Category Archives: Commérage

Free of All but Responsibility

Freedom is among the most cherished possessions of mankind. Pertaining to the tendencies of the human race, freedom provides contentment, but, it brings with itself an overflow of responsibilities. It must be kept in mind that one’s freedom shouldn’t give one the right to impede another’s freedom. The ones who have freedom also have to think upon the right and wrong of their decisions. Freedom is not absolute. It needs to be respected and upheld, and at the same time, it needs to be checked.

“Supreme Court Judge says that her daughters are liabilities.” This caption along with the photograph of justice Gyan Sudha Misra was published on the front page of an English newspaper. During the disclosure of liabilities and assets, Misra had written: “two daughters to be married” in the column against liabilities. Admittedly, there was no need to mention this as only legal liabilities were to be stated, nevertheless, the newspaper was totally misleading as Ms. Misra’s intention was only to tell that she would have to spend upon her daughters’ marriage. It does not prove that her feelings and emotions towards her children were based upon the monetary expenditure of their nuptials. There are numerous cases where the media has focused upon stories merely for the TRP, and has ignored issues of greater importance. Media and press constitute an important part of society as they are fundamental in shaping our world view. Thus a judicious use of freedom and powers is important.

When we use terms like “responsibility”, it might be viewed as giving powers to the state to curtail the rights of citizens for any reasons which are favorable to them. For example, the Press Law of Syria forbids reporting on topics that are considered to be sensitive by the government. Thus the two notions of freedom and responsibility seem to contradict each other.

The depth this contradiction can attain was witnessed subsequent to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. On one side, Islamists have argued that religion should not be subject to ridicule while on the other hand, people have blamed the extremists for their actions. The claim of the French government of being a protector of free speech came into light as pro-Palestine demonstrations were banned in Paris. Many questions were raised by the international community, some being: was it right to ban the burqa? Is it sufficient to condemn the extremists or do we need to argue upon blasphemy and religious beliefs?

Ideally this battle between the ideologies of responsibility and freedom can be resolved, but our world is far from being ideal. It is difficult to draw the line where freedom should end and responsibility should begin. And who is authorized to draw this line? Should all the powers be given to the government or should there be a scope of individual judgment?

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Blurred Lines

We live in an age of more. Every single day, thousands of new companies join the fray to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. This world is ruthless, tossing aside those who do not push the envelope, those who do not take risks. Multinational giants along their way to the top often cross moral lines – entering into ethically grey areas. On such instances who should be held accountable for their misdeeds, the country harboring the company, or the company itself?

Such organizations operate across several countries, often having multiple subsidiaries increasing the complexity of their financial structure. They bank on the fact that different countries have different laws. Such firms establish themselves in countries with laws favorable to them, and herein lies the crux of the case. As long as the company doesn’t break the laws it is bound by, it cannot be held accountable for its actions however close they reach the fringes of what is ethically right. Usually countries structure laws to attract investors and companies, on occasion leaving loopholes for them to exploit.

One such instance is when India signed the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with tax havens such as Mauritius and the Cayman Islands way back in 1982, allowing companies residing in India and one of these two nations to pay their taxes in either territories. This is propitious to firms as these havens exempt certain forms of tax, hence sending a beacon to companies the world over to invest in India. When in 2007, Vodafone orchestrated a transaction through the Caymans without paying any tax – as per the laws of the Cayman Islands – the revenue department of India cried foul. Following an acrimonious court case, the Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Vodafone, cementing the capitalist nature of India’s economic policy.

In the end it was Vodafone’s shrewd interpretation of the law that profited them. Unless countries legislate laws which are not subject to subterfuge, companies can and will continue to capitalize on the situation, for as long as they don’t explicitly break the law they are not culpable for their actions.

Freedom of Expression Vs. National Security

Over the years, there have been several discussions about how much of an individual’s rights can be restricted to ensure the safety of the nation. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human rights state that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In several nations however, there are laws that allow the government to curtail an individual’s rights. But, is this just? Should the government have the power to curtail an individual’s basic human right?

