War or Peace

WAR OR PEACE

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article

February 23-24 2006, www.thestatesman.net

An American Attack On Iran Will End The Post-1945 System Of Nation-States

The relevance of the Iran-USA conflict to India’s energy, nuclear and strategic future is obvious, yet it appears ill understood by New Delhi’s bureaucrats and politicians, whether neo-communist or neo-fascist. It is understood even less by Islamabad’s army generals, all of whose official brainpower has been perpetually consumed by one subject alone: how to obtain J&K for Pakistan by hook or by crook from India. Yet Iran’s potential nuclear weapons arose entirely thanks to sales by Pakistan’s AQ Khan and the ISI — friends or allies of the USA, just like Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein once had been. We may surmise that a possible war will be quite catastrophic for the world, and India’s and Pakistan’s region of it in particular.

Israel’s piecemeal strategy
The Americans and Israelis may be assumed to have developed over years contingency plans to attack Iran by air and/or sea, though Israel is unlikely to take any offensive role in view of the circumstances of the end of Ariel Sharon’s political career. For one hundred years, the security and prosperity of the Zionist migration to Palestine, which came to be transmuted into the Israeli Republic in the middle of the 20th Century, has been defined as a matter of vital national interest first by Britain and then by America. Badly outnumbered by hostile Muslim countries, Israel after the 1973 Yom Kippur war adopted a long-term piecemeal strategy of diplomacy with Egypt, Jordan and North Africa; co-existence with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf; battle with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians leading to co-existence; and indirect war, using the USA and UK as proxies, with Iraq and Iran leading in due course to co-existence.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution in 1978-1979 caused Iran’s Islamic Republic to start to pose a major ideological threat to Israel. But during the decade of the Iran-Iraq war that started immediately after the Iranian Revolution, neither could pose any possible military threat to Israel. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was a result of the Iran-Iraq war, and since then Saddam has been neutralised by the Americans as a military threat to Israel. A new Iran, torn between a modern future for itself and a return to its revolutionary origins, is the last Muslim nation-state that could possibly threaten Israel. Pakistan would never dare to do so, nor wish to do so in view of its single-minded obsession for almost sixty years with trying to obtain J&K from India, or to dominate India any which way it can. The Pakistanis — having been Indians previously (even A Q Khan was born in Bhopal) — want to rule or dominate Delhi, or at least display their self-styled superiority to Hindus. They are uninterested from a psychological perspective in what happens to European and American Jews in the Middle East because they are mostly of Indian origin themselves.

Pakistanis’ explicit hatred (or implicit love) of India is at least in part a hatred (or love) of themselves. The US State Department and Pentagon have realised that as long as they tilt towards Pakistan on J&K now and then, the Pakistani Government will stay obsessed with its relationship with India alone, and also remain an American ally.

Possible nuclear strike
The questions to be asked now are when the Americans will make an attack on Iran, what manner it will take, and what Iranian and Muslim and world reaction will be. Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities a quarter century ago taught the Iranians to go underground and disperse their facilities around the country. Conventional heavy B52, B2 or Stealth bombing or cruise-missile attacks using ships, submarines and carrier-based aircraft from American forward bases in Diego Garcia, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, Turkey or former Soviet Republics will kill at least 10,000 Iranians even if there are American warnings to evacuate human populations. Much physical havoc will be caused to Iran’s two dozen main nuclear installations, delaying or crippling Iran’s ambitions by years. But it is unlikely such attacks will succeed in wiping out Iran’s capacity. America’s warplans may thus include exploding small nuclear warheads on Iran’s suspected installations. If that happens, it would be the first use of atomic weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It is doubtful if the world as a whole will actually condemn American use of heavy bombing or even small nuclear weapons against Iran in anything but words. Permanent changes in the post-1945 system of international institutions will certainly result. Kofi Annan (or his successor) will resign, ending the UN staff’s effete pontificating. Indeed, all the inefficient, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva and elsewhere may come to close down. The Japanese Left will weep and wring their hands while the Right will renew calls for Japan’s re-militarization.  North Korea’s Kim will issue warnings of how crazy he is. India’s PMO and MEA will express deepest concern, sorrow and tears; after the communists bluster about in Delhi and Kolkata, this will be enlarged to unequivocal condemnation. But India’s anti-Muslim brigades will remain silent and smiling and the VHP/Bajrang Dal will say it is revenge for Nadir Shah and assorted other Iranian plunderers in India’s past. JNU, AMU etc. historians and Bollywood and Tollywood showbiz personalities will hold seminars and processions and shake their fists at America. Pakistan’s Government will issue strong condemnations and call in the American Ambassador for a talking to, then explain to the Karachi street-mobs how important it is to continue the alliance with America so that J&K may be gained for Pakistan one day. The Hurriyat and other friends of Pakistan will agree with Pakistan and demonstrate in Srinagar against India and America. Russia will privately regret its impotence while Putin will refuse to turn up at a G-8 meeting in protest. The Chinese will shake their heads, warning Taiwan not to think itself as loved by America as Israel is. Muslim countries will rant and rave Death to America, and recruit thousands of new suicide bombers. France and Britain will look for new reconstruction or weapons contracts once the smoke clears. Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Canada and New Zealand will hold candle-light peace vigils. South America’s leftists will decry Il Nord from high in the Andes or deep in the Amazon. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama and the Pope will condemn the inhumanity of it all. Australia will agree with America. That may be just about all, except the oil price will reach $200 a barrel momentarily, then settle at $150 for ever, causing large macroeconomic problems for several years in the world economy.

