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Poetry, film and history

Monitor News Bureau





Excellent articles about the movie Padmaavat have been written in India and Pakistan. This piece will focus on the legend of Padmavati itself to depict how it differs from the movie.
This legend has been written in versified Awadhi, probably in the Persian script, by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Jayasi began writing the poem in 1540 AD, under the patronage of Sher Shah. For this essay, I am using the English translation of the poem entitled‘Padmavati’ by A.G. Shirreff, an Indian Civil Services officer. It was published in Calcutta by The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1944.
Jayasi was a mystic, and like many other mystical works, the poem is an epic of love. It begins with the usual hamd, na’at, praise of the companions. However, it is full of references to Hindu traditions which were also present in other works of the era like the masnawi ‘Kadam Rao Padam Rao’. In both works, the treatment of Hinduism is erudite and sympathetic.
In short, history paints the actual characters pretty dark, though not for the reasons given in the film and not in the same manner.
Padmavati was the daughter of the King of Singhal (Sri Lanka). In the movie she is shown as having shot an arrow which hits RawalRatan Singh (originally, Ratansen), the Raja of Chittor from 1302 to 1303, who has come to her island in the search of precious pearls.
The poem is different in that instead of pearls, the supernatural brings them together.
Padmavati has a parrot called Hira Mani, her constant companion. One day a cat frightens away the parrot who is then sold to a Brahmin who in turn sells it to Ratansen. The Raja’s Rani, Nagamati, asks the parrot whether she is the most beautiful woman in the world but the parrot says that the correct answer to that question is Padmavati.
Upon hearing this the Raja is besotted by Padmavati’s imagined beauty and travels to Sri Lanka as a yogi. The King of Lanka would have killed him but upon learning that he is a Chauhan Rajput and a prince, he marries his daughter to him. The couple go back to Chittor. There are many supernatural occurences in the poem which the Sanjay LeelaBhansali film wisely ignores.
Back in Chittor, in Ratansen’s court there is a Brahmin called Raghav Chetan, who calculates the time of eclipses and so on. In the movie he is exiled on Padmavati’s suggestion but in the Jayasi’s saga, Chetan is exiled for having deceived the court in his calculation of the movement of heavenly bodies. Indeed, in the epic, Padmavati opposes this punishment saying that her husband had “not done well to banish such a sage” (pg 267).
Once in Delhi, Chetan praises Padmavati to Sultan AlauddinKhilji, who ruled from 1296 AD to 1316 AD. Khilji, completely enraptured by Chetan’s description of Padmavati’s beauty writes a letter to Ratansen saying: “She who is the Lotus Lady of Singhala, send her with speed” (pg 286).In the movie, as we have seen, he merely invites the Rajput ruler to come and experience Delhi’s hospitality. The legend as narrated by Jayasi, in fact, paints Khilji in darker colours than the movie.
In the poem, Ratansen refuses to obey the Sultan’s order and Khilji lays siege to Chittor. The siege continues for eight years and then Khilji accepts the offer of five supernatural gifts and finally departs. Before leaving, he is invited to Ratansen’s palace where he plays chess and dines with the Raja.
Here again the movie deviates from the poem making Padmavati out as a heroine, although a highly naïve one. In the movie, the Sultan craves a glimpse of her and in order to save the Rajput kingdom from being attacked, she agrees to show herself from a distance. In Jayasi’s epic nothing of this sort happens. Instead, she overhears her handmaidens praise Khilji’s looks and royal demeanour and out of curiosity spies on him using a mirror. Inadvertently, Khilji catches a glimpse of her and his passion is rekindled. Here, Jayasi’s poem paints Padmavati more like a careless girl than a heroic, though fatuous, queen.
Where the movie and the epic deviate is that in the film, the Rajput Raja is chained and kept in a dungeon but no torture is depicted. In Jayasi’s legend he is tortured by fire, scorpions and snakes. Again, Khilji appears more cruel in Jayasi’s poem than in the movie.
