The Meaning of Trump

(Originally posted on 16/08/16)

I have to say this. People outside of the United States do not understand what’s going on in this election, they really don’t.

President Obama said this in his speech at the Democratic National Convention while extolling Hillary Clinton’s respected position across the world as a capable representative of America, exporting “freedom and dignity and human rights” to Burma and the Baltics. He reassured the Democrats that the world was incredulous along with them at the rise of Trump as a serious contender for the position of the leader of the free world. Now I am no Burmese farmer but Trump isn’t an ‘outlier’ as much as the result of shedding off “freedom and human rights” like used clothes that America finds restrictive and outmoded, giving them away for the benefit of poorer countries.

Democrats see Trump and his followers as dangerously stupid at best and fascists at worst, compared to Hillary who is a whip-smart operator. Her league of qualified technocrats will facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship that has made America the engine of the world. IMO, overt stupidity isn’t so dangerous since it can be checked (I look forward to the impeachment of Trump if elected. We might even get to see a military coup in US!) but covert intelligence, the sort of smug knower-than-thou attitude with which Democrats go about disregarding rules and then ask us to “grow up” and accept the cost of realpolitik, all the while feeding us mealy-mouthed corporatese or plain old fear, that is a cartoonish imitation of supervillainy.

The Conventions

All this became quite clear over the two weeks of conventions. The Republican convention had amateurish optics. The party machine didn’t know what to do with Trump or his supporters. After some early attempts at disqualifying him, they let him operate his campaign although he was kept at an arm’s length from the establishment and received no support from regular Republican donors.

The Democratic convention though was an unmitigated shitshow. The primaries leading up to the convention were already tainted with stories of voter disenfranchisement through re-registration, closing polling booths or simple erasure. Similar measures have been taken by the Labour party in England to stem the tide of discontent that appointed Corbyn as the challenger to the Neoliberal consensus that has dominated Labour for decades. None of this implies a conspiracy of electoral fraud perpetrated by the Democrats. It does, however, point to a broken and baroque electoral process (more a popularity contest now) that has been ably gamed for pushback against popular demand or scrutiny.

But if it’s (incompetent) conspiracy you wanted, you got it on the opening day of DNC. Wikileaks dropped a database of unredacted emails between the Democratic party and Hillary campaign revealing what everyone suspected anyway — that Sanders was not only being sidelined by the establishment but that they discussed sabotaging his campaign. Money laundering, espionage, comically tone-deaf marketing statements on brand loyalty of hispanics — the party machine untiring in its efforts to set a new low.

The Democratic party responded to the leaks by throwing Debbie under the bus and then straight away launched into time-tested red-baiting, saying the leaks were an attempt by Russia to manipulate American elections. Obama at the DNC implied similarly when he said “That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.” The truth is that the leaks can be attached at best to hacking techniques and software associated with Russian hacking crews.

After Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton (triggering walkouts by some delegations), the convention pivoted right so hard that some Republicans were in tears by the end of the DNC, bawling at the sight of American pageantry. An apt moment that captured Democrats being no less jingoistic and gung-ho about the American future than past Republicans came when protesters chanting “stop the war” were drowned out by counter-chants of “U-S-A!” and their section was literally thrown into darkness.

Why do I recite a series of bubbles being popped that the populace would rather forget or never heard in the first place? Because it reveals that the Democratic party machine put in much more effort than Republicans to deny, attack and downplay discontent. Ironically, the Republicans seem more ‘democratic’ because of their inept handling of Trump, who represents popular political will of the right, while the Democrats threw everything at the insurgency from the left to suppress it successfully. After some lip-service to the vanquished, they redoubled their efforts to bring centrists together on a bipartisan message upholding the status-quo.

The Liberal Commentariat

Hillary’s campaign could do without all this nuisance from below. Various parodies attest to the indifference of her campaign to campaigning. Her message is naked neoliberalism — We are in permanent economic emergency and America requires a crisis manager to steward it ever forward on the path of techno-militancy. For her supporters, her presidency is just her destiny. Who would grudge the rise of a fated heroine to her rightful place?

But she must deign to democratic compulsions and so we are treated to the message-free messaging of technocratese that dominates the speakers’ circuit. This is the legacy of Obama’s presidency that Hillary will continue— to reduce the office to optics while expanding and exercising executive powers beyond the pale of democratic accountability. Obama will be remembered for inaugurating the first presidential instagram account, replacing political engagement with a 24/7 behind-the-scenes photoshoot. This focus on optics is justified by their supporters as politics already — Just the presence of a black dude or a white woman in the presidential chair is historical enough, much like Jay-Z could say that his presence was charity already.

