March 18, 2005

The conspiracy angle

Laura Wexler's Fire In A Canebrake is the book I'm reading now. This is a meticulous investigation into the "last mass lynching in America", the murder of two black sharecropping couples in Georgia in July 1946. Ten days before, one of the murdered men had stabbed his boss, a white farmer; even though the farmer survived, this was the pretext for the lynching.

Even halfway through the book, I know this is the kind of journalism I admire: detailed, clear, thorough, no flourishes, but opinionated all the same.

One hot August day in 1991, I drove pretty much right past the spot where the atrocity happened: just off the highway that runs between Atlanta and Athens, in Walton County some miles east of Monroe. I had no idea then, of course, of the little bit of history I sped past. Or I might have stopped and tried to breathe in some of the atmosphere Wexler recreates so well, half a century on.

In any case, here are some excerpts from around page 125:


"Although the [investigating agents] were Southern white men with accents to match, they were outsiders -- most people in Walton County had never seen an FBI agent before... And against the outside threat, the locals constructed a wall of silence. ... Within a week of the lynching, agents concluded in their report that the people of Hestertown [where the victims lived] had indicated in some way that they resented ... the entire investigation. Many have admitted that they do not wish to see anyone punished for the crime.


"But the conclusions agents drew about the sentiments of the people of Hestertown could just as well have characterized many of Walton County's white citizens. [S]ome made no effort to conceal their belief that the lynching was well-deserved punishment, not a crime. I knew a fellow who knew a nigger who had lived in Africa and he'd boiled up his father's head and made soup out of it and ate it, said one retired Walton County farmer. That's the kind of people niggers is.


"[O]thers resented the attention being paid to the lynching when no comparable attention, they argued, was paid to crimes against whites. [Georgia Senator Richard Russell agreed]: I deplore the murders, of course, but I [also resent] the emphasis being placed upon this particular crime by propagandists from other sections of the country who take every opportunity to intensify sectional and racial hatred.


"[S]ince the start of the investigation, 150 white men in the county had pledged to finance the defense of anyone arrested in the lynching. Clearly they'd view those arrested as victims of the Northern-based liberal conspiracy against the South: as political prisoners, not murderers.

"And yet, despite these sentiments in the county, many white people in Monroe did condemn the lynching. Several white churches passed resolutions denouncing the murders and calling for justice; several of the town's leaders publicly expressed their horror. But these sentiments soon faded as Monroe's citizens began to focus less on the brutality of the lynching and more on what they viewed as their unfair treatment by both the national press and the FBI. As the white citizens of Monroe came to see it, the tragedy of the lynching wasn't only the deaths of four black people; it was the smudge on Monroe's reputation caused by those deaths. ... We are today the target of a hostile press throughout the world, wrote the Walton Tribune editor. Events of our soil are being construed and misconstrued to prove every belabored point of the racial discrimination theories so dear to so many who know so little about it."


I read all this and and have been thinking: why does all this sound so familiar? Where before have I heard fantastic tales about a whole set of people, like boiling heads into soup? Where before have I heard words and phrases like "well-deserved punishment", "propagandists from other sections of the country", "target of a hostile press", "liberal conspiracy", "smudge on our reputation"?

And I've also been thinking: if it is so familiar, I need not go as far as Walton County to breathe in some of that atmosphere. I might as well wait for the reactions -- those familiar reactions -- to this.


Janaki said...

There are already reactions coming in on how this purports as an insult to the nation and constitutions and wot not!

Its heartening to see that despite Indians being the richest "minority" in the US and with patels there, Modi still did not get the visa.

Anonymous said...

Scary huh? D'yu ever get the feeling that perhaps this all part of an orchestrated plot ... maybe it was that the letter from Congressman Joe Pitts worked ... but maybe ALSO, it is that Modi left out some crucial detail when filing the visa application, precisely to raise this kinda hullabaloo ... they ARE out of issues currently y'know ...

Ahh well, then again, maybe I'm just a cynical "conspiracy" theorist ...

Kartik said...

And you know the worst thing about this whole imbroglio? That we had to wait 3 years and a rejection from the United States before all these ayes and noes regd. Modi - what are we, a democracy without our own conscience, our own voice?

As far as the whole visa thing is concerned, hundreds of people more deserving than Mr. Modi get rejected every month by the US Consulates in India - ailing parents wanting to visit their children being a notable case. It's their country, we want a piece of the pie - its their decish. who they want and who not inside their country ...

And as far as "swabhimaan" or ashmita goes ... sure, go ahead, reject George W a visa next time he wants to tour India ... but ah uh, we're falling head over heels trying to get one such visit aren't we? ---> Point Proved!

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Shri.Dilip's article in Rediff. and...I am none the wiser..

I can understand that the Visa rejection is not a big deal...but is that Shri.Dilip's only point?

He seems to be saying that the reasoning behind the rejection is also correct.

My response -

Has the US restricted all leaders who have been accused by Human Rights Commissions?

Have our courts implicated Modi?

Is it reasonable to presume guilt when the clamour is for fairplay and justice?
Shri.Dilip also seems to be implying that Modi's comparison with Gandhi's plight in SA is uncalled for...maybe so..but Dilip, again...seems to saying more.. many of our secularists and others alike...seems to have become an Icon...who cannot be touched.

Let me be very clear...Gandhi stood for justice that was very will realize this if you go by recorded evidence.

Two of them will suffice.

Gandhi did not demand justice for victims of the Moplahs. In fact he tried to justify their act.

Gandhi did not demand justice for Swami Shraddhananda. In fact he justified his murder.

To most secularists do..that these examples are pulled out of to say the least...obscene.

No...Gandhi is not a good example of justice.

I would like Bloggers to respond...

Anonymous said...

I see Dilip's point that Modi is trying to capitalise for his own cause. But a suggestion to Dilip, doesnt anyone in India know about Mr.Modi and his capabilities? THe point for the millions of people in and out of India to toe Modi's steps,is not on a personal front.It is indeed a blot on India's growing relations with US. US is known for its double standards. Time and again it amends the rules for its cause. Why should India or for that matter an Indian suffer all the time? Allowing Modi is definitely upto USA's own discretion. But then the grounds, he being rejected is pathetic. May be the US state department should have come up with a better, smarter reason. I wonder if the USA has concern for humanity, will in future also see that People like Modi are not allowed. Also the so called pseudo-Indian-Indian American secularists and humanitarians and Gandhians rally out of concern for the innocent muslims killed? Or are they rallying for Modi's anti conversion bill. This is the major concern. Even, a prostitute's son doesnt go out in public and make an announcement about his mother. But sadly these secular groups are now taking the deplorable US help to insult a fellow Indian. The celebrate their sucess!!!!!! What a pity? Disgusting!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I would like to know if someone has made a study of riots in India.
Somewhat in this order..

1. Cause of a Riot
2. Consequences
3. Killed/wounded (By a mob/police)
4. Arrests
5. Convictions
6. Statewise

Maybe...Shri.Dilip will have some data?