*Reading Gandhi and Avowing the Impossible

 

Review of Faisal Devji, The Impossible Indian:  Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence (Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 2012).  

[First published in The Book Review, Delhi, Vol 37 no. 10 (October 2013).]

 

It was not so long ago that Mohandas Gandhi was, at least to the academic world, a largely forgotten figure.  In the 1980s and 1990s, as postcolonial thought in its various inflections became quite the rage in significant sectors of the Anglo-American (and Indian) academy, and the ‘master narratives’ of the Enlightenment, as they were called, came under sustained interrogation and assault, attention would come to be lavished upon those figures who were viewed as the torchbearers of resistance, critical of deeply embedded frameworks of interpretation that had given succor to elites, and harbingers of a politics of emancipation for those, especially, relegated to the margins.  Curiously, though Gandhi is a critical figure in the histories of struggles against colonialism, racism, and the oppression of women and minorities, he remained singularly unattractive to the most prominent postcolonial theorists and intellectuals of other stripes.  He was seen as a distinctly unsexy figure, dismissed as a ‘doer’ rather than ‘thinker’, scarcely worthy of the company of Aime Cesaire, C.L.R. James, or the much lionized Fanon.  The stately Edward Said was habituated to giving lists of the great figures of anti-colonial resistance, but in the thousands of pages of his writings there is barely any mention of Gandhi’s name.  When at all attention was bestowed on Gandhi by a famous intellectual, it was more for effect than out of any serious consideration of his thought, perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s extraordinary and one should say careless attempt, in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), to suggest that sati could be associated with “Mahatma Gandhi’s reinscription of the notion of satyagraha, or hunger strike, as resistance.” As she adds, “I would merely invite the reader to compare the auras of widow sacrifice and Gandhian resistance.  The root in the first part of satyagraha and sati are the same” (p. 298). Since when did satyagraha and “hunger strike” become synonymous?  Fasting is no doubt part of the grammar of satyagraha, but does anyone suppose that satyagraha can be reduced to hunger strike?  And is there no distinction to be made between fasting and hunger strike?  One would have expected a great deal more from someone who has been a relentless advocate of careful and hermeneutic readings of texts.

 

Much, however, has changed in the course of the last decade.  Gandhi has found favour in the most unusual circles, though for reasons that are far from apparent, and scholarship on him is flourishing.  It surely cannot be that the world is in the throes of violence—indeed it is, but not demonstrably more so than in previous decades—and that Gandhi now appears not only eminently sane and reasonable but prophetic in his insistence on nonviolent social and political transformation.  It may be that many of the most widely admired figures of our times, among them Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi, have openly declared themselves as beholden to Gandhi in helping shape their worldview.  Even the Commander in Chief of the greatest military force in the world, Barack Obama, has described Gandhi as his spiritual and political mentor, and he once went so far as to tell American schoolchildren that if there is one figure from the past with whom he could have dinner, it would have to be Gandhi.  (We need not pause here to reflect on how the evening might have shaped up, since Gandhi ate very little and well before sundown—yet Obama’s observation seems to have been offered without any pinch of salt.)  It is certainly possible to entertain the idea that, at least from the scholarly standpoint, other ideologies—liberalism, conservatism, Marxism, constitutionalism—are seen as having run their full course, and that some indulgence towards Gandhi’s ideas is seen as permissible.  All too often, of course, nonviolence has been the last rather than the first option for those who style themselves revolutionaries.

 

Faisal Devji’s The Impossible Indian is easily both one of the most stimulating and disturbing books in the Gandhian cornucopia.  Devji proposes to set forth ‘a new case’ for Gandhi ‘to be considered one of the greatest political thinkers of our times’ (vii), just as the analytical philosopher Akeel Bilgrami, another relatively recent convert to Gandhi’s ideas, has argued that Gandhi was ‘the greatest anti-imperialist theorist who ever wrote’.[1]  Much has been written on the subject of nationality, but Devji’s reading is altogether fresh:  considering the role of Indians within the empire, he argues that ‘it was neither India nor South Africa that provided Indians with a nationality, but satyagraha, considered as a practice without origin or destination of any territorial sort’ (49).  Gandhi in this fashion also controverted the usual assumptions about ‘minorities’ and ‘majorities’, a language born of modern political arithmetic, and a letter to Jinnah in 1944 reinforces the notion of nationality wrought in the crucible of struggle:  ‘The only real though awful test of our nationhood arises out of our common subjection.  If you and I throw off this subjection by our combined effort, we shall be born a politically free nation out of our travail’ (cited at 64).  Devji writes with considerable elegance and even panache, to be sure, but also with the aim of unsettling conventional readings and what we deem to be ‘common sense’.  One of the more fruitful results of this intellectual exercise is the chapter tellingly entitled, ‘In Praise of Prejudice’—shades here, as throughout this book, though hardly acknowledged, of the impress on Devji of the seminal readings of Gandhi, and more broadly of Indian political culture, advanced by Ashis Nandy.  Gandhi worked to develop ‘the prejudice that remained between Indians there into a basis of friendship’ (70): neither friendship nor prejudice are amenable to a calculus of interests. Though both friendship and brotherhood furnish models of egalitarian relations, Devji argues convincingly that Gandhi was ‘an advocate of the former against the latter’ (71).  Unlike brotherhood, which may be ‘flouted a hundred times without ceasing to remain brotherhood’, friendship rests on a much more fragile foundation, having ‘to remain disinterested to be itself’ (69).  Devji weaves into this discussion a consideration of Gandhi’s stance on the Khilafat Movement and pan-Islamic politics, a subject on which even Gandhi’s most ardent admirers have often found themselves parting company from the Mahatma.  Devji’s complex interpretive moves cannot be rehearsed here, but suffice to say that he does not agree that the ‘Khilafat episode’ must be reckoned as one of Gandhi’s greatest failures.  Quite to the contrary, it is here that Gandhi demonstrated the true meaning of friendship, and it is only a cheap calculus of interests which makes us suppose, quite erroneously, that Gandhi sought reciprocity from Muslims—for example, a promise to refrain from cow slaughter—in exchange for his support of the Khilafat cause.

 

The six chapters that have been patched together to comprise this book thus bristle, to varying degrees, with arresting insights—even if, as is sometimes the case, our understanding of Gandhi is not visibly advanced. A case in point is the chapter entitled ‘Bastard  History’, where Devji tackles the question of Gandhi’s ‘intellectual and political antecedents.’  Brushing aside those conventional histories which invoke the names of Tolstoy, Ruskin, and Thoreau, or Raychandbhai and Gokhale, Devji avers that, with the possible exception of the Swadeshi Movement, ‘it is impossible to point to any historical example that might provide a precedent for Gandhi’s use’ of nonviolent practices and his deployment of the ideas of ahimsa, satya, and so on.  If Devji is unfamiliar with the work of, say, Howard Spodek on the antecedents of Gandhian satyagraha in Gujarati political culture, or of Dharampal’s treatise on the history of civil disobedience in Benares, it would be a severe shortcoming; but if he has deliberately chosen to ignore these histories, and many more come to mind, the reader would certainly profit from understanding why they are of no consequence.  But this is scarcely the worst of the matter:  Devji then makes bold to suggest that ‘Gandhi’s ideas and practices emerged instead from a past of conflict and violence’(11), and he suggests that the ‘Indian Mutiny of 1857 . . . provides the only historical precedent for several of the practices by which Gandhi’s politics was known, including  non-cooperation, encouraging native manufactures and the working out of  new moral relationship between Hindus and Muslims’ (11).  The Rebellion of 1857-58 gave rise to Hindu-Muslim fraternal relations, much to the consternation of colonial authorities; Gandhi similarly championed Hindu-Muslim unity.  Muslim soldiers in 1857 were keenly aware of Hindu concerns about ritual pollution without believing in them; and, in a similar vein, Hindus supported the cause of the Caliphate under Gandhi’s leadership (29).  But, apropos Gandhi, the argument borders on the bizarre.  Devji has established absolutely nothing:  he admits that ‘Gandhi’s own references to the Mutiny were invariably negative’ (11), though, in truth, Gandhi scarcely mentioned the Rebellion.  It is not accidental that though elsewhere in the book Devji routinely cites Gandhi, as he must, this chapter does not have a single reference to Gandhi’s writings or pronouncements.  What Devji has to say of the Rebellion is interesting enough, but as an exercise in the genealogy of ideas that informed the worldview of Gandhi, the chapter is utterly unconvincing. 