The optics of patriotism was not the only thing to rival Republicans at the DNC — the Democrats finished on that note but began every speech re-affirming family values. As Jill Lepore said in her New Yorker article, “the love of children [is] an all-purpose proxy for each fraying bond, each abandoned civic obligation, the last, lingering devotion”. The optics of Democratic family values take on an erotic charge from the supporters who relate to their leaders as fans. So we get commentary on the nominees from the ‘fuck me daddy’ crowd — is this a candidate you could have a beer with? How about a blow job? The same crowd loses no opportunity to point out the creepiness of Trump’s acceptance (and even pride) of his daughter’s sexuality, unexpected considering the chastity and repression usually associated with Republicans.

The unseemly triumphalism of liberals quickly turns to naked terror and smarmy sentimentalism in moments of uncertainty— suddenly we are asked to consider the minorities, who take the place of the children of the future in the now. While Republican invocation of fear is a regular opening ritual, on the Democratic side it serves as a last resort. In any case, we end up with people across the political spectrum reasoning from fear, from the place of a victim. Curiously, whichever side gains power continues to think like a victim — expecting the worst to re-occur, it lashes out pre-emptively. Thus we get the strange spectacle of a trembling superpower before a paralyzed victim, like all those cops overkilling all those black guys, Iraq, etc.

Apart from paranoia about Russian interference, other cold war anxieties are re-activated — imagine buffoons like Trump and Kim Jong with the nuclear option. Dangerous indeed but not crazy. What is crazy, much like recreational assault rifles, is that nuclear holocaust remains part of foreign policy.

h/t Corey Robin

The Meaning of Trump

Liberals find it hard to accept Trump as a leader because he is too American; For the same reason, the rest of the world sees Trump as a selfie of America. He is a product of thirty years of neoliberalism (from the city where the program was first enacted) embodying it’s worst aspects — a vacuous rapacity in the pursuit of money and attention. He is the cultural outcome of MBA degrees, Home Shopping networks and reality tv — a culture of bullshit. He represents the zeitgeist today as much as Fred Durst at the turn of the millennium (although Fred was against bullshit, specially of the he-says-she-says variety). New Yorkers blame hipsters from Williamsburg for gentrifying the city these days but there is a long tradition of lamenting the decline in city culture. Alex Cockburn marked the beginning of neoliberal regime with Trump, “He [Alex] loved the density and flamboyant energy of New York, but moved on when he felt the quicksand of ’80s vulgarity, “Trumpismo,” flowing close.” Needless to say, Hillary is also from the same milieu.

We can find political parallels to Trump’s campaign for comparison. Two years ago another ‘fascist’ was running for Prime Ministers of India, Modi, but then he turned out to be more neoliberal and corporatist than the liberal establishment. This is the best outcome liberals can hope for — that Trump continues with the status quo. Sadly, there is a difference between Trump and Modi — Trump (aka Mr. Brexit) is part of a wave of isolationism in the heart of Anglo empire, a new development in the first world. Liberals are justifiably scared of their future under Trump, but the world is scared of Hillary — Trump’s talk of reducing American military presence and engagement, the sprawl of empire, is welcome although a coup is far more likely than a radical shift in foreign policy under him.

Trump signifies a shift, a re-alignment along the political axis of the major American parties. The Democrats have moved so far center-right that the extreme right was pushed off the screen and re-appeared on the other side, like aliens in space invaders, imbibing elements of the left. Thomas Frank explains it best,

The party of free trade and free markets now says it wants to break up Wall Street banks and toss Nafta to the winds. The party of family values has nominated a thrice-married vulgarian who doesn’t seem threatened by gay people or concerned about the war over bathrooms. The party of empire wants to withdraw from foreign entanglements.

…it was only possible for our liberal leaders to be what they are — a tribe of sunny believers in globalization and its favored classes — as long as the Republicans held down their left flank for them. Democrats could only celebrate globalization’s winners and scold its uneducated losers so long as there was no possibility that they might face a serious challenge on the matter from the other party in the system.

Well, today all that has changed. The free-trade consensus lies in shards on the floor. The old Republican party has been smashed by this man Trump. It is a new political world out there… So far, Democrats are acting as though nothing has really changed. Democrats seem to be endlessly beguiled by the prospect of campaign of national unity, a coming-together of all the quality people and all the affluent people and all the right-thinking, credentialed, high-achieving people. The middle class is crumbling, the country is seething with anger, and Hillary Clinton wants to chair a meeting of the executive committee of the righteous.

