Date: September 2, 2016

So, I started blogging for The National Interest

Here’s my first post

So, what an incredible week. To start with I got quoted by Financial Times on Chinese geostrategy, and to end it, I wrote my first blog for The National Interest.

It is a critique of Anne Applebaum’s latest in Washington Post on why we haven’t intervened the hell out of Syria. Because, clearly interventions historically solve all global problems.

Here’s my post, “Lament of the Liberal Interventionist Ideologues”.

Let me know what you guys think!

Burkini ban and an honest debate about the C word

Stop blaming Colonialism for every social ills. It’s frankly embarrassing. 

The terrible liberal secular tyranny that engulfed France leading to thousands of disillusioned, shocked and scared humans, crossing hundreds of miles to flee Europe and seek refuge in the bosom of distant cultures and faraway lands was finally overturned by the French supreme court. Yes, I am talking about the ill-defined, and frankly idiotic Burkini ban and the reaction to it. And no, of course no one fled Europe, or was even remotely planning to, as far as recorded knowledge goes, though no one will blame you if you felt the opposite from the social media reaction to this entire issue. One hypothesis, yet to be tested in a proper social science experiment, could be that most vicious protests against classical European liberalism comes from a section of the commentariat, who for all practical purposes would never live anywhere other than Western Europe if given a chance.

But that’s beyond the point of this post.

As a political scientist, this entire episode was a fascinating natural experiment to watch, one of social media confirmation bias and simplistic narrative causal generalisation in journalism and a certain section of academe. A single google search will result in dozens of articles, which analysed the Burkini ban from the binary of either feminism and women’s rights, or colonialism and racism inspired by colonialism. The first argument of feminism, comparatively makes a lot more sense, although it is prudent to add for the sake of academic balance, that it has been disputed by some. Notable Arab feminists, either supported the Burkini ban or were straightforward about the right “not to wear a Burkini”.

It is the colonial angle which was far more baffling.

Churning out anti-colonialism as a narrative is nothing new, obviously. And, honestly, there are ample reasons for it. Lamentably, however, it is a causal ascription, which is significantly on the rise, for issues which are far more complex and far beyond the explanatory prowess of such juvenile linear narrative. Examples range from Burkini ban, to devastating terror attacks in France. Team GB won Olympic medals and you’re celebrating? Must be deeply entrenched colonialism that we need to be joylessly vocal about. Black Lives Matter protests? Against colonialism. White actors playing in Asian films, characters which are White?! You guessed it. Western women wearing Bindis? My Ganesha, the savagery of the cultural appropriation. Gender abolition and homophobia? C…

This is beyond exasperating. 

Read More

The politics of Sainthood

As someone born and brought up in Calcutta, take it from me, Mother Teresa is no Saint.

Why exactly is Mother Teresa a saint, or for that matter why is she actually even famous? As someone who was born and brought up in Calcutta, (or Kolkata, depending on how patriotic you feel) this is a baffling question. As the Catholic Church declares her a saint, it will bring forth this question again in public debates. It is difficult for someone to fathom her cult, without knowing how stagnating Calcutta was like in the late 80s and early 90s.

Calcutta, the erstwhile capital of the British Raj, the center and seat of liberal, enlightened and scientific knowledge of the Bengali renaissance which first influenced and then morphed into the epicenter of the Indian independence movement, was at that time during the 80s ruled by the Communist Party of India. While paying regular homage to dialectics, the CPI(M) were Marxists in name only. The dream of revolution was obviously long gone, even when the soaring rhetoric against American imperialism and computerisation of workplace remained, just as the Soviet Union disappeared in a final spate of disillusionment. Instead there were long waiting queue for ration shops, one had to wait to get a telephone connection for around two years, and the summer evenings were spent playing carrom outside, as bouts of power cuts made staying indoors insufferable in the humid heat.

Mother Teresa during those days were the only international object of fame the city had. When I went to school, I remember giving away my used clothes for charity annually, not because I felt particularly altruistic, but it was compulsory. I was indifferent to it, as were most of middle class Bengalis. We had no idea where it was going, or who were wearing those clothes. These charity donations were an escape route from our own guilt, or responsibility, an easy way out from changing the structural mismanagement of centralized command economy which made a once affluent city, a city of roadside beggars ripping of foreigners and jobless youths who moved to Bangalore or Mumbai for jobs after their college degrees. Most of them were possibly members of the Student Federation of India, the youth wing of the Communists. Again, none of them were particularly leftist, else they won’t run to look for jobs in capitalist Mumbai; the membership was sort of compulsory to get admission in a good college. It’s easier to look for jobs than change society, and middle class boys understood that pretty early in Calcutta.

The Communists had an uneasy relationship with Teresa. On one hand, by definition this was a reactionary, highly religious political operative and sermoniser, who had a sort of balancing relation with the anti-Soviet Pope, while simultaneously having an affable relationship with one of the worst dictators in the World Enver Hoxha. In Calcutta, it brought attention to the fact that the city was stagnating and full of destitutes, it brought hard cash from painfully benevolent and activist Hollywood celebs moved by poverty porn, and it enhanced a system and narrative of victimhood. Also, the fact the Mother Teresa set her shop in Calcutta was a propaganda victory of the Communists, as a protector of religious minorities from the evil Hindu right wing which was ascendant during the early nineties. Very few took notice on how shoddily Teresa’s institution was run, or how unhygienic it was. The Communists and the Mother both benefited from this system of poverty, no one genuinely wanted to change anything.

Which brings to the first question, why is she famous or saintly? She dedicated her life to serve poor, which was clearly done with political motivations (I hesitate to do a Chris Hitchens, I don’t have his oratorical mastery). By that logic, Bill Gates, Dhirubhai Ambani and Deng Xiaoping did much more to fight poverty and structurally change society that what Mother and her institution can ever achieve. She obviously didn’t perform any miracles, because miracles don’t exist by common understanding of science. What then? There is no logical answer. This sainthood will essentially reinforce the flawed idea of miracles, of everyone somehow being special and under protection of divinity, and reinforce the legitimacy of an institution which still opposes condoms, and abortions. And perhaps more destructively it will reinforce the notions that there is a divine alternative to scientific education, liberal ideas and structural economic change.

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. You can find him on twitter @MrMaitra.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Get the most important and interesting articles right at your inbox. Sign up for B+D periodic emails.