May 06, 2010

About Ghosh and an award

The writer Amitav Ghosh, certainly one of my favourites, is in the middle of a roaring controversy over an award. I just put up some of my thoughts about it here.

Any thoughts welcome.


Boskoe said...

Your suggestion is a very sensible one, i must say!

AK said...

It is with great sorrow that I have to point out that your popularity rating (in my list) just took a big hit. This has nothing to do with the Ghosh issue but the devil is in the detail. Read on.........

In your comment you showcase atrocities committed by both sides of an issue, Chechen vs Russia, Japanese vs US (thanks for the reference “With the Old Breed”), the Holocaust but when it came to Pak vs India, you compare Pak's attack on India with Indian attack on Indian!! Why a sudden u-turn in analogy?
It is deeply disturbing to see this subtle twisting of facts to fit the issue at hand. Surely the 1984 incident was in no way less heinous than the 26/11 incident, in fact I consider it worse than 26/11 but to suddenly plunk it after a long list of tit-for-tat examples.......... no Mr D'souza, it is not at all acceptable.

It may not be intentional or you might come up an actual example of Indian atrocity over Pak but from now on your statements will have to be considered with a grain of salt.

Chandru K said...

Yes, that connection and equivalence was bizarre. Though not exact verisimilitude, a similar comparison would be "Islamic terror against the US on Sept 11/ 2001, and the Ku Klux Klan terror against civil rights activists" Say, what?

Anonymous said...

Well it's a lot of money to not spend on yourself and just GIVE away. Easy to prescribe, difficult to deliver. If he did so it would be amazing.

Dilip D'Souza said...

AK: some reactions.

* My intent is hardly to showcase (only) tit-for-tat atrocities, or to "compare" them (what's the metric to compare atrocities?) It is to make the point that horrific acts are plenty, period.

* Yet of course I too consider that 1984 was no less heinous than 26/11, and that's exactly why it is there. Because there are Indians who judge Pakistan by the horror of 26/11, but are inclined to wave away 1984 (one such on this page). If 26/11 taints Pakistan for them, why does 1984 not taint India?

* While I'm sorry about the rating and the salt, I cannot write so that I'm popular with everyone. I write to make my points and offer something to think about. If that makes me unpopular with some folks, that's the lay of the land.

Anon 204: but think of the power of a gesture like that.

Boskoe, thanks.

Baby Vaijayanti and Puppy Manohar said...

Dcubed - I think your solution seems fair enough.

I recently heard Norman Finkelstein, another truly great scholar on the subject of Palestine. He quoted the Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire,
"There's room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory"

I suspect that is perhaps the attitude that will ultimately be successful in our conflicts. Something like what Gandhi said - I am all for compromises but not of principles.

Baby V

gaddeswarup said...

There was precedent.
"Mumford announced that he was donating the prize money to Birzeit University and to Gisha, an Israeli organization that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement."
In response to your comment, somebody said that Palestinians may not accept tainted money. I am not sure about the taint part , moreover Palestianshave accepted money from Saudi Arabiafor a number of years. I do not understand many of those kafila comments.

Girish Shahane said...

I'm curious: what, according to you, is the 'historical justification for the existence of Israel'? Is it a justification that existed in 1949, or one that has been created by the brute passage of time?

Dilip D'Souza said...

GS: The centuries of persecution of Jews in various parts of the world; the consequent sense, built up over centuries and affirmed finally by the holocaust, that they would be safe only in a homeland of their own; the historical connection of the Jews to that part of the world.

Yes, I think it existed in 1948 when Israel was formed.

Dilip D'Souza said...

BV&PM: thanks. I like the Cesaire quote. Here's an oddity for you. I heard of Cesaire for the first time -- shame on me -- just this morning. Hours later, there's your comment mentioning him.

Swarup, thanks for the Mumford pointer. I have no idea whether Palestinians will accept the money, but I think a gesture like that is worth trying to achieve.

AK said...

Oh Dilip please don't misunderstand me. I do not expect someone of your caliber to write for popularity. I am a regular visitor of your blog and by far your articles are impeccable. But I am an engineer and I could see a 'logical' kink in your argument. I can understand your intention after your response but before that it seemed like an error in comparison.
Readers will understand that you are setting a premise that evil exists on both sides but your examples showcase evil actions perpetuated by both sides 'towards each other' and this is where your Pak-India example stands out like a sore thumb.

PS: sorry if this comment appeared multiple times, something is wrong with the CAPTCHA

Girish Shahane said...

I don't understand what you imply by the right proceeding from the 'historical connection of Jews to that part of the world'. Do you mean that, if the ancestors of certain people lived in a place two thousand years previously, they have the right to go back there, throw out those currently occupying that area, and set up their own nation?

B said...

Murakami on accepting the Jerusalem prize:

Dilip D'Souza said...

Girish: not throw out the current occupants.

But I think there was a sense that grew among Jews, like I said, that they would only be safe in a homeland of their own. Question then, where? That's how the historical connection to that part of the world mattered.