 

Devji’s book bears the subtitle, ‘Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence’, and it to this that we may finally turn for the centerpiece of Devji’s argument.  There is no gainsaying the fact that the question of violence is central to any assessment of Gandhi’s moral, spiritual, and intellectual outlook, even if the instinct of most people has naturally led them to ahimsa in thinking of Gandhi.  There are some commonplace arguments that are now firmly established in the scholarship, among them Gandhi’s distinction between nonviolence of the strong and the nonviolence of the weak, his avowed preference for violence over cowardice (134), and his frequently voiced claim, especially towards the last several years of his life, that he preferred that India be left to anarchy rather than continue to have the country subjected to British rule.  The notion that the British were there to mediate between the Hindus and Muslims is one for which Gandhi rightfully had absolutely no respect.  Gandhi entertained a suspicion of the ‘third party’ (169), whether the colonial state, the national state, or any other body—an idea first seeded in Hind Swaraj (1909):  the doctor, for example, comes between the patient and her own body.  Here, however, Devji becomes too entranced by his own argument, and cleverness lords it over judiciousness and wisdom.  Thus, we are assured, Gandhi had ‘a desire for civil war’ (161), he was despondent over the refusal of the Congress, the League, and the British ‘to heed his advice about the desirability of internecine warfare’ (164), and that he remained ‘cheerful’ as the violence raged all around him (168).  Indeed, there may have always been the ‘temptation of violence’ for Gandhi, but we might just as well accept Oscar Wilde’s aphorism, ‘I can resist everything except temptation.’

 

Why, then, the ‘impossible’ Indian?  Each reader will make her own interpretive moves, and some will no doubt gravitate towards the view, held among others by Ambedkar, that Gandhi was one ‘impossible’ person, cunning, disingenuous, and a master of manipulation.  Others will surely embrace the view that stands at the other extreme, and is best typified by Einstein’s admission that it was nearly impossible to believe that someone such as Gandhi ‘ever in flesh and blood had walked upon this earth’.  The Gandhians are likely to suggest that the Mahatma made no impossible demands upon others that he did not first impose upon himself.  Yet what Devji has in mind in describing Gandhi as ‘the impossible Indian’ seems to be far removed from all of this, and may even extend well beyond the reading that he himself explicitly puts forth, namely that an impossible tension exists between Gandhi’s stern advocacy of nonviolence and his keen sense that the most genuine embrace of nonviolence resided in the confrontation with, rather than mere repudiation of, violence.  In invoking Gandhi as ‘the impossible Indian’, Devji appears to be gesturing at the kind of possibilities suggested by Derrida in his essay, ‘Avowing—the Impossible: “Returns”, Repentance, and Reconciliation’.  The impossible enhances the potential of what exists; or, put differently, the possible only revels in its full potential in the face of the impossible.  There is no wise and ethical politics without the impossible.  Whatever its other limitations, Devji’s The Impossible Indian suggests as much about Gandhi and in this respect has opened up new avenues of exploration into the rich politics and inner life of a person whose contribution to contemporary political and ethical life by any measure was sui generis.


[1] Akeel Bilgrami, ‘Gandhi’s religion and its relation to his politics’, in The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi, eds. Judith M. Brown & Anthony Parel (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 107.

*Fast, Counter-Fast, Anti-Fast

An epidemic of fasting has of late engulfed India.  Some months ago, the social reformer Anna Hazare, whose activities over the last three decades had been largely confined to his village Ralegan Siddhi or the area around it, or at most to his native Maharashtra, burst upon the national scene with a 5-day fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to highlight the problem of corruption.  Hazare again pressed his demand for a Jan Lokpal Bill with a spectacular show of force at the Ramlila Grounds in August, and much of India’s attention was riveted on the 74-year old man who, having put his body on the line with an indefinite fast, seemed to have stunned the government into submission.  Many decades ago, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, George Orwell, in an appreciative if critical assessment of his life, marveled at the fact that Gandhi would take a public decision to fast and, as it seemed to Orwell, the entire country would come to a standstill –– not once, or twice, but on a dozen or more occasions.  Not for nothing was Gandhi the Mahatma.  Some in our times have marveled at the fact that a former truck driver who has something of the appearance of a country bumpkin, and who seems to have little in his personal appearance, demeanor, oratorical skill, or worldview that might resonate with the middle classes, should be the one to revive memories of a time when Gandhian nonviolent resistance rewrote the rules governing dissent.

 

When Hazare went on a fast, so did 65 other men and women at Azad Maidan in Mumbai.  Seventeen of them persisted to the end, breaking their fast on the thirteenth day alongside Hazare.  One other who followed in Hazare’s wake has now come into the limelight:  Anna Hazare and Narendra Modi, the detractors of both say, are joined at the hip. They have openly expressed admiration for each other, though Hazare has stated that his advocacy of Modi does not extend beyond the Chief Minister’s apparent skills in shepherding Gujarat to the model ‘development state’ in India.  Two weeks ago, Modi commenced his ‘Sadbhavana’ mission, and his letter to the public, issued as a full-page advertisement in newspapers across India and featured on his slick website, which is available in five languages, described his 72-hour fast as ‘a prayer for togetherness’.

 

The twenty first century, wrote Modi, ‘did not begin well for Gujarat.  In 2001, the devastating earthquake on our Republic day, took a very heavy toll.  In the subsequent year, Gujarat became the victim of communal violence.  We lost innocent lives, suffered devastation of property and endured lot of pain.’  Many see this statement as the first expression of atonement by Modi in the nearly ten years since the pogrom against Muslims, in which Modi and many senior officials in his government are believed to be implicated, took over 2,000 lives and rendered tens of thousands more homeless.  ‘I am grateful to all those’, Modi adds, ‘who pointed out my genuine mistakes during [the] last 10 years.’  Modi does not, of course, admit that it was largely the Muslims who were the victims; indeed, like any good officer of the law, he is careful not to mention any community by name.  It is Gujarat that became ‘the victim of communal violence’:  the passive construction encourages the reader to believe that there was no agency in the killings; no responsibility can be assigned for the crimes that occurred.

 

Every action, Modi had infamously said when the killings were taking place, leads to a reaction, ‘Kriya pratikriya ki chain chal rahi hai’; as Donald Rumsfeld put it, apropos of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad and other atrocities following the American invasion of Iraq, ‘Stuff happens.’  When the Supreme Court ruled that it would send the case against Modi back to the High Court, Modi and his friends swiftly interpreted the gesture as a vindication of the Chief Minister.  ‘God is great’, Modi had tweeted, but his public letter on the eve of his fast does not even remotely advert to this background.  His letter concludes with the rationale for his fast:  Modi will ‘continue to pray to the Almighty’ so that he develops the strength that prevents him from harbouring ‘any ill-feeling or bitterness’ towards those who defamed the state of Gujarat and maligned him personally.

 

No sooner had Modi announced his fast than he began to be taken to task.  The Congress, not surprisingly, described it as a ‘gimmick’, and it was soon characterized as a ‘five-star’ fast and public ‘spectacle’ when it surfaced that Modi would hold the fast in Gujarat University’s Convention Hall amidst 2,000 policemen, elaborate media arrangements, LCD screens, ten counters to receive bouquets and gifts, and teams of medical specialists.  Meanwhile, Shankersinh Vaghela, a one-time BJP leader who is now one of the more prominent faces of the Congress in Gujarat, announced that he would counter Modi with his fast at Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Ashram.   The Sabarmati Ashram is a hugely symbolic site, but not only for the obvious reason that it was here that Gandhi established a foothold upon his return from South India or that it is from the ashram that Gandhi launched his march to Dandi.  Sabarmati Ashram, in a shocking repudiation of everything that Gandhi stood for, shuts it doors to Muslims seeking refuge from marauding bands of killers in 2002.  Even if Gandhi’s legacy has been mercilessly dumped in his home state, even if at every turn middle class Gujaratis have rejected him as the very antithesis of what a modern, developed, and respected nation-state ought to look like, Modi and Vaghela have not been slow to understand that Gandhi’s name still carries immense cultural capital.

 

Hazare, Modi, Vaghela:  these are only the more visible faces among countless numbers who in India have taken to fasting, and in their midst are the likes of Irom Sharmila, a 38-year old woman from Manipur who has been fasting since 2000 in her quest to have the state repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a draconian piece of legislation that activists describe as the death-knell of democracy.  Gandhi never had to suffer the indignity of being force-fed; Irom Sharmila, by contrast, has often been force-fed, released, and then re-arrested on her resumption of fasting.  Her long struggle is more reminiscent of the ‘cat and mouse’ game waged between English suffragettes, led by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, and the British government which led to the imposition of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act in 1913, popularly dubbed the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’.  Nevertheless, in India the comparison with Gandhi is almost always unavoidable.

 

Gandhi was the modern master of the fast; and, yet, he did not just stumble upon fasting, nor was he the first to come to an awareness of how the body could be inserted into the body politic and create waves.  In one of his lesser-known plays, “The King’s Threshold”, William Butler Yeats wrote about a practice long extant in Ireland (and, though Yeats was not entirely aware of this, in India).  When a creditor was unable to collect an outstanding loan from a debtor, and found himself unable to call upon the forces of the state to help in the redressal of his grievance, he would come and sit outside the debtor’s door and refuse to move –– and thus refuse to eat.  To sit dharna in India similarly means to render oneself into an obstacle; and this act of ‘door-sitting’, as more than one Indian medieval text in India informs us, has fasting as its necessary concomitant.  India even had its own form of the medieval duel.  It was not unknown for the debtor to commence fasting when the creditor refused to partake of food at his doorstep.  We speak today of surrogate mothers and fathers, but India had long pioneered the idea of surrogate hunger strikers.  If, as was often the case, the creditor was a moneylender, he occasionally hired a Brahmin to sit and fast in his place.  Whoever prevailed could claim justice on his side.