This particular faceoff is better understood in the context of alternative outcomes of the primaries. If the establishment was in tune with the public (imagine ideal democracy), then we would have Sanders Vs Trump — the real conflict for the soul of America played out in electoral politics. If the establishment wasn’t bothered by the public (imagine ideal kleptocracy), then we would have Clinton Vs Cruz — a battle between drones in a Game-of-Thrones style showdown. But the choice that is facing American voters is Clinton Vs Trump — not much of a choice since Clinton and Trump both are neoliberals. Yet, Trump is bullshitting that he is anti-establishment and the risk is that even if he is not serious (or coherent) about his bullshit, the people supporting him are numerous and seriously pissed off.

The left is defined by its antagonism to the state. If the left becomes part of the establishment, it remembers to keep a distance to the state which is only an instrument for emancipation. To identify with the state as a patriot, that is what liberals do and why they are not the left. They believe in the American mission, to wipe out the left wherever it emerges, and they have been quite successful too. This success has caught up with them domestically. By wiping out the popular insurgency on the Democratic side and denying an existential crisis in the neoliberal programme, imploring us to ‘Keep America Great’, they have ceded ground to the anti-establishment Republican candidate, who, however cartoonish and phony, is now the only representative of actual popular discontent. The Democrats have turned this election into a referendum on the American dream giving the warped imagination of the right a real chance.

Socialism in a single country, like Trump promises, national socialism, is the definition of fascism. Internationalism without socialism, well that’s that neoliberal crap America has been feeding the world for decades now. So can we imagine a politics beyond status quo and fear mongering? Well of course. Hillary Clinton could, if she wanted, channel her appetite for militarism towards the environment, putting the reversal of climate change and shift from fossil fuel economy on a war footing. Saving the planet should be an ambitious enough goal for her.

The depressing reality is that whoever comes to power can hijack the American state’s turn towards fascism, the shadow process accompanying neoliberalism. It began with militarization of police during the war on drugs, expanding the incarceration complex and disbanding welfare programs, and then gained steam after 9/11 turning into a surveillance state. The innovation of Obama was to take war away from popular consciousness and hide it at the edge of perception, normalizing the state of perpetual war with secret courts, a ‘legal’ shadow state and personally signing off on drone murders. Superhero movies do their part in re-orienting the cultural matrix on such lines with zero calorie ruminations on the cost of life.

Democracy is a nuisance for neoliberal technocrats and funny fascists. Please resume your regular programming of fear & money now. Here’s my candidate.

chupa una verga

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Korean Rap Mix

(Originally posted on 12/04/15)

Those looking for ‘authenticity’ will be disappointed. Those looking for a little fun on the weekend should pop right in.

Before we start with the artists unknown outside Korea, Here’s last year’s international collaboration of note to set your expectations.

Now that you have been exposed to the fragmented, frenetic, chopped-and-bent aspect of Korean-pop, here’s something smooth to replace any lingering affection towards catchy Chris Brown songs.

A few months later, veterans Yoon Mi Rae, Tiger JK & Bizzy (aka MFBTY – My Fans Better Than Yours, a dig at idol fandom since they are from the underground) released this single from their new album which balances flow and hysteria while nodding towards India in its sample of Carnatic classical and Holi colours in the video.

Every idol group has a rapper these days. Here’s a new idol group with multiple rappers. The video is quite tongue-in-cheek and outer-space themed so I expect more goodness from these guys.

Easily the best new rapper from any idol group is Rap Monster from Bangtang Boys. He inhabits the zone between Kanye (his look) and Tyler the Creator (his youth).

Its that point in the mixtape when you play the best track. Here’s MFBTY with Rap Monster, your new trap overlords inducing hypnosis in black & white with ‘BuckuBucku’. When the beat drops even lower at the start of Tiger JK’s verse, heads snap.

I can’t resist playing another classic, so here’s last year biggest hit featuring half a dozen rappers from the underground to the idol groups (Epik High, Beenzino, Verbal Jint, B.I, Mino and Bobby) irritating their ‘haters’ with vertical video. Even people who only like ‘old school’ can enjoy this.

To wind down, here’s the trap song which united Korean and Japanese rappers while riding OG Maco’s ‘U guessed it’ wave and baffling the internet.#underwatersquad #orcaninjasgorambo #northface


Now that the tape is over, the hidden emo track! Here’s a recent release leaning on the poppier side which caught me in a vulnerable position because it laid out the pattern of a relationship too close to real life. Giriboy, apart from being supercute, is working the rich vein of modern disconnect. Against the backdrop of pastel pop art visual design, he lays out the disappointment in a relation that is easy, casual and convenient – where we are more concerned with staying ‘cool’ than taking the plunge, where we are more concerned with giving each other ‘space’.

The nights I spent up in useless hopes

I don’t think I’ll be excited even if things go well

But to end it all here, I’ll miss your waist

Interspersed throughout the video are images of

  • him sitting on a very shaky chair pile under attack by a bird,
  • helping his more masculine rapper friends try out heels,
  • waiting for the apple of knowledge to fall only to be foiled by a moment of distraction,
  • an elastic table separating the couple,
  • the girl fisting him right in the catcher arm bowl & most memorably,
  • a stray nose hair.

