make friends. It takes very little, a smile, remembering a name, listening with empathy, walking a little way with them to help them in their time of need. The results are profound. The best compliment I received from one of my many Hindu friends when talking about the effects of Islamophobia was when she said to me, ‘Yawar bhai, when anyone says the word ‘Muslim’, I see your face.’

7.     Sad to say that despite all this, Islamophobia has taken its toll and there are some relationships which seem to have gone sour for no reason other than that people chose to believe false propaganda instead of asking themselves a simple question, ‘Which Muslim do I know, who is like this?’ Strangely people who have lived with us, literally in our homes, who have eaten and traveled with us, whose children are like our own, shared good and bad times with us and have never had a single negative experience have still chosen to turn a cold shoulder to decades old friendship. Why they did that is a mystery to me but one that I have chosen to leave in its place. There is too much to do, to spend time and energy wondering why someone chose to walk away, when I know with total certainty that there is nothing that I did to instigate that reaction. Sadly, the political propaganda that seems to have engulfed us globally has taken its toll. To accept loss is a part of growing up.

So, here’s my solution.

If I was asked to define in one word, the problem of Muslims and Islam, I would say it is ‘image’. It is because of this that the ‘Opposition’ has been able to project us into the space of the ‘Other’, to be hated, maligned, demonized and destroyed. Not that they can do it, but they can try and that is painful enough. This is possible because we are relatively unknown, not understood and a mystery to most people. Add to this the selective and often distorted projection of negative things from the culture of some Muslim countries as being aspects of Islam and we end up with the mess that we are in. The reaction of many of us, thanks to our own ignorance about Islam as well as about different cultures and societies, is to feel ‘guilty’ and ‘ashamed’ of our own religion and to try to answer the accusations either by becoming apologetic or by reacting aggressively. 

Both, especially the latter, are detrimental to our own cause and play into the hands of those whose aim is to bait us into saying or doing things to ‘hang’ ourselves. The fact that we don’t read, have no understanding about critical thinking and analysis, have no tolerance for the opposite view and have no effective media or means of communication, makes the job easy for those who target us.

Therefore, our principle challenge is really quite simple; change the image.

It is a common cop-out strategy to ‘globalize’ issues which apparently legitimizes our inaction in trying to solve them. ‘How can I solve such a massive problem? After all I am one person.’ But as Mother Teresa said, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.’ Localizing the problem suddenly makes it possible for each one of us to contribute and by that contribution, we can have a global impact. Action and only action produces results. So, we need to act.

My philosophy in consulting as well as life is to try to seek solutions that are simple, easy to understand and teach, doable by everyone and needing little or no external resources or training. These are the best solutions for they have the ability to proliferate fastest. 

Another thing that encourages me endlessly is the ‘Lily pad problem’; A lily pad grows so that each day it doubles its size (area). On the 20th day of its life, it completely covers the pond. On what day of its life was the pond half covered? I am sure you can guess the answer. There is a complicated way to solve this problem but the simplest is to note the phrase – doubles in size each day. We are talking about small changes that together can change the world. On the 19th day, the pond is only half covered with lily pads and that doesn’t look like much. But on the 20th day you wake up to the fact that the pond is completely covered and all you can see are the lily pads.

To change our image, which is necessary for us to get out of the position of the ‘Global Other’ we must use the old adage: ‘Think global, act local.’

I think I have explained the global issue in enough detail. Let us see what the local action must be.

Muslims are supposed to be 20% of the global population. This means that for every Muslim, there are four people who are not Muslim. This means that the global image problem, at a local level, can be defined as the opinions of four people. That means that all that I need to do is to convince four people, that I am the best thing that happened in their lives. Win the hearts of four people. Just four people. Not more. Just four. Convince by my behavior, because people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. It is our personal experience of each other that we use to form our opinions, including our stereotypes and prejudices. When these stereotypes and prejudices come face to face with personal concrete experience, they melt away in the light of experienced truth.

A lamp doesn’t light up a room by doing anything to the room. It lights it up simply by living its purpose and lighting itself up. If the room needs more light, the lamp just burns brighter until all darkness is driven from the room. Darkness has no existence of its own. It is the name given to the absence of light. Lamenting about darkness won’t drive it away. Lighting a single lamp will.

That is my contention and that is my solution.