 

There can scarcely be as dramatic a text for insights into traditions of political fasting in India as Kalhana’s 12th century ‘Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir’ known as the Rajatarangini.  This book by a Kashmiri Brahmin furnishes incontrovertible evidence of the widespread recourse to fasting.  King Chandrapida himself fasted as a form of penance, in atonement for his inability to bring to justice the murderer of a man whose widow sought death by starvation unless punishment were inflicted on the guilty man (IV:82-99).  The remedy of fasting, however, appears generally to have been available only to Brahmins, and Kalhana was not averse to passing sharp remarks on the ease with which members of his community would, singly or collectively, stage a hunger strike to safeguard their interests.  As an illustration, Kalhana describes the events that transpired in the year 1143, in the reign of Jayasimha.  Enraged by a plot to overthrow the king, in which they suspected the hand of the ministers Trillaka and Jayaraja, ‘and anxious to safeguard the country’, the Brahmins commenced a hunger strike ‘directed against’, notes Kalhana, ‘the king’ –– the king because he had, through his weakness and inaction, permitted the kingdom to fall into ruins.  Kalhana suggests that the Brahmins may at first have been moved by noble intentions; but, ‘intoxicated with their own knavery’, they ‘obstinately persisted in their perfidious course’ until they had prevailed upon the king to dismiss his honest minister Alamkara and promise them that he would ‘uproot Trillaka after he had disposed of the pretenders to the crown’ (VIII:2737).    Elsewhere Kalhana describes the contagion of fasting:  in 1211 AD, when the Brahmins at Aksosuva ‘held a solemn fast directed against the king’ to protest against the pillage of their monastery, the Brahmins ‘in the capital’ followed suit, and were in turn emulated by ‘the members of the Temple Purohit Association’ (VIII:898-900).  Hunger strikes had become so common, if Kalhana is to be believed, that officials were appointed to be especially ‘in charge of hunger-strikes’ (VI:14).

 

Though there is nothing to suggest that Gandhi was aware of the Rajatarangini, there is but no question that he had some familiarity with Indian traditions of hunger striking.  He termed most hunger strikes, which he distinguished from fasts, as a form of ­duragraha –– a distinction that today is upheld in the contrast between anshan and upvasa.  Gandhi would have been the first to recognize that there may never be anything like a pure fast, entirely free of coercion –– certainly not if one’s fast is in the public domain, or likely to have political consequences.  Many of the principles of fasting to which he adhered are now common knowledge, and everyone recognizes, for example, Gandhi’s insistence on listening to one’s inner voice, or his idea that fasting is a form of communion between oneself and one’s own God.  Rather than trying to resolve whether Hazare, Modi, Vaghela, and others meet the standards that Gandhi set for himself when he embarked on a fast, we might try to aim at a different comprehension of the Gandhian universe itself.  Gandhi’s many fasts, his enemas, his weekly day of silence, and much more:  all this was a way of emptying himself, reducing himself to zero, silencing the noise within, rejuvenating his tired limbs and mind –– all the more so that he could lead life to the fullest.  How does one begin to comprehend the enormity of a life where one’s own body becomes the site of ecological homage to mother Earth?

First published in The Times of India, The Crest Edition (1 October 2011), p. 10.

*The Sexuality of a Celibate Life

A celibate for the greater part of his life, Mohandas Gandhi continues to attract nearly unrivaled attention – often for the sex that did not take place. Even his friends and admirers, who revered him for bringing ethics to the political life, or for never demanding of others what he did not first demand of himself, were quite certain that Gandhi was unable to comprehend that a woman and a man might enjoy a perfectly healthy sexual relationship with each other. Nehru, seldom critical of the personal life of his political mentor, was convinced that Gandhi harboured an “unnatural” suspicion of the sexual life; and he deplored, as did many others, Gandhi’s strongly held view that sexual intercourse, other than for purposes of procreation, had no place in civilised life – not even among married couples.  The Marxists have long subscribed to the view that Gandhi was a “romantic”, a hopeless idealist and even hypocrite; to this a chorus of voices added the thought that Gandhi was an insufferable “puritan”.

Gandhi’s discomfort with the sexual life, according to one widely accepted strand of thought, commenced when his father passed away shortly after his marriage to Kasturba.  Though the young Gandhi liked to nurse his ailing father, one evening he was unable to contain his urge to share a night of ribaldry with his young wife. He had just withdrawn to the bedroom when a knock on the door announced that his father had passed away. Gandhi was, it has been argued, never able to forgive himself his transgression, and became determined to master his sexual drive. A more complex narrative links his renunciation of sex to his firm conviction, first developed during the heat of a campaign of nonviolent resistance to oppression in South Africa, that it compromised his ability to be a perfect satyagrahi.  Many commentators have pointed to his failure to consult with Kasturba before he took a vow of celibacy at the age of 37 as a sign of his cruelty and tendency to be self-serving.

One British reviewer of Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography of the Mahatma, however, had much more than this in mind when he characterised Gandhi as a “sexual weirdo”.  In his 70s, in the sunset of his life, Gandhi embarked on a new set of sexual experiments in which several women partook, among them Manu and Abha, his “two walking sticks”, and Sushila Nayar, his personal physician and sister of his secretary Pyarelal.  In the midst of raging communal violence, which Gandhi characteristically attributed to his own personal shortcomings, he decided to test his resolve – by going to bed naked with one or the other of the women. His detractors have ever since had a field day: though no one has ever suggested that Gandhi made improper advances, or that the encounter was in the remotest manner sexual, the mask is supposed to have come off the “dirty old man”.  Few of his critics are aware that after such experiments came to a halt, Manu penned a remarkable little book titled, Bapu, My Mother; or that Sushila Nayar, furnishing an account several years after Gandhi’s death of these experiments in brahmacharya, stated that, far from experiencing any sexual desire, she felt as though she was sharing the bed with her mother.

The celibate Gandhi is as much a conundrum as any other Gandhi we have known. Though the principal architect of the Indian Independence struggle, he had much less invested in the idea of the nation-state than any other nationalist. He was a radical democrat but one detects a streak of authoritarianism in his political conduct; and, similarly, while declaring himself a bhakta of Tulsidas, he never doubted that passages in the Ramacharitmanas that were repugnant to one’s moral conscience were to be rejected. The vow of brahmacharya did not preclude, as it has for reformers and saints in Indian religious traditions, the company of women; indeed, Gandhi adored their presence and reveled in their touch. He was constantly surrounded by women, and for decades Mirabehn, the daughter of an English admiral who was mesmerised by the Mahatma, was privy to his innermost thoughts to such an extent as to arouse jealousy within Kasturba. Their correspondence has a touch of the erotic; and, Mirabehn, in particular, would write of her longing for the Mahatma when he was away. She was by no means the only woman with whom Gandhi enjoyed a platonic relationship:  there was an intense exchange of “love letters” over many years between him and Esther Faering, a Danish missionary, and Saraladevi Chowdharani was cast as his “spiritual wife”.  Many of his male friendships are equally interesting:  for example, he may also have been attracted to Hermann Kallenbach, a wealthy Jewish architect who would become one of Gandhi’s earliest patrons and closest friends. Kallenbach, a body-builder and athlete, may have been the embodiment of masculinity, but Gandhi saw his soft side and his gift for nonviolence.

We are not likely to understand these friendships, which should also make us aware of Gandhi’s singular disinterest in the traditional concept of the family, if we fail to make a distinction between sex and sexuality and see through to the core of his thoughts on masculinity and femininity. Though Gandhi repudiated sex, which he saw as a finite game, finite in that its end seemed to be mere physical consummation, he was a consummate player of sexuality who delighted in the infinite pleasures of touch, companionship, and the eroticism of longing and withdrawal. More so than any other Indian political figure of his time, Gandhi made very little distinction between men and women. This will appear to be a brazen statement to those who have read his unequivocally clear pronouncements on the distinct duties of women and men and the spheres they ought ideally to occupy in life.  In practice, however, he fundamentally treated them as alike, endeavouring also to bring out something of the feminine in men and something of the masculine in women. It is wholly characteristic of the Mahatma, a relentless advocate of experiments with truth, that even if he appeared to work with a crude conception of what it means to be male or female, his entire life can be read as an attempt to bring us to a new threshold of understanding the notions of masculinity and femininity.

(originally published in “The Asian Age”, 1 May 2011)

*Thesis Nine: The Dissent that is Beyond Dissent

 

A meeting at Penang in autumn 2010 of like-minded intellectuals and activists from the Global South committed to a radical decolonization of knowledge commenced with a screening of the late Howard Zinn’s documentary, We the People.  A few years ago, the World Social Forum in Mumbai opened with a screening, before thousands of people, of the documentary, Manufacturing Consent, focused on the ideas and work of Noam Chomsky, the most well known American voice of dissent at home and abroad.  In either case, most people would be justified in thinking that the choice was sound.  Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States — a work attentive to the voices of the marginalized, critical of mainstream narratives, sensitive to histories of labor and the working class, and so on — has sold over a million copies in various editions; moreover, Zinn’s life, marked by an ethical impulse to do, in common parlance, what is right and stand by what is just, is one that many might seek to emulate.  Chomsky, for his part, has been the most relentless and forthright critic of American foreign policy:  if there is one liberal voice which to the world represents the ability of the United States to tolerate its own critics, it is surely the voice of Chomsky.  Critical as Chomsky is of the United States, one suspects that he can also be trumpeted by his adversaries as the supreme instance of America’s adherence to notions of free speech.  Chomsky is simultaneously one of America’s principal intellectual liabilities and assets.

