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The most misunderstood ruler?

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At the end of the Anglo-Mysore wars, Tipu Sultan was killed in battle in 1799, and the palace at Seringapattanam was sacked. A little pamphlet found on his body, buried under his clothes, was a book of dreams that he had recorded, and tried to analyse. These dreams have been a subject of much speculation, and reflect a long tradition of dream analysis, which predated Freud by almost a millennium. Dream analysis has a long history in various schools of Asian and Indian medicine, philosophy and popular imagination, which persisted well into the 20th century.
Tipu Sultan was born in 1753 in Devanahalli (the site of the airport in Bengaluru) to Haider Ali and Fakhrunissa, and took over the running of Mysore after the death of Haider Ali on December 7, 1782. Tipu was educated well, was fluent in Persian, but was said to have had a difficult adolescence and was once flogged in public by his father. He was a prolific writer and several volumes of his letters and notes exist. His letters to the East India Company, translated and printed in The Times London, protesting the negotiating style and chicanery of the Company, are written with graciousness and courtly élan. One such letter sent to Lord Cornwallis on March 27, 1791, and published in The London Gazette later that year, read: “In matters of great importance the secrets of the heart cannot be known but by the verbal communication of a person of consequence…the disagreements existing removed, and the happiness and quiet of mankind established.”
Tipu Sultan’s notes cover a wide range from military operations, regulations, trading, prohibition, religion and morals. He was suspicious of bureaucracy but commanded complete faith of his troops. He was quite a polymath, and in his brief reign, attempted to reform the calendar, build a naval fleet by commissioning a dockyard in Oman, and was interested in astronomy.
He was, in his personal demeanour, modest and “affected extreme simplicity of dress”, and usually slept on a coarse canvas bed. His negotiations with the French, and attempts to build a military collaboration have been discussed in history textbooks in detail. He occasionally even signed off his letters to the French as Citizen Tipu. Whether all his scientific and engineering pursuits, and political ambitions, were also being influenced by the news of scientific and technical developments, and revolution, in Europe, has long been a matter of debate.
After his death on May 4, 1799 after the last assault on Seringapattanam, his library was taken away to England and is now part of the libraries at Cambridge and Oxford, as also the India Office Library in London and the Asiatic Society in Calcutta.
It is no surprise that he evinced an interest in his own dreams, and what they meant. The Book of Dreams, which formed part of his personal diary, and Register of Dreams were presented to the Director, East India Company, London on behalf of Marquis Wellesley in April 1800. This book contains 37 dreams, recorded between 1785 and 1798. Most of these dreams are devoted to driving the British out of India, and defeating the Nizam and others who were allying with the British. Of course, ultimately, it was a combination of the Hyderabad forces, the Bengal and Madras army of the East India Company, and the Maratha forces, that collaborated to defeat Tipu. Interestingly, many soldiers never went back, and contributed to the growth of Bangalore as a melting pot of Indian cultures and races.
Tipu Sultan’s analyses of his own dreams reflect a mixture of preoccupations and influences, much like contemporary methods. In two dreams, he sees three dates on a silver platter, and interprets this as a harbinger of his victory over the British, the Nizam and the Mahrattas, literally a sense of victory being served up on a platter. He feels this is true, and is vindicated about the accuracy of the dream by the death of the Nizam soon after.
Other dreams show various aspects of wish fulfillment and anxiety dreams. A dream (#9) of a gift of white elephants from the Emperor of China pleases Tipu Sultan because Alexander the Great had been similarly honoured, and the dream was symbolic of what lay in the future. In another dream (#26), Raghunat Rao, a Mahratta, brings him news of the British losses in Europe, and says that the British may now leave Bengal voluntarily.
Tipu Sultan replies with an offer of assistance to drive out the Nazarenes (British). Religious issues also intrude into the dreamworld. Many dreams include references to various saints such as Hazrat Banda Nawaz of Gulbarga, Shaikh Sazi of Shiraz, and also dreams of being at the Kaaba. Typical Freudian metaphors also creep in, as exemplified by a dream (#36) where he sees a beautiful young woman offering him three ripe plantains, which he eats and finds extremely sweet and delicious.
The dreams, as interpreted by Tipu Sultan, thus reflect contemporary political events and battles, and also allude to literary and religious (or spiritual) symbols.
In Islamic medicine, analysis of dreams has a long history, and is part of Avicenna’s classic texts. He described the conscious experience arising from the faculty of virtus imaginative, which can alter images stored in the imagination to make new experiences. All internal faculties serve one soul, but the soul cannot employ all of them at the same time (for instance, during contemplation, one cannot observe the external world minutely). Given the religious emphasis of the times, and since the soul was supposed to be a direct manifestation of divinity, celestial and prophetic dreams occurred through the soul’s kinship with celestial spheres.