The new ideology
Iran itself will be plunged into greater political and economic disarray than it is in already. It is unlikely to be intimidated into accepting Western conditions straightaway. Nor will it experience any kind of “regime-change” with Non-Resident Iranian-Americans coming back from Los Angeles to try their hand at a little government and money-making at home. Iran would launch conventional war against the 140,000 American infantry in Iraq as well as missiles against Israel, but is unlikely to make much successful war against American or Israeli interests. But Iraq’s Shia majority would join with them, and make America’s departure more prompt from an anarchic, chaotic and disintegrating Iraq, hanging Saddam Hussein before they go. Essentially, Iran’s ability to pose any conceivable military threat to Israel will have been militarily neutralized, just as has happened to Iraq recently, and to Egypt, Jordan etc. by diplomacy and foreign aid ever since Jimmy Carter’s Sadat-Begin summit in 1978. Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah will remain but Israel can on its own battle them defensively anytime.

The cost of having eliminated all possible military threats to Israel permanently will have been rendering chaos and immense destruction upon the erstwhile Republics of Iran and Iraq. But that is not a cost that America’s public cares very much about, and so will not appear much on American TV screens or America’s public memory for very long. Iraq and Iran will have been neutralised and destroyed as legal entities and modern nation-states, being left instead as large oil-fields and chaotic/anarchic polities and societies under sway of American and Western military forces. The return in the 21st Century to the pre-1945 world of imperialism would entail an end of the system of worldwide nation-states that was attempted with the United Nations experiment (the progeny of US President Woodrow Wilson’s “League of Nations”), and the imposition of a new ideology of the West vs. the Rest.

A Mature Israel Is The Key To Averting An American Attack On Iran

It would be better for everyone in the world, including Israel and America, if an American attack against Iran could somehow be averted. Muslim cultures have much long-term patience — a virtue modern American culture most conspicuously lacks. There are Iraqi mothers who have promised their unborn sons for vengeance against America and Iranian mothers may well join them. America’s TV-driven culture can barely remember who said or did what last week, whereas ideological Muslims rehearse and revisit endlessly every day what supposedly happened in Muslim history over 1200 years ago. Indeed ideological Muslims and their orthodox Jewish and Christian fundamentalist adversaries have all tended to be obsessed with the purported ancient histories of the three faiths that arose in the deserts of Palestine and Arabia — though none of these religious histories or any other may be able to withstand very much rigorous academic or scientific scrutiny.