 

I am animated, however, by a different set of considerations in this discussion of Zinn and Chomsky.  Why, we should ask, did the organizers settle for Zinn and Chomsky, both American scholars – and that, too, at meetings, especially the Multiversity conference in Penang, committed at least partly to the idea of intellectual autonomy, self-reliance, greater equity between the global North and the global South, and so on.  An ethical case might reasonably be made for the gestures encountered at Penang and Mumbai.  No less a person than Gandhi sought alliances, throughout his life, with the ‘other West’.  Holding firmly to the principle that freedom is indivisible, and that it is not only India that needed to be free of colonial rule, but also England itself that had to be liberated from its own worst tendencies, Gandhi sought out those writers, intellectuals, and activists in the West who had themselves been reduced to the margins.  His tract of 1909, Hind Swaraj, which is intensely critical of the modern West, lists ‘eminent authorities’ whose works Gandhi consulted, and the bulk of them are figures such as Tolstoy, Thoreau, Edward Carpenter, and Ruskin.  Those who rightly recall this critical aspect of Gandhi’s life conveniently forget that Gandhi, on more than one occasion, also described the West as “Satanic”.  If he accepted English, America, and European friends as allies in the struggle for Indian independence, he also never wavered from his firm belief that ultimately Indians had to fight their own battles.  Thus, following  him, some difficult questions that come to mind should not be brushed aside.  Is the Global South so colonized that it must borrow even its models of dissent from the West?  If the theorists of global import, from Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Adorno, Heidegger and Althusser to Lacan, Habermas, Levinas, Judith Butler, and Agamben all hail from the West, are the ultimate dissenters also from the West?

 

What begins in people’s minds can only end in people’s minds.  All over the colonized world in the nineteenth century, Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Tocqueville were held up as the torchbearers of freedom.  Almost no one recognized Tocqueville, even today a sacrosanct figure in the United States, as the holder of the most virulently racist ideas about Arabs and Muslims.  Mill’s ideas about representative government extended only to people he conceived of as free, mature, and possessed of rational faculties.  The habits of simulation in the global South are so deeply engrained that Americans become the ultimate and only genuine dissenters.  The rebellions of the dispossessed, oppressed, and marginalized are generally dismissed as luxuries possible only in permissive democracies, as the last rants of people opposed to development and progress.  However, the problem of dissent is far from being confined to the global South:  it is, if anything, more acute in the United States, where the dissenters have all been neatly accommodated, whether in women’s studies, ethnic studies, or gay studies departments at universities, or in officially-sanctioned programs of multiculturalism, or in pious-sounding policies affirming the values of diversity and cultural pluralism.  The dictators of tomorrow will also, we can be certain, have had “diversity training”.  Is there any dissent beyond what now passes for dissent?   How will we recognize the dissent of those who do not speak in one of the prescribed languages of dissent?  The United Nations has officially recognized languages, but the world at large has something much more insidious, namely officially recognized and prescribed modes of dissent.  Those who do not dissent in the languages of dissent will never even receive the dignity of recognition, not even as much as a mass memorial to ‘the unknown soldier’.

CONCLUDED

See also the previous posts in this series:

Thesis Eight: Postcolonial Thought and Religion in the Public Sphere

Thesis Seven: The Geography and Psychogeography of Home

Thesis Six: In incommensurability is the promise of more democratic futures

Thesis Five: The Moral and Political Imperative of South-South Dialogues

Thesis Four – Nonviolence: A Gaping Hole in Postcolonial Thought

Thesis Three: Postcolonialism’s critique of the nation-state remains inadequate

Thesis Two: Postcolonialism has had nothing to say about the imperialism of categories

Thesis One: Postcolonialism never mounted an effective critique of history

The Politics of Culture and Knowledge after Postcolonialism: Nine Theses (and a Prologue)

 

 

*Gandhi’s Photograph and the Politics of the Frame

The popular Hindi film brings to mind the framed portrait of Mohandas Gandhi, ‘Father of the Nation’.  Hindi films are often described as formulaic, and perhaps not without reason:  their ingredients, many imagine, are utterly predictable, and indeed one of the pleasures of watching such films may reside precisely in the fact that often one is aware of the dialogue even before it has been uttered.  The plot generally holds no suspense, and that may be one reason why the Hindi film thriller is, barring an exception or two, still an anomaly.  Whatever the merits of the argument, I have been struck by something else in viewing hundreds of films over the years.  In the Hindi film of the 1960s through the 1980s, as in real life, one could almost always expect to find the framed photograph of Mohandas Gandhi, most often in the police station, the government office, or the receiving room of the senior politician’s headquarters.  Occasionally, one would encounter the framed Gandhi in the home of the pious teacher, the dedicated social worker, or the plain old-fashioned patriot.  The framed Gandhi, if one were to watch mainstream Hindi films from the decades of the 1960s to the 1980s with a modicum of attention, seems to have been nearly as essential to the Hindi film as songs, the staged fights (orchestrated by the ‘fight master’), or the suffering mother.  One might argue, of course, that the Hindi film was merely following the script set by the state:  the protocol apparently required that Gandhi’s photograph be hung visibly in the most prominent office of a government institution.

It is tempting to think that, from his lofty position on the wall, Gandhi is there to inspire men and women to do good; but perhaps he is also there to cast a look, as we shall see, at all that transpires in his name and under his photograph.  Though the ‘Father of the Nation’ did not much believe in surveillance, and was notoriously indifferent to considerations of his own security, eventually surrendering his life to an assassin who had absolutely no difficulty in penetrating the Birla House gardens where Gandhi held his evening prayer meetings, the framed Gandhi appears to peer down from his lofty position on mere mortals.  However critical one may be of Gandhi at times, even his worst enemies would have a hard time thinking of him as a ‘Big Brother’.   Even Gandhi’s authoritarianism, for such is how it is has been described by some of his critics, was tempered by a radical catholicity of thought.  Nevertheless, perhaps the framed Gandhi is there to remind the thinker or doer that Gandhi Baba’s eyes are cast at their deeds:  his blessings will be showered on those who act ethically and his admonitions will caution those who are set on the path of wrong-doing.  One can understand why Indian embassies and consulates throughout the world prominently display the framed Gandhi:  whatever India’s standing in any particular country, the name of Gandhi is calculated to earn India some goodwill.  Similarly, the person who puts up Gandhi’s photograph may be attempting to acquire cultural capital, suggesting to others that the admiration for Gandhi points to some element of nobility in his or her own personality.  If we are associated in people’s minds with the friends we keep, there is reason to suppose that the photographs of venerable elders on display are meant to signify something about us to others.

The gesture of the framed Gandhi can, of course, be read in myriad other ways.   It is customary for states to hang framed photographs of the highest officials – often elected, just as often self-appointed, as in the case of ‘presidents for life’, or otherwise chosen to preside over the destinies of their people – but Gandhi occupied an anomalous position in the immediate aftermath of independence, holding no office and yet being bestowed with the epithet of ‘Father of the Nation’.  But, in India, framed photographs of the gods and goddesses are even more common than the photographs of netas, ‘leaders’ of the nation.  Let us, for a moment, overlook the fact that many of those canonized or celebrated as netas have been scarcely deserving of that honorific, and it is no surprise that the word ‘neta’ is commonly and justly viewed as a term of abuse and vilification.  Netas are often those who plunder the nation.  Holding no elected office in either independent India or even in the Congress party after his one-year term of presidency of the Congress in the early 1920s, and having no riches or possessions to his name, Gandhi cannot be bunched together with the netas, small and big, who populate the Indian scene.  But Gandhi was equally reluctant to being deified:  he openly disowned the idea of being a Mahatma, and would have shuddered at the thought of being assimilated into Hinduism’s gods and goddesses.   Gandhi occupies, we may say, a position betwixt the politicians and the gods, and yet a position that is akin to neither.  Perhaps that old and tiresome question, of whether he was a politician in saint’s garb or a saint who muddled his way through politics, will never go away.

One keen observer of Indian politics who has always remained aware of the framed Gandhi is the cartoonist R. K. Laxman, famous among other things for his creation of the ‘common man’.   In one cartoon after another, Laxman lampooned the netas, bureaucrats, and the sycophants who came to define ‘politics’; significantly, the framed photograph of Gandhi looms large in his work, as the three cartoons reproduced here amply demonstrate.  Laxman was keen to underscore the hypocrisy of politicians, leaders, and party office holders, though ‘hypocrisy’ is perhaps a banal and even relatively benign word to characterize those who, under Gandhi’s portrait, did not hesitate to offer or accept bribes, engage in horse-trading, engineer ‘disturbances’ in the interest of advancing the party’s electoral prospects, and so on.  Still, Laxman may have missed out on one element in his representation of the Gandhi looming behind the frame.   As I have had occasion to write elsewhere, there is no constituency in India – liberals, Marxists, constitutionalists, Hindutvavadis, militants, feminists, Dalits, Punjabis, Bengalis, communalists, gays and lesbians, most of all Gujaratis, and then countless more – that does not love to hate Gandhi'The Framed Gandhi', cartoon by R. K. Laxman.  He has been framed for every imaginable ill that has afflicted India:  some hold him responsible for the partition of India; others for upholding caste, relegating women to the household, and allowing the bourgeoisie an easy ride; and many others for betraying his fellow Hindus.  There are even those who find the hand of Gandhi behind the culture of gherao, strikes, hartal, and the evasion of law.  And one could continue in this vein.  So, when we frame Gandhi, we do far more than enclose his photograph or portrait behind glass.  Our habit of framing Gandhi has more to it than meets the eye.