During the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, when a group of terrorists held several civilians hostage in the Taj Hotel, several news stations were reporting live from the scene, and were doing live broadcasts. They were also broadcasting videos of the militants. In this case, the broadcasts could have exposed the militants’ strategies to the terrorists, who held innocent civilians as hostages. This, thus, put civilian lives at risk and the TV stations were banned from broadcasting live from the scene. In such cases, the media houses should be sensible about the information they are broadcasting. They should have taken into consideration the fact that the terrorists could have access to a television, and not have jumped at this as an opportunity to improve their TRP rating. The government did the right thing by stopping the broadcast in this case, despite it curtailing the freedom of expression.

On the other hand however, there are cases like the Tiananmen Square protests on 1989. The protests were forcibly suppressed and the Communist Party of China has forbidden discussion of the event. Within a year of the protest, several newspapers were shut down and over 150 movies and books were banned. Several people born after 1990 are not even aware of this incident. Foreign journalists are frequently denied access to the Tiananmen Square during anniversaries. While the government takes these measures to prevent any future protests like the Tiananmen Square protests, and to prevent civil unrest, it curtails the freedom of expression of millions of people. Also, the reason for censoring this information is not well founded, because censoring all information related to the protests is not going to ensure that no other such protests take place. Neither will people start protesting once they read about this incident. Clearly, in this case, the Chinese Government either has more information about the event that could put the whole nation at risk, or have ulterior motives behind censoring the information. Maybe they just fear that this information will inspire others to protest against the corrupt officials and other issues with the Chinese government.

While it is important that the nation’s security is given more importance than an individuals’ rights, there will be corrupt officials who can take advantage of this and misuse it. But on the other hand, if the state does not have powers to curtail an individuals’ freedom of expression, the individual can also misuse it and put the entire nation at risk. Hence, the state should have the power to curtail the rights of an individual to protect the interests of the state. However, there should be methods to ensure that this is not misused by government officials. An independent committee, for example, can be set up to look into these issues.

non-violence not Relevant?

Over the last few years, the hot topic for news stations has been terrorism, and the responses of various countries towards it. We have been enthralled with dramatic discussions about whether the US will bomb Syria, or whether the UN will authorize military intervention. But, strangely enough, there has been a prominent paucity of information about non-violent counters to the growing Middle-Eastern threat.

Non-violence as an effective deterrent to oppression and violence first gained international renown under the direction of Gandhi. Even now, non-violent organizations within India – like the Shanti Sena – and throughout the world follow the principles he espoused. The efficacy of his methods was proven time, and time again; India’s sovereignty being his crowning achievement. But, his fight was with an empire built upon law and order. The British saw their colonization of India as a ‘civilizing mission’ to bring a ‘backwards’ country into the modern era. Today’s terrorist organizations are built upon a far more radical ideology, and their mission is far less magnanimous than a ‘civilizing mission.’ Despite this, people in the Middle East make an attempt at a peaceful battle against terror. There are some groups – largely comprised of women – which make it their duty to suppress radical thoughts in their communities, undercutting terror groups’ human resources. The resolve of the Syrian people to ignore the battle against al-Qaeda affiliates and the al-Assad regime is also a commendable non-violent effort to undermine terrorist authority. However, the cancerous growth of the ISIS does not lend confidence to these methods.

Even around the globe, non-violent fighting has been successful against fear or hatred generated from discrimination or oppression, not against zealous anger and enmity born of religious indoctrination and severe brainwashing. Gandhi once said that the advances in non-violence would surpass advances in violence; but, the present international situation speaks the opposite. Are the efforts made by war victims at the grassroots level truly meaningful in the fight against terrorism, or has the relevance of Gandhi’s non-violent methods been lost in the face of today’s terrorist organizations?

the American Sniper

There is no comfort like the solitude of one’s home, and one’s mind; and it is due to the abandonment of this very comfort that we owe our respect to soldiers around the world. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is a dark and intense romanticism of a soldier’s life, focused on the brutality and violence that war inflicts. Although he pulled out all the stops in depicting tense, fast-paced combat sequences, it is the war soldiers wage within their own minds that takes center-stage in his film.