The clash of picture perfection and what gets lost in the gap has never been so well rendered.

Form Over Physics

“Form Over Physics: An Experience with Banisteriopsis caapi, DMT & Various (‘Changa’) (ID 107582)”. Erowid.org. Jan 8, 2016.

13/12/15

Playlist – Kangding Ray, Rustie, Burial, Jo Def, Com Truise, Fly Lo, Sun Araw

I had no intention of tripping last Sunday. I was convalescing after a one-two punch – a taxing visit home and an exhausting marriage session of my best friend. After coming back, I went to a Battles gig this Friday which was (needless to say) stupendous and loud. I had tinnitus of the left ear till Saturday. My friend (Ar) who was also at the gig mentioned that he had tried out some new psychoactive and might get the opportunity to score it again.

On Sunday I woke up well rested. Ar called up to say he was coming over with another mutual friend R. My younger brother (B) came over for lunch and stuck around when they came. Apparently, Ar had managed to get his hands on some Changa. I had never heard of it so I instantly googled it and only found a blog with an intro page. So I dived into the Erowid vaults and learnt of this latest phase in the evolution of Ayahuasca rituals.

Another bunch of friends had called a shaman down to a hill station nearby and tripped on Yaje, the drink, in a ritual setting with him in march this year. Changa is smoked. I had once tried to smoke DMT crystals in a glass pipe almost a decade ago in college. We didn’t have enough for more than a hit each back then and on top of that, as novices, we didn’t know how to burn it properly so the effect left a lot to be desired. Last time I tripped was during the bachelor party of my best friend at the end of September this year, though it was pure MDMA, an empathogenic, which he sourced from a doctor. Last time I tripped on a hallucinogenic was last year in October on shrooms at another friend’s bachelor’s.

I was curious now about this drug that had appeared although, anal and anti-social as I am, I was also a bit miffed that my plan for Sunday, of reading alone, was no longer an option. Mostly, I was worried about B – we have been smoking weed for a long while but he has never tripped on proper psychedelics. Much like me, he spent his twenties in a self-destructive manner and I had warned him that psychedelics bring psychological conflicts to the surface in an unpredictable and uncontrollable manner – no drug is as strong as the hormonal concoction that starts running in our veins after puberty. Thank god he heeded my advice and the turbulent phase of life is (hopefully) behind us now. That doesn’t mean he has learnt anything though. B pleaded that he did have experience with psychedelics because he had done Ketamine so I explained to him that’s the exact opposite of a psychedelic – a tranquilizer cuts off the senses rather than overloading them.

So we started setting up. The ice bong had been out of service for months so we took it out of the closet and cleaned it thoroughly. Ar cleaned the pipe with isopropyl alcohol. I have an empty hall in my flat (only white lights, no decorations, wallpapers or carpets, no tv either). We shifted one of the single-seater couches next to the balcony’s sliding glass doors to look out on the beautiful evening sky, smog-free and incandescent blue. My balcony is at one edge of the apartments’ campus looking out on an unconstructed field with overgrown vegetation due to frequent afternoon showers. Children still find a way in to play soccer. It must have been around five when Ar took the first changa bong hit. Kangding Ray was playing on a Jawbone system.

I was also worried my lunch would come back out from the purging effects of psychedelics in general and ayahuasca in particular so I rolled a very thin small joint (5-6 drags) of changa and tobacco first. It felt much stronger than any pot I had come across. My fingers tingled and my hands felt like a plant leaf with slight condensation on it. I reached the mild euphoria of the post-trip state directly without actually tripping. Language became a labour.

Now I was anticipating my first changa bong hit. After R & B, it was my turn. I sat on the couch and lit it. As I rolled my head back, I broke out in cold sweats. I was feeling cold before but now suddenly my body needed the cold breeze coming in. Every pore opened up to welcome the climate. The trees in the field and the railing of the balcony came unmoored from their foundation and became abstract geometric patterns. There was no noticeable auditory hallucination tho. Movement and speaking were out of the question for five mins.

The first bong hit was just my body getting used to this new substance. The sweats and the palpitations were familiar from shroom-tripping. Unlike shrooms, there was no adrenaline rush that blanks out variously bodily pains. I was looking forward to the second hit. This time, the auditory hallucinations came on stronger, that weird soundscape that psychedelics open up where the sound doesn’t just come from the speaker but from the room as such, every delayed frequency noticeable. How can you be inside a room and yet hear the room as a speaker, which would require the listener to be outside? The sound came in quantized packets and left trails, just like the light.

