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Annals of the President-elect Trump Regime IV

 In late November 2004, following the election of George W. Bush to a second term of the Presidency of the United States, I published an article in the journal, Economic and Political Weekly, which remains the principal vehicle in India of wide-ranging and often scholarly commentary on social, historical, and political issues.  The article is called, “What the US Electorate Voted For” (Vol 39, no. 37), and shorter versions of it appeared as “The Bitter Pill of ‘American Democracy’” in the Bangladesh Observer (Dhaka; 12 November 2004, p. 4) and as “The Morning After:  The Bitter Pill of American Democracy”, Sunday Island (Colombo, Sri Lanka; 14 November 2004).

I take the liberty of reproducing this piece, since on reading it again earlier today I find that the same piece could be published today virtually intact, with only obvious changes—substituting the name of Donald J. Trump for George W. Bush, and so on.  This by no means should be interpreted to mean that just as the US muddled through the years of the Bush Presidency, it will do so through the years of the Trump Presidency. Nor am I trying to suggest that I may have been prescient, though a systematic study of American politics suggests that Trump is not at all an aberration, as Barack Obama would have us believe, but rather the logical outcome of the American political system. This is not the time for complacency.  But it does mean that unless the profoundly systemic evils that characterize the American political system are addressed, we shall lurch from one dangerous buffoon to another, from one ‘democratic despot’ to another.  Speaking at UCLA on November 9th this year, the day after the election, the French philosopher Alain Badiou adverted to ‘democratic fascism’.  In my 2002 book, Empire of Knowledge:  Culture and Plurality in the Global Economy (London: Pluto Press), I wrote about the “democratic totalitarianism of the United States”; and, in the concluding lines of “The Bitter Pill of American Democracy”, in pointing to Bush’s frequent references to the war on terrorism, I said:  “Such exhortations to simplicity and unadorned moral fervor, and clear invocations of authoritarianism, couched as messages to people to entrust themselves into the hands of tried leaders who are hard on crime and terror, have in the past unfailingly furnished the recipe for transition to anti-democratic, even totalitarian, regimes.”

Many of those who have studied German’s descent into totalitarianism have long pondered how a country that, in popular parlance, produced Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Kant, Schiller, Goethe and an extraordinarily long list of intellectual and artistic luminaries could embrace the demagoguery, naked militarism, brutal authoritarianism, and eventually the machinery of killing that would characterize the Nazi regime. No one should suppose that the United States, which is well-versed in methods of genocide, is immune to the perils have struck and brought down empires and totalitarian states alike.  The havoc that the US has brought down upon external others—Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians—may one day, which is perhaps not all that distant, be brought down upon many of its own citizens and residents. Donald J. Trump is only the logical outcome, not the culmination, of a process that has long been at work; much that is deplorable may come in his time, but it is certain that much worse will come after his time.

I have placed in bold italics such of my remarks from the previously published piece, which follows, which appear as they could have been written apropos of this election.  Take, for instance, this sentence: “Bush’s election means, in stark terms, that the majority of Americans condone the torture and indefinite confinement of suspects, the abrogation of international conventions, the ruthless “pacification” of entire countries, and an indefinite war — of terror, not just on terror — against nameless and numberless suspects.”  I submit that if we were to replace Bush with Trump, not a single word of this sentence would have to be altered in order for it be persuasive.

How often will the world have to swallow the bitter pill of American Democracy?  The fetus may be aborted by the ‘morning after’ pill; but if the ‘morning after’ pill has to be taken too often, it will wreck the woman’s body.  The body politic of the American Republic, in particular, is now in an advanced stage of decomposition.

 

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The Morning After:  The Bitter Pill of “American Democracy”

The recently concluded American elections, which have given George W. Bush the victorious verdict that he so vigorously sought, were being touted as the most marvelous demonstration of the success and robustness of American democracy even before the polls had closed in some states.  The lines to vote were reported to be unusually long in many places around the country, the prolific predictions about fraud, voting irregularities, and the unreliability of electronic voting machines largely fell flat, a record number of new voters made their presence felt at the polls, and more Americans cast their vote than at any time since 1968.  The usual platitudes, calling upon all Americans to “unite” after a bitterly “divisive” election campaign, were heard from Senator Kerry in his concession speech, and once again Bush, who poses as an archangel of “compassionate conservatism” when he is not being a cowboy, has promised his opponent’s supporters that he will attempt to win their trust.  Only the future lies ahead of this, as Bush puts it, “amazing country”.

The United States may be “amazing” for reasons quite at odds with those commonly imagined by Bush and the American electorate which so evidently resonates to his schemes for the upliftment of America and, strictly in that order, the rest of the world.  In the state of Oregon, a ballot cannot physically be cast at an electoral booth; it must be mailed to the appropriate authorities beforehand.  Fewer people vote in elections in the US than in almost any other democracy, though no country has done more to peddle the idea, especially to that portion of the world which is resistant to electoral democracy, that voting constitutes the ultimate fulfillment of a person’s political life.  If dictators understood, at least from the American example, that voting absolves people from further political responsibility, one suspects that they would be much less hostile to the vote as an expression of political sentiment.  I vote, therefore I am; man votes, Bush disposes — with some aid from God.  All these must surely constitute grounds for thinking of America as an “amazing country”.

Quite to the contrary, these elections furnish the most decisive illustration of the sheer mockery that electoral democracy has become in America. The iconoclastic American thinker, Paul Goodman, observed four decades ago in Compulsory Miseducation that American democracy serves no other purpose than to help citizens distinguish between “indistinguishable candidates”.  Both parties are utterly beholden to the culture of the corporation and what used to be called ‘monied interests’, and both have contributed to bloated military budgets; besides, however short the memory of those who fetishize Democrats as paragons of liberalism, decency, and civility, Democratic administrations have been scarcely reticent in exercising military power to subjugate enemies or ensure American dominance.  The current debacle in the Democratic party owes much to Bill Clinton, though he has been so lionizedthe consummate diplomat, the “comeback kid”, the supposed engine behind the growth of the American economy — that any criticism of him, barring the “moral turpitude” he is said to have displayed when he was caught with his knickers down in the Oval Office, is all but impossible.  Many Democrats instead held Ralph Nader, who understands better than most people the elaborate hoax by means of which one party has been masquerading as two for a very long time, responsible for sprinting votes away from Al Gore in 2000.  This served as one long-lasting excuse to which the Democrats could resort to explain why Gore was unable to prevail at the polls, and also explains why they went to extraordinary lengths to keep him from appearing on ballots in 2004; the other excuse originated in the circumstances under which a tenacious Bush, whose ambition for power is just as ruthless as his ignorance and arrogance are colossal, was able to get his brother Jeb Bush and the Supreme Court to hand over the White House to him.  The dictators who run banana republics were doubtless imbibing a very different meaning from the axiom that America leads the way.

