Monday, August 05, 2013

Another poor defense of freedom

Another poor defense of freedom

A recently published article on the magazine Guernica, “Stone Wars”, attempts to present the horror of a people living under foreign subjugation [1]. Unfortunately, it lets down those it would serve, by making a few significant errors.

The author clearly states his role as an observer: “(I did not) throw any stones”. However, he admits something that makes it hard to retain a good opinion of him: “I may have handed a couple of small pebbles lying next to me to a teenager—a stone warrior—who was running short.” The first objection, of course, is to encourage a younger person (a minor?) to engage in an activity that might possibly rob him of his ability to get an education or a job, or even cost him his life, while keeping one’s own hands clean. The writer gets to observe the spectacle, and go back to a comfortable existence, and write about it, transferring the risk to one of those he wishes to defend.

The second objection is that the writer insists that what he supplied consisted of pebbles. Now, pebbles are small stones. But the author goes further. He supplied “small pebbles”. Small, small stones. These could not possibly harm anyone, especially if they don’t reach the intended victims, and said victims have full-on body armor anyway. This act of proclaiming participation, and moral backing, but only in a way that would allow any court to instantly acquit the journalist, but not those with whom commiseration is declared, is shabby. In an earlier draft, perhaps, the author would have surreptitiously disinfected those small pebbles, and discarded any with rough edges.

A horrible crime is described. “The bodies had been found on the banks of a gently flowing stream no more than knee deep, in close proximity to three large Indian security camps. Why the bodies had struggle wounds, why at least one was found stark naked—for these questions, the government had no answer.” This appears damning. How did the courts react, though? The journalist makes no comment on this. When the executive commits excesses, the courts must step in, and the press, surely? All we are told, or can infer, is that the crime took place in May or June, 2009, in an unnamed town close to Anantnag. Perhaps the journalist does not wish the exact facts (as far as they are easily available in the public domain) to be studied?

But perhaps the exact facts do not matter. “In the night, my friend told me, the CRPF goes into the alleys hurling abuses and beating against the doors of people’s homes. Occasionally they break into the houses and beat up men, molest women, and loot valuables.” If that’s true, then injustice is rife, and must be challenged. But our author does not try to delve further, to ascertain details, to raise a stink, to inform the national and international press, and the courts. He leaves it as “a friend told me”. Surely, we may expect more from a journalist? Our author, perhaps as compensation, gives us a culinary portrait of Kashmir: the article references “date palms”, “choicest flaky bagirkhanis”, “samovars of almond kahwa”, “roasted peas and ice-kulfis” and “grilled kabab or a rista”. All this in an article that appears to be about a subjugated people resisting the oppressor.

There is a picture accompanying the article. It shows what appear to be two Indian policemen. No date is suggested, no location is mentioned, and while there are at least two vehicles in the background, their license plates cannot be read, for only the two men are in focus. The picture is attributed to another website, but, there too, we find no identifying information. Surely, we are past putting in pictures for the sake of pictures, which may or may not have anything to do with the article?

The author describes young boys and men throwing stones at the armed aggressors. This appears to be something every lover of liberty must applaud – as long as no one gets hurt. That should be quite achievable, for the author suggests:

“…..nor are they (the stones) intended to injure”

This is a little incredible. A group of people throwing stones at another group of people, and not intending to injure them? Perhaps our author confuses stones with orchids, as far as their effect on being flung at human tissue is concerned.

However, he does attempt two strokes in the defense of his thesis: that the soldiers are “always in full body armor”, and that “Stones are thrown from a distance where the stone throwers can outpace soldiers if chased, but this necessary distance also ensures that the stones don’t reach the soldiers”. That sounds plausible, except that the picture with the two uniformed men shows them with their faces exposed. And, the author goes on to add,” Mostly, the stones hit no one”.  That bit seems to detract from the too-far-to-hit and have-body-armor-anyway defenses, no pun intended.

Also, the author permits himself too much adolescent romanticizing.

“The soldiers are not artists, but part of the creation itself. If the streets are canvasses where stone pelters perfect their techniques, soldiers are just olive-colored blotches symbolizing Indian domination of the region.”

Very poetic, if it wouldn’t attempt to conceal the fact that the olive-colored blotches were human beings.

And some naiveté too:

“SOG specializes in torture and killing, and is loathed by one and all. They show a level of brutality disproportionate to their puny salaries—it is believed that they are paid 1500 rupees a month, or around 30 dollars, along with food and lodging for their services….”

Disproportionate? So, if their salaries were less puny, then they would be even more brutal? Surely, higher-income levels might be expected to reduce the desire to wade into a group of “stone-warriors” (yes, the author so refers to the throwers of stones)?

Of course, one of the major themes of the conflict is domination and freedom. Alas, our journalist refrains from presenting a balanced view, in terms of the democratic process, access to courts, the (nominally?) free media, the historic origin of the conflict, the religious and ethnic angles to the issue et cetera.

Once again, Nietzsche: “a poor defense of truth is a disservice to truth”. Or something similar.

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