Now comes a twist that is altogether missing in the movie, perhaps because it is only a three-hour screening. The poem introduces a second Rajput prince, Devapal of Kumbhalmer, who also longs for Padmavati. He sends a female messenger to lure Padmavati away while her husband is Khilji’s captive. Padmavati refuses and throws out the messenger. She then asks her military officers, Gora and Badal, to rescue Ratansen. They go to Delhi, accompanied by warriors dressed as women.Unlike the film, in the poem Padmavati herself stays in Chittor — she does not risk the journey to Delhi. The military commanders rescue Ratansen but the Sultan’s army comes after them.
When Ratansen reaches Chittor, Padmavati tells him about Devapal’s indecent proposal. Ratansen reacts bytaking an army to fight Devapal. However, they have a one-to-one duel. Ratansen kills Devapal but he is wounded by his rival’s poisoned spear. He returns to Chittor, only to die. The saga ends with both Nagmati and Padmavati committing Satti.
The film takes a major departure from the poem since in Jayasi’s tale the duel is not between Khilji and Ratansen as it is in the movie; nor does Padmavati lead the jauhar as she does in the movie. The Raja and her are already dead by the time Khilji attacks Chittor in 1303. The movie shows that the women commit jauhar and the Sultan achieves a pyrrhic victory. This vanity of desires in the poem is summed up as follows:
“Where is now that Ratansen, the king?
Where is the parrot who so excelled in wisdom? Where is the Sultan Alauddin? … Where is the beautiful queen Padmavati?
None remain: but the story remains in the world.
… The flower may die but its fragrance dies not.”
The poet also tries to give a mystic meaning to Padmavati. Chittor is the mind; Singhala is the heart; Padmavati is the intellect; the parrot is the mystic guide; Nagmati is the care of the world; Raghava is the Satan; AlauddinKhilji is illusion (pg 371). But this allegorical meaning is not conveyed to the reader in any meaningful sense of the word.
So, is the movie fair to AlauddinKhilji and other Muslim characters? Well, one of the original sources on these characters is ZiauddinBarani,who penned Tarikh-e-FirozShahi (originally in Persian but also translated into English and Urdu). It does not comprise this legend at all. It does mention Khilji’s murder of his uncle JalaluddinKhilji, but nothing of the story that Jayasi wrote a century-and-a-half after the events (in 1540).
In the movie, Khilji does not come out any worse than other medieval rulers who were oppressive, authoritarian and exploitative. However, in the film, he also does not emerge as being anti-Hindu as he did not follow the highly biased recommendations of the ulema and people like the historian Barani himself who were, indeed, anti-Hindu. His queen Malika-e-Jahan was jealous of another wife of Alauddin called Mehru and did nothing as generous and grand as she does in the movie.
Malik Kafur was a very able eunuch slave who may have been born of Indian parents. He rose to the rank of a general whose ability as a military leader and administrator is acknowledged by all historians. It is true that Khilji handed over all power to him in his last days. Kafur also tried to install one of Khilji’s sons to consolidate his personal rule but was outwitted. Barani does say that the Sultan was ‘infatuated’ with him but Barani is understood to be extremely biased about such sexuality, and it is not quite clear what to take from the few laconic references he makes in this regard.
In my view, if the movie had followed Jayasi’s story literally (i.eKhilji’s letter ordering the Rajput Raja to send his queen to him; the torture of Ratansen etc.) it would have given more offence. In this age of the rise of Hindutva in India and radical Islam in the Muslim world, it is not conducive to peace and interfaith harmony to show movies on medieval subjects that depict inter-faith antagonism.
The medieval age was violent and prejudiced and monarchies are by their very nature oppressive and cruel. If we cannot take these things in their historical and literary contexts—which apparently we are not mature enough to do —we should not be exposed to them. The other view, which I respect but do not support under the circumstances, is that we should be exposed to them to create maturity. You take your pick from either of these two views.