(This piece is available in an Uzbek translation here:  http://eduworksdb.com/gandhis-photograph-and-the-politics-of-the-frame/)

An Estonian translation of this article by Martin Aus can be found here:  http://techglobaleducation.com/gandhis-photograph-and-the-politics-of-the-frame/

*The Rhetoric of Relevance and the Graveyard of Gandhi

(Also published on the website of HIMAL Magazine)

As India prepares to mark the anniversary of Gandhi’s death, the tired old question of Gandhi’s ‘relevance’ will be rehearsed in the press.  Once we are past the common rituals, we are certain to hear that the spiral of violence in which much of the world seems to be caught demonstrates Gandhi’s continuing ‘relevance’.  Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the Presidency of the United States furnishes one of the latest iterations of the globalizing tendencies of the Gandhian narrative.  Unlike his predecessor, who flaunted his disdain for reading, Obama is said to have a passion for books; and Gandhi’s autobiography has been described as occupying a prominent place in the reading that has shaped the country’s first African American President. Obama gravitated from “Change We Can Believe In” to “Change We Need”, but in either case the slogan is reminiscent of the saying with which Gandhi’s name is firmly, indeed irrevocably, attached:  “We Must Become the Change We Want To See In the World.”  Obama’s Nobel Prize Lecture twice invoked Gandhi, if only to rehearse some familiar clichés – among them, the argument, which has seldom been scrutinized, so infallible it seems, that Gandhian nonviolence only succeeded because his foes were the gentlemanly English rather than Nazi brutes or Stalinist thugs.

Let me, however, leave aside for the present both the question of Obama’s Gandhi and the liberal’s Gandhi, and turn rather briefly to some more general problems in the consideration of Gandhi’s place in world history.  The Gandhi that is known around the world, and to a substantial degree even in India, is principally the architect and supreme practitioner of the idea of mass nonviolent resistance and the prime example of the ‘man of peace’.  The general sentiment underlying this view is clear enough, even if one thought of bringing to the fore evident objections to such a characterization of Gandhi.  One might argue, as some historians have, that the role of Gandhian nonviolence in the achievement of Indian independence has been overstated, or one could adopt the view, a more nuanced and interesting one, that ‘peace’ was not particularly part of the vocabulary with which he operated.  The centrality of ahimsa (nonviolence) and satya (truth) to Gandhi’s way of thinking aside, if one had to add another set of terms that might signify his practices and thought alike, then one would perforce think of brahmacharya (celibacy, closeness to God), tapasya (sacrifice, self-suffering), aparigraha (non-possession), and so on.   Though silence was an integral part of his spiritual and political discipline, Gandhi studiously avoided speaking of shanti (peace).  One of the many reasons he did so is that peace has all too often been used as the pretext to wage war.  Describing the barbarous conduct of the Romans some 2,000 years ago, the historian Caius Tacitus put it rather aptly: ‘They make solitude [desert] and call it peace’.  I suspect, moreover, that if Gandhi had been alive to see how he has been packaged, sold, and denuded of all insights and vitality by the practitioners of what are called ‘peace studies’, he would have been rather pleased at his insistence on nonviolent resistance rather than on peace.

Supposing that Gandhi is a supremely world historical figure, what is being invoked is the principal figure in the twentieth century associated with peace and nonviolence.  But this Gandhi, many will be surprised to hear, is a somewhat impoverished figure, one who cannot easily be reconciled with the Gandhi who was an emphatic critic of nearly all the critical categories of modern political and humanist thought.  Let me, by way of illustration, take up very briefly two ideas that have reigned supreme in our times.  Most political thinking in the West over the course of the last century has been riveted on the question of ‘rights’, and recent political movements in the West have, in addition to the rights of the individual, vigorously asserted the rights of groups, whether defined with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or some other marker of identity.  Gandhi, at least in the received view, might reasonably be seen as falling entirely within this framework.  One can surely describe Gandhi as someone who initiated the modern campaigns against colonialism, racism, and xenophobia, and in this respect he can be viewed as an advocate of the right of people to live an unfettered life of dignity.

And, yet, if one should thus be tempted to assimilate Gandhi into a pantheon of the champions of human rights, one would doubtless be obscuring his profound skepticism towards the discourse of rights.  Rights are ordinarily claimed against the state, and those desirous of staking claims look up to the state to safeguard their rights. Gandhi recognized the state as, not infrequently, the most egregious violator of rights, and generally had little if any enthusiasm for the modern nation-state.  Indeed, Gandhi is distinct among modern political figures in decisively rejecting the narrow association that the idea of citizenship has come to have with the demand for rights, and in reinstating the concept of duty.  At the height of a struggle with the ruler of his native Rajkot late in his life, Gandhi averred that “in swaraj based on ahimsa, people need not know their rights, but it is necessary for them to know their duties.  There is no duty but creates a corresponding right, and those are true rights which flow from a due performance of one’s duties.”

We can also, in a similar vein, turn to Gandhi’s unflinching skepticism towards ‘history’ as a dramatic example of his repudiation of the liberal traditions of learning of the modern West and of the categories of thought marshaled by modern knowledge systems.  The story of how Indian nationalists responded to the colonial charge that Indians were deficient in the historical sensibility has been told often enough and need scarcely be repeated here, but suffice to note that nationalist thought was heavily invested in the idea of history and the commitment to history took many forms.  Whatever the ideological differences between armed revolutionaries, liberals, constitutionalists, Indian Tories, and Hindu supremacists, they were all agreed that that an Indian history, for and by Indians, was the supreme requirement of the day.  Here, as in so many matters, Gandhi struck a lonely path, departing from the main strands of nationalist thought.   It would be trivial to suggest that Gandhi did not lack an awareness of the past; but had he lacked such awareness, it is far from certain that he would have viewed his ignorance as a shortcoming.  Gandhi’s indisposition towards viewing the Mahabharatra, Ramayana or the puranic material as a historical record is pronounced; but he went much further, as in this pronouncement from 1924: “I believe in the saying that a nation is happy that has no history.  It is my pet theory that our Hindu ancestors solved the question for us by ignoring history as it is understood today and by building on slight events their philosophical structure.”  Though I myself am a teacher of history, Gandhi’s profound misgivings about the enterprise of history strike me as just and even prescient.  Among other considerations, such as his manifest concern about the pernicious attempts to transform Hinduism from a religion predominantly of mythos to one of history, he was also fully aware that nineteenth century ideas about history, and the inevitability of human progress, were but forms of social evolutionism.  Gandhi resisted the idea that the only history that India could live out was someone else’s history.

My point here may be encapsulated in the following way:  Gandhi has an inescapable presence in intellectual and public spheres, and in the knowledge industry, but in the most predictable ways.  The shapers of opinion and the framers of knowledge have entirely neutralized him, or, in the provocative language of Hind Swaraj, for which ‘world history’ has absolutely no use, rendered him effete.  (Elsewhere, I have written extensively on the cultural politics of sexuality surrounding Gandhi’s life, and my use of ‘effete’ is quite deliberate and self-reflexive.)  There is room for him as an Indian nationalist who articulated some unusual ideas of nonviolent resistance, forged a mass anti-colonial struggle against the British, fought to bring peace to communities torn apart by violence, and agitated for various social reforms.  It is unnecessary, for the purposes of this argument, to point to those critics who would describe him as a reactionary, a friend of the industrialists, an enemy of Dalits, an opponent of class warfare, and so on.   Recently, Mayawati and the Slovenian philosopher-clown Slavok Zizek have found common cause in describing him as more violent than Hitler.  Gandhi’s admirers have, it appear to me, sanitized him enough, and evidently have little patience for his withering critique of modernity, his strictures against Western systems of education, his sexual Puritanism, or his indifference to what I could describe as the regime of modern aesthetics.

Thus, on the eve of the anniversary of his assassination, the question of his ‘relevance’ strikes me as supremely irrelevant.  We should think rather of liberating Gandhi from everything that has beautifully conspired to constrain him.  First there were the Gandhians, a largely unattractive and insipid if well-intentioned lot who, like many practitioners of formal religions, followed all the external signs but showed little of the creativity of Gandhi.  Then there have been the infernal statues, towards which the pigeons have shown an admirable irreverence that would have made Gandhi laugh.   As the Gandhians aged and the statues had normalized Gandhi, the peace studies practitioners came forward with their institutionalized programs of study for peace administrators and conflict managers.  This narrative has many other chapters, but it should by now be transparent that the rhetoric of relevance has been the graveyard of Gandhi.