Martin Buber
What has been forgotten too has been the early joint history of Zionists and Palestinians together. Founders of Zionism, including Theodor Herzl himself, who began his campaign in Vienna about 1897 in response to European anti-Jewish behaviour, envisioned “brotherhood” and “cooperation” with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, where new Jewish immigrants were to find refuge from the decades of tyranny against them in Europe long before Hitler arose. Martin Buber, the profound Hasidic philosopher and Zionist, corresponded with Rabindranath Tagore about the need to build a strong “federative” structure among all the peoples of the East — because the peoples of the West seemed to Buber to have become lost and aimless. (It is not impossible America’s entry into the First World War in 1917, which thwarted a possible German victory, was part of a complicated trade-off in which the Balfour Declaration by Britain promising creation of an Israel, living peacefully with the Arabs in Palestine, was another part.) It was only later revisionist Zionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, who proposed a complete separation of Jew from Arab in that small land — which is where we seem to have been headed now decades later. Israel and Pakistan were the only two countries created in the 20th Century, and about the same time, supposedly as “homelands” for people based on religious definitions alone. The Zionist Movement was ongoing by the early 1930s, and young Rahmat Ali, the lonely ideological inventor of the term “PAKSTAN” on the top floor of a London bus in 1934, might well have been influenced by what he heard of it.

The one way war may be preventable today is if Israel’s political centre and right-wing (i.e. the Kadima and Likud parties) came to obtain and declare a clear and justifiable view that (a) an American attack on Iran would be counter- productive; and/or (b) that an Iran, even a nuclear armed Iran, shall not be a tangible threat to Israel. If an American attack on Iran is ultimately premised on the defence of Israel, and if the Israelis themselves come to justifiably believe such an attack overall could be a very bad thing and told the Americans so publicly or privately, there would no longer be reason for the Americans to be preparing to make such an attack, and instead could keep their almost 600 warships and submarines in harbour or on normal patrol around the world.

Israeli security assessment

There may be enough reason on both these points for Israel’s toughest hawks to agree that superior alternatives to war need to be and can be found. On the first, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, has recently said that Israel may yet come to regret the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. His confidential speech to students preparing for military service came to be secretly recorded and was then broadcast on Israeli TV. “When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos… I’m not sure we won’t miss Saddam”, saying a strong dictatorship may have been better than the present “chaos” in Iraq. Israeli security assessments are likely to be far more astute than what gets to be produced in America’s East Coast think tanks. The near-chaos the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq in 2003 has caused will be multiplied several fold if there was now a major attack on Iran, let aside use of atomic bombs against it. Such an attack may be in fact wholly counterproductive.

Secondly, Israel needs to abandon her feigned immaturity and coyness with respect to her erstwhile Anglo-American guardians, and instead demonstrate to the world and her neighbours in particular that she is a mature and responsible adult in international politics. Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr. have said in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 2004 that Israel had promised the USA “it [would] not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East…A taboo was created… By September 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon had reached a new secret understanding of the issue. Meir pledged that Israel would not declare its nuclear status, would not test its weapons, and would not use its nuclear capability for diplomatic gains. Rather, the Israeli bomb would be kept in the basement, for use only as a last resort. Israel would not join the NPT, but it would not defy it either. What had begun as a taboo turned into a symbiotic policy. The United States stopped pressuring Israel and accepted a de facto policy of `don’t ask, don’t tell’. …Today … Israel’s policy of nuclear secrecy stands in profound tension with the basic values upon which the country’s democracy rests: the principles of accountability, oversight, and the public’s right to know. In the absence of public debate (and public debate requires some factual information) the taboo only reinforces and perpetuates itself….By becoming more transparent and by associating itself in some way with the nonproliferation regime — from which it indirectly benefits — Israel could gain an important element of legitimacy for its program and for its security posture…. The basic technology needed to create nuclear weapons is increasingly available. Capabilities once possessed only by a few governments can now be purchased in stores and marketplaces around the world. If nuclear weapon states are ever to achieve deep cuts in their nuclear stockpiles — an important part of the basic bargain of the NPT and essential to the long-term viability of the treaty — some account has to be taken of Israel, India, and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. They must be integrated into the non- proliferation regime”.

The road to peace
Israel declaring itself a nuclear weapons power of long-standing with an independent deterrent the size of France or Britain (with perhaps 500 nuclear warheads, more than China, India and Pakistan combined), would be more than enough by way of military warning to its potential adversaries. Indeed even if Iran (having bought from Pakistan’s programme which itself had bought from North Korea and China) was allowed over the next dozen years to crawl towards half a dozen nuclear warheads of its own, recognition and normal diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran, and Israel and Pakistan, could be followed by a new protocol between Israel, India, Pakistan and Iran. Israel, India and Pakistan are not signatories to the existing NPT and Iran has now declared its intent, as a sovereign signatory, to exit the NPT as well. To get Iran and Israel to recognise one another and establish diplomatic relations would be of course a masterly feat of international diplomacy. But it is not impossible if adequate knowledge and determination can be mustered in good time before it becomes too late. Finally of course, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned in his Farewell Address to the American people in 1961, an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” must also rein in America’s “military industrial complex”.