As you read this, I am sure there will be many who will say, ‘This is not simple. It is simplistic. It is too simple to work. How can the solution to such a massive problem be so simple? How is it possible that we can solve our problem of being in the position of the ‘Global Other’, without a Muslim UN, owning global media channels, bringing all Muslims of every type together on one platform, creating a powerful global leadership which every Muslim will obey…I can list all the so-called grand strategies that we hear all the time but won’t waste your time here. All I have to say is, ‘How many of those grand strategies worked?’ That needs no answer. That is the problem with grand strategies; in their conception is their demise. They are all still born because they are too complex, need too many resources and are too open to opposition.

A simple strategy like what I have suggested has the following strengths:

1.      Needs no resources
2.     Can be done by anyone
3.     Needs no training or specialized knowledge or special time out of your day
4.     Will show immediate results – instant feedback
5.     Nobody can object to it because nobody will object to good coming their way

So, what are you waiting for? At worst, even if the strategy fails to bring about global change, you will still have four people who believe that you are the best thing that happened to them in their lives. Now what’s so bad about that?

I want to end with the beautiful word of Barbara Winters who said, ‘When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is to know that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’

Now that you have come to the end of this article, go and be nice to someone. Go on! What are you waiting for? Just do it.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who try to succeed and those who tell you why they never tried. It is our choice who we want to be.
Give a dog a bad name…

Give a dog a bad name…

I want to begin with a brief thumbnail view of global geopolitics since the collapse of the Soviet Union under President Gorbachev. This was an event that was widely applauded and rejoiced, including by Muslims worldwide. Little did they realize what it would lead to. For a military state, an economy based on war, an enemy is essential. When the Soviet Union decided to call it a day with playing sparring partner, the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) needed someone else to justify its existence and to continue to make money for those who run it. It is important to understand that the political entities we call nation states are incidental in this scheme of things. The people who run the show are not bound by any nationality. They are truly global in that they operate from anywhere and across all national boundaries. Laws that bind us and monitor our transactions don’t bind these people. This world is run by a handful of men, not countries and politicians. That is why I am not naming any country; not because of any reticence to do so.

In their search; or I should say; as per their plan, they chose Global Islam (GI). I am coining that phrase to differentiate it from Islam as a religion. The religion of Islam is of no interest to MIC. What is of interest is the ability to take GI and project it in the space of the ‘Other’, which is critical to continued success even survival of the MIC. GI was ideal because it satisfied all the criteria necessary for an effective ‘Other’, which are:

1.      Mysterious:
a.     So that all kinds of lies can be attributed to it with impunity
2.     Different:
a.     ‘They’ are not white, not European/American, not Christian
3.     History:
a.     Bad memories of having been defeated by ‘them’ in the Crusades as well as ‘they’ having been the only opponent worthy of the name to European royalty and the Church for centuries
4.     Ineffective globally:
a.     I don’t think this even needs an explanation
5.     Compliant internal leadership:
a.     Well, since they were placed there by MIC and remain on their seats at MIC’s pleasure, what choice do they have?
6.     Immunity:
a.     If they are attacked, killed, countries destroyed, it is no skin off our nose
7.     Nebulous:
a.     No specific state for one to be accused of aggression. A nebulous cloud called by whatever name seems fit, Axis of Evil, Islamic Terror etc. So, attacking it is easy and no single or group of states can protest in the UN.
8.     Polarization:
a.     Is easy for all the reasons above and language was invented to legitimize invasion, murder and plunder.
9.     Internal conflict:
a.     They are divided amongst themselves and prone to being instigated against one another, so very susceptible to manipulation.
In the words of Fredrick Bastiat, “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of people living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” That is precisely what is happening today in the world and the Muslims are caught in the middle in the proverbial place between a rock and a hard place. There is an old adage, ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him.’ It means that the poor dog didn’t do anything to be hanged but was the victim of a media campaign against him. Dogophobia got him and he was hanged. That is what those who spend their time and money behind demonizing Islam seem to want to do. Islamophobia is a multibillion dollar industry which like the pre-World War II, anti-Semitism of Germany and Europe is run by those who are trying to make hay while the sun shines.   
That is how the deaths of over a million civilians (plus half a million children under the age of ten) in the Iraq war is brushed aside, even though the entire war was based on lies. The massacre of civilians in Bosnia is a post script, the occupation of Palestine and the daily atrocities being heaped on the heads of an imprisoned population are acceptable and the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people is not worthy of mention. These and many other instances of mass murder, carried out by the MIC military directly or their proxies, which I have not bothered to mention as my point is made, have only one thing in common; i.e. the victims are all Muslim. The mainstream media is the thought steering tool for the great unwashed and ignorant multitude which gets its knowledge exclusively from the TV screen. They are brainwashed to believe that when a Muslim (or many Muslims) dies, he had it coming. But if he fights back, he is an insurgent, terrorist and embodiment of evil.
They don’t have the intelligence to ask how a man fighting an occupying army for the right to live in his own home can be an insurgent? This is like the British judge, sitting in judgment on the last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who had no answer when the King asked him by what right he was being judged by a foreign occupier in his own land. But when you are on the right end of a gun and the other on its wrong end, you can get away with anything, so Bahadur Shah Zafar was banished from his own land and his sons and grandsons were executed. Why? Because they were his sons and grandsons and the British believed in tying all loose ends. Same logic in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and through proxies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many other places today. The same logic drove Vietnam and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese at the hands of invaders, French and American.
I wonder how many Americans know the meaning of the term ‘Double Veteran’.