 

*Port-au-Prince & Lisbon, Pat Robertson & the Enlightenment Philosophers: Haiti’s Earthquake I

On 1 November 1755, a massive earthquake struck the city of Lisbon.  It is thought to have been 9.0 on the Richter scale:  whatever the precise measurement, its magnitude may be judged by the fact that the earthquake nearly leveled Lisbon, and caused widespread damage elsewhere in Portugal, and even in Spain and Morocco.  Together with the tsunami that came in its wake, the earthquake, by modern estimates, is thought to have wiped out about a fifth or sixth of Lisbon’s population of 200,000.  According to some sources, nearly every church of any consequence in Lisbon was destroyed.  That, in a country intensely Catholic, was alone calculated to leave an ineradicable impression on its inhabitants.

Though the destruction was extraordinarily widespread, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 has entered the annals of history for reasons other than as an illustration of nature’s furious unpredictability.  The earthquake would provoke a wide-ranging discussion among many of the greatest minds of the day; indeed, even into the twentieth century, the Lisbon earthquake would be summoned to point to both the inscrutability of God’s ways and the uses of seismology.  One of the regnant ideas of those days had been best adumbrated by the philosopher Leibniz, who adhered to the view that whatever happens happens for the best, or, in slightly more elegant language, God’s ways could be justified to men if one recognized that one lived in the best of all worlds.  Among the most eminent men of the day who felt the tremors of the quake in Paris was Voltaire.  In his novel Candide (1759), the eponymous hero, who at first vividly subscribes to the view that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”, in time comes to reject this optimism.  The Lisbon earthquake is enough to cure him of this theodicy, just as it sufficed to make Voltaire reject the optimism of Leibniz.

One of the other supreme figures of the age who attempted to make some sense of the earthquake was Immanuel Kant, whose interest in this would be captured by Walter Benjamin in a radio talk prepared for school-children 150 years later:  “No one was more fascinated by these remarkable events than the great German philosopher Kant . . .  At the time of the earthquake he was a young man of twenty-four, who had never left his hometown of Konigsberg – and who would never do so in the future.  But he eagerly collected all the reports of the earthquake that he could find, and the slim book that he wrote about it probably represents the beginning of scientific geography in Germany.  And certainly the beginnings of seismology.”  In the typical fashion of the day, Kant’s slim volume bore the longish title, History and Natural Description of the most Remarkable Incidents of the Earthquake that Shook a Large Part of the Earth at the End of the Year 1755.

Kant’s avid interest in the earthquake was not confined to a scientific assessment of the natural circumstances that had led to the calamity.  “Whatever is, is right”, Alexander Pope had famously declared in his Essay on Man (1733), and his affirmation of Leibniz’s theodicy had many supporters who rather agreed with Leibniz’s reasoning that though the presence of evil could not be denied, evil itself existed for the sake of a greater good.  As Rousseau and Voltaire, whose repudiation of theodicy in Candide was prefigured in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster” (1756), tangled over the ‘meaning’ of the earthquake, Kant would step into the debate later with a distinct philosophical articulation of the idea of the sublime.  When the imagination reaches its limits, Kant argued, pain is experienced; but this pain may be compensated for with the pleasure produced by the mind.  The “beautiful” was not to be equated with the “sublime”:  if the former belongs to the realm of “Understanding”, the latter belongs to “Reason”.  A sublime event was not to be comprehended through the understanding, indeed the enormity of the sublime – “we call that sublime which is absolutely great”, he wrote in the Critique of Judgment – passed all understanding and demonstrated the inadequacy of one’s imagination.  And, yet, the supersensible powers, through which one comprehends an event as whole, and which inform both nature and thought, bring one to a realization of the sublime.

When we consider the philosophical level of public discourse that the Lisbon earthquake could engender, the depths to which public discourse has sunk in our times becomes all the more transparent.  Pat Robertson has been known over the years for his outrageous announcements, and one should not be utterly surprised that he should, on the present occasion of the earthquake that has devastated Haiti, have displayed the same dim-wittedness and callousness for which he has nearly an unsurpassed reputation (barring, perhaps, only the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck).  As he put it in a televangelical broadcast, “something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor.”  America deplored Haiti’s independence in 1804, refusing to recognize the country until 1862, and it appears that even today there are some Americans such as Robertson who evidently believe that some people are born to serve others.  Colonialism, we know, continues to have its defenders; but Robertson’s remarks disguise many more profound anxieties, none as acute as the fact that the only genuine revolution, gone astray for reasons that I shall attempt to comprehend in subsequent blogs, in the Western hemisphere took place in Haiti rather than in what would become the US.

Insanely stupid as Robertson’s remarks are, they nonetheless point the way to a debate that cannot be resolved under the sign of secularism.  In a very different time, equally removed from the energetic debates of the Enlightenment and the mental vacuity of a Robertson, Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore would have a lively public exchange over the equally devastating Bihar Earthquake of 1934.  Gandhi described the earthquake as God’s chastisement of upper-caste Hindus for their oppression of Harijans; Tagore, revered almost as much as the Mahatma, expressed shock that Gandhi would adhere to a view which was openly dismissive of scientific reasoning and likely to encourage the Indian masses in their superstitious thinking.  The intricacies of that exchange aside, Gandhi was firmly persuaded that communication with the masses could not succeed in the language of secularism – even if he was, in his own fashion, resolutely wedded to the idea that the Indian state perforce had to be secular, scrupulously fair to the adherents of all religions.  Moreover, the secular imagination cannot, Gandhi would have argued, countenance the idea that natural events may have their counterpart in the life of the soul.  Perhaps, in howsoever unpleasant a way, Robertson’s remarks suggest that we do not live only under the sign of secularism.

*‘They Make War and Call it Peace’: The Shame of Obama’s Nobel Prize

Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant:  ‘They make solitude [desert] and call it peace’.  So wrote the Roman historian Caius Tacitus almost 2,000 years ago.  The text from which this quote is drawn deserves a bit more scrutiny:  “Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominis imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant”, says Tacitus (Life of Agricola 30), which has generally been rendered as follows:     ‘To robbery, slaughter and rapaciousness [rapere] they give the false name of empire; where they make a solitude they call it peace.’  Tacitus was describing the conduct of the Romans, to whom the “further limits of Britain” had been thrown open.  By solitude, Tacitus meant a ‘desert’; they laid waste to a place and so rendered it a place of solitude [solitudinem].  Somehow, reading Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, delivered today in Oslo, Tacitus’s text comes to mind.

When nearly two months ago the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the conferral of the peace prize upon Obama, one wondered what Obama had done to deserve the honor, or what qualifications the Committee’s members had to bestow the prize upon Obama – or indeed anyone else.  Both questions are easily answered.  The Norwegians know something about salmon and lingon berries, and they should content themselves with that knowledge, and leave judgments about international governance and peace-making to others.  (The results of their previous efforts to ‘broker peace’, to use the debased jargon of realpolitik, are there to be seen in Sri Lanka.)  As for Obama’s qualifications, many people are persuaded, and who knows Obama himself among them, that his (supposed) repudiation of the policies of his predecessor in the White House has alone made him an eminently worthwhile candidate for unusual and great honors.  Quite tickled pink with the idea of his rock star charm, Obama even made a flying visit to Denmark to help in Chicago’s bid to stage the Olympics, only to receive a rude shock when Chicago was thrown out of the final round of competition with the lowest number of votes.  Once Obama had been so slighted, it may be argued, something had to be done to assuage his wounds.  And the Nobel Peace Prize is certainly there for the taking.

Many of the left objected, as indeed they should have, to the conferral of the Nobel Peace Prize upon Barack Obama, who is a wartime President of the United States.  Obama had, in October, already ruled out immediate withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and was even contemplating an increased American military presence in Afghanistan, a step that has now become official policy.  His administration has retained the previous administration’s policy of extraordinary rendition and has, again in keeping with the trend established by his predecessor, blocked attempts to release photographs and other evidence of abuse from Abu Ghraib.  The objection that a wartime President should not be conferred the Nobel Peace Prize is an entirely legitimate one, but one that is futile.  Others may occasionally forget that the President of the United States is also, in title and in fact, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States, but Obama’s acceptance speech today does not shy from this fact.  As Commander-in-Chief, Nobel Laureate Barack Obama presides over a military establishment with a budget that dwarfs the military expenditures of every other country.  In 2008, the Stockholm Peace Research Institute has reported, the United States spent $607 billion on its armed forces, accounting for 41.5% of the world’s military expenditures.  By comparison, China spent $85 billion, France $66 billion, Britain $65 billion, Russia $59 billion, and India $30 billion.  Whatever else the US might be, it is, and has been for some time, a war-making machine.  That is the most fundamental and ineradicable part of its identity.  War is an American addiction, and Obama is no freer of that addiction than any other power-monger in American history. Unfortunately, Obama is not merely the victim of that addiction; he is today charged with peddling that addiction – arms sales of the most advanced weaponry also fall under his jurisdiction, for example — with palpable consequences for the rest of the world.