It was now almost dusk. The sky had turned ink blue. My balcony faces west so the clouds were still reflecting the light of the setting sun. The spectrum from a glowing pink to raven purple was being reflected by the clouds over the blackening sky. I got up and walked out to the balcony. A building to the extreme right was also bathed in indigo hue. I thought I was still tripping but it was actually outdoor UV lighting. The second hit was much more intense. My body had become used to Changa and was allowing it to do its thing. I noticed the signature collapse of psychedelics – the inability to physiologically separate dream state from waking life. At its peak, the Kaleidoscopic patterns were independent of whether my eyes were closed or open. Illumination and darkening were following their own rhythm, free of ambient cues.

At the end of my second trip, the album got over. Now I was really excited for the third hit, anticipating the DMT ‘breakthrough’. I took over the music. R was gearing up for his third hit and I played Rustie’s Glass Swords. It didn’t feel like the best choice for tripping considering its all squeaky clean, chrome polished, now familiar sounds after a decade of dubstep. So I wanted to play something with dissonance, ambience and unfamiliarity – music that carries a life-world in itself. So I decided on Burial’s EP ‘Rival Dealer’.

That third hit was everything I expected and more. The opening bars of the opening song of the EP was playing, Burial sampling some old school jungle, when I took the hit. Almost instantly I warped elsewhere. The music trailed out into a distant ringing and stroboscopic light points appeared outlining space and volume. The ringing became quite loud and I panicked about tinnitus coming back with a vengeance when the visuals took over completely. The stroboscopic lights morphed into Kaleidoscopic textures and planes forming a new reality. I was in the mirror room at the climax of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, except this time the room was multi-dimensional instead of just four walls and the walls didn’t reflect each other as much meld at various points in a fractal design, form over physics. I also knew (I don’t know how) that the ‘dragon’ was some female designer, not a kung fu master.

She wanted me to appreciate her design skills and told me the room was made out of alien material whose closest analogue in our world was plastic. So I was in this rapidly reforming room where it made no sense to ask of simple physical questions like ‘which direction is up?’ or ‘am I standing?’. Then, the felt presence of this alien termagant vanished and the ‘walls’, so to speak, started to close in. They didn’t close in as much as I realized that there was no longer any separation of inside/outside, body/habitat – just a floating perspective with no anchor. The planes of the kaleidoscope started shifting in opposing directions and I felt like I was travelling through a wormhole. At this point, I was attacked by the most uncanny feeling yet – this ‘plastic’ that she had talked about, it was not entirely molded by her. It was forming and reforming on its own. It was not just expanding and contracting… it was breathing. The ‘plastic’ was ALIVE! I was travelling through a biomass wormhole, a galactic vagina (if you will).

I was scared, just like every other time, that I had gone too far. I was blaming myself for being childish in the enthusiasm for a new experience for which we risk our sanity and play with death in small doses. Only ten minutes had passed irl. The first track had ended with the sample ‘Come back to us’. As the second track of the EP started, I came back to earthly life. I was in that powerless state where you hold onto the music as if your life depends on it, as if every sample and sound is super-significant and portentous. Burial was evoking the nineties in his style with samples of music from that era being played by someone entering a car and switching on the tape player. The clicks, the tics, the ghostly distant sounds, the tape hiss – It all gave me intense deja vu. The sense of false memory was so strong when I knew for a fact that I had never tripped to this EP.

The visuals had quieted down by now even though my eyes were still jittery. Movement left a trail. Ar & R went to get something to drink. B rolled a cig for me. I put on Jo Def’s EP but it was too polished and hi-fidelity so I switched to Com Truise for more analog electronics and tape FX from the eighties. Ar & R came back with Amrut whisky. B wanted another hit. I realized that my worry about B was a projection – I was worried about loosing my self permanently, a worry I projected onto him. No one is as overwhelmed during trips as I am – they talk, move, dance. I become paralyzed and mute. I wanted B’s final hit to be excellent too so I played Fly Lo’s Los Angeles album for him. After that, everyone but me had a whisky drink, followed by a weed chillum and a hash chillum which I did partake. We finished off with the evening with some acid-damaged jams of Sun Araw in a throwback to the original hippie scene. Comedowns are the only time endless guitar noodling makes sense.