This movie tells the story of the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper commonly referred to as the most deadly sniper in US history, or as those in service call him, ‘Legend’. From the moment he finds his calling as a warrior and protector, all the way till the end, Chris finds himself fighting one battle after another, and the movie does a good job of portraying not only his struggles, but also their insidious effects on his psyche. Starting from his childhood, Chris develops a mindset that later on matures into a driving goal, bordering on obsession, to protect his people from anyone seeing to do them harm. It is this goal that first pushes him to join the SEALs, and it is this goal that allows him to kill men, women, and even children. The movie, however, takes great pains to emphasize that Chris is not a man without morals, on the contrary, he is portrayed as the quintessential humanitarian, struggling to take the life of each child holding a weapon, having to justify to himself each kill he makes.

Ironically, it is this very goal that torments his life off of the battlefield. This is very convincingly portrayed in his interactions with his family, which he obviously loves, but cannot find himself comfortable with. He had been fighting for such a long time, that he couldn’t find a purpose to satisfy his goal in a regular life. His mental distress was so strong he began to imagine conflicts, so that he could resolve them to appease his psyche’s call for action. It is only later on, when he begins helping other veterans overcome their demons, that he begins to banish his.

Unfortunately, although the movie does a spectacular job displaying the mental anguish soldiers have to overcome both on and off the battlefield, the story it uses to do so is critically flawed. Throughout the movie, the Iraqi war was portrayed as very black and white, with the Americans being the force of good, fighting against the bad terrorists lurking just out of plain sight. The movie seemed to imply that every single Iraqi civilian was actually a terrorist in disguise, looking towards killing as many brave and righteous American soldiers as possible.

Overall, the movie was very gripping and entertaining, it delivered deep insights into the minds and lives of those fighting for our safety and comfort, however, at the end of it all, the experience was soured by the unrealistic portrayal of the realism of war.

who is to Blame?

Who is to be blamed for the devastation in Ukraine? Is it the culmination of long-repressed tension between the pro-Russian and pro-European blocs within the nation? Is it the result of Putin exercising the ideology of Russian Imperialism on the neighbouring sovereign nation? Perhaps it is the result of the European Union and NATO overstepping their boundaries, followed by certain elements in Ukraine calling for Big Brother Russia’s help? Could it be the result of an energy conflict for the natural gas reserves and pathways present in the country? Or maybe, like in any other massive international conflict, is there more than one reason, or entity, at fault?

Since 1991, the US has shown a vested interest in promoting its Western dogma in Ukraine and other post-Soviet nations. It was estimated that by 2013, the US had invested over $5 billion to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves,” – an investment that worried Russia. Parallel to its social engineering campaign, the US has been pushing NATO for over the past two decades to expand into Eastern Europe, an initiative that Russia strongly, and clearly, opposed. Its invasion of Georgia in 2008 was a blatant warning advising NATO to keep away from its borders. To further express his displeasure, Putin delivered a thinly veiled threat to the US president stating that if Ukraine was folded into NATO, it would disappear. However, this did not dissuade the US for long. Within two years of this incident, the European Union had started pushing Ukraine to sign an economic treaty with them.

Viktor Yanukovych was elected as the 4th president of Ukraine on the 25th of February, 2010. Most of his support base comes from the pro-Russian Eastern and South-eastern regions of Ukraine, specifically, the Crimea peninsula. Despite this, one of his directives as president was to sign the proposed treaty with the EU, a directive that was getting closer to being realized as the winter of 2013 drew nearer, a realization that was drawing too close to comfort for Russia.