Balakot strike: just for bragging rights?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Manini Chatterjee

We, the people of India, must collectively thank NarendraModi, the chief campaigner of the BharatiyaJanata Party, for making it clear to us why NarendraModi, the prime minister of the country, ordered the air strikes on Balakot deep inside Pakistan in the last week of February.

The ostensible reason for the air strikes was to avenge the massacre that took place in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14, which left 40 uniformed personnel of the CRPF dead. The deaths were not a result of an encounter between security forces and militants that have long become routine in the Kashmir Valley. They happened when a lone Kashmiri youth, allegedly belonging to the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad, rammed his vehicle — laden with over 300 kilograms of explosives — into a CRPF convoy inching its way along the highway.


Less than two weeks later, we woke up to the news that Indian Air Force jets had struck the biggest training camp of the JeM in Balakot. The government officially claimed that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.” The unofficial claims, conveyed to the media by “sources”, went further: 325 terrorists and 25 commanders had been killed in the strike. Pakistan had been taught a lesson it would not forget. The “New India” under the muscular leadership of NarendraModi would enter the country and take out the terrorists at will if they dared attack India again.

The rhetoric was so powerful and the hyper-nationalist cheering in the media so shrill that no one dared ask for evidence. But when one or two intrepid skeptics did wonder what exactly was achieved at Balakot, the ruling party and its army of supporters became menacing. Anyone who dared asked for proof was talking the language of Pakistan; was questioning the valour of the armed forces; was guilty of sedition and treason.

With the election campaign now under way, the Balakot strikes are becoming a central theme of the ruling party. Even though the Opposition has steered clear of national security issues and focused on jobs, farm distress and broken promises, the BJP is repeatedly bringing Balakot to the fore — and muddying the narrative even more.

Take, for instance, a recent interview given by the prime minister to an English TV channel. Asked whether he would eventually give proof that hundreds of terrorists had been killed in the strike, Modi retorted: “As far as proof is concerned, Pakistan itself has given proof. Why should they wake up at 5 a.m. and tweet? We were quiet. It is not as if the Indian government claimed the attacks first.”

That was a clever answer — but it was too clever by half. It is true that it was Pakistan’s director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asif Ghafoor, who first tweeted that the Indian Air Force had “violated Line of Control”. But Pakistan also claimed that the Indian jets “released payloads in haste” and there were “no casualties or damage”.

By citing Pakistan’s tweet as proof of the success of the air strike, Modi has — embarrassingly for the country — brought attention to Pakistan’s version as a whole.
More embarrassing has been Pakistan’s subsequent response. If India wanted to teach Pakistan a lesson and left the country with a bloody nose, Islamabad’s response has been very curious indeed.

In a recent chat with foreign correspondents, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, appeared to take the whole Balakot offensive much too lightly. According to The New York Times report on the chat, Imran Khan said that on learning that the Indian bombs had fallen into an empty ravine near Balakot, Pakistan opted for “a measured response and bombed an empty area just across the Indian border.” It went on to quote Imran Khan as saying: “They hit our trees; so we thought we’d hit their stones.”
Imran Khan went further — batting for the return of NarendraModi to power and seeing it as the best possible option of settling the Kashmir conflict. If Balakot was a slap on the face of Pakistan, it is baffling — to put it mildly — why the country’s prime minister should want another term for his hostile counterpart across the border.

But with each passing day that mystery is receding; with every BJP speech, it is becoming clearer that the Indian forces were made to strike Balakot not to teach Pakistan a lesson but to provide bragging rights to NarendraModi as a saviour of the nation and provide him a handy tool for his re-election bid.

If NarendraModi was indeed the supreme patriot that he claims to be and if he truly valued the courage and competence of our armed forces, he should have been the first person to reprimand the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, for referring to India’s professional army as “Modijikisena”. He did nothing of the kind — his silence serving as encouragement to other BJP leaders who repeated the epithet before the Election Commission, belatedly, stepped in.

In fact, he went further than his acolytes. In a speech that shocked retired and serving members of the defence services, NarendraModi asked first-time voters “to dedicate” their first vote to the “valiant soldiers who carried out the air strike in Pakistan’s Balakot” and to the “brave martyrs of Pulwama.” Never before has any Indian leader so brazenly sought to politicize the military for electoral gains.

Perhaps Modi was addressing his appeal to first-time voters because he is confident that the youth — subjected to the relentless propaganda of the last five years — have no knowledge of history and will be easily swayed by claims that Modi has achieved what no other Indian leader has in the past 70 years.