I believe we went through a gram of Changa in eleven hits (plus a teeny j), which comes to approximately ~0.08 g per hit. I heartily recommend it to seasoned trippers and newbies alike. The main problem, especially as I age, with psychedelics I did over the last decade (acid, shrooms, MDMA) is the investment of time. Quite simply put, I have grown tired of overnight raves which leave you fatigued and useless for a couple of days before you can trip again. This time around, we did it in the afternoon to evening period and Changa gave us more control over because an episode lasts ten-fifteen mins. It is more of a visual hallucinator than acid or shrooms which affect the perception of acoustic space more intensely and on a much more extended timeline (acid effects even beyond the trip cut-off point). On a personal level, this was the first time that I tripped in my house, the first time that my brother B tripped on any psychedelic, the first time we tripped together and the first time all of us tripped on Changa. I award it full ten points for turning an uneventful Sunday into a novel experience. No psychedelic has ever been as spectacular as Changa for me.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

(Originally posted on 03/31/15)

Who doesn’t enjoy a tale of incest and inertia? Here we have George Sanders playing a big-name-in-small-town living with three overbearing women in the household, two sisters and a servant. The depression has shaped this family’s childhood.

He is clueless to his place in the emotional landscape of women around him and vice versa. In comes a NY girl to upset the small town order as upheld by this family. I won’t spoil it for you but the climax is typically noir, i.e, the femme fatale gets her revenge from beyond the grave (like Leave her to Heaven etc.)

In the penultimate scene (which, without the MPCC code, would have been the original climax), we get the kernel of relations in families who had to fend for themselves – the dependent wants to prove that he/she is deserving of the care of the provider. They pretend to share moments, taste and understanding but the lie is short-lived. Eventually, the provider just wants his/her freedom from blood obligation but the dependent has entrapped the provider through the gesture of self-sacrifice.

There is also the element of Americana which drew me to it as reviewed by Croce here:

“Trafficking in sabotaged relationships and perverse awakenings, the ironic farce is couched in snapshots of provincial America as fond and sardonic as any in Shadow of a Doubt: The coed softball match, the barbershop quartet, the ice-cream parlor for biddies, all the Nabokovian delectations that modulate toward the image of the poison in the cup of hot chocolate.”

You can find this movie streaming here. Its only a little longer than an hour. Can’t lie, I got hooked due to Ella Raines. Check out her posture. I wilt like a goddamn rosebud around women like this. mmm…

The Ideology of ‘Muslim Rage’

(Originally posted on 02/22/15)

A favourite tactic of trolls is the ‘wall of facts’. You would be surprised by the amount of people who attribute weight to an argument because of its volume. Last Thursday The Atlantic posted 10k words with the title, ‘What ISIS really wants?’. The answer is take us back into the medieval world.

Here’s the chorus of response. Lets see who praised the article,

Wood, of course, didn’t accidentally invent the idea that violent passages in Islamic texts make the religion especially prone to violence, or that ISIS’s supposedly Islamic nature is evidence of deeper issues within the tradition. These concepts have been around for some time, but are becoming increasingly popular among two groups that usually find themselves ideologically opposed — namely, right-wing conservatives and the so-called “New Atheists,” a subset of atheism in the West.

It is perhaps for this reason that Fox News and several other conservative outlets fawned over Wood’s article after it was published, as did prominent “New Atheists” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Ah, the usual Islamophobes. Now lets see a balanced reception to the article,

The beliefs of Islamic State… are expounded upon at length. In arguing the case for Islamic State’s religious legitimacy, The Atlantic quotes exactly one Western academic, Bernard Haykel, a Princeton scholar of Near Eastern Studies,… From there, Wood does a brief tour of several Western cities… This entails traveling to places like London and Melbourne to seek out the opinions of people such as British radical Anjem Choudary and Musa Cerantonio, who lack any religious credentials or mainstream following, and whose qualifications seemingly do not extend past their ability to behave provocatively in front of journalists.

It seems like a fairly consequential oversight to ignore the views of influential and traditional scholarly figures like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and Sayyid Hossein Nasr — all of whom who have spoken at length in religious terms against the Islam preached by Islamic State, and who are easily accessible to an English-language, American publication.

At worst, such an approach replicates the irritating practice of writing about foreign or minority populations as though they are passive subjects with no voice of their own, save for fringe characters who can be relied upon to confirm a particular narrative.

Such a style of writing and argumentation may make for enjoyable reading to a casual observer attempting to gauge the relationship between ISIS and Islam from the outside. And indeed, the piece is erudite, well-written, and one may even say well-intentioned despite its flaws.

But the underlying premise is nonetheless poorly substantiated.

While Wood is correct to push back against the flawed notion that Islamic State has absolutely no relation to Islam, he neglects to engage the predominant view that the group embodies one of the heretical versions of the religion that have cropped up periodically throughout history.

The end result is a 10,000-word exercise in confirmation bias. If the Islamic State is indeed, as Wood claims, “very Islamic,” his essay makes an unconvincing case of it to anyone familiar with the historical and religious context in which the group has arisen.