Thus, in accepting the Nobel Prize, Obama had to engage in some exercise of sophistry.  He perforce had to begin with reflection that, even as he receives the award, he has authorized the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Obama has mastered the art of appearing ‘noble’, in pursuit of higher truths – in his Nobel speech, this manifests partly as repeated invocations to Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  (Thankfully, Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, a matter of much regret to many well intentioned but hopelessly confused Indians who puzzle over his omission.)  Obama might have ruminated over the fact that the same Martin Luther King, only a year before his death, unhesitatingly described the United States ‘as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world’.  Independent-minded as he is or claims to be, Obama can rightfully claim that he can pick and choose what he likes from his alleged mentors.  As for Gandhi, that man seems to have an inescapable presence in Obama’s life, popping out of the bottle like some genie every now and then.   A few weeks ago, I wrote on this blog about how Obama, when asked by a schoolgirl who he would like to have had as his dinner guest, had identified Gandhi.  And, now, in his Nobel speech, here is Gandhi again:  “The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached – their faith in human progress – must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.”  How Obama loves that man!

Augustine and the church fathers authored the doctrine of ‘the just war’, and Obama’s fond enunciation of this tenet — with which Jesus’s name should not be associated — of the Christian faith will be celebrated by some as a reflection of his ‘principled’ stand on the question of war.  One thought that the distinction between the ‘bad war’ (Iraq) and the ‘good war’ (Afghanistan) had been buried by intelligent minds, but Obama has just breathed new life into this sterile, not to mention stupid, distinction.  The usual platitudes about the presence of evil in this world, and the pain he feels at sending young men and women into the killing fields aside, I could not but notice the sleight of hand with which he dispatched the idea of nonviolent resistance, which Obama otherwise claims to champion, into oblivion.  “A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies”, said Obama; “Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”  I’m not aware that an international nonviolent movement was even remotely contemplated, much less brought into existence, but it has become an article of unquestioned faith to argue that Gandhian-style nonviolent resistance would not have survived a minute against Nazi Germany.  Still, supposing that Obama is right in rehearsing this cliché, what is striking is that he should have used the most extreme example of the exercise of violence, namely totalitarian Nazi Germany, to support his call for war in Afghanistan.  So is Afghanistan an instance of the unmitigated evil that men can do?  And if al-Qaeda and Afghanistan – notice, too, the easy and implicit pairing of the two – are reminiscent of the days of Hitler, surely this is a ‘just war’?

The avid lovers of Foucault, and the myriad other postmodernists and poststructuralists, should all be on notice, if they were not previously, that in Obama we have the latest instantiation of the view that, in our progressive times, we shall be killed by kindness.

*A ‘World Historical’ Figure? The Politics of Lincoln’s International Legacy

The US has been awash this year with celebrations of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial. The feeling is widespread that Lincoln, more than anyone else, represents the idea – and thus the dream and hope – of America better than any other figure in American history.  He has been lionized as the savior of the Union, the emancipator of the slaves; he is also, perhaps, the most eminently quotable American.   At his death, as I recall from my American history textbook from over three decades ago, his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton declared that he ‘now belongs to the ages’.  Lincoln has topped most American polls as the most widely admired person in American history.  Tolstoy was unequivocal in his pronouncement that Lincoln “overshadows all other national heroes.”  The great storyteller that he was, Tolstoy has mesmerized Lincoln’s acolytes with his account of the conversation that transpired between him and a tribal chief in the Caucasus who was his host.  Tolstoy told the tribal chief about great military rulers and leaders, but his host remained unsatisfied.  “You have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world”, he told Tolstoy, adding the following:  “He was a hero.  He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as a rock . . .  His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived.  Tell us of that man.”

The hagiographic portrait of Lincoln that has circulated since his death has, to be sure, also been punctured with criticisms.  While the ‘Great Emancipator’ to some, to others his commitment to equality between blacks and whites is profoundly questionable.  For the present, though, one might profitably turn one’s attention to another, not unrelated, question:  to what extent can Lincoln reasonably be viewed as a ‘world historical’ or universal figure?  As I have elsewhere argued, in an “interchange” among scholars of Lincoln published in the Journal of American History (September 2009), Lincoln had many constituencies, to take one country as an illustration, in India.  Gandhi and Ambedkar, however opposed to each other, nevertheless shared in common an admiration for Lincoln.  In 1905, while Gandhi was waging a struggle on behalf of the rights of Indians in South Africa, he penned an article in his journal Indian Opinion which pronounced Lincoln as the greatest figure of the nineteenth century; Ambedkar, on his part, quotes Lincoln in his closing speech as the Constituent Assembly was on the verge of adopting the Constitution of India of which Ambedkar was the principal drafter.  In Britain, not unexpectedly, there was much veneration for Lincoln, among, for example, the Welsh and in Liberal Nonconformist working-class communities; and one can, similarly, point to the enthusiastic reception given to him in most countries of Europe and Latin America.

It is wholly understandable that Americans should be unable to minimize representations of Lincoln as the preserver of the Union, the emancipator of slaves, and the self-made man who, moving from a log cabin to the White House, brilliantly exemplified the possibilities of humankind in the relatively unencumbered circumstances of the New World.  But once we are beyond this, the question persists:  what, if anything, qualifies Lincoln as a world historical figure, in the manner of, to name some highly disparate figures, Marx, Mao, Darwin, and Gandhi?   Is there in his writings something that might be called a body of thought that can be viewed as having made a substantial difference to intellectual activity worldwide?  Histories of human rights will doubtless always have a place for him as the figure who precipitated the formal end of slavery in the US.  But, nevertheless, the fact that he is an inspiration to so many, or that his humanism is immensely appealing, should not be conflated with any estimation we might have to offer of Lincoln’s contributions to the principal questions that have animated those who work and deliberate on such issues as nationalism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, the creation of postcolonial states, and so on.  The invocations over the last few decades have been to the likes of Cesaire and Fanon, not to Lincoln.  Once the Lincoln who is forever enshrined in popular memory as the author of the observation that “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time” has been reckoned with, what is there in the body of his work that would appeal to those especially outside the Anglo-American world?  It does not appear to me that Lincoln figured prominently, if at all, in the discussions about human rights that ensued in the 1930s and 1940s and culminated in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the late 1940s; likewise, debates about decolonization, the principal political issue of the 1950s and 1960s, except of course to those who view everything through the prism of the enmity of the US and the Soviet Union, seemed to have bypassed Lincoln.

There is yet another consideration:  many American figures have much larger reputations than they might otherwise have had owing to the immense influence wielded by the US in nearly every sphere of life, particularly in the post-World War II period.  America’s history has been everyone’s history, and not only because the US has been a distinct immigrant society; just as significantly, America has been part of the national imaginary of every country, foe, friend, or otherwise.  When the attacks of September 11 transpired, Le Monde unhesitatingly described it as an attack on the world:  “We Are all Americans”, the newspaper declared.  Can one even imagine such a response had the attacks been conducted on Chinese soil?  When, however, America’s star begins to fade, will it also not lead to a fundamental reassessment of American history and culture.  How is Lincoln going to fare in a world where America’s history is no longer perceived to be everyone’s history?

*My Man Mohan: Dons of Democracies at Dinner Together

Here is the text of President Bush’s Speech at the State Dinner in his honor at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, 3 March 2006 (reprinted with slight modifications from OUTLOOK, Web edition, 28 February-6 March 2006 issue, where it appeared as ‘I Believe in Big Dreams’):
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Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Pakistan; Mr. Man Mohan Singh, Prime Minister; and all other Indians

(Whispers from an aide:   Republic of India, Mr. President, not Pakistan.)

I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen, I did mean to say the Islamic Republic of India.  I just couldn’t remember where Air Force One was first supposed to land.  I am mighty pleased to be in this great country of yours and I thank My Man Mohan for his kind invitation from the bottom of my heart.   That great state of Texas where I come from is really heart county, we’ve got very big hearts, and I believe that some of your country’s great politicians have come down there to get their hearts fixed.  Would you believe it, but surgery may also be linking our great countries together.

Now my predecessor Bill Clinton — God bless him, his family and ours are getting cosier and cosier by the day, though I do wonder if I’ll ever be able to hold Hilary to my bosom — so my predecessor, on coming to your great country some years ago, said that it had always been his childhood dream to visit India.  Now I have to admit that I never had any such childhood dream.  It’s not that I didn’t have a childhood, indeed I know that some people think I never ceased being a child.   And I do dream — that great American, King’s his name, said you should dream from the mountain-top.  And like King, I believe in big dreams.  I never had the kind of dream that Bill Clinton did because, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, I never heard of India when I was a child.  You know they say that old habits die hard, and I never did leave behind the habit of not reading books.   You all know that I don’t read much of newspapers or reports, my advisers do that.  That’s why I’m President, you see, I don’t get to read anything.  But let me again thank Man Mohan Singh.  I knew about the political dynasties you’ve had, the father-daughter, daughter-son, husband-wife, father-grandson, great great grandfather-boy teams, the Gandhis, Nehrus, and even people I’d never heard of before, the Lallus and Yadavs, but I had hadn’t heard of the Mohan dynasty.  I guess I should have thought of it, given that both Mohan Das Gandhi and Man Mohan Singh had some kind of turban on their head.   I might not like to read much, but I sure do like picture books, and I’ve seen pictures of Gandhi when he wore a turban.