Some can see waking what others see only in sleep, and the virtus sancta was thus a direct insight into the nature of God. These were distinct from corporeal dreams, which included natural dreams that are observed by doctors. They arose from the “animal spirit” acting on the imaginative (for example, hunger produced dreams of food), while voluntary dreams carried on the preoccupations of the day. In general, true dreams came to people with true imaginations, and not to malicious men, liars or drunkards; or people who are sorrowful. In contemporary psychiatry, qualitative changes in dream content are even now described as a typical symptom of withdrawal from addiction, and in depressive states.
Avicenna also suggested that dreams of early morning are likely to be true, since by morning the movements of the humours had reduced. These ideas share a lot in common with Hindu and Buddhist notions about the nature of dreams. Avicenna had thus laid out a framework to describe the structure of dreams, the nature of dream work, the representation of conscious experience in dreams, and the roles of various psychological faculties in creation of dreams. This description of dream work is quite consistent with many contemporary theories, and somewhat similar to what Freud proposed in the 20th century.
Franz Mesmer’s (1734-1815) ideas on hypnotism and animal magnetism rekindled this interest in issues of soul and psyche in Europe. It is interesting that the Mesmer and Tipu Sultan were almost contemporaries, and Tipu Sultan was aware of political and cultural ideas from France. Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was a famous neurologist based in Paris who took the ideas of Mesmer forward, and these were further extended by the Freudian model of dream analysis. Freud (1856-1939) proposed dreams as a model for pathological thought organisation, and the royal road to the unconscious.
Displacement, condensation (the fusion of cows and tigers), symbolisation (the white elephant as a gift) and projection (dreams of victory), to use the nomenclature of Freudian defence mechanisms, are identifiable in these dreams, and are often described by Tipu Sultan himself in a somewhat similar manner.
The discomfiture about dream analysis as a method of enquiry, and the necessity for its rediscovery by Freud was perhaps related to the growth of natural sciences and industrial societies, accompanied by the decline of religious influence. Dream analysis reflected the theological issues of Christian, Islamic and the Indic religions, and was viewed with suspicion by the new Age of Reason.
The French Revolution in particular, and the secularisation of the mind in European culture in the middle ages, allowed the hierarchies of society to be questioned by positing a common psychological space: the unconscious, which though mysterious, was similar across everyone. This democratisation of the soul made it analogous to the body: just like dissection of the body had proved that everyone was the same on the inside, the soul/psyche could now be posited to be equal across all humans. As an extension, subjective experiences were now thought worthy of enquiry or attention, and Freud’s emphasis amplified this trend further.
However, the difficulty of accepting the validity of the psychological space of others was an essential part of the cultures of slavery, imperialism and colonialism in the non-European world (including the culture of medicine and politics) of the 19th and 20th century. These societies were, by then, often portrayed as being psychologically unsophisticated and lacking introspection; in essence lacking reason, just as their earlier subjugation had been thought necessary as they lacked faith.
Tipu Sultan and his analysis of his own dreams suggest quite the opposite, and that preoccupations about the inferiority (or at least the un-understandability) of the so-called native mind in psychotherapy and psychiatry, and in much of our discourse, needs to be reconsidered.
His dreams are an example of the psychological sensitivity and preoccupations of an Indian contemporary of Franz Mesmer, Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier and display comparable sophistication and introspection. The urge to paint him as a barbarian, as the jingoistic press of Britain was wont to do then, and many local contemporaries now, may thus be misplaced. He was a man of his times, a warrior-king and a philosopher-king, in a time of tyrants. It is quite anachronistic that the armies that did defeat and kill him were acting on behalf of King George III, who, by then, was most assuredly mad. The consequences of who the victor was, and who the vanquished, and whether reason or madness prevailed in India is what we may need to come to terms with, even now.


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Opinion

Balakot strike: just for bragging rights?

The Kashmir Monitor

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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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Opinion

Don’t blame Sharia for Islamic extremism – blame colonialism

The Kashmir Monitor

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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.

(theprint.in)

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Opinion

The Assange Arrest is a Warning from History

The Kashmir Monitor

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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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