The present elections have blown these excuses, under which the Democrats have been sheltering and smoldering, to smithereens. Bush’s victory margin, by the standards of democracy, is comfortably large.  Nader, the so-called “spoiler” and “traitor”, won a mere few hundred thousand votes, and his presence doubtless even emboldened more Democrats to go to the polls.  If Americans could not much distinguish between Bush and Kerry, and indeed how could they when Kerry, with his promise to “hunt down” the terrorists and wipe them from the face of this earth, sounded entirely like his opponent, the Democrats must ponder how they could have moved so far to the right and thus surrendered what little remains of their tattered identity.  Considering the horrendous record that Bush has compiled in nearly every domain of national life — an illegal war of aggression against Iraq, the occupation of a sovereign nation, the strident embrace of militarism, the reckless disregard for the environment, the shameless pandering to the wealthy, the transformation of a 5-trillion dollar surplus into a 400-billion dollar deficit, the erosion of civil liberties, the insouciant disdain for international treaties and protocols, and much else — one cannot but conclude that the American people have given Bush carte blanche to do more of the same.  One thought of the Butcher of Crawford as the arch executioner, under whose jurisdiction Texas sent more men to the death chamber than any other state, but his appetite for destruction extends even to the English language.  Edmund Burke, with his inspiring mastery over English, indicated Warren Hastings, a proconsul of an earlier generation, with the terrible observation that when Hastings ate, he created a famine; but when Bush opens his mouth, words come out horribly mangled, as unrecognizable as the bodies which litter the streets of Iraq.  Bush’s election means, in stark terms, that the majority of Americans condone the torture and indefinite confinement of suspects, the abrogation of international conventions, the ruthless “pacification” of entire countries, and an indefinite war — of terror, not just on terror — against nameless and numberless suspectsNo extenuating circumstances can be pleaded on behalf of Americans, however much progressive intellectuals might like to think that Americans are fundamentally “good” and merely “misinformed” by the corporate media.

It is no secret that the defeat of George Bush was, from the standpoint of the world, a consummation devoutly to be wished for.  Many well-meaning Americans deride Bush as an “embarrassment”.  Used with reference to him, the word sounds like an encomium.  The best of peoples are embarrassed by their own actions at times, and embarrassment can, at least on occasion, be read in the register of modesty, awkwardness, and innocent virtue.  “Embarrassment” seems wholly inadequate as an expression of the visceral anger and hatred Bush unleashes among some of his detractors.  Those even more critical of Bush are inclined to view him as a liar There is, however, scarcely any politician in the world who does not lie, though one can say of Bush that he almost always lies.  But what if the American electorate understood, as appears to be the case, his lies to be desirable, necessary, and premonitions of truth?  Bush lied to the world about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he lied about the purported imminence of a threat against the United States from Iraq, and he falsely claimed a link between the al-Qaeda network and Iraq.  Yet none of these revelations about the insidious modes in which consent is manufactured made an iota of difference, and Bush charged ahead with insistent reiterations of the same falsehoods.

Consequently, more arresting clues to the danger that Bush poses to the world must be located elsewhere.  One did not expect him to act any differently; but that a large chunk of the American population has boldly declared its affinity for him is proof enough that, at the end of the day, many Americans share with Bush his contempt for the world and the view that the United States can never fundamentally deviate from the path of good A very substantial number of Americans have declared that they found Bush to embody “moral values”, presumably the same moral values that they hold sacrosanct.   Bush’s moral vision, as is well-known, extends to clear and unambiguous distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and he is emphatic in his pronounced belief that “those who are not for us, are against us”.  The success of Bush points, in other words, to something much more ominous, namely the sheer inability of Americans to comprehend complexity and retain some degree of moral ambivalence.  The fear that Bush is charged with exploiting, namely the fear of terrorism, is more broadly the fear of the unknown, the fear of ambiguity.  Such exhortations to simplicity and unadorned moral fervor, and clear invocations of authoritarianism, couched as messages to people to entrust themselves into the hands of tried leaders who are hard on crime and terror, have in the past unfailingly furnished the recipe for transition to anti-democratic, even totalitarian, regimes.

Elections in India have consequences mainly for the Indian sub-continent, just as those in Australia largely impact Australia.  But the American elections impact every person in the world, and there are clearly compelling reasons why every adult in the world should be allowed to vote in an American presidential election.  However much every American might balk at this suggestion, it is indisputable, as the striking examples of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, and Iraq so vividly demonstrate, that the United States has never considered sovereignty an inviolable fact of international politics.  We shall, then, have to radically rethink the received notions of the nation-state, sovereignty, democracy, and internationalism.   These elections will widen the gulf between Americans, ensconced in their gigantic Hummers and endlessly adrift in the aisles of Cosco and Walmart, and most of the rest of the “civilized world”.  One nonviolent way of moving the world towards a new conception of ecumenical cosmopolitanism is to allow every adult an involvement in the affairs of a nation that exercises an irrepressible influence on their lives.

Meanwhile, there is no morning after pill to abort the nightmarish results of 2004, and the rest of the world will have to swallow the bitter pill of “American democracy”. 