Condi told me all about the great country of India on the long journey on board.  I mean, there’s only so much sleeping that even a President can do.  We in America, and especially in Texas, know a thing or two about Indians.  Condi did tell me that that I shouldn’t be talking of teepees, face paint, feathers, squaws, bows and arrows, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull.  Some of that Indian culture has definitely left its mark on the youth of America today:  I do know that the paint is no longer applied to the face, but to the hands.  So I guess that’s why Condi didn’t want me to talk about face paint.  You in India have a great civilization, but it all really began in America.  Somewhere in the history book that was read to me it says that the Indians crossed over some body of water, I think it’s called the Berring Curve, and that was some 10,000 years ago.  That was a long time ago, and I really don’t know why many people continue to say that we in America have a very short history.  I now, and yes its’s true, and I have to admit, that there aren’t many Indians left in America, but most of them, you all know, died of diseases.  I guess it must be genetics, since I hear that you Indians are still dying of many diseases. But, truth be told, it’s not at all a bad thing that there aren’t many Indians in America.  There are over a billion of you in India, and my population experts told me that every sixth person in the world is an Indian.  That’s awesome.  Now if nature hadn’t done her work in America — God bless nature, always giving us global warmth and comfort — the Indians in America would have multiplied as fast as you have, and every fourth person in the world would be an Indian.  If you all believe in multiculturalism and diversity as much as I do, you have to agree that it’s a good thing that we don’t have so many Indians in America.  And the ones that are here, well they are in places that we call reservations where they can’t be seen.  It took me some time to understand why the Indians were called an invisible minority and why they seemed kinda upset.  So you see you just reserve special spots for minorities, but we being an older and more experienced democracy, we actually have a special place for them that we call reservations.  Isn’t that something?

As I said, it’s a great honor for me to be in India, another great home of multiculturalism.  This beautiful lady to my right — well, not quite, since no one is really to my right, except perhaps Pat Robertson, Tom De Lay (and he’s not part of my delegation, being on a delayed schedule) and that other Bill, Frist —  well, this elegant lady who’s from Italy and I’m told is something like an invisible hand running this country (why, it seems whenever we speak of India, we run into invisible people and invisible hands) – well, she’s Roman Catholic.  Man Mohan Singh is Sikh, which I’m told is said the same way we say sick, though why they call him that I sure don’t know, since he seems to be in really good shape, even without going biking, fishing, golfing, clearing the brush, and hunting.  What a life one has as President!  There’s no end of outdoor activity, I tell you.  And the President of your Republic, well, I was sort of shocked to know that he’s a Muslim, though Runny and Condi told me he’s a Hindu kind of Muslim, which really does sound so wonderful.  He reads a sacred text called the Bhagavad Gita, does yoga, doesn’t eat meat, and doesn’t like violence very much.  I mean, either you’re a Hindu, or a Muslim; either you’re with the Hindus, or with the Muslims.  Since we’re on the subject of Muslims, let me say what is one of the main things that brings me to this great country of yours.  Somehow, you’ll pardon me for saying so, when we get to talk about Muslims, we can’t seem to get away from killings, and passion, and violence, and all that stuff.   Now let me be very clear.  I know, though I don’t have any close Moslem friends, that Islam is a religion of peace, and most Moslems, like all Americans, are peace-loving people.  Now I might not read, but I sure do look at the funnies every morning.  Some days ago I heard about this huge fuss — people call it a ruckus, but I believe in plain language — over these Danish cartoons.  These Danish cartoons of Muhammad have got them Muslims stirring again.  In the war room at the White House, we have a large wall map of the world and all those strategic places that are of great interest to us from the standpoint of American national security are clearly marked.  I don’t know much about Denmark, but the White House geographer showed me this country and I couldn’t really figure out how Muhammad got to Denmark.  Now our Librarian of Congress who was present said something about not all being well in the state of Denmark, and when I asked him what he meant, he said it was a literary allusion to some play about a King of Denmark by that great Brit, Shakespeare.  He sure did shake up the world, and that too without a spear.  He only used a pen.  I finally realize, while I’m talking to you, why we always got this question in school, whether the pen was mightier than the sword.  I thought it was a rather daft thing to think that the pen could be mightier than the sword, but both Shakespeare and this Danish cartoons mess makes me think that I should rethink my position.  I hope you do realize what this means:  some people allege that thinking is not my strong suit, but I’m actually a man of very firm opinions.  I’d rather think than re-think.  We Americans are greater inventors, always coming up with new stuff.  Why rehash what’s around?  I’m not known for re-thinking anything, but God’s ways are mysterious.

Everyone knows me as a very focused person, but I’ve been really distracted today.  It must have something to do with being in India.  Our Librarian of Congress, and we have a mighty fine library in Congress, not that I’ve ever been to it, had been speaking of literary allusions.  Now I mean most of us have illusions, and in that special briefing I got on India they said that Hindus believe that the whole word is an illusion, that nothing’s real.  They even have a special word for it, they call it MAYA, although I always thought that was a Russian woman’s name.  Let me reassure Laura that I never knew any Maya.  We in America, and that must be our Indian heritage, know a thing or two about illusions too.  We never did find those weapons of mass destruction, but believe me, they’re not an illusion.  They’re there.  I’d compare these weapons of mass destruction with an onion.  You notice how many layers there are to an Indian?  I meant an onion.  You keep on peeling off layer after layer, but as you get closer to the truth, to the onion’s center, your eyes start to water.  I haven’t peeled an onion in years, but I know that for  a fact.  Yes, Sir, there are ugly facts in this world, and it’s a fact that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but our inspectors’ eyes started to water when they got close to discovering the truth.  We never found the weapons because we threw out the baby with the bath water.

So let me return to the subject of Muslims and say some words about why I’m here today.  I was told by Condi that some Muhammad fellow came to India some 1000 years ago, tore apart a Som-nose temple, and that you’ve been smarting ever since.  Your neighboring country, the one you all don’t get along with too well, even named one of its missiles after that place from where he came, Gas-ni or something.  Mean thing to do, I’d say.  You can see how Eye-raq and Afghanistan are both linked:  weapons of mass destruction and gas-ni (which must be really another way of saying gas-nose) are part of their common history.  So whether Mohamed is on cartoons or on missiles, I guess the trouble never ends.  I know that your leaders were telling us that you had plenty of experience with Moslems, but we weren’t inclined to listen to you.  We’ve got to continue to cooperate to hunt down those terrorists of al-Qaeda.  Many of them, I hear, are holed up in Pakistan.  That worst snake of all — he’s a coward, won’t come out in the open, bin Laden, well he just disappeared on us and has become invisible.  There we go again, I hope you all now understand what I meant when I said that there’s something about India and the word invisible that makes them go together.  The whole point of my trip is to change that, to put India on the map.  Wasn’t India where they had the disappearing rope trick?  I seem to remember something of that sort from the magic show I saw at the White House the day the Twin Towers slowly disappeared from the TV screen.  I am convinced that the power of illusion is truly great.   The War on Terror must go on, and I know that the partnership of our two great countries will be a model for the rest of the world.  Think of all the ways in which we complement each other:  you greet us with folded hands, we stretch out our hands in a firm (well, mostly firm, except for the kind of guys you see in “Heartbreak Mountain”) handshake; you venerate the cow, we love to eat it; your guys are up while we’re asleep; you think with your brain, we think with our bodies.

Our two great countries are on the verge of a special relationship.  Thanks to the Brits, we speak the same language.  Funny thing, that special report I got on your country had a little history lesson, and it said that a general called Cornwallis from Cornwall who was defeated soundly by our General Washington then went on to India.  They wanted a man of experience to spread democracy around the world.  Well, we’re both democracies now.  You have a President, and so do we — that’s me.  People who’ve been studying this kind of thing, you know democracies around the world — and they’re increasing, just look at Iraq, look at those turbaned Afghan women so eager to vote, and freedom’s on the march — say that the big difference is that your President is actually a figurehead.  Many of my critics have said that I’m a figurehead as well and for once my critics are right.  They were wrong about WMD, they were wrong about whether those Arabs would take to democracy like fish to oil, and they’ve been wrong about doggone everything else, except for one thing.  It really is Dickhead Cheney who’s running my government, and he did a very good job of it largely cause we kept him in hiding, just like Bill Laden.  My Dick is really good at nearly everything — he gets the contracts to the right people, wears a pacemaker — you know, I’m a great believer in going at the pace that our Maker set for me, in bed by nine o’clock sharp — and even knows how to fire a gun.  I’m sure you’ve all heard of this expression, Lame Duck President, but it goes to show that our reporters do not always adhere to the high standards that we expect of them.   Dick’s always had a preference for quail, not ducks.  And he’s too manly to shoot at lame ones.  I never did think of it before, but I wonder what happened to that other Quail, you know the guy who was Dick’s earlier incarnation under Ronnie?

Well, your excellencies and friends, I think I’ve gone on long enough.   We’ve got lot of important issues to talk about over the next two days of my visit, and that’s why I brought along my entire team.  God bless you all.