Rape of Vietnamese women by US troops “took place on such a large scale that many veterans considered it standard operating procedure.”  It was “systematic and collective”; an “unofficial military policy”.  One soldier termed it a “mass military policy.”  Indeed, rape followed by murder of Vietnamese women was “so common that American soldiers had a special term for the soldiers who committed the acts in conjunction: a double veteran”. Legitimizing of atrocity is a natural result of the process of dehumanizing the ‘other’ and believing that they are ‘vermin’ to ‘exterminate’ whom is the noble duty of the ‘brave and virtuous’.
In support of my contention I quote an article about the Jewish Holocaust which captures the entire process very well. It is a matter of wonder to this day, how the people of Germany not only watched in silence as 6 million Jewish and other people were systematically murdered, but helped in the process by constructing gas chambers, transportation systems and all manner of horrific methodologies which I will leave you to read about on your own.
I never tire of quoting Pastor Niemöller’s words about this, which exhort us to stand up before it is too late. Today the world is once again sitting in silence while the MIC juggernaut rolls on; not asking key questions that must be asked, not taking powerful stances for justice, imagining that by doing so, they are saving themselves.
As Pastor Niemöller says, that is what the Germans also thought, until at the end of the war, they contemplated their own devastated cities, lives and homes. Payment always comes.
Martin Niemöller
(14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984)
First, they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out,
because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

This narrative of the ‘Other’ has today, legitimized any kind of atrocity as long as it is done to Muslims and has made hatred of Muslims acceptable everywhere. Just like it had legitimized every atrocity against the Jews in the last century and the Vietnamese (communists) in the 60’s and 70’s. It is necessary to see the signs and recognize them for what they are and not allow ourselves to be fooled by these age-old games.
That is why in India when a twelve-year-old Muslim boy is stabbed multiple times and killed in a train before his own younger brother, the entire carriage load of people looked on and cheer the murderers. Ask them what the crime of the boy was. Ask them if the boy had harmed them. Ask them why they did nothing. All these questions have only one answer; he was a Muslim. And so, all these things become legitimate and acceptable. In Myanmar, the Rohingya people are being systematically slaughtered, raped and burned alive by the Burmese army and the world watches in silence.
In India once again, in a gathering of upper class, educated people one man, on the topic of the Rohingya genocide, says that what is happening is acceptable and should happen. ‘Muslims need to be killed’, he says. Nobody protests. Nobody is shocked. Nobody is outraged. One person, not a Muslim, raises a voice protesting, asking if one should not be compassionate; asking if murder is not a crime, no matter who does it. No to all of the above because they are “MUSLIM”. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you understand this simple fact? I can quote many more examples but I think this is enough. After all we all read the same papers and watch the same channels.
As you can see the narrative needs to be changed. But since that is linked to the well-being of the MIC, how can we, garden variety common people, do it? I am going to attempt to put down my thoughts about what I believe needs to be done for three reasons:
 1.      I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control. I can’t influence the global narrative (or at least I don’t know how to do it at this point) but I can influence the local one, so I am going to try that and share my thoughts with you.
2.     No matter what the spin doctors want us to believe, the rule of the MIC can only result in more and more misery for common people, less and less safety and security for us and more and more hatred in society, all in order to make the 1% ever wealthier.
3.     No matter how powerful the Dons of the MIC think they are, ultimately their power depends on those who follow them. Without the unquestioning obedience of their followers, they are powerless. That is the reason we must ask questions; uncomfortable questions. Be it about climate change or about global dominance. That is why they spend a colossal fortune on mind steering through the media, films, social media and other means of communication. If George Bush and his gang were really powerful they would have been able to invade Iraq without telling a barrage of lies to the UN and the whole world, first. And if those who listened to the lies had asked the right questions, two million people would have lived. It is as important as that, to ask the right questions at the right time.