Annals of the President-elect Trump Regime III

 

Nearly ten years ago I received an email from someone who had apparently been my peer when I was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins (1978-82).  I had nearly no recollection of him at all, but I must clearly have left something of an impression on him:  we were from being friends and had never exchanged any correspondence. He was now writing to me in the hope that he could enlist me as a foot-soldier in the crusade against abortion, and he was so emboldened in thinking because he remembered me as someone who talked often of Gandhi.  Surely, he told me, given that Mohandas Gandhi was almost certainly opposed to abortion, I had much the same abhorrence for abortion as did the Mahatma.  To press home the point about the undiminished evil of abortion and the wreckage of lives it entailed, he sent as attachments a number of grisly photographs of aborted fetuses. My computers screen seemed splattered with blood, fluids, and tissue. These images were calculated to provoke the same reaction of disgust and horror, and more, that photographs of the slaughter-house are intended to induce in the somewhat ambivalent meat-eater who might be on the fence.

Mohandas Gandhi had little occasion to write about abortion, but his position on this question may perhaps quite reasonably be inferred from his unstinting opposition to contraception.  Gandhi even met with Margaret Sanger, the American champion of contraception as a pill of liberation for women, but he remained unpersuaded that contraception heralded an advance for humanity.  However, certitudes about Gandhi are never easy, as scholars of Gandhi are keenly aware:  he retains, almost seventy years after his death and after a mound of scholarship, the ability to surprise.  Whatever his views on abortion, there can be little doubt that he would have found the violence and ferocity of the anti-abortionists, whose disdain and unbridled contempt for many of the living is matched only by their ingenuity in having themselves described as pro-lifers, deeply objectionable.  The subject of this brief rumination, however, is not Gandhi’s views on abortion, but rather the unfettered and single-minded devotion of the greater majority of Republicans, and especially what is called the Republican “leadership”, to the cause of making America abortion-free.  It is perfectly acceptable, on their world view, that the United States should remain the undisputed world leader in wasteful consumption, incarceration, solitary confinement, obesity, and other monstrosities that form the horror cabinet of everyday American life, but the country’s landscape should not be marred by abortion clinics.  All this, of course, is also on the assumption that the fetus is as much as a human as a Latina, an African-American, or the poor white.

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An anti-abortion demonstration. Credit: AP/Orlin Wagner.

This Republican “concern” for the dignity of human life may seem, at first glance, to be rather touching.   But to dissect the obsession over abortion that is the most distinctive characteristic of the American religious and political scene, one must ask the question that everyone is loathe to ask.  Nowhere else in the world do we witness the pitched battles over abortion that are played out in the Congress, on the airwaves, in demonstrations, and in arguments before American courts.  Why is that the case?  To be sure, there are a few other countries where disputes over abortion have triggered public disputes, as has been the case in predominantly Catholic Ireland.   Abortion, however, is not illegal in Ireland; but it is illegal in six countries, among them, not unsurprisingly, the Holy See (the seat of the Vatican), as well as—once again, mainly Catholic—Nicaragua, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic.  There are also another dozen countries, among them Iran, Haiti, and Malawi, where abortion is severely restricted.  One can be sure that the United States does not care to be lumped with these countries; if any Republican such as Vice-President-elect Michael Pence, whose own undisguised love affair with the fetus will be the subject of another blog, were to argue otherwise, one might encourage him to take residence in one of these exemplary lands.  On the other hand, the countries—among them, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and Great Britain, to name just a few—that the United States does see as its friends and natural partners in the aim of bringing democratic freedoms to less fortunate people have permissive abortion laws.

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Two teens from an anti-abortion summer camp in Southern California that drew 1000 youngsters protesting at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Credit: Timothy Bella/America Tonight

To reiterate:  whatever the status of abortion in any other country, nowhere else in the world have the anti-abortionists displayed such venom towards not only advocates of abortion but towards women who seek recourse to abortion, and in no other “free” country does abortion animate with such intensity the passions of its opponents.  Abortion clinics have been bombed; abortion providers have been murdered and listed on “Wanted” posters by anti-abortion activists organized in groups such as the “Army of God” and “Operation Rescue”.  There is a contradiction writ large here, since in anti-abortion discourse it is the wanton and heedless enactment of passion that leads women to the path of evil.  What to speak of abortion, even contraception is described by many anti-abortionists as deplorable and an unmitigated sin.  Mick Huckabee, a former presidential candidate and one of the torch-bearers of the anti-abortion crusade, has said that “women are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido . . . without the help of government.”  In comparison with his soul-mate Rush Limbaugh, Huckabee seems almost moderate.  “So Miss [Sandra] Fluke and the rest of you feminazis,” Limbaugh announced on his radio talk show, “here’s the deal.  If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something.  We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

One might, of course, argue that the unregulated sexuality of women remains a pervasive concern among men everywhere, even in so-called “enlightened” societies.  But this common recourse to the template of “patriarchy” cannot explain why the dispute over abortion remains a raging fire in American society, to an extent that seems incomprehensible in much of the rest of the world.  The massive commentary on abortion that appears in print, on television and radio, and increasingly on social media sites has shed little or no light on this matter.  And yet the singularity of the anti-abortion movement, a holy crusade, in the United States begs for an explanation.  America, in the eyes of its most devoted champions, has long been envisioned as the shining city on the hill:  here, and here alone, in this fabulist narrative can every child make something of himself or herself.  It is the country where, from the standpoint of anti-abortionists, women should want to have babies.  If the United States is the promised land, women must surely want to be mothers—more so, that is, in the general sense in which women are enjoined to be mothers and thus fulfill themselves and do credit to men, their family and community, and the nation. Feminists who have explicated on the social reproduction of motherhood are doubtless right in pointing to the various ways in which the notion of the sanctity of motherhood works to restrain and confine women to certain spheres of life, but the anti-abortion crusade in the United States points to a more ominous conclusion.  Women who seek an abortion, and their supporters, are in the anti-abortion discourse which has now found a fresh lease of life fundamentally traitors—not just to the race of women, but to the nation called America—who have jettisoned the enchantments of the promised land and thus forfeited their own entitlement to liberty.