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Separation of Powers: India, the USA, Pakistan

SEPARATION OF POWERS

Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws outlined a doctrine that applies to India, the USA and all constitutional democracies: there is no monopoly of political wisdom.

By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman, The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article Feb 12-13 2006, www.thestatesman.net

The Speaker’s noble office is that of the single member of the House, traditionally chosen by unanimity, whose task it is to self-effacingly maintain order in Parliamentary debate and proceedings, so that the House’s work gets done. C’est tout. Once chosen Speaker, he ipso facto retires from partisan politics for life. The Speaker neither contributes to the substance of Parliamentary debate (except in the rare case of a tie) nor has to feel personally responsible for Parliament’s conduct.

Our Parliament has tended to become so dysfunctional since Indira Gandhi and her sycophants destroyed its traditions 30 years ago, that supervising its normal work is an onerous enough task for even the finest of Speakers to handle.

The Lok Sabha’s incumbent Speaker has tended to see himself as the champion of Parliament.  He need not.  He does not command a majority in the Lok Sabha; the Government Party does. We have had the oddest peculiarity unfolding in India at present where the person who does command the Lok Sabha’s majority, and therefore who would be normally defined as Prime Minister of India, has chosen to nominate someone who is not a member of the Lok Sabha to act as Prime Minister, i.e. to command the Lok Sabha’s majority. (The Rajya Sabha was and remains irrelevant to most things important to Indian democracy, regardless of its narcissism and vanity). Someone with access to 10 Janpath should have told Sonia Gandhi in May 2004 that if she did not wish to be PM and wanted to gift the job to someone else, she should do so to someone who, like herself, had been elected to the Lok Sabha, like Pranab Mukherjee (elected for the first time) or Kamal Nath or Priya Ranjan (both veterans).

Manmohan Singh, a former Lok Sabha candidate, may as Finance Minister have been able to progress much further with economic reforms. But sycophancy has ruled the roost in the Congress’s higher echelons, and nobody had the guts to tell her that. Indeed as early as December 2001, Congress leaders knew that in the unlikely event they won the polls, Manmohan Singh would likely be PM by Sonia Gandhi’s choice (though he was not expected to last long at the top), and yet he did not contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2004.

The Government of the day, not the Speaker, is Parliament’s champion in any discussion with the Supreme Court over constitutional rights and Separation of Powers. And the Government has in fact quietly and sensibly requested the Supreme Court to set up a Constitutional Bench for this purpose. Such a Constitutional Bench shall have cause to ask itself how far Kesavananda Bharati needs to be tweaked if at all to accommodate the contention that Parliament has a right to judge its own members. The Court may well likely say that of course Parliament has a right to judge its own members but even that right is not an absolute right, (nothing is). Even Parliament’s right to judge its own members must be in accordance with natural law, with principles of justice, with due and clearly defined processes. E.g. the established Privileges Committee and not the ad hoc Bansal Committee had to do the needful.

Imagine a hypothetical case of fantastic fiction where half a dozen independent MPs are elected to a future Lok Sabha, and then take it upon themselves to expose corruption and shenanigans of all major political parties. Our fantastic super-heroes become whistleblowers within Parliament itself while remaining totally incorruptible as individuals — like Eliot Ness’s team who jailed Al Capone and other gangsters, and came to be depicted in Hollywood’s The Untouchables. These Untouchables would come to be feared and despised by everyone from Communists on one side of the political spectrum to Fascists on the other. They would upset everybody precisely because they were so clean and were not purchasable. The Government and Opposition of the day might wellgang up to expel such troublemakers and even fabricate charges to do so. (Now there’s a script for a Bollywood movie!)

What our Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench decides now in the matter at hand will determine the fate of our super-heroes in such a future fantasia. The present case is a polar opposite — where MPs have been caught on camera with their sordid fingers in the cookie-jar, and then made to walk the plank immediately by their peers. Yet natural law applies here as it will to our fantastic future fighters, and this is what the Bench would have to speak on.