Please see my article for more on the need to accept our autonomy and understand that ultimately each one of us is personally accountable. The reality is that unless we decide to believe the false narrative and fall into its trap, nobody can force us into it.

A couple of questions that you may like to ask, even today:

1.      When Saudi Arabia is being held complicit enough in the 9/11 bombing incident for the US Congress to pass the 9/11 Lawsuit Bill, permitting victims to file suits against them, why did President Donald Trump sign an agreement to supply them with $110 billion worth of arms?

2.     If ISIS is really so bad, then how is it that despite the overwhelming presence of the US and Allied forces in that theatre, ISIS continues to have an uninterrupted supply of weapons and ordnance, fuel and supplies and cash funds? After all, if you tried to transfer $10,000 to Iraq or Syria, you would have everyone from the IRS to FBI to your neighbor’s dog, breathing down your neck. But there appears to be no problem with billions of dollars being freely transferred and payments for arms and ammunition being credited when it comes to the ISIS. So, who is the enemy and who is the friend?

I am sure you have all read the famous poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” an 1854 narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson about the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War and its very famous line: “Ours is not to question why, ours is to do and die.” This is the philosophy that keeps hatred of the ‘Other’ alive, enables genocide, sacrifices the poor and empowers the 1% to remain secure and become wealthier. 

Imagine a world where the soldier questions why he is being ordered to kill innocent people. Imagine a world where the person manufacturing weapons of mass destruction questions what value he is adding to society by working in such a place and what legacy he is leaving behind for his family. Imagine a world where people manufacturing cigarettes and alcohol see films on lung cancer and alcohol related car crashes and then make a choice whether to go to work or not. I can imagine more scenarios but will instead leave you to do this on your own. Sit with your children and make a game of it. Imagine a world without war. Imagine a world without the 1% but instead with their wealth shared by those who share the dream of global prosperity. Not global dominance by military might. Wars happen for one reason only and that is because they make profit. Take that away and you would have taken away the reason for war. That is the road to peace. Not attempting to silence all opposition to the dominance of the 1%.

If you are ready to sacrifice your life and happiness to put more caviar and champagne on the tables of the 1%, go ahead but count me out. I want a world where my family, friends and I are safe, can live peacefully together, earn a decent living and leave behind a legacy for the next generation. If you don’t like this idea, then you should stop reading this right away. We don’t live in little compartments in this world. We live in a world connected in far more powerful and meaningful ways than social media. This doesn’t simply mean that we can go from place to place faster or communicate across great distances instantaneously but that what happens to one, affects everyone. 

The Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory is not restricted to weather. It affects us in all aspects of life. Those who refuse to recognize it and insist on living as if they live alone in the world, will become its victims.

It’s time for all butterflies to start flapping their wings to create a hurricane of world opinion that will drive out all injustice and oppression, no matter where it may be. 
Become a villager

Become a villager

In 1985, when I was studying at the IIM Ahmedabad, our Professor of Organization Behaviour (OB) Area was Prof. Pulin Garg. One day he told us a very interesting story which has remained in my mind all these decades. He told us that some years earlier Ford Foundation, the American NGO, did a project to help village farmers to enhance crop yields by using metal plowshares instead of their traditional wooden ones.

They adopted one village and set up their experimental and control plots. The experimental plots were plowed using metal plowshares, made from cast iron, while the control plots were plowed in the traditional way using wooden plows. They monitored the crops over three cycles and proved to the villagers that simply by using the metal plowshare, their yield would be enhanced by over 20%. I won’t go into the scientific details of why this happens here but will suffice to say that this benefit was made clear to the villagers. 

The day before they were to leave the village to return home, the Ford Foundation people called for a meeting with the village Panchayat and asked them if they were happy with the experiment and believed that the use of metal plowshares would benefit them. The Panchayat members and all the villagers agreed that they had watched this experiment and had no doubt about the benefit of the metal plowshare. The Ford Foundation people were delighted and as a parting gift, gave the village enough metal plowshares for all the farmers. The villagers were very grateful and thanked them profusely for their generosity.

Three years later, Ford Foundation returned to the village to assess their project to see how successfully it was functioning. To their complete astonishment they discovered that nobody was using the metal plowshares. They asked the Mukhya (head of the Panchayat) what had been done with the plowshares that they had gifted the village with. They were taken to a storage hut and shown the plowshares, wrapped in sacking, stacked in one corner.

