The World Is What It Is

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By almost all accounts, Patrick French's recently released (and authorized) biography of V.S. Naipaul, The World Is What It Is, is an admiring look at the Nobel laureate's impressive oeuvre and an unflinching account of his notorious snobbery and sadism towards the overlapping women in his life. It's in the stack of books to be read over the Christmas, though if you cannot invest the time, Ian Buruma has a good recapitulation of the book's main themes here. But French is also an expert on the Indian subcontinent and today takes to the pages of the New York Times to argue that there is no easy political or ideological explaination for last week's spasm of violence in Bombay. As he notes, before any statement was made by the group responsible for the atrocities, countless pundits "were making chilling deductions on their behalf: their actions were because of American foreign policy, or Afghanistan, or the harassment of Indian Muslims. When officials said that the killers came from the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, it was taken as proof that India's misdeeds in the Kashmir Valley were the cause." Not that simple, says French:

These misdeeds are real, as are India's other social and political failings (I recently met a Kashmiri man whose father and sister had died at the hands of the Indian security forces). But there is no sane reason to think Lashkar-e-Taiba would shut down if the situation in Kashmir improved. Its literature is much concerned with establishing a caliphate in Central Asia, and murdering those who insult the Prophet. Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, who lives on a large estate outside Lahore bought with Saudi Money, goes about his business with minimal interference from the Pakistani government.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is part of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (the Qaeda franchise). Mr. Saeed's hatreds are catholic—his bugbears include Hindus, Shiites and women who wear bikinis. He regards democracy as "a Jewish and Christian import from Europe," and considers suicide attacks to be in accordance with Islam. He has a wider strategy: "At this time our contest is Kashmir. Let's see when the time comes. Our struggle with the Jews is always there." As he told his followers in Karachi at a rally in 2000: "There can't be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them—cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy." In short, he has an explicit political desire to create a state of war between the religious communities in India and beyond, and bring on the endgame.

Like other exponents of Islamist extremism, he has a view of the world that does not tolerate doubt or ambiguity: his opponents are guilty, and must be killed. I have met other radicals like Mr. Saeed, men who live in a dimension of absolute certainty and have contempt for the moral relativism of those who seek to excuse them.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. men who live in a dimension of absolute certainty

    this sounds nice. my world is much more confusing and distressing.

  2. there is no easy political or ideological explaination
    for last week’s spasm of violence in Bombay

    It’s Mumbai, m’kay?

  3. Also, it’s spelled explanation Thank you.

  4. There are many names for this city, but the common name is Bombay. It is not an anglicized pronunciation, it is one of the common native names for the city.

  5. ed, officially a douchebag

  6. Moynihan’s arguments, as always, ignore the fact that it would be harder for Saeed to be a major political player in Pakistan if it weren’t for the festering issue of Kashmir.

    The “catholic” hatreds of extremist Islamists have been present for 1300 years. That means that merely cataloguing the writings of extremists can’t tell us why popular support for that extremism waxes and wanes.

    It is not important what Mr. Saeed thinks or doesn’t think. What’s important is how he manages to gain followers. And claiming that Saeed would be equally able to gain followers even in the absence of the Kashmir grievances.

    I would never claim that every last Muslim extremist would disappear if the various regional Muslim grievances were palliated. That would be silly. I would claim, however, that the ability of those extremists to recruit followers and impose themselves on the political scene would be much reduced.

  7. ed, officially a douchebag

    “Douchebag!” Did you make that up all by yourself? How unoriginal.

  8. That should read:

    “And claiming that Saeed would be equally able to gain followers even in the absence of the Kashmir grievances would be silly.

  9. What is the libertarian response to violent groups like this? Do we ignore them with kneejerk non-interventionism? Do we make the opposite kneejerk and launch a Donderoist war to kill every Muslim? How does our freedom of religion fit into a world were one particular religious offshoot is raising its children to be mass murderers?