 

In 1974, the young but already acclaimed German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, released a remarkable new film, Fear Eats the Soul [Angst essen Seele auf; also known as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul], which was as daring as it was prescient in its treatment of the reception of foreigners and particularly Muslims in Germany.  The film features an unusual relationship that develops between Ali, a Moroccan guest worker in his late 30s, and a 60-year old white German widow from a working-class community by the name of Emmi.  A chance meeting between the two blossoms into love, but, as lovers have often found out for themselves, others won’t let them live in peace.  A younger man with a much older woman is a phenomenon that continues to be rare in most societies; some people are even likely to find such a relationship abominable.  However, what most offends Emmi’s daughter, son-in-law, friends, and co-workers is that she shares her bed with a Moroccan immigrant.  The canard that foreign workers—many, though by no means all, of them Muslims—are “dirty” is repeated in Elli’s former circle of friends and workers; and, as societies are wont to do with women who show any degree of sexual independence, Elli is soon condemned as a “whore”.

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder

In Germany, given the enormous burden of its history, the question of xenophobia is of paramount importance.  Germans have striven over the years to contend with their past, and it is certainly unnecessary to recount their myriad efforts to acknowledge, and atone for, what transpired under National Socialism and the country’s transformation into a totalitarian state.  In recent years, even as most European countries have been shockingly indifferent to the fate of refugees who have attempted to made their way into Europe from Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, Germany has been generous in opening its arms to this—as it sometimes represented—flotsam and jetsam of a surging humanity.  In comparison with every other country, in and out of Europe, Germany has certainly been salutary in its reception of refugees.  Nevertheless, the anti-immigrant sentiment that is now openly voiced in most countries of Europe, and that has taken the form of virulent forms of racism and discrimination, is now being heard in Germany as well.  Far-right parties had been making inroads in Germany over the last twenty years, but their sentiments have thus far not been shared, at least not in public, by the majority of Germans.  However, yesterday morning’s newspapers carried a report that, perhaps in submission to growing public animosity towards Muslims, whose otherness is symbolized to many people most distinctly by the veiling practiced by many Muslim women, Chancellor Angela Merkel had indicated that the use of the hijab in Germany will henceforth be severely curtailed.

Quite apropos, then, of all this, it is perhaps fitting that last evening I should have had occasion to see Fassbinder’s comparatively little-known film, Katzelmacher, released as part of a set of five DVDs of his early films in Criterion’s Eclipse series.  Fassbinder shot this film, in black & white, over a period of nine days in August 1969 and was able to release it just two months later.  The word, “Katzelmacher”, is said to be Bavarian slang for “foreigner”, though the word has also been rendered as “trouble-maker”; and Fassbinder himself is said to have elaborated upon it thus: “a foreigner, especially someone from the South, who is supposed to enjoy great sexual potency.”  The film centers on a group of young friends in one of Munich’s neighborhoods who appear to have largely aimless lives:  their conversation centers on financial woes and gossip about who is sleeping with whom.  There isn’t much camera movement:  the film moves between a few different locations, among them a street where they gather for conversation, a run-down restaurant, and a few “domestic” apartment interiors. In keeping with this bare-bones cinematic minimalism, necessitated to some degree by the small budget with which Fassbinder was working, is the use of recurring tracking shots of pairs of the principal characters strolling down a street where they are the only pedestrians. The men are abusive to their female sexual partners, slapping and hitting them at will as it seems, and it would be far too much to speak of men having respect for women; indeed, scarcely anyone seems to have any respect for anyone else, and the women bitch about each other.  There is no laughter, no joy, no humor.  One woman, Rosy, engages in a form of prostitution, charging even her boyfriend for sexual favors.

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Katzelmacher: Aimless Lives of the Young.

What disrupts this pattern of living is the sudden appearance of Jorgos (played by Fassbinder himself), a Greek guest-worker who takes up residence in the apartment of Elisabeth, which she shares, though not with any great pleasure, with her live-in boyfriend, Peter.  By the late 1960s, when Katzelmacher was released, there were over two million foreign guest-workers in West Germany, from countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Morocco.  As in the case of Japan, the wartime machinery in West Germany was in the aftermath of the war diverted to industrial production, and by the late 1950s the economic resurgence of West Germany was such as to generate a huge demand for foreign workers. Jorgos is first taken for an Italian; he is then discovered to be “a Greek from Greece”.  Soon, the rumor is circulating that Elisabeth is sleeping with Jorgos; though the rumor is without any foundation, the implication in part is that Jorgos is without any morals.  Any such insinuation, as Fassbinder suggests, would be comical if it were not (as it eventually turns out) dangerous, considering that none of the other characters can even remotely be viewed as a paragon of the virtuous and morally upright human being.  Peter, who does not take kindly to being reminded by Elizabeth of his sheer worthlessness as a man capable of any degree of financial autonomy, loses no time in suggesting to this motley group of rather pitiful specimens of bourgeois middle-class life that the Greek is muscular, of better built, and larger than any of them—more particularly, in the region of the genitals.

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Beating Up on Imigrants: Jorgos is set upon by the young men of the neighborhood, in a scene from “Katzelmacher”.

Some might suppose that it is sexual envy that feeds the anger and resentment of this circle of young friends.  However, though anti-immigrant feeling may feed on predictable anxieties, such as the notion, now being widely trumpeted in Trump’s America, that immigrants “steal” jobs, xenophobia needs no such rationale and can live off a great many others rumors and anxieties.  For the young women and men in Katzelmacher, vindictiveness towards immigrants is something like a sport; for no apparent reason, Jorgos is constantly taunted as a “communist”.  Greece, in fact, was under the rule of a military junta from 1967-1974, and thousands of communists were hounded, killed, and exiled to remote Greek islands.  The only person who stands by Jorgos is Marie, whose boyfriend, Erich, is a particularly vicious and violent hoodlum of sorts; but her affection for Jorgos, far from saving him, makes him a target of attack by Erich, Peter, and others.  Jorgos is beaten up badly; he is tempted into returning to Greece.

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Jorgos and Marie stroll down a street: from “Katzelmacher”, directed by Fassbinder.

The film ends with Marie and her friend Gunda strolling down a street, hands held together, and exchanging these words:

Marie:  In the summer, he’s taking me to Greece.