 ‘They are safe Sir’, said the Mukhya.

‘But why are you not using them. We came all this way to teach you this better way of farming. We proved to you that this way is better and you all agreed. We gave you the plowshares as a gift so that you wouldn’t need to spend any money to buy them. But you are still not using them, why?’

‘Sir we are so grateful to you for coming all the way from America to teach us. You are big people. We are nothing compared to you. Yet you took all this trouble for us. You are Mahan (great) people. We are very grateful to you.’

The Ford Foundation project leader tried his best to get an answer out of the Mukhya but any Indian who knows our culture and the trouble we have with direct rejection or criticism will understand, he got nowhere. This is where my professor came into the picture. When he heard this story, he offered to go to the village and find out what was really going on. Ford Foundation needed an answer for their project report, so one afternoon Pulin arrived in the village. Let me tell you in Pulin’s own words, what he told us about this entire incident.

‘I arrived in the village and the Mukhya welcomed me. Naturally we don’t simply start asking questions as soon as we arrive. So, I drank the water they gave me, then tea. I was honored by being invited to stay with the Mukhya in his home, but opted for an empty house which they used for guests (usually Revenue Department officials) because when a stranger stays in a Jat home, it is a lot of hardship on the women, who are in purdah (veiled). I had a bath and changed into a new dhoti (Prof. Pulin Garg always wore a dhoti, even in the IIMA) and we met for dinner. We chatted about everything under the moon except the Ford Foundation experiment. They knew why I was there, but the propriety of the culture must be maintained. You don’t ask the guest any questions and the guest will not tell you why he is there until the basic hospitality is over.

After the evening meal was over, we sat and smoked a hooka when I opened the topic. ‘I believe the Americans were here to show you some new farming ways!’

‘Yes Sir, such nice people. They came all the way from America to teach us how to plow our fields.’

‘What did they do?’

‘They took two fields for their experiment………….(he gave Pulin a detailed description of the entire experiment and admitted that the yield was 20% higher with metal plowshares)
‘Are you happy with what they showed you and are you using the new plowshares?’

‘Sir, we are convinced that their method is superior but we can’t use the metal plowshares.’

‘Why can’t you use them? Is there any problem with the design? Is it difficult to use them? What is the problem?’

‘Sir, there is nothing wrong with the design and it is not difficult to use them. But we have another problem if we use them.’

‘What problem?’

‘Sir, we have a family of carpenters in our village. If we use the metal plowshares, they will lose their livelihood. So, we decided to remain with our traditional method because their well-being is our responsibility.’

Pulin told us, ‘Then I made the biggest blooper of my career. I spoke to them like a management consultant. I said to them, ‘But that is simple. You will get a 20% higher yield. Out of that just pay them what they normally earn by sharpening your wooden plows.

The Mukhya looked at him with a mixture of amusement and pity and said, ‘Sir you are one of us but you don’t understand us. Forgive me for saying it, but you are not in touch with your village. We can’t do what you said.’

‘Why not?’ Pulin was not one to accept defeat so easily.

‘Because Sir, they are artisans (Kareegar) not beggars (Bhikari). We can’t simply give them money and they won’t take it. It is not a matter of money. It is a matter of dignity and pride. Izzat ka sawal hai Sir. They are our brothers and we can’t do this to them.’

Pulin said to us, ‘This was one of the biggest lessons I learnt in my career of consulting about the importance of culture in acceptability and applicability of solutions.

The lesson for me when I heard this story over 30 years ago was even more importantly in the context of our interpersonal relationships. Over the years and decades this lesson has only become more and more clear, more and more urgent. That is why I believe that we all need to become villagers. Naturally I don’t mean that in a literal sense of going back to living in villages and farming the land, though let me say that it would be a wonderful thing to do if we could. I mean that we need to start thinking as villagers; at least like the villagers in this story. Thinking about others, as a part of us.

Let me explain. There are three principle differences between village and urban life. A village is a living being. It is whole. It functions by interdependence and understands how every element fits into the larger scheme of things for the whole village to prosper. In a village everyone has a place and every place is valuable and appreciated. The three elements of being a villager are to think in terms of:
  1.       Mutual responsibility
  2.           Mutual liability
  3.       Mutual accountability

This produces a sense of community which is expressed in terms of shared feelings and reactions i.e. Gaon ka beta ya gaon ki beti (child of the village), Gaon ki izzat (dignity of the village) etc. That is why it is only in a village that you have a Panchayat. Mutual decision making by a group of respected elders (not necessarily in age, though age does play a part in selection to the Panchayat, all other things being equal) who are trusted to consider the welfare of the whole village when deciding a matter.