Why the present situation continues to be disconcerting is because the whole country heard all the holier-than-thou protestations, yet everyone continues to take a very dim view of what they see of politicians’ behaviour. There remain strong suspicions that only a few very tiny tips of very large icebergs were or can be caught on camera. Large-scale deals and contracts involve payments into invisible bank accounts, not petty cash into pockets or even suitcases filled with cash sloshing around Delhi.

What we have desperately needed in the situation is modern prime ministerial leadership which could intelligently and boldly guide national debate in the right direction on the whole matter of probity in public life. Why a distinguished parliamentarian like the Speaker has found himself in the limelight is because neither the de jure nor de facto Prime Ministers of India are anywhere to be seen thinking on their feet on these central issues of constitutional procedure and practice. They tend to use prepared scripts and may be temperamentally disinclined to do what has been called for by these unscripted circumstances. (Indeed the much-maligned H. D. Deve Gowda could be alone among the bevy of recent PMs who has been able to think on his feet at all.)

Collapse Before Executive Power

In the meantime, the United States is going through its own Separation of Powers’ crisis. As explained in these columns previously, the American system is distinctly different from the British, and our own system is midway between them. Yet similar principles may be discerned to apply or fail to be applied in all.

Winston Churchill once perspicaciously observed:

“The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than was possessed before (the First World War) by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.”

America’s Legislative Branch has, on paper, strong powers of advice and consent to control errors, excesses or abuse of power by the Executive President. But (with rare and courageous exceptions like Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia) the Legislature cravenly collapsed before the father-son Bush presidencies in regard to the Middle East wars of recent years. America’s once-revered federal judiciary has also tended to lose its independence of mind with overt politicisation of judicial appointments in recent decades.

Bush the First went to war against Saddam Hussein (a former American ally against Islamic Iran) at least partly with an eye to winning re-election in 1992 (which he would have done as a result but for a random shock known as Ross Perot; Bill Clinton became the beneficiary). Bush the Second obsessively wished to follow up on the same, to the point of misjudging the real threat to America from Bin Laden and fabricating a false threat from an emasculated Saddam.

America’s Legislature palpably failed to control her Presidents. Now, late in the day, after all the horses have bolted, the Senate Judiciary Committee began tepid hearings on February 5 2006 into whether the President authorized laws to be broken with impunity in regard to wire-tapping some 5,000 citizens (doubtless mostly non-white and Muslim) without judicial warrants. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the Committee’s Chairman, has said he believes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been “flatly” violated, and “strained and unrealistic” justifications are now being offered. Bush’s men, from his Vice President and Attorney General to political intelligence operatives, have brazenly placed in the dustbin the traditional principle fiat justitia pereat mundus — let justice be done even if the world perishes — saying that the Sovereign can do just as he pleases to save the realm from external enemies as he might perceive and define them to be.

What this kind of collapse in current American practice reveals is a new aspect unknown at the time of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. In the modern world, Separation of Powers involves not merely constitutional institutions like Executive, Legislature and Judiciary but also the normal civil institutions of a free and open society, especially academic institutions and the press. In America, it has been not merely the Legislature and Judiciary which have tended to collapse before Executive Power in regard to the recent Middle East wars, but the media and academia as well.

“Embedded reporters” and Fox TV set the tone for America’s official thought processes about Iraq and the Muslim world — until it has become too late for America’s mainstream media or academics to recover their own credibility on the subject. On the other hand, unofficial public opinion has, in America’s best traditions, demonstrated using vast numbers of Internet websites and weblogs, a spirited Yankee Doodle individuality against the jingoism and war-mongering of the official polity.

Neither the press nor academia had collapsed the same way during America’s last major foreign wars in Vietnam and Cambodia forty years ago, and it may be fairly said that America’s self-knowledge was rather better then than it is now, except of course there were no Internet websites and weblogs.