  10. What we need is some sensitivity training to understand how American wealth and power caused Mr. Saeed’s anger.

  11. There are many names for this city, but the common name is Bombay. It is not an anglicized pronunciation, it is one of the common native names for the city.

    You mean, the widespread use of “Mumbai” in the Western press is just more faux-sensitive multi-culti rod-stroking by urban elites writing from their carefully insulated perspectives?

  12. The actions of violent extremist groups are overwhelmingly driven by the internal dynamics of the group. All outside actors merely serve as stage props in the groups little psychodrama. The purest expression of this can be seen in violent cults who lash out when a leader must follow through on his apocalyptic vision in order to maintain his internal control.

    The central conflict in the Islamic world lays between the modernist and the traditionalist. The traditionalist are trying to raise their status and power in the Islamic world by attacking ALL non-muslims and thereby make muslims feel feared and powerful.

    Given the wide range of victims of Islamist, especially Wahhabist Islamist, I think it clear we are powerless to prevent such attacks by altering our own behavior. If we make concessions, the Islamist will simply claim that they forced our hand. If we attack, they will claim it as evidence we oppose all Islam. If we do nothing, their internal dynamics will keep driving them to commit acts of violence.

    The only proven strategy to date is bring the fight to their homelands and force them to show their true colors by turing on other muslims. Only then do they lose their base of support.

    Things are going to get ugly in Pakistan one way or the other.

  13. What is the libertarian response to violent groups like this?

    In this case, do nothing, as no American interests are directly threatened and the Indians are fully capable of dealing with Pakistani (and domestic) threats themselves?

  14. I wrote the following on my blog (asiapeace.org) a few days ago and I think its relevant here. William Dalrymple is a good example of the kind of ass who thinks everything is due to an oppressed nationality pained by imperialist boots..
    Responses to terrorism are not either this or that, there are several levels of problems to be addressed and all of them have to be worked on at the same time. But Dalrymple is off the mark here and in danger of making a complete ass of himself.
    First of all, he has picket the wrong “oppressed people” to identify with here. The “kashmir dispute” is mostly about the Pakistani and Indian elites parading their nationalisms and using Kashmir to get more funds for their security apparatus (and I must say that Pakistan is the bigger offender here because the Indian elite is mostly civilian and many of them have seen other ways of getting rich and would love to get off this stupid see saw). The actual atrocities in kashmir have generally come AFTER the insurgency and are not a cause of the insurgency (a fact that would deeply dent Dalrymple’s liberal template and is therefore ignored). As counter insurgencies go, the Indian effort in kashmir has been a shade (just a shade, but still, a shade) better than say Pakistan’s response in Bangladesh or even Baluchistan. This is not to justify any human rights abuse in Kashmir or anywhere else, but just to point out that as a historian, one would expect Dalrymple to have an idea of how good or bad this has been in relative terms.

    There ARE “root causes” within India that definitely contributed to this attack. SOME Indian muslims were probably involved, and if they were, they almost certainly got THEIR grievance from the terrible atrociites in Gujrat and other injustices and massacres within india rather than the 60 years old dispute in kashmir. Even in Pakistan, the lashkar people routinely show movies of vile creatures like Bajrangi talking about how they killed pregnant muslim women and tore out their fetuses?it’s a much more painful “grievance” than plebiscite in Kashmir.