But not every Indian is a first-time voter. And even first time voters have parents and grandparents, teachers and tutors, people around them with longer memories. And many of them will still remember the grit and the glory of 1971 — the only time India decisively won a war. They will also recall that in complete contrast to the faux war-mongering of today, the prime minister of that time showed a grace and courage that was so much more powerful since it was entirely bereft of bombast.

Some BJP apologists, defending Modi’s electoral use of Balakot, erroneously claim that Indira Gandhi too capitalized on the 1971 victory to win by a landslide in the elections that year. The truth, though, is that India won the war after, not before, the elections.

Mrs Gandhi won her famous “GaribiHatao” election in March 1971, a couple of weeks before the Pakistan army went on a brutal rampage in what was then East Pakistan. In the following months, there was a massive influx of East Pakistanis into India. We may have been a lot poorer back then but unlike today we kept our borders — and our hearts — open to those fleeing genocide. More than 10 million refugees found shelter in India.

Indira Gandhi went across the world, campaigning against the suppression of democracy by West Pakistan in its eastern wing and the mass killings and rapes that followed. The American president, Richard Nixon, was famously hostile to her and blatantly backed Pakistan. But Mrs Gandhi combined diplomatic outreach with a quiet military preparation — executed by able military men untrammelled by considerations of electoral expediency — that eventually resulted in unequivocal victory. On December 16, 1971, less than two weeks after Pakistan bombed Indian air bases, its commander in Dhaka, Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi, signed the instrument of surrender in Dhaka before Lieutenant-General J.S. Aurora of the Indian Army. No proof of India’s achievement was needed. No claims were made.

Two days later, Mrs Gandhi’s victory speech in the LokSabha was equally shorn of rhetoric. It lasted barely a minute. “All the world,” she said, “admires a deed well done. And I think, with all modesty, we can say that we have done this action well.” India’s most successful war prime minister went on to say: “But let us not forget that the road ahead is still long and very steep and we have many peaks to scale. Let us hope that we can do this with the same spirit in which we have faced this challenge. And that we will go ahead from peak to peak raising our nation to new heights of quality and of excellence…”

Watch that speech on YouTube. Even first-time voters will be able to tell the difference between the élan of true victory and its 56-inch, tawdry alternative…

(The Telegraph, Kolkata)

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Don’t blame Sharia for Islamic extremism – blame colonialism

The Kashmir Monitor



By Mark Fathi

Warning that Islamic extremists want to impose fundamentalist religious rule in American communities, right-wing lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have tried banning Sharia, an Arabic term often understood to mean Islamic law.

These political debates – which cite terrorism and political violence in the Middle East to argue that Islam is incompatible with modern society – reinforce stereotypes that the Muslim world is uncivilized.


They also reflect ignorance of Sharia, which is not a strict legal code. Sharia means “path” or “way”: It is a broad set of values and ethical principles drawn from the Quran – Islam’s holy book – and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. As such, different people and governments may interpret Sharia differently.

Still, this is not the first time that the world has tried to figure out where Sharia fits into the global order.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Great Britain, France and other European powers relinquished their colonies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, leaders of newly sovereign Muslim-majority countries faced a decision of enormous consequence: Should they build their governments on Islamic religious values or embrace the European laws inherited from colonial rule?

Invariably, my historical research shows, political leaders of these young countries chose to keep their colonial justice systems rather than impose religious law.

Newly independent Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, among other places, all confined the application of Sharia to marital and inheritance disputes within Muslim families, just as their colonial administrators had done. The remainder of their legal systems would continue to be based on European law.

France, Italy and the United Kingdom imposed their legal systems onto Muslim-majority territories they colonized. CIA Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, CC BY
To understand why they chose this course, I researched the decision-making process in Sudan, the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from the British, in 1956.

In the national archives and libraries of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and in interviews with Sudanese lawyers and officials, I discovered that leading judges, politicians and intellectuals actually pushed for Sudan to become a democratic Islamic state.

They envisioned a progressive legal system consistent with Islamic faith principles, one where all citizens – irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity – could practice their religious beliefs freely and openly.

“The People are equal like the teeth of a comb,” wrote Sudan’s soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Hassan Muddathir in 1956, quoting the Prophet Muhammad, in an official memorandum I found archived in Khartoum’s Sudan Library. “An Arab is no better than a Persian, and the White is no better than the Black.”