Our Pakistani Cousins
Across the border from us, our Pakistani cousins are, from a political and constitutional point of view, cut from the same cloth as ourselves, namely the 1935 Government of India Act, and the Montague-Chelmsford and Morley-Minto reforms earlier. However, ever since Jinnah’s death, they have refused to admit this and instead embarked haplessly on what can only be called an injudicious path of trying to write a Constitution for a new Caliphate. The primary demand of the main scholars influencing this process was “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. By such a view, in the words of Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” (Rosenthal, Islam & the Modern National State, Cambridge 1965.) Pakistan’s few modern constitutionalists have been ever since battling impossibly to overcome the ontological error made here of assuming that any mundane government can be in communication with God Almighty. In the meantime, all normal branches of Pakistan’s polity, like the electorate, press, political parties, Legislature and Judiciary, have remained at best in ill-formed inchoate states of being — while the Pakistan Armed Forces stepped in with their own large economic and political interests and agendas to effectively take over the country and the society as a whole, on pretext of protecting Pakistan from India or of gaining J&K for it. Pakistan’s political problems have the ontological error at their root. Pakistan’s political parties, academics and press, have with rare exceptions remained timid in face of the militaristic State — directing their anger and frustration at an easier target instead, namely ourselves in India. The Pakistan Government’s way of silencing its few political, academic or press dissidents has been to send them into comfortable exile abroad.

Sheikh Abdullah Contrasted
Pakistan’s perpetual constitutional confusion deserves to be contrasted with the clarity of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s thinking, e.g. his 5 November 1951 speech to the Constituent Assembly of J&K: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law. The basic democratic principle of sovereignty of the nation, embodied ably in the American and French Constitutions, is once again given shape in our midst. I shall quote the famous words of Article 3 of the French Constitution of 1791:- ‘The source of all sovereignty resides fundamentally in the nation. Sovereignty is one and indivisible, inalienable and imprescriptable. It belongs to the nation.’ We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”

Contrasting the Pakistani views of constitution-making with those of Sheikh Abdullah may help to explain a great deal about where we are today on the delicate and profound subject of J&K. (See “Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, December 1—3, 2005)

India’s current debate about Separation of Powers needs to keep at a distance the clear negative examples of our American friends, who have brought upon themselves in recent times a craven collapse of Legislature, Judiciary, press and academia to the Executive President (as Churchill had seemed to predict), as well as of our Pakistani cousins who have continued with general political and civil collapse for half a century. Because our universities are all owned by the State, India’s academics, from Communist to Fascist, have tended to be servile towards it. In respect of the press, the power of independent newspapers has been dwindling, while the new TV anchors have created their own models of obsequiousness and chummery towards New Delhi’s ruling cliques of the day. It thus becomes India’s Supreme Court which remains the ultimate guardian of our Constitution and the safest haven of our very fragile freedoms — besides of course our own minds and hearts.

Of Graven Images

OF GRAVEN IMAGES

It is a fallacy of our narcissistic age to expect images of what supreme leaders of thought may have looked like; their teachings and deeds are unaffected by our erroneous expectations

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, Feb 5 2006

IT is hard for us in our narcissistic age of photography, cinema, TV and the Internet to imagine older worlds and cultures where men and women (especially named historical figures) lived and died without any images whatsoever being left behind of what they may have looked like. Few of us know what our own great great grandparents looked like, and they died only a century ago. In Indian religious and philosophical thought, we hardly even know any names.

Eliot in his monumental Hinduism and Buddhism said, “In reading the Brahamanas and older Upanishads we often wish we knew more of the writers and their lives. Rarely can so many representative men have bequeathed so much literature and yet left so dim a sketch of their times. Thought was their real life… we hear surprisingly little about contemporary events.”

In Jain tradition, the first saint, Risabha, son of a king of Ayodhya, was born 100 billion sagaras of years ago, where one sagara is 100 billion palyas, and a palya is the period in which a well a mile deep filled with fine hairs can be emptied if one hair is withdrawn every one hundred years. That is a long time. Risabha lived 8,400,000 years, exceeding all the enormous longevities mentioned in Judaeo-Christian scriptures.

Fortunately for the cause of logic and natural science, “the lives of his successors and the intervals which separated them became shorter”. In Asoka’s edicts, the Jains find their first definite objective mention outside fable, myth and legend. Mahavira, the 24th and greatest Jain saint, whose personal name was Vardhamana, was a contemporary of Buddha though somewhat older. His parents lived in a suburb of Vaisali. When he was 34, “they decided to die by voluntary starvation and after their deaths he renounced the world and started to wander naked in western Bengal, enduring some persecution as well as self-inflicted penances.” Thirteen years later, at age 47, Mahavira had attained enlightenment and appeared as the head of the Nigantha religious order, i.e. the “unfettered”, and it is by that name that the Jains are known to the Buddhists. No image of the historical Mahavira is available, which should not surprise us given the great length of time that separates us as well as the simple fact that the art of realistic portrait-painting is but a few centuries old — starting with, say, Rembrandt and the Dutch Masters — and of course the arts of photography etc are all wholly recent.