From the Russian perspective, this treaty was the last straw. For decades, Russia had been watching the US steam roll its agenda into Ukraine, slowly, but surely turning the minds of its people, and pulling it further away from Russia’s purview. If the US managed to convert Ukraine, then Russia’s borders would be wide open to pan-European influence – an eventuality that Russia simply could not allow. So, in the interests of self-preservation, Russia placed Ukraine under economic pressure, until Yanukovych had no choice but to make an about face, reject the EU treaty, and instead accept a Russian counteroffer.

This one action acted as the catalyst for the explosion of tension that had been building between Russia and the Western powers for over decades.

Many of the pro-European parties in Ukraine were outraged at this action, and immediately began protesting, finally culminating in the occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square. During the course of these demonstrations, many clashes were reported between special police forces and the protesters, leading to the deaths of about 100 civilians – it seemed as though Ukraine was on the brink of a civil war between the pro-European faction and the pro-Russian faction.

Western emissaries hurried to Kiev in hopes of solving the crisis before it erupted into a full on conflict. On the 21st of Februaury, 2014, Yanukovych declared that he had come to an agreement with the opposition, and that he would continue as president, but restrict his powers so that if the people demanded, a new president could be elected. Sadly, this arrangement fell through, and by the next day, Yanukovych had resigned and fled to Southern Russia. What remained was a government that was pro-European, and anti-Russian to the core.

The day after Yanukovych fled, a parliament meeting was called in which he was formally impeached, and exiled. Except, according to the then Constitution of Ukraine, this removal lacked the required number of votes. Furthermore, the next day, Yanukovych was formally charged with the ‘mass killing of civilians.’

Strangely enough, the Prime Minister of the new government was the Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the same man a leaked telephone recording revealed as Victoria Nuland’s (the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs) first choice.

Realizing that the whole coup d’état had been planned by Washington, Russia silently sent unmarked troops into Ukraine, ostensibly to help maintain peace, but, actually to help annex Crimea from Ukraine, as they revealed after the fact. The legitimization Russia presented for this action was a signed note from Yanukovych seeking Russian aid to help protect the bodies and interests of the citizens of Ukraine. However, it can be argued that Russia’s true motive was keeping the strategic military position of the Crimea peninsula out of NATO’s hands.

What is to be noted is that, at best, both Russia and the US only honored the words of the law, and not the intent behind them. The only logical conclusion is that both these nations had separate agendas that they wished to further, and Ukraine was the most convenient tool available.

Self-preservation is quite clearly the driving force behind Russia’s decisions, but, what is the US’s? What drove Washington to engineer a coup d’état in Ukraine?

A number of possible motives have been proposed. The first being that the US was after Ukraine’s natural gas. The appointment of Hunter Biden, US vice president Joe Biden’s son, to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest private gas firm lends credence to this theory. Another possible motive is the possible insecurity the US felt about Russia’s proposed experimentation with China to replace the Dollar, an experimentation that would cripple the US economy. Bringing Russia to its geopolitical knees would be a sure fire way of avoiding this outcome. One more motive behind the US coup could be the US neoconservatism agenda against Russia. After the Putin-Obama alliance which avoided bombing Syria and bankrupting Iran, the noncons definitely had a bone to pick with Russia. The US’s continued aggression towards Moscow would also be explained by this motive.

Although the US agenda in this conflict is murky, the sentiments of the Ukrainian people are not. At the moment, the whole nation is polarized between Russian ideologies, and Western European ideologies. Within a span of nine months, the Ukrainian people had experienced over 2,200 deaths, a number that was quickly on the rise. To these people, this conflict is a bitter struggle to express their desires, and to live the lives that they envision for themselves. They know that it is bloodshed started by an age old rivalry. They know that if the EU hadn’t made advances on their country, the massacre could have been prevented. To them, this is the struggle of their lifetime, and the struggle that will define the lifetimes of their children.