I know that what I am saying here doesn’t cover the issues with caste discrimination but I beg your indulgence and request you to consider this as an example, which may differ somewhat from reality but still holds true. The difference in terms of caste privilege and discrimination is something to be addressed and eliminated to get to the true benefit of what I am describing here.

Cities and urban living on the other hand are the embodiment of the modern individualistic society that we have created for ourselves, much to our own detriment. It is not to say that everything about a city is bad. It isn’t. But one sure characteristic of the city is that it is all about individualism. Of disconnect between people. Of people living on their own, without concern for those around them, imagining that they are free of them and owe them no responsibility. The biggest icon of this mentality are the thousands of expensive houses in cities surrounded by abject poverty. How can anyone build and live in a million dollar or billion dollar house in the middle of abject poverty, unless he feels no connection at all with those living in squalor all around him? This is not an indictment of the individual but of the urban mentality. The tragedy is that there are thousands of such houses in Mumbai, Dhaka, Johannesburg and almost every other city, which are far removed from their neighbors.  They are like fortresses in hostile territory and can’t exist without electric fences, guard dogs and security agencies. Huge disparities in wealth that don’t produce discomfort or compassion or concern for those who don’t have enough are a typical product of urbanization.

The reason I mentioned this is to draw your attention to my contention that the problems of our world today are the result of global urbanization. It is the ideology of urbanization, not so much about real cities. Even villagers seem to aspire for it. This is the outcome of urbanization in the mind, the unbridled growth of individualism without any concern for the other, the neighbor, even the family. Suicide is a very common cause of death of wealthy singles in America and Japan and the cause of that is loneliness – the other face of individualism.

We have all heard the term, ‘Global Village,’ which refers primarily to the fact that thanks to technology, distances have shortened and communication has become much faster. While this may be a way to look at things, in my view, it is more useful to look at the term ‘village’ in the more fundamental sense of what it is that makes a village, a village. It is not size, but identity, mentality and relationship. It is not affluence or size. I have stayed in very affluent villages in Northumberland in the UK and very small cities in the United States. I was the defacto ‘headman’ of a ‘village’ on the bank of the Berbice River in the Amazonian rain forest, in Guyana. It is how you think, feel, relate and see yourself in relation to others, that makes you a villager or a city dweller.

Globally speaking, if we look at our problems today, they are all related to lack of compassion, not lack of resources. We have enough wealth to ensure that not a single person goes to bed hungry, every child is guaranteed basic education, every home has clean water and electricity and every person has access to good healthcare. But instead we have 62 people whose net worth is more than the combined assets of 50% of the rest of the world. We have countries which over produce grain and dump it into the ocean while there are other countries which have millions living on the edge of starvation or starving. We have countries which are unable to produce food to feed their own people while we have others, where farmers are paid to leave their fields fallow so that the price of grain doesn’t fall due to over production. We know about EU’s butter mountain.

It is price, which drives decision making. Not compassion or concern for those whose need for survival must surely be more important than making money. We have countries whose defense (really offence, but called defense) budgets exceed their budgets for education, healthcare, elderly care, scientific research and housing, combined. This means that the country invests its assets in destruction instead of construction. That this is the case of even some of the poorest countries on earth, is an indicator of the individualistic mentality that I am talking about. Decisions are made to help the rich to get richer, not to alleviate suffering or develop those who need development.

I believe that it is necessary for us to become villagers.

You may say that this is easier said than done. That is the usual reaction I get when I say these things. But my response is very simple. I ask you, if I were to ask you, ‘Show me a way in which we can create a world where just 62 people will own more wealth and assets than 50% of the rest of the world’, you would say that I was crazy. You would say that this was absolute nonsense and simply couldn’t be done. Yet that is exactly what we have managed to create and that too in less than 100 years.

It is my contention that if we change our focus from individualism to concern for one another, reversing this situation is not difficult at all.

The change must begin in the home. It must be reflected in how we treat our neighbors, especially those not related to us directly or indirectly. It must be heard in our conversations. It must be seen in our manners. It must be a heading in our budgets; spending on others. It must be felt by anyone who comes into contact with us.