Gunda:  And his wife?

Marie:  It doesn’t matter. In Greece everything’s different.

The anti-immigrant narrative now sweeping through the US and much of Europe has nowhere to hide and nothing to say for itself:  it is pathetic, farcical, and tragic as much for immigrants and refugees as it is for wealthy host societies who have apparently still not learned to live with difference and understand what constitutes hospitality and ecumenism.  The bold minimalism of Fassbinder’s Katzelmacher brings us closer to the emptiness that lies at the heart of anti-immigrant sentiments.

 

 

Annals of the President-elect Trump Regime II

(Being a Cornucopia of Facts, Opinions, Commentary, Satire, Scholarly Writing, Poetry, and Vignettes, But Mainly Facts and no Ressentiment)

 

Trump Tower, Trump Avenue, Manhattan, 18 November 2016, 7:00 PM EST

The President-elect, Donald J. Trump, today appeared before a large pool of reporters for his first press conference since his victory speech in the wee hours of the morning of November 9th.  Mr. Trump seemed to be in a radiant mood and there was much expectation that he would address looming questions about the rockiness of the transition and his choices for top cabinet positions. The President-elect knows that he is in the eye of the storm, but while acknowledging that much of the world was uneasy both about some of the choices that he had made thus far and about others who were clearly in the running for some of the highest offices of the land, Mr. Trump said that he wished to turn his attention to a more pressing matter.

Throughout the blistering campaign, Mr. Trump noted, he had been the subject of many unfair attacks.  Much had been said about him being a racist, sexist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and so on.  Total lies, all lies, lies, lies coming out of—wherever.  Nothing had hurt him as much, Mr. Trump complained, as being accused of being a sexual assaultist.  Yes, he had said things on the video about kissing any woman who struck his fancy, and grabbing women by the pussy.  He had explained, however, that this was just locker-room talk, men being men.  The problem with the elites was they didn’t spend much in locker rooms and places where real men gather.  The fact that he had been elected to the most powerful office in the world was as convincing a demonstration as any that women, who had given him more votes than they had to Mrs. Clinton, didn’t care much for what he had said and recognized that men were entitled to be men.  The women who had voted for him didn’t want men to be pussies and they recognized a man when they saw one.

When the Independent Press (IP) reporter, Vincent Salaam Lal, asked Mr. Trump whether he had anything really new to add to this somewhat worn-out subject, the President-elect got excited and replied that he had called this press conference to furnish a fuller account of himself. Once he had done so, he did not doubt that everyone would recognize him for the gem that he is. He had many times said openly that he found women beautiful, women were just such beautiful creatures, they’re mothers of the human race and of my children, now what would we do without women.  Hadn’t he said, and yet no one took him seriously, except the huge number of women who cast their lot with him, that no one, and I mean no one, loves women as much as I do.  He had described them as “phenomenal” on more than one occasion.  Jeb Bush, in one of the debates, had said that he wasn’t sure that the government could cough up billions of dollars for women’s health.  Now wasn’t that deplorable?  And what had he, Mr. Trump, said in response: “When you’re negative on women’s health, you can forget about it.  I’m the exact opposite. I cherish women. I want to help women. I’m going to be able to do things for women that no other candidate would be able to do, and it’s very important to me.”  Those who claimed that he had called women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals”—well, they were just being “nasty”.  Lies, all lies, complete lies, Mr. Trump added with some vehemence.

Mr. Trump noted that he still had an ace up his sleeve.  Nothing demonstrated his affection for women, beautiful women whom he cherished, as much as his chivalry.  The fact was that he had done nothing to women that they hadn’t done to themselves, but out of his unrivalled respect for women he had decided to forgo this line of defense at the time of the campaign.  Take, for instance, the question of grabbing ‘em by the pussy.  Mr. Trump noted that the inspiration for behaving thus had come to him one evening as he lay in his gold-framed bed and looked at a wonderful painting by some Italian artist called Modigliani hanging on the opposite wall.  At Mr. Trump’s sign, one of his executive assistants then projected this painting:

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Amedeo Modigliani, Woman Pinching Her Breast and Grabbing Her P___Y, otherwise known as “Venus”, 1917.

Now, look here, what is this woman doing? She’s grabbing herself by the pussy, Mr. Trump claimed, and what’s more, she’s pinching her own breast.  Now that’s what one does.  That’s what any reasonable person, man or woman, would do.  This is why this artist, whatever his name is, is worth so much.  He knew the truth, he recognized the truth for what it is, and he painted it. His paintings sell for millions, many millions, and I’m one of those few who can afford to buy them.  Isn’t that beautiful?  But I want to know why everyone was beating up on me? If they had to beat up on anyone, it should have been the artist.

Unfair, so unfair.  With this, Mr. Trump let loose what seemed to some a light sob and yet to others a slightly triumphant note of glee.  And with this, Mr. Trump suddenly called his first press conference to a close.

 

 

Annals of the President-Elect Trump Regime I

(Being a Cornucopia of Facts, Opinions, Commentary, Satire, Scholarly Writing, Poetry, and Vignettes, But Mainly Facts and no Ressentiment)

November 18, 2016

The American Psychiatric Association announced today the release of its new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, popularly known in the profession in the US and worldwide as the DSM.  The DSM’s new edition, an event that transpires only once every decade, has long been awaited.  Among this year’s new findings, the DSM VI’s editors stated, nothing is remotely as significant as the addition of a new disorder which has been termed by experts the “Trump Penile Disorder”, aka as “Trump Penis Disorder” or, in short, TPD.  The editors hastened to clarify that TPD is entirely distinct from Erectile Dysfunction, which though it may have psychosomatic elements is primarily a physical phenomenon, as well as from Peyronie’s Disease, an affliction which hits about 5% of all men after fifty but can scarcely touch such stout men of stamina as the President-elect.  In Peyronie’s Disease, the experts explained to a large crowd of reporters, the penis becomes a curve ball and is barely able to reach first base, whereas Mr. Trump was known only to hit home runs.