Of Gotama, the Buddha, the Sakyamuni of Mahayana tradition, there have been countless images made over the millennia though none may bear any recognisable likeness to the actual man. During his period of fruitless self-mortification, we have his own words “When I touched my belly, I felt my backbone through it and when I touched my back, I felt my belly”. After his enlightenment, wanderings and teachings, the “beauty of his appearance and the pleasant quality of his voice are often mentioned but in somewhat conventional terms which inspire no confidence that they are based on personal reminiscence, nor have the most ancient images which we possess any claim to represent his features, for the earliest of them are based on Greek models and it was not the custom to represent him by a figure until some centuries after his death.”

It is possible “the truest idea of his person is to be obtained not from the abundant effigies which show him as a somewhat sanctimonious ascetic, but from the statues of him as a young man such as that found at Sarnath, which may possibly preserve not indeed the physiognomy of Gotama but the general physique of a young Nepalese prince, with powerful limbs and features and a determined mouth. For there is truth at the bottom of the saying that Gotama was born to be either a Buddha or a universal monarch: he would have made a good general, if he had not become a monk” (Eliot).

In case of Yeshua ben Nazereth, the founder of Christianity, the controversy has become most intense in recent times. A trial has begun in an Italian courtroom on 27 January 2006 as to whether Jesus existed at all, whether the Roman Catholic Church has violated Italian law by teaching about him. An atheist plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, has alleged “The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John, the son of Judas of Gamala”, and claims it is up to the Church to prove in court that Jesus did exist. A priest, Enrico Righi, representing the Church in court, has been accused of breaking two laws: impersonation and abuse of public belief, for having published in a parish bulletin that Jesus was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth. Judge Gaetano Mautone initially refused to hear the case but was forced to do so after being over-ruled by the Court of Appeals.

As for what the historical Jesus may have looked like, The Bible gives no physical description other than in Isaiah 53:2b, “he hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”As a Palestinian Jew, Jesus was likely to have been dark, not the blue-eyed Nordic Jesus of modern American imagination with Presbyterian nose, long blonde hair and height of six feet (Fig. 1). For centuries, the Shroud of Turin was believed by many to have been the actual burial cloth of Jesus — until modern scientific techniques of carbon-dating have conclusively proved that the Shroud was probably of a medieval nobleman and had nothing to do with the historical Jesus. Out of respect as well as sheer ignorance of what he may have looked like, modern cinematic productions traditionally did not show Christ’s face. But based on the Shroud of Turin image (Fig 2), the actor Jim Caviezel recently acted the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” (Fig. 3). Jean Claude Gragard, in a 2001 BBC documentary “Son of God” chose a different way. “Using archaeological and anatomical science rather than artistic interpretation makes this (Fig 4) the most accurate likeness ever created. It isn’t the face of Jesus, because we’re not working with the skull of Jesus, but it is the departure point for considering what Jesus would have looked like.” They “started with an Israeli skull dating back to the 1st century. They then used computer programs, clay, simulated skin and their knowledge about the Jewish people of the time to determine the shape of the face, and colour of eyes and skin.” The result is “a broad peasant’s face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a prominent nose, about 5’ 1” in height, 110 pounds in weight.” We do not and cannot in practice know what Jesus looked like but this might be closer to the truth than the work of great artists.

And of course, Jesus’ Divinity to Christian believers, and his teachings and deeds for all mankind, like those of Mahavira or Buddha or other supreme leaders of human thought like Aristotle, Zarathustra, Confucius, Muhammad and Nanak, are unaffected by whatever image people have erroneously made of them.

see also my Twitter Wall on the CharlieHebdo controversy; also https://independentindian.com/2001/12/22/the-case-for-and-against-the-satanic-verses/ and https://independentindian.com/science-religion-art-the-necessity-of-freedom-2004/