Being a villager begins by getting rid of strangers by making friends with them. In a village everyone knows everyone else. That is why there is very little crime in our ideal village. Crime is difficult because you don’t steal from friends and you can’t escape from those who know you. So, get rid of strangers by getting rid of strangeness. Make friends. Friendship is built on trust, so build trust. The nourishment of friendship is giving and in that everyone receives. So, give. Make it a habit, to give something to someone every day. It is not about money or material giving. A smile is a gift. Opening a door is a gift. Offering to help is a gift. Sharing food is a gift. Believing the best about your neighbor is a gift. Give gifts, because this brings hearts closer.

I submit to you that we need to see the term, ‘Global village’, not as a statement of what we are but of what we need to become. We need to go back to our beginnings and become villagers and shed our urban covering. We need to meet each other, recognize each other, appreciate each other and acknowledge how each one of us is essential to the other for him or her to fulfill their lives. This is not philosophy or wishful thinking. This is the reality. It is only when we understand how we need one another that we can hope for global peace and harmony. When the head pains, the whole body feels the pain. That is what we need to realize, that we are one body. It’s time we see this.
Arsonist or Fire Fighter

Arsonist or Fire Fighter

This world is a coin. It has two faces. Both joined together but both different; often the opposite of one another. I am speaking about social media, the coin which on one side has convenience, communication and companionship and on the other, lies, ignorance and hatred. Both made possible by technology which like all technology is value neutral. What we forget is that technology is a knife, which in the hands of a surgeon, can save a life, while in the hands of Macbeth, took one.

One of the plagues of our times is what is being called ‘Fake news’. News with a spin has been around for a long time. The days when journalists were the conscience of society, warriors for justice and the shield of the downtrodden, are long gone. Most journalists are today the willing slaves of their employers and news channels are really ad agencies creating sales spiel. Truthfulness, veracity, integrity and courage have all been sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings or political leanings. Spin doctors rule the roost. Sales figures are the ultimate criterion for all decision making. Truth be damned.

I am reminded of the story of a farmer named Donaldwho had a donkey which was old, stubborn and lazy. The man got so sick of that donkey that he decided to sell it. Sunday was the market day and so he took his donkey to the market to sell it. As Donald was standing there, a man came and asked him, ‘How much for this donkey?’

Donald replied, ‘One hundred dollars.’

‘It looks like a fine donkey. Good, here’s the money. Let me have him.’

‘Please wait a minute’, said Donald. ‘I am an honest man. I must tell you about this donkey before you take him home. He is old, stubborn and lazy. If you still want him, he is yours.’

The man looked at Donald and said, ‘There are very few people like you in the world, who have the integrity to speak the truth even at their own cost. I greatly appreciate your honesty and will always remember this meeting of ours. Let me see if I can find another donkey. I don’t think I can afford this one.’

This story repeated all day. At the end of the day, Donald had a host of pleasant memories of the good things people told him but he still had his donkey. Sadly, he started to wind his way home with his donkey on its lead.

As he was about to leave the market area, a man came up to him and said, ‘Sir, I am an agent. I sell livestock. I have been watching you all day. I appreciate your honesty but please allow me to tell you that you, will never be able to sell that donkey. I suggest instead, that you allow me to sell the donkey and I will charge you a 10% commission. I am a professional and I have a very good track record. You can ask anyone about me.’

Donald was happy to hear this but said to the agent, ‘I am happy to accept your offer, but I have one condition. You must tell the people about this donkey. I don’t want anyone to buy this donkey under any false impression. It is old, lazy and stubborn and I want whoever buys it, to know this. If you are willing to accept this condition, then I am willing to accept your offer.’ The agent agreed to the condition and promised to pick the donkey up the following Sunday.

Next Sunday the agent arrived early in the morning and led the donkey away to the market. A little later, Donald also decided to go to the market so that he could take the sale proceeds from his donkey and buy another one, because he needed a donkey for his work. As he arrived there, he saw the agent standing on a soap box, with many donkeys tethered behind him and a big crowd of people surrounding him. The man was auctioning the donkeys. Donald joined the crowd, standing at the back where he could get a place.

‘Ladies and gentlemen’, shouted the agent. ‘You saw those before you, buy some excellent donkeys. Many of you bid for them but couldn’t get them. But please don’t worry, I now have a donkey for you which excels them all. But before I open the bidding, please allow me to tell you something about this exceptional animal. He is so special that I hesitate even to call him an animal. He is the greatest donkey that I have ever known in my long years in this profession. He is a donkey with three very special qualities. The first quality is that he has a lot of life experience. He has seen life. He has seen its ups and downs, its joys and tragedies. He knows the morning mists and orange dusks, the turn of the seasons and the fall of rain. He has seen kings and kingdoms, rise and fall and through all this, he learned, he reflected and he accumulated wisdom. As I said, he has a lot of life experience.