The DSM’s editors were drawn to the conclusion that the Trump Penile Disorder (TPD) had to be taken seriously on account of two considerations.  First, they drew attention to the testimony offered by the world-acclaimed Indian ayurvedic doctor and healer to numerous Hollywood stars, Dr. Deepak Chopra.  Appearing on a show with Fox New Radio host Alan Colmes on Tuesday, June 7, the soft-spoken Chopra said that, watching the presumptive Republican nominee over a period of time, he regrettably had come to the conclusion that Mr. Trump was a “racist” and “bigot” who “represents the emotional retardation of a three-year old.”  Dr. Chopra, who is ordinarily reticent in delivering such judgments, was adamant in his gentle way that he was “100% sure” in reaching the opinion that Mr. Trump was a belligerent and prejudiced “racist” who had brought out the worst in everyone else.  Yet it was not merely Mr. Trump’s belligerence and severely emotionally retarded state that distinguished him from others, since many others display similar characteristics; rather, as Dr. Chopra would explain in a subsequent appearance on the Conan O’Brien show on October 24, 2016, Mr. Trump’s “consciousness is stuck in his genitals.”  Mr. Trump, Dr. Chopra stated, “thinks with his penis”.  With the best or most compassionate of human beings, one expects that they might think with the heart, leaving the thinking with the brain to those who have dedicated their lives to the illumination of reason; but Mr. Trump’s singularity, Dr. Chopra was clearly inclined to think, resided in the fact that he thought with his penis.  As with others who are mentally challenged, Dr. Chopra appeared to be suggesting, Mr. Trump, notwithstanding the severe retardation which made him speak, blabber, and froth at the mouth like a three-year old, had an overgrown body and in particular he let his penis do all the work for him, which included the thinking apt for a toddler.

The editors were pressed on this matter by skeptical reporters, particularly experienced women journalists who complained that they all knew of men who treated their penis as a thought(ful) projectile.  This led the DSM’s editors to describe, in miniscule detail, the second set of circumstances that had inescapably led them to the view that they had not been hasty in given medical recognition to the Trump Penile Disorder.  During the course of the campaign, they noted, nearly two dozen women had come forward to complain of sexual molestation and sexual assault by Mr. Trump.  Some women had complained that Mr. Trump hid pinched their bottoms; others complained that Mr. Trump’s hands had a tendency to wander during their conversations, and they would invariably come to rest upon their genitals or breasts.  Mr. Trump was accused by at least one woman of walking into her dressing room without knocking while she was in a state of undress. And, of course, there was the (in)famous incident which had been captured on video and seen around the world where Mr. Trump had loudly bragged that he was “automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them.  It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it.  You can do anything . . . Grab them by the pussy.  You can do anything.”

Keeping in mind these considerations, the DSM’s distinguished editors, now looking a little red in their faces, sought to furnish a definition of the Trump Penile Disorder.  (They noted, in passing, that the elites were prone to describe it as Trump Penile Disorder, but the working-class thought the word “penile” a little presumptuous and long-winded and were content to settle for the more familiar “penis”.)  Needless to say, only men were afflicted with the Trump Penile Disorder, though the experts admitted that a transgendered person might, in certain circumstances, fall under the sway of this disorder.  A person diagnosed with TPD let his penis do the thinking for him; secondly, the person so diagnosed had a grand plan for penile projectile propulsion, which the experts signified through the acronym PPP2—the number “2” being added to distinguish it from the economists’ conception of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).  When a number of reporters objected that a sample of one, namely Mr. Trump himself, was grossly inadequate to furnish an account of a supposed mental disorder, much less one designated by a name, the DSM VI’s editors were quick to point out that Mr. Trump had been propelled into the White House by over 60 million voters who appeared to recognize TPD for what it is.  The most distinguishing feature of the TPD, they noted, is that the person afflicted with this disorder, always a sexual predator, is able to induce in everyone a schizophrenic state where they come to believe that carrying out sexual assaults, preying upon women, and otherwise “objectifying” women not only do not furnish any kind of hindrance to the advancement of the predator’s ambitions but are in fact essential to propel the sexual predator into high office.  The question for the nation, the DSM VI’s editors appeared to be suggesting, is whether any successful candidate for the office that Mr. Trump will invariably have to vacate one day could conceivably win it unless he too had been diagnosed with Trump Penile Disorder.

At the Trump Organizations’s Headquarters at Trump Towers on Trump Avenue in Manhattan, New York, where there is a Trump Boutique with its hot-selling Trump Perfume for Pussy-Grabbers and a Trump Perfume, albeit in sample size only, for Dick-Catchers, as well as a Trump Cafeteria renowned for Trump Dogs, there was much rejoicing that the Trump Band had been able to make its way into the recondite world of the DSM.  No other President of the United States, or indeed the head of the state of any other country, could claim as much.  When asked if the President-elect did not have his match in the late Idi Amin, the Trump Organization spokeswoman noted that the President-elect did say “Amen” both before having his meals and after every successful attempt at pussy-grabbing.  The spokeswoman further argued that it was quite apposite that the supposed disorder in the world created by the President-elect’s triumph should apparently be echoed by the disorder in the President-elect’s most vital organ.  President-elect Trump, she noted, had been voted into power by people who trusted him and expected consistency between his body and the body-politic, the inner and the outer.  She would not comment, however, on the possibility that the “Make America Great Again” tri-colored caps might be replaced with brown-colored caps bearing the acronym, TPD.

Los Angeles, 25 June 2016

Amjad Sabri, 45, was shot dead on a Karachi street Wednesday morning.  To millions of people around the world, he and other members of his famous family have been the torch-bearers of Sufi qawwali music since the late 1950s when the two brothers, Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri, released their first album under the EMI Pakistan label, Mera Kohin Nahin Hai Teray Siva [I Have None Other Than You].  Amjad Sabri not only inherited the legacy of his father, Ghulam Sabri, but was in every way a worthy legatee.