Sudan’s post-colonial leadership, however, rejected those calls. They chose to keep the English common law tradition as the law of the land.

Why keep the laws of the oppressor?

My research identifies three reasons why early Sudan sidelined Sharia: politics, pragmatism and demography.

Rivalries between political parties in post-colonial Sudan led to parliamentary stalemate, which made it difficult to pass meaningful legislation. So Sudan simply maintained the colonial laws already on the books.

There were practical reasons for maintaining English common law, too.

Sudanese judges had been trained by British colonial officials. So they continued to apply English common law principles to the disputes they heard in their courtrooms.

Sudan’s founding fathers faced urgent challenges, such as creating the economy, establishing foreign trade and ending civil war. They felt it was simply not sensible to overhaul the rather smooth-running governance system in Khartoum.

The continued use of colonial law after independence also reflected Sudan’s ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

Then, as now, Sudanese citizens spoke many languages and belonged to dozens of ethnic groups. At the time of Sudan’s independence, people practicing Sunni and Sufi traditions of Islam lived largely in northern Sudan. Christianity was an important faith in southern Sudan.

Sudan’s diversity of faith communities meant that maintaining a foreign legal system – English common law – was less controversial than choosing whose version of Sharia to adopt.

My research uncovers how today’s instability across the Middle East and North Africa is, in part, a consequence of these post-colonial decisions to reject Sharia.

In maintaining colonial legal systems, Sudan and other Muslim-majority countries that followed a similar path appeased Western world powers, which were pushing their former colonies toward secularism.

But they avoided resolving tough questions about religious identity and the law. That created a disconnect between the people and their governments.

In the long run, that disconnect helped fuel unrest among some citizens of deep faith, leading to sectarian calls to unite religion and the state once and for all. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and parts of Somalia and Nigeria, these interpretations triumphed, imposing extremist versions of Sharia over millions of people.

In other words, Muslim-majority countries stunted the democratic potential of Sharia by rejecting it as a mainstream legal concept in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving Sharia in the hands of extremists.

But there is no inherent tension between Sharia, human rights and the rule of law. Like any use of religion in politics, Sharia’s application depends on who is using it – and why.

Leaders of places like Saudi Arabia and Brunei have chosen to restrict women’s freedom and minority rights. But many scholars of Islam and grassroots organizations interpret Sharia as a flexible, rights-oriented and equality-minded ethical order.

Religion is woven into the legal fabric of many post-colonial nations, with varying consequences for democracy and stability.

After its 1948 founding, Israel debated the role of Jewish law in Israeli society. Ultimately, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his allies opted for a mixed legal system that combined Jewish law with English common law.

In Latin America, the Catholicism imposed by Spanish conquistadors underpins laws restricting abortion, divorce and gay rights.

And throughout the 19th century, judges in the U.S. regularly invoked the legal maxim that “Christianity is part of the common law.” Legislators still routinely invoke their Christian faith when supporting or opposing a given law.

Political extremism and human rights abuses that occur in those places are rarely understood as inherent flaws of these religions.

When it comes to Muslim-majority countries, however, Sharia takes the blame for regressive laws – not the people who pass those policies in the name of religion.

Fundamentalism and violence, in other words, are a post-colonial problem – not a religious inevitability.

For the Muslim world, finding a system of government that reflects Islamic values while promoting democracy will not be easy after more than 50 years of failed secular rule. But building peace may demand it.


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The Assange Arrest is a Warning from History

The Kashmir Monitor



By John Pilger

The glimpse of Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London is an emblem of the times. Might against right. Muscle against the law. Indecency against courage. Six policemen manhandled a sick journalist, his eyes wincing against his first natural light in almost seven years.

That this outrage happened in the heart of London, in the land of Magna Carta, ought to shame and anger all who fear for “democratic” societies. Assange is a political refugee protected by international law, the recipient of asylum under a strict covenant to which Britain is a signatory. The United Nations made this clear in the legal ruling of its Working Party on Arbitrary Detention.


But to hell with that. Let the thugs go in. Directed by the quasi fascists in Trump’s Washington, in league with Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, a Latin American Judas and liar seeking to disguise his rancid regime, the British elite abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice.

Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs, for onward dispatch to the dock in The Hague. By the standard of Nuremberg, Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis. Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with truth.

The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all who, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “sow the seeds of discontent [without which] there would be no advance towards civilisation”. The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast.

Assange’s principal media tormentor, the Guardian, a collaborator with the secret state, displayed its nervousness this week with an editorial that scaled new weasel heights. The Guardian has exploited the work of Assange and WikiLeaks in what its previous editor called “the greatest scoop of the last 30 years”. The paper creamed off WikiLeaks’ revelations and claimed the accolades and riches that came with them.

With not a penny going to Julian Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, turned on their source, abused him and disclosed the secret password Assange had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing leaked US embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding joined the police outside and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. The Guardian has since published a series of falsehoods about Assange, not least a discredited claim that a group of Russians and Trump’s man, Paul Manafort, had visited Assange in the embassy. The meetings never happened; it was fake.

But the tone has now changed. “The Assange case is a morally tangled web,” the paper opined. “He (Assange) believes in publishing things that should not be published…. But he has always shone a light on things that should never have been hidden.”

These “things” are the truth about the homicidal way America conducts its colonial wars, the lies of the British Foreign Office in its denial of rights to vulnerable people, such as the Chagos Islanders, the expose of Hillary Clinton as a backer and beneficiary of jihadism in the Middle East, the detailed description of American ambassadors of how the governments in Syria and Venezuela might be overthrown, and much more. It all available on the WikiLeaks site.

The Guardian is understandably nervous. Secret policemen have already visited the newspaper and demanded and got the ritual destruction of a hard drive. On this, the paper has form. In 1983, a Foreign Office clerk, Sarah Tisdall, leaked British Government documents showing when American cruise nuclear weapons would arrive in Europe. The Guardian was showered with praise.

When a court order demanded to know the source, instead of the editor going to prison on a fundamental principle of protecting a source, Tisdall was betrayed, prosecuted and served six months.

If Assange is extradited to America for publishing what the Guardian calls truthful “things”, what is to stop the current editor, Katherine Viner, following him, or the previous editor, Alan Rusbridger, or the prolific propagandist Luke Harding?

What is to stop the editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, who also published morsels of the truth that originated with WikiLeaks, and the editor of El Pais in Spain, and Der Spiegel in Germany and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The list is long.

David McCraw, lead lawyer of the New York Times, wrote: “I think the prosecution [of Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers… from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and the law would have a very hard time distinguishing between the New York Times and WilLeaks.”

Even if journalists who published WikiLeaks’ leaks are not summoned by an American grand jury, the intimidation of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning will be enough. Real journalism is being criminalised by thugs in plain sight. Dissent has become an indulgence.

In Australia, the current America-besotted government is prosecuting two whistle-blowers who revealed that Canberra’s spooks bugged the cabinet meetings of the new government of East Timor for the express purpose of cheating the tiny, impoverished nation out of its proper share of the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Their trial will be held in secret. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, is infamous for his part in setting up concentration camps for refugees on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus, where children self harm and suicide. In 2014, Morrison proposed mass detention camps for 30,000 people.

Real journalism is the enemy of these disgraces. A decade ago, the Ministry of Defence in London produced a secret document which described the “principal threats” to public order as threefold: terrorists, Russian spies and investigative journalists. The latter was designated the major threat.

The document was duly leaked to WikiLeaks, which published it. “We had no choice,” Assange told me. “It’s very simple. People have a right to know and a right to question and challenge power. That’s true democracy.”

What if Assange and Manning and others in their wake – if there are others – are silenced and “the right to know and question and challenge” is taken away?
In the 1970s, I met LeniReifenstahl, close friend of Adolf Hitler, whose films helped cast the Nazi spell over Germany.

She told me that the message in her films, the propaganda, was dependent not on “orders from above” but on what she called the “submissive void” of the public.

“Did this submissive void include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked her.

“Of course,” she said, “especially the intelligentsia…. When people no longer ask serious questions, they are submissive and malleable. Anything can happen.”
And did.

The rest, she might have added, is history.

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