These people know that their country is just another casualty of the age-old US – USSR geopolitical game, but they are powerless to do anything. Anything but play along. The match has been struck, the spark has been fed, and now all that remains is to wait for the fire to die down.

terrorism

As of late, the terrorism in the Middle East has been growing to larger and larger peaks. It has broken the shackles of geographic boundaries and has managed to touch the entire globe. The number of people that leave their homes to sign up for the terrorist cause is staggering – over 15,000 people joined up from 80 countries throughout the world in the four short months after ISIS began to mobilize in the June of last year. This number begs the question: what is capable of driving thousands of people, some of whom lead comfortable lives, to drop everything, travel across the world, undergo rigorous combat training, and throw their lives away in a bloody martyrdom?

Many studies have been conducted to better understand this international radicalization process – specifically on the types of people which are most receptive to it. However, the results of these studies end up creating more questions than they answer. Unsurprisingly, certain of the sects of Muslims which feel marginalized or segregated from the rest of society are prone to turn to terrorism. Peculiarly, it has also been observed that most European insurgents are well-off, sociable representatives of the middle class – some of them having only recently converted to Islam. These two groups demonstrate a stark contrast in the kinds of people who give up their lives for terrorism, and it is only logical to assume that there is a similar contrast in their respective reasons for doing so.

Many Muslim communities in the Western World are isolated from the remainder of the society that they belong to. Although this isolation is many times self-imposed, the sentiments of oppression and marginalization that it creates are just as powerful as they would be if it were not. This is not to say that all such communities are spawning grounds for terrorists – only the most extremist of them are. For the disgruntled members of these communities, the life of a terrorist represents the perfect way to strike back at who they see as their Western oppressors. To them, inspiring fear through acts of brutality is the most effective method to draw attention to their cause.

The reasons respectable, middle class people end up joining terrorist organizations are much more difficult to pin down. Much of what is understood at the moment about their motives is still conjecture. The most popular theory is that perhaps they are running away from some aspect of their lives that they cannot bear to face; such as financial or social problems. Or maybe they have some criminal record that they wish to expiate, and they believe the terrorist cause is their vehicle to do so. In some instances, adolescents join up merely because they are at the junction in their lives when living in a camp and shooting guns seems appealing. If these kinds of people suddenly hear about what ‘Islam’ has to offer, then, obviously, they will jump at the chance to convert and realize their own aspirations.

In recent years, the number of people in the Western nations approaching Muslim religious leaders to ask for conversion has significantly increased. What is more telling, however, is the number of people who disappear after being taught what Islam is, and represents, by these authorities. There are people out there, living in our societies, slowly but surely spreading the propaganda that terrorist organizations adhere to.

But, although these reasons offer a somewhat satisfactory explanation for why terrorists choose to be terrorists, they do not explain how terrorists – rational human beings no different from us – can possibly justify the barbarous murders of innocents to themselves.

These men and women have interpreted the teachings of the Quran and applied them to the present world in a certain way – a way that allows them to accept and even relish in the loss of innocent life. According to their interpretation, any government that chooses to oppose them, and take military action against them, can only do so with the support of its people. In this way, every citizen of the nation becomes responsible for the inevitable loss of terrorist life that occurs during combat. Moreover, although terrorists accept that women and children not directly involved in the fighting are innocent, since they sleep and eat in the same countries that house the armies killing terrorists, their deaths too are sanctioned by God. Furthermore, an interpretation of a specific line in the Quran leads one to believe that even Islamic people living in Western nations are not truly Islamic, by virtue of the fact that they accept Christian or Jewish leaders. Through this tangled web of spurious logic, terrorists have managed to rationalize the killing of anybody who so much as is present in a nation warring against them.

These men and women put their religion on a pedestal, and allay any guilt they feel for their actions by telling themselves that they are merely the instruments of God’s design. To these men and women, even logic as absurd as this is acceptable, because what they are looking for is not a reason to kill, but an excuse to kill. The more logical the terrorists’ minds are, the deeper they must immerse themselves in their excuse, to escape the self-recrimination. This excuse is repeated so many times in the minds of terrorists that eventually, they begin to truly believe it; and the product of this mental conditioning are the religious zealots we see now terrorizing the world.