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Amjad Sabri

Pakistan has gone well beyond being in a state of crisis.  It has been so long in a crisis that one needs a more trenchant, soul-searching, and analytically penetrative vocabulary to describe the abysmal state to which it has long been reduced.  This nation-state, not yet 70 years old, is now in its death-throes.  It is, as the world’s affairs have made evident, and as is suggested by the turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, to mention only a few other countries, far from being the only country where common people can no longer expect to live with any assurance of even minimal security and dignity.  No Indian, such as myself, should ever be able to throw a stone at Pakistan without casting a glance at India’s own sordid state of affairs.  India has had its own share of open assassinations of intellectuals and its suppression of voices of dissent is alarming.

Nevertheless, the problems of Pakistan are not only quite distinct but of an altogether different order, even if the assault on freedom of expression and religious worship has taken on menacing overtones even in relatively robust democracies.  One splinter group of the Taliban, the so-called Hakimullah Mehsud faction, has claimed responsibility for Amjad Sabri’s murder and described the music of which he was a superb exponent as “blasphemous.”  The charge of blasphemy is not to be taken lightly in Pakistan, where people so accused—Christians, Ahmadis, non-believers, apostates, even those who are just resolutely secular—have even been killed in custody while awaiting trial.  If an accusation of blasphemy is in many instances nothing short of a death warrant, Sabri’s offense was, from the Taliban perspective, compounded by the fact that Sufi qawwali music is seen as an absolute anathema to Islam.  This view stems from a profound ignorance among the extremists both about the status of music and indeed the place of Sufism in Islam.  Far from being an aberration, Sufism had been central to Islam for centuries; indeed, it would be safe to say that most Muslims, until the advent of ‘modernity’, would have had some affinity to a Sufi order.  What is perhaps even more germane is that the notion that music ought to be abhorrent to a believing Muslim is an idea that is of very recent vintage with little or or no credibility in Islamic history.

The assassination of Amjad Sabri, then, fits the template of interpretation that is now firmly in place.  We have been hearing for many years about the rigid intolerance and fanaticism of the Taliban.  Pakistan is in the grip of several insurgencies, in Balochistan, Waziristan, and among Afghan Pashtuns, but to outside observers, especially in the United States and Western Europe, the battle for Pakistan is essentially between the state and the Taliban.  We may ignore, for the present, the fact that the Taliban is far from being one single entity, and that various Taliban factions do not all share the same ideology.  There is, more pertinently, a lurking suspicion in the foreign policy establishments of India, the US, and most Western powers that the Pakistani political elites only make a show of being committed to the eradication of the Taliban.  Many of them are believed to be sympathetic to the Taliban and extremist ideology is supposed to have many adherents among Pakistan’s politicians and army officers.  A variation of this argument, and it is little more than that, posits the deep discord that is apparently tearing apart the country as one between “moderates” and “extremists”.  In this scenario, whatever the local elements that might be feeding into the conflict, Pakistan is yet another stage where ideologues who are wholly beholden to the Wahhabi and Salafi elements are making an extremely violent and desperate bid to impose a puritanical, harsh, and ferociously punishing version of Islam throughout the world.

While this standard template of interpretation has much merit, it is oblivious to the most critical component that distinguishes the Muslim extremists in Pakistan from their brethren in the Middle East.  Muslims in Pakistan are not only part of the ummah, the global community of Muslims, but they also partake of what might be called the Indic worldview.  Much before the rise of the Taliban, South Asian Islam, especially in Pakistan, was beginning to fall hostage to the notion that it was an inauthentic and feebler version of the Islam of Muhammad’s homeland.  The purists in Pakistan, whatever their misgivings about the political implications of the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, have always been troubled by the sheer proximity of Islam to Hinduism in South Asia, and Bengali Muslims in particular were seen as the source of contamination which both enfeebled and compromised true, muscular Islam.  Thus the loss of East Pakistan was a blessing in disguise, and Muslims in Pakistan could be weaned, as has been happening over the last 45 years, from those distinct socio-cultural and religious practices, such as visits to the dargahs of Sufi saints, that reeked of Hindu influence and idolatry.

Students of Pakistani society are aware of the close and ever growing ties between the Saudis and Pakistan.  But Pakistan, again, is not even remotely the only country where the Wahhabi state of Saudia Arabia has successfully sought to peddle its noxious and virulent version of Islam.  It thus becomes imperative to understand what is distinct about Islamic extremism in Pakistan and why the stakes are extraordinarily high.  It cannot be emphasized enough that, unlike in the Middle East, the Indo-Islamic cultural synthesis that developed in South Asia over several centuries, from the advent of the Delhi Sultanate in the early 13th century to the end of Mughal rule, is a glorious monument of world culture and a testament to the ability and resilience of the practitioners of two very different faiths to cohabit the same space in the most productive fashion.  The terrorists who murdered Amjad Sabri are seeking to undermine this past, little realizing that they will have succeeded in turning Pakistan into a desert:  not the desert of Muhamamad’s time but akin to a wasteland following a holocaust.

 

 

 

 

 

He may be the “Father of the Nation”, but it is more than his reputation, lately under assault from all the wise ones, that lies in tatters.  A plaque at the entrance to the Aga Khan Palace in Pune, where Gandhi was confined for two years after he issued a call to the British to “Quit India” in August 1942, furnishes a brief introduction to this “monument of national importance”.

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Aga Khan’s Palace, Pune.  Source:  Khushroo Cooper, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kcooper/3074143937/sizes/o/in/photostream/

 

On my visit to this monument in March of this year, I found it in a state of utter dilapidation.  This is far from being India’s only “national monument” that has suffered from neglect and indifference; however, its association with Gandhi most likely ensures that it is not likely to see a revival of its fortunes.  If the murder of Gandhi was a permissive assassination, one celebrated by those elites who were enraged at the thought that the old man would if alive continue to exert an influence upon the affairs of a young nation-state struggling to find its feet in an evil world, permissive neglect seems to be the modus operandi through which Gandhi is slowly being sent into oblivion.