I wish that it had turned out that there had been, for example, two nations from the beginning: thus some land turned over to the Jews for their homeland, in return for ironclad assurances to Palestinians already there of their future security and reasonable lives.

What shape such assurances should have taken, I cannot say (though I have some ideas). But surely they would have been better than what happened: pushing out the Palestinians (and then reducing them over 60 years to the misery of Gaza).

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thanks for Murakami, B. Thought-provoking.

Girish Shahane said...

Israel could only have been created as a Jewish nation by throwing out those who were legal occupants of that land before Jewish settlers came in. So if you believe it was justified for Israel to exist in 1949, you must believe it was justified to chuck out people from land they had lived in, in some cases, for hundreds of years.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Girish, I have little to say, if that's what you think.

I'd like to think there was a chance that some kind of territorial arrangement could have been worked out, with minimal harm to the Palestinians there: with the state of Israel offering them guarantees, as I said.

That's all.

Girish Shahane said...

Dilip, I believe you are evading the question by seeing things from only the Jewish viewpoint. You say some arrangement could've been worked out with minimal harm to the Palestinians. The question is, who is to decide what constitutes minimal harm? If I am living on a plot of land, and somebody comes and says, look we'll give you a plot two miles away (which is a far better deal than most Palestinians got), do I have the right to refuse? Did the Palestinians have the right to refuse? What they got, of course, was a situation when many of them were banished for generations from their ancestral land while any Jewish person anywhere in the world was given the right to fly into that land and get citizenship.
Since you do go over a number of human rights issues repeatedly in your writings, I request you to consider how your stand in this respect squares with the position you take on those other matters.
However, if you have said your final word, that's fine with me too.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Girish, I am trying hard not to evade the question. I am trying hard to see every viewpoint I can. Believe me.

What happened to the Palestinians at the hands of the Jewish settlers in 1948 (and since) is appalling. There is no other word for it (and many stronger). Of course the question is who will decide what constitutes minimal harm, and my natural answer to that is, it had to be the Palestinians who were to be displaced. Instead, they were not given the chance to decide and simply pushed out.

But I also honestly think Jews the world over had come to believe that there was no place where they would not be persecuted. I think there's legitimate historical ground for that belief.

For these reasons, the MidEast is a place that leaves me constantly baffled about what's the best course. I honestly find it impossible to agree with so many who say that the Jews had no business to come to this part of the world in the 40s, giving rise to this whole tangle. In much the same way, I find it impossible to agree with so many others who say that the Palestinians are now just terrorists who have lost all rights and deserve the miseries of Gaza.

One question is, how should it have been done in the 1940s? I cannot agree that the answer to that is "No Jews should come to begin with". Just as I cannot agree with what did happen -- "Push the Palestinians out and establish the state of Israel." Therefore I say, I like to think there was some way to negotiate a fairer agreement. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have to believe that.

The other question is, given the reality of the situation in the MidEast -- an established state of Israel that's not going away, the hellhole of Gaza that's not going away, the West Bank mess that's not going away, etc -- what do we do now? Laying down right and wrong for 1948 doesn't satisfy me because it doesn't address this question.

So a starting point today to address it must be for both sides in this tragic hostility to at least recognize the other's right to exist, and build on that. That's probably the spirit of what I suggested should happen with Ghosh's award.

Seeing difficult problems in black and white, for me, only serves to keep a solution distant. Seeing the greys -- in the sense of trying to recognize and understand what drives the other guy -- seems to me to be a better way to hunt for answers.

Girish Shahane said...

Actually, the Jews didn't 'come to that part of the world in the 1940s'. They began migrating much earlier, long before the Holocaust. And Zionists were not driven by the idea that Israel was a bulwark against persecution, so much as the belief that the land was theirs by right because God had said so.
About seeing difficult problems in black and white versus grey, have you applied that principle to your writing about Gujarat in 2002? If so, I've missed the pieces where you saw Narendra Modi's side of the issue :)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thanks for the taunt, Girish. It's what apparent political or ideological differences make easy, I know it well.

* While Jews have been migrating into the mideast from much earlier, it was really the '40s, and the promise of a homeland called Israel, that saw a ramping up in the numbers.

* I have no patience with the "god said this land was ours" gang. Regardless, I believe a lot of Jews did see no hope for an end to centuries of persecution the world over. Except in their own homeland.

* About Modi: I have no problem with claims that he is a wonderful administrator or that Gujarat has got such good roads because of him, etc. The issue to me is simple: in 2002, he presided over arguably the state's worst breakdown of law and order. If, for example, two ministers called Patil lost their seats because of 26/11, why didn't Modi lose his because of 2002? What's "the side of the issue" here I have not seen?

Chandru K said...