His second quality is that he has a mind of his own. He is a willing servant, not a slave. If you say, ‘Jump’, he won’t ask, ‘How high?’ He will ask, ‘Why?’ But once you convince him, nobody can jump higher than he can. What is the good of wisdom if you don’t use it? That is the motto of this donkey; If you have it, use it. He has it and he uses it.

His third quality is that he knows the meaning of leisure. He knows that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Believe me, this donkey is anything but dull. He is spontaneous, humorous and energetic. He knows the importance of relaxation, of meditation and of sleep. There is much that you can learn about your own lifestyle by being in the company of this donkey. For this reason, because we have a very special donkey, I propose we start the bidding at $200.’

Donald was delighted. ‘How fortunate I am’, said Donald to himself. ‘I need a donkey and here is one that seems so full of great things that I must have him.’ The bidding was rapidly going on. Donald joined the bidding and finally the donkey was sold to Donald for $400.

When Donald went to pay the agent, and collect the donkey that he had bought, to his utter disgust, he saw that it was his own donkey that he had bought. He was livid. He said to the agent, ‘You deceived me. You didn’t speak the truth.’ The man replied, ‘But I did. I just said it differently. You said the donkey was old; I said that he was experienced. You said that he was stubborn; I said that he was wise and so needed to be convinced about the need to do your bidding. You said that the donkey was lazy; I said that he knew the value of leisure. How is that lying or cheating?’ Donald was stumped.

Just as our audience is stumped, when our journalists today, spin their yarns and tell their tales in ways that make history vanish and mythology real. They make numbers jump through hoops to show economic growth where there is only ruin and despair. They conduct investigations without police, trials without judges and executions without the hangman, all in their media rooms or newsprint. They are artists and their canvas is the lives of people and nations. Their paint is the blood of innocents diluted with the tears of children who don’t even understand what is going on. They win Pulitzer Prizes for photographs of the starving, the dying and the dead. They make millions, are applauded and toasted, while the starving, starve and the dying, die. Change is not on the agenda. Only TRP ratings and paper sales.

But I am not talking about this. I am talking about another kind of calamity that has befallen us, which is in the hands of everyone with a camera phone. The calamity of fake news. Videos are made and then attributed to others to convey a specific message. A message of hatred. Some of the videos are of real events but are attributed falsely; like the video of Pakistani boys rejoicing at the Pakistani team’s win in an India-Pakistan cricket match. This was spread on social media saying that it was Indian Muslims rejoicing at Pakistan’s win and so it proves that they are anti-national traitors.

Or another of a young woman who was beaten bloody and then set on fire, claiming that she was a Hindu girl who had married a Muslim boy and was being punished for that. Actually, it was a scene from Guatemala where the girl was a member of a motorcycle gang which murdered a man and ran away. The girl got caught and was summarily executed by a mob, with police standing mute witness. Despicable as it is, it was not something that happened in India at all. But it was used to ignite Hindu Muslim hatred. There are many others to the extent that this has become an epidemic which like all epidemics takes its toll. The resultant hatred that has spread all over India is cause of real concern. It is therefore time to sit up and take note.

https://youtu.be/-C0eEvRAyyw Here is someone who made a video about fake news.

What must be done to combat this epidemic of fake news? Here are the steps:

1.   Never forward anything until you have verified its source and are certain about what it really is. For this check http://www.snopes.com/ and http://www.hoaxorfact.com/ and http://altnews.in/

2.     If you still can’t find out if the message or video is fact or fake, DON’T FORWARD IT.

3.     Once you find out the truth, ask yourself why you want to forward it at all. What will happen because of your forwarding? What will happen if you don’t forward it?

4.     Then take a conscious, responsible and informed decision to forward or delete.

5.     Forwarding with the disclaimer, ‘Forwarded as received’, shows that at best you are highly irresponsible and at worst, a mischief maker. In both cases, not fit to associate with. So please think about this before blindly forwarding things.

6.     If you get fake news and have the time to check its veracity, then please inform all you can that it is fake and what the real news is. Let the liars be exposed.

Remember that fake news is a living media and your forwarding, is its oxygen. Stop forwarding and it dies. People who create or propagate fake news (and you may unwittingly be one of them) are like arsonists who go around setting fires. Remember that all fires burn and the result is always ash. It doesn’t matter who set the fire or why. Fire fighters are moral, sensible and responsible and put out fires. 

Ask yourself if you are an arsonist or a fire fighter.