Well, What did the expert quoted, Dr. Bernard Haykel, have to say,

“The reason ISIS emerged clearly has to do with the chaos in Iraq, the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis of Iraq (which is the result of the American invasion-occupation), and the chaos in Syria (which is a regime that has also disenfranchised Sunni Muslims),”…

“I see ISIS as a symptom of a much deeper structural set of problems in the Sunni Arab world,” he said. “[It has] to do with politics. With education, and the lack thereof. With authoritarianism. With foreign intervention. With the curse of oil.”

Right. Now can we have a polemic against this piece,

For all this fearful talk of a global Muslim Caliphate, it’s the West that has made real progress in creating transnational institutions. There’s no Muslim counterpart to the European Union, the Schengen Treaty, NATO, the G-20—a Western initiative—or the many bilateral and multilateral agreements and processes that make the West what it is. Nor is this exclusively a mark of the Muslim world: You think China, Brazil or India enjoys the alliances we do? The kinds of integration that make our societies so prosperous and powerful?…

What would you think would happen to people raised in that kind of place [Iraq]? What would you think could possibly come out of this kind of context? Would you be surprised if I said ISIS? ISIS didn’t come out of nowhere. Already our intervention in Libya has opened the door to the same kind of chaos Iraq has seen so much more of — is it any surprise there’s an ISIS franchise in Libya now, too? The same foreign policy mistakes produce the same results.

Finally, can we have the truth about Islamic fundamentalism?

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology, with a very significant debt to western political history and culture…

When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.

Western tradition

Such sovereignty is completely absent in medieval culture, with its fragmented world and multiple sources of power. Its origins lie instead in the Westphalian system of states and the modern scientific revolution.

But Maududi’s debt to European political history extends beyond his understanding of sovereignty. Central to his thought is his understanding of the French Revolution, which he believed offered the promise of a “state founded on a set of principles” as opposed to one based upon a nation or a people. For Maududi this potential withered in France, its achievement would have to await an Islamic state (The Process of the Islamic Revolution).

In revolutionary France, it is the state that creates its citizens and nothing should be allowed to stand between the citizen and the state. That is why still today French government agencies are prevented by law from collecting data about ethnicity, considered a potential intermediary community between state and citizen.

This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam” (Islamic Way of Life). Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.

Modern violence

Don’t look to the Koran to understand this – look to the French Revolution and ultimately to the secularisation of an idea that finds its origins in European Christianity: Extra ecclesia nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), an idea that became transformed with the birth of modern European states into Extra stato nulla persona (outside the state there is no legal personhood). This idea still demonstrates extraordinary power today, the source of what it means to be a refugee.

If IS’s Islamic State is profoundly modern, so too is its violence. IS fighters do not simply kill. They seek to humiliate as we saw last week as they herded Syrian reservists wearing only their underpants to their death. And they seek to dishonour the bodies of their victims, in particular through postmortem manipulations.

Such manipulations aim at destroying the body as a singularity. The body becomes a manifestation of a collectivity to be obliterated, its manipulation rendering what was once a human person into an “abominable stranger”. Such practices are increasingly evident in war today, from the Colombian necktie to troops trading images of body parts to access pornographic websites during the Iraq war.

So what was the argument for connection with the medieval world? Mr. Wood has three words for us – “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings.” Ah, those sensational idiots. Why can’t they kill people in a ‘humane’, modern manner – the injection, the chair – a manner which turns this cathartic event into a humdrum daily occurrence with nothing film worthy about it. Hey lets agree to show only fictional gore in this nation, all right? & what was the policy measure anyway for which such a hefty argument was constructed?,

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options.

So much labour and controversy, just to justify the status quo explicitly. Centrist journalism mystifies me.

Wikipedia as the Death of Inquiry

(Originally posted on 10/20/14)

Many feel Wikipedia can settle all disagreements because all we have to do is to appeal to facts and reason. A lot of these people also believe that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written all that without a dictionary.

Lets take the Wiki entry on the Six-Day war which Wikipedia rightly claims was a ‘decisive Israeli victory’ (for the existence of Israel). Here’s a snapshot of the sidebar.

This article would like us to believe that Israel fended off the entire Middle-East and then some (No mention of the second wave of Palestinian exodus which gets another article on Wikipedia) on its own. In fact, there is an entire section in the article claiming there was no Western backing and dismisses all talk of US and UK being involved as conspiracy theory. Methinks the patriotic war historian doth protest too much.

Such chauvinism exists all over Wikipedia. In the section on British rule in History of Bengal, the third paragraph begins,

India’s most popular province (and one of the most active provinces in freedom fighting)…

Where are the legion of ‘citation needed’ idiots when you need them?