D'Souza is highly sympathetic to the idea of Jews needing a homeland, because of the historic persecution they faced, including the holocaust which was most recent. This is certainly an idea that can be respected. But D'Souza is equally sanguine about a Moslem homeland on the Indian subcontinent; here the idea is simply the fact of Moslems being in a minority, and having understandable apprehensions about their future in a non-Moslem majority country! There is no question of historic Moslem persecution in India, as the idea would be laughable. In any case, the whole idea of actual or potential persecution only arose after the provincial election results of 1937, when the League fared poorly. It was purely Jinnah's jealousy, bitterness and ambition, playing on the latent fanaticism of the Moslems as a whole, that drove the creation of Pakistan. And not any historic persecution.

Girish Shahane said...

I didn't mean it as a taunt, Dilip. But there's a kind of one-upmanship in saying, "I like to see shades of grey rather than black-and-white", implying that the person you are conversing with is incapable of nuanced thinking. I wanted to point out that there are things even you consider black and white. You ask what the side of the issue you haven't seen is; well, just look back on the arguments you've had with people about Gujarat 2002, and it is their side of the argument that you haven't seen, or refuse to countenance. As it happens, I refuse to countenance it as well. But then, unlike you, I don't make a general normative principle about seeing shades of grey rather than black-and-white. I am prepared to say that Hitler was worthy of denunciation, for example. I don't see any grey in the death camps.
I recommend you read this summary and some of the links therein to get an idea of the historical development of Zionism:
It's a neutral source, and gives a good overview of how the land grab that is Israel developed.

Dilip D'Souza said...

In turn, Girish, I didn't mean it as one-upmanship. I have no use for that kind of point-scoring and I work hard to avoid it. Looking back, I can see it must have seemed like a supercilious statement to you and I apologize for that.

I will read the Wiki page, though I have done a fair amount of reading on this over the years. (Been reading about Israel since I was 10 or 12).

Re: Guj and Modi, let me make it still clearer: I cannot countenance an argument that says the killing of '02 across Gujarat was just payback for the killing in Godhra. There's no grey in that argument that I can see.

To my mind at least, there's more grey in the middle East.

What I thought you meant by your mention of Modi (especially because this is how I mentioned him in my Kafila comment) is the standard argument that's thrown at me these days (happened most recently only a couple weeks ago) -- he's such an able administrator, roads are so good, government is efficient, he's the best CM in India. To that I can only say, take all that if you like, but he was CM during a horrific weeks-long spree of killing in '02. Why is he still CM?

Anonymous said...


We can and often will use different standards for past (fait-accompli) and present/ ongoing injustice. Its only pragmatic and realistic.

Since we have our own troubles, impossible to engage on midEast. This will be my only comment.

1. May I suggest that a better analogy to Israel-Palestine is the BM demolition rather than Modi-Guj 2002?

In both cases a pre-existant reality has successfully (and forcibly) been altered, and said alteration is sought to be incrementally legitimized with time.

2. I believe there was no consent, let alone informed consent, from the populace of Palestine for Israel, esp as it turned out to be today. It was not Britain's or anybody else's to give.

That a small fraction of the population was always Jewish does not materially affect that.

Maybe the local (non-Jewish) population thought there would be some incoming refugees that would live under their domain as part of *their* state- its hard to believe they approved of an approach to become a discriminated minority in their land.

Maybe with real intent and lower religious temperatures on all sides there could have been something like a Louisiana purchase or Alaska.

These are contexts within which I am comfortable with the homeland argument. Just feeling strongly and historically linked to a place does not cut it.

I feel Dilip has directly or implicitly made these or similar points himself and there is irreconcilable gap btwn Girish's and Dilip's PoVs.

However Girish's approach appears to question Israel's right to exist. I'm not too sure too many of our current states (including India) are formed on the absolute okay of all the people in it and around it. Israel's is just the most extreme example around.

We can only aspire to be the best solution possible today that eliminates or at least mitigates harm, we cannot dissolve ourselves if we were founded on wrong premises.

Dilip's suggestions on this thread are the practical and workable solutions that can bring about some form of closure today not 1940s. To move to this solution requires that we cease harping on the events from the 1940s.

This conflicts with (1)... the resolution as close as I have it is the summary above.

thank you,

Anonymous said...

A couple of clarifications:

1) I was referring to the 1992 demolition of BM, which I want undone. The default or base solution is the reconstruction of BM, any other solution is with the unforced and willing sanction of the Muslims in that area.

This is being compared to the injustice meted out to Palestinians.

This doesnt come out clearly enough in the wording which could be used to infer that I am concerned with the demolition in 17XX(?) of some other structure that stood there. That one is past.

2.) Correction:

I feel Dilip has directly or implicitly made these or similar points himself and there is ...*NO* ...irreconcilable gap btwn Girish's and Dilip's PoVs.


Girish Shahane said...

Jai, I believe it was a crime to demolish the mosque, but rebuilding it is pointless. Similarly, I don't believe Israel had a right to exist in 1949, but I believe it has a right to exist today. That's a distinction I made in my very first question to Dilip when I asked him whether he thought Israel had a right to exist just today or even back in 1949, or, for that matter, in 1920.
Dilip, thanks for your clarifications.