 

The Aga Khan Palace is remembered not only as the place where Gandhi served out the last of the many prison terms handed down to him by the colonial regime.  One of the most moving photographs in the vast archive of images of Gandhi shows a forlorn Mahatma sitting in a corner of the room across from the body of the deceased Kasturba.  She has lately, and not a moment too soon, come into the awareness of many as a woman who did not merely stand by her husband but was in the front ranks of those whose names are inscribed in the annals of anti-colonial resistance.  (No, it is not political correctness that has provoked an interest in Kasturba.) It is here, at the Palace, that their marriage which lasted over 60 years was brought to an end by her demise.  Not only that:  Mahadev Desai, reputedly closer to Gandhi than any of his sons, and often characterized in the Gandhi literature as his Boswell, also died during his confinement at the Aga Khan Palace.  In any other age, Mahadev, an uncommonly good writer and translator with a gift of observation and an exceedingly disciplined mind, would have achieved recognition as something more than the amaneunsis of Gandhi.

 

One might have expected, then, the Aga Khan Palace to be preserved as a treasured place in the nation’s history.  There are nearly a dozen large oil canvases; not all of the paintings are of great artistic merit, but they are a distinct and unique part of the repertoire of visual representations of Gandhi.  The canvas showing Kasturba in the cradle of Gandhi’s lap is not only unusual, but suggests a quiet intimacy between them which may not be visible to those who are determined to establish Gandhi as someone who exercised a tyrannical sway over Kasturba.

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One of the somewhat better preserved paintings, though “Rural India” is not very much on the minds of the Government of India or the country’s elites.  Photo: V. Lal, 2016.

“New Hope for Rural India” is one of the rare paintings of Gandhi that points to his engagement with the “Constructive Programme”.  All of the paintings are clearly in want of restoration:  the colors have uniformly faded, on occasion there are pigeon droppings, and the wooden frames show signs of decay.  Some paintings, shockingly, are now beyond repair.  Gandhi is little more than a white ghost in “A Crusader for Humanity”; many of the other figures are blurred.

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The artist was not attempting to create a blurred effect with his painting on Gandhi as a “crusader for human equality”.  Photo:  Vinay Lal, March 2016.

As is common in India, the museum displays resonate with inspiring slogans and exemplary didactic lessons—except that the unmistakable impression that is conveyed is that once the duty of parading homilies has been fulfilled, they can be easily dismissed as bearing little or no relationship to life.  Gandhi experimented for the greater part of his life with toilets that would work with little or no water.  One display in the Aga Khan museum complex is entitled “bhangi mukti” [freedom for the scavenger], but the lower half of the exhibit has been wiped out; the following panel, on the subject of “Cleanliness and Public Hygiene”, is one big blur.

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The slate of Gandhi’s teachings on cleanliness has been wiped clean!  Photo:  Vinay Lal, March 2016.

Perhaps there is nothing accidental here: notwithstanding the hullabaloo over ‘Swacch Bharat’, the country has for decades blotted out the very idea of public hygiene from its consciousness.  V S Naipual had something nasty to say about this years ago, and however intolerable he is on most occasions, he had the gift both of observation and of writing.  But he was, not unexpectedly, roundly derided for reminding everyone of the shit that mars nearly every Indian landscape.  India, let us recall, holds—and by an exceedingly large margin—the world record for open defecation.  But there is something else about these paintings and displays that grabs the eye. Gandhi, even as he wrestled with issues of the greatest gravity, was always supremely attentive to the minutest details.  Here, at a museum dedicated to his life, the aesthetic sensibility is entirely lacking; not one frame or exhibit suggests any interest on the part of the curators, caretakers, or administrative staff in the extraordinary legacy that is under their charge.  The entire Palace and museum complex reeks of decay, indifferent, and neglect.

 

The shocking state of disrepair in which the Aga Khan Palace—a monument, let us reiterate, dedicated to the nation both for its place in the struggle for self-determination at a pivotal stage, and as the site of events critical to Gandhi’s life—has been allowed to languish is not likely to excite anyone’s attention.  The hostility to Gandhi among the advocates of Hindu nationalism is palpable.  Considerable segments of the RSS have thought nothing of glorifying his assassin, Nathuram Godse, who not coincidentally was born in Pune District.  Whatever the culpability, which cannot be doubted, of previous local administrations, neither the present local nor the state government can be expected to have any interest in reviving an institution intended to celebrate the life of a man whom they view as guilty of appeasing the Muslims and weakening the Hindu nation.  The Government of Maharashtra is securely in the hands of a BJP-Shiv Sena combine; the Shiv Sena’s former leader, the late Bal Thackeray, was often heard deriding Gandhi as a eunuch.  It is also worth recalling that Pune is the site of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, a venerable research institution that was ransacked by Shiv Sena goons for none other than the reason that an American scholar, Jim Laine, had some years ago done research there to produce a book on Shivaji which his modern-day acolytes found to be inadequately reverential to their hero.  For those who pride themselves on the imagined glory of their martial traditions, a shrine dedicated to an effete Gujarati bania is just as soon forgotten.

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At this rate, all that will be left of Gandhi is pigeon droppings.  This panel is illustrative of the condition of many of the displays.  Photo:  V. Lal, March 2016.

However, the country’s left intellectuals will not be rushing to register their dismay at the state of this monument either.  Nearly ten years ago, I wrote a piece in the Economic and Political Weekly entitled “The Gandhi Everyone Loves to Hate”, arguing that every constituency in India had a grievance with him.  In the intervening years, it has become almost obligatory to denounced Gandhi as a sexist and racist; and there are even websites that claim that he raped virgins and should have been jailed as a serial sex offender.  Some of his critics had been long been convinced that he had prevented the possibility of a “real” revolution—apparently, unless several million people have not been killed, or the enemy has not been exterminated in a calculated genocide, a genuine upheaval cannot be viewed as having taken place—in India, but lately we have also heard that his empathy for Dalits was nothing but a sham and that he even fortified the British empire in South Africa and India alike.  Arundhati Roy is, of course, much too smart and sophisticated to write a book with a title akin to something like ‘The Gandhi You Never Knew’, but the substance of her critique is effectively the same.  And that critique is nothing other than the stupid idea that the “real” Gandhi has been hidden from history.  If the state of the exhibits at the Aga Khan Palace suggests anything, it will not be long before Gandhi disappears altogether from public view.  Then India can celebrate its “real” independence and manhood.