I could stop here but lets go all the way in stirring the hornet’s nest. Here’s a long quote from Aijaz Ahmed’s ‘Islam, Islamisms & the West’ where he recounts post-war sins of the empire in the Middle-East, the context to Israel’s existence.

The West… has to account for three successive sins over a period of roughly half a century.

  • First, it helped Islamism flourish by recruiting it as a force against ‘communism’, which encompassed not only the broadly-based communist movements that had arisen among the Muslim peoples but also any regime which subscribed to economic nationalism against Western corporate capital. The Western left typically underestimates all that history as a minor episode in what it too calls ‘the Cold War’, a term it has borrowed from the imperialist vocabulary.
  • Second, by ensuring the overthrow of those secular regimes that were not communist (most of them were actually anti-communist) but which either tolerated communists (the Sukarno regime in Indonesia), or refused to align with the West (Sukarno again, but also Nasser in Egypt), or were even mildly nationalist in the economic domain (Mossadegh in Iran) – the West ensured the narrowing of the space for secular politics and therefore the emergence of varieties of Islamism, moderate as well as militant: Sadat, who succeeded Nasser and brought Egypt into the US-led camp, patronized the moderate wing of the Muslim Brothers but was gunned down by the armed ones who had broken with their parent organization, precisely on the question of Sadat’s alliance with the US and what they regarded as a capitulation on the question of Israel.
  • Third, when Islamism became a powerful tendency in so many of those countries, the West played a cynical game of extreme pragmatism: continued support for regimes like the Saudi one; the organization of the jihad against Afghan communism, as if what developed there was just a ‘Soviet invasion’, with no domestic basis; support for the most autocratic regimes, such as that of Mubarak in Egypt, against the Islamicists, adding to their claim to be ‘anti-imperialist’; displaying nothing but contempt for those Islamicists who had actively demonstrated their belief in electoral politics (in Algeria, in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, in Lebanon) and treating them as just ‘terrorists’.

All this is then connected, in very condensed ways, with the question of Israel, its long-lasting occupation of Palestinian territories; its treatment of the subject populations; its turning of Gaza into a vast prison; its carving up of even the West Bank in such a way that roughly 40 per cent of the Occupied Territories are already annexed in one form or another; American support for and European collaboration in Israel’s policies; and the Western-Israeli attempts to prop up their own friends in the Palestine Authority using brutal means, in opposition to a popular electoral mandate by the Palestinians in favour of Hamas. The wound is deep. A settler state was established, through what the Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe describes as a full blown ethnic cleansing, at precisely the time when much of Asia and Africa were being decolonized. This has been crowned by an occupation that has lasted for forty years and has involved not just a regime of periodic atrocities against the population under occupation, but also the flagrant flouting of international law. Islamicists just don’t believe that Western law – the very law that the Western discourse regards as the very foundation of civilized existence – will ever give them justice.

32 Things To Try Once Before You Die

(Originally posted on 08/10/14)

We all know that person who is ‘high on life’ which is code for being one step away from total psychotic breakdown. A similar case is of ‘the Experimenter’. You might be one yourself.

For these brave & intrepid souls, I’ve compiled the best of an unnecessarily long bucket list because I know you got other things to do.

  1. Travel
  2. Learn a language
  3. Run a Marathon
  4. Go Skiing/Horse Riding/Scuba Diving
  5. Connect with past teachers
  6. Let someone know how much he/she means to you (Ed. Note – Remember, to be done only one time so choose carefully. Your family probably knows how much they mean to you.)
  7. Make a difference in someone’s life
  8. Pursue your passion (Ed. Note – Remember, you have other things to do so don’t spend your life on it)
  9. Get closure on any past unhappiness
  10. Do something completely crazy and out of character (Ed. Note – But if my life is composed of random episodes from a list then what is my character?)
  11. Fall in love (Ed. Note – no 91 on the list being parodied)
  12. Gain enlightenment (Ed. Note – last item on the list being parodied)
  13. Dismantle your Mac and pipeline it into your PC architecture
  14. Do some vector calculus to understand Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin–Teller models on Z2
  15. Get into Astrophysics. Read a Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud
  16. Observe silence in the memory of the middle class
  17. Convert to Islam
  18. Get legally emancipated from your parents
  19. Fuck your dad
  20. Kill your mom
  21. Eat your bruh
  22. Fuck your dead mom
  23. Eat the shit in your bruh’s intestines
  24. Be an orphan
  25. Be a surrogate
  26. Abort the surrogacy and disappear with the money
  27. Get an enema
  28. Get colonic tattoos
  29. Make candles out of your earwax and navel lint
  30. Join a group of women and urinate into a man’s mouth till he drowns
  31. Become an investment banker
  32. Just for good taste, try cyanide.

[original bucket list can be found here. Her enlightenment is worth a read too.]