Assistant Professor of Political Science and History at Ashoka University
Ali Khan Mahmudabad is reading for a PhD in South Asian history at the University of Cambridge and is working on the effect of poetry on the formation of political identity in North India before independence. His undergraduate degree was in Middle Eastern History and Political Science. He has also studied in Syria and has traveled extensively in the Middle East. He writes a fortnightly column for the Urdu national daily, Inqilab and has also written for a number of English language magazines and newspapers.
Symbolism is about power. It is also about intentions. Symbols can often have great cultural value for one group of people while they represent something entirely different for another group. Recently...
Great civilizations arise from the confluence of different cultures. Sadly, recent trends suggest that there is an inward turn amongst people of various countries and indeed religions right across the world. Increasing financial insecurity, political short-sightedness and social instability inevitably create an atmosphere in which scapegoats are sought and pegs desperately searched for in order to find someone to blame. The most recent example of this was the Brexit vote in the UK, but by no means is this something that is anomalous.
As important elections loom in America and India, people in both countries have been worried about the rise of an increasingly divisive and antagonistic kind of politics. The existence of such voices in a democracy is not as troubling as the fact that these views are clearly resonating with parts of the population. However, while the politics of the two countries share many aspects, there are also similarities in the movements that have sprung up to oppose these divisive tendencies.
If Messrs. Obama, Hollande and Cameron are sincerely concerned with stemming the tide of the poison that Daesh represents then they surely must express solidarity with all those Iraqis, Afghans and Lebanese who were killed in the last few days. It is precisely this kind of asymmetric coverage, not only by the media, but through statements made by 'world leaders' that make ordinary people wonder whether a life in Paris is worth more than a life in Beirut.
As people around the world 'like', 'share' or 'hashtag' #IstandwithAhmed in solidarity, there are important questions that need to be asked by both governments and citizens. Beyond condemning the reprehensible treatment of a child and the joining the wave of support that Ahmed has found, his experience can be used to try and understand how people, especially young people, who are subjected to some form of institutional discrimination cope with the experience.
As theories abound about the perpetrators of the attack at a Hindu temple (which actually welcomes mostly Chinese pilgrims) in Bangkok, the name of one ultranationalist group has not received as much coverage as it should have. In fact, just recently Turkey's Bozkurtlar or The Grey Wolves have been in the news not because of terrorism but because of a Victoria's Secret lingerie model.
Ostensibly, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are worried about a nuclear Iran because they see the latter has having expansionist imperial ambitions. Of course, like everybody else in the neighbourhood Iran has proxy groups but perhaps it is not the existential threat posed by a nuclear Iran that worries the Saudis and Israelis as much as the fact that a sanction-free Iran would perhaps be Asia's fastest growing economy with its natural gas, oil and mineral deposits coupled with a highly educated young population.
There are currently four all-out wars in the Middle East in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen with blowback of this in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Sudan amongst other places. The contexts of each of these situations is different and perhaps the one and only feature that states across the region share is that for various reasons most countries have denied their citizens the opportunity to form democratic civil society movements that participate in government and governance.
In wars the suffering of individuals is often forgotten. If not forgotten then it is subsumed into broader and more general narratives that use individuals merely as examples to illustrate particular points of view. The atrocities, the grief, the destruction, the turmoil, the instability, the shock, the blood and the unpredictability all become distant statistics, comments in newspapers, parts of TV discussions or points in arguments to make a case against war or for that matter for war.
The fact is that the only reason the Vice President has been targeted is because he is Muslim. Sushma Swaraj, minister of external affairs, and Rajnath Singh, the home minister, were both also present during the ceremony and neither saluted the flag.
The second context is for the benefit of those people who think that Muslim societies spontaneously give birth to death-loving and world-hating sociopaths who are bred to kill innocent people. As much as certain sections of the Muslim world are to blame for the proliferation of misguided militants, certain European countries and indeed America are as accountable.
Today, we are all responsible for a world in which children become victims of what we have created. We live in an economic system that thrives on conflict. We have built a world in which we vote for governments that invest more in war than in education.