    And Dalrymple is making an ass of himself on other levels as well. For example, he feels that Dr. Iqbal is put off by the callousness of the Indian security forces, so he would be better off in a “free kashmir”. But for a historian, he seems to have a rather narrow focus. What if the free kashmir security forces turn out to be even more brutal than the ones Dr. Iqbal doesnt like. What if Free Kashmir gets rid of all its hindus, budhists and maybe even shias and doesnt allow Dr. iqbal to train at Apollo hospital anymore? These are not theoretical objections. there are good grounds for believing that is exactly what would happen in a free kashmir once the jihadis get it in their hands. And who else would get it? If Dalrymple has actually read any history he must have an idea about how these things usually work out. This is not analysis, this is liberal fluff that makes one slightly ashamed of being a liberal!
    Root causes do need to be addressed as there can be no insurgency without a grievance, but no solution will satisfy everyone. focusing on “root causes” (even if the wrong root cause is identified, as in this case) is definitely nicer than focusing on killing innocent people in some massive revenge attack, but its also a bit like saying the root cause of a fuel air bomb is the existence of fuel and air. Certainly, we could not make that bomb without fuel or air, but someone still has to put it together and someone has to have the knowhow to put it together. Attacks like the one in Mumbai require years of planning, coordination, training, funds, etc. etc. SIMS were purchased in Kolkata, Satellite phoncards in Vienna and New Jersey (if newspaper reports are to be believed…and even if particular reports are untrue, something on a similar scale must have been done), boats were arranged, local contacts must have helped, targets were scouted and training was done. NONE of this comes naturally to aggrieved people. Are the Lashkar militants any more aggrieved than the people whose children are dying of hunger and who are beaten by police and gundas every day in Pakistan and India? Some of those people join maoist insurgencies. None of those insurgencies can pull off anything even remotely resembling this attack.
    Dalrymple should go back to writing about the 19th century, where he does much better.

    Omar

  15. I want to hear more about his notorious snobbery and sadism towards the overlapping women in his life.

  16. Brandybuck,

    What is the libertarian response to violent groups like this?

    Depends on which subdivision of libertarianism you hold to. Anachro-libertarians believe in ignoring all acts of violence until they literally show up on an individual’s doorstep. People killing other people on the other side of the planet aren’t even on their radar.

    Min-archist or classical liberals (such as myself) usually see killing dangerous foreigners and preventing mass violence overall as the core function of a minimalist state.

    I think boils down to whether you believe we can actually create a libertarian paradise on earth sometime soon or whether you view pure libertarianism as a ideal toward which we struggle in a morass of real world compromises.

  17. Bombay got renamed Mumbai when Hindu fundamentalists took over its state government in the mid-90s and forced it to take the name of its patron goddess. The renaming wasn’t necessarily to shed some colonial hold-over but to assert a Hindu identity on a very multicultural city, in keeping with a wide variety of Hindu supremacist moves throughout the country in that decade. It’s not that legitimate of a name change.

  18. Depends on which subdivision of libertarianism you hold to. Anachro-libertarians believe in ignoring all acts of violence until they literally show up on an individual’s doorstep.

    I actually laughed our loud at this until I realized you actually were serious.

    No. this is not what we anarcholibertarians believe, other than a faction of (mostly Christian) pacifists.

    Rather, we don’t believe in forcing people to fight these groups. Nor do we believe in getting involved in fights that we know nothing about.

    It all comes down to the zero aggression principle. If I can’t figure out whether a guy committing violence is being an aggressor, or engaging in defensive violence, I am not going to wade into the fray. On the other hand, if I hear my neighbor screaming for help and someone taking the car I know belongs to him, I will leap to my neighbors defense and act as his agent in recovering his stolen property and defending him against attack.

    So how do you deal with groups like this? So long as they are all talk, like a neighbor I had who thought Catholics should be forcibly exiled from the U.S., you ignore them or monitor them as appropriate. Obviously, the guys whom they are threatening are the guys who would likely do the monitoring since they place more value on defending themselves from attack than a third party who is not threatened would.

    If these guys start carrying out attacks, a proportionate war against the attacking gang is just fine. Again let’s take my loony ex-neighbor. He founds a movement ant they start beating up Catholics. Catholics who have been attacked can seek to punish him/get restitution for the harm they have suffered. Non-catholics can volunteer to act as agents for the victims etc.

    In extreme cases, such as a genocidal dictator, we anarchists would be quite happy to fight the guy, so long as nobody was forced to fight on our side, or forced to pay us against their will.

    Of course, the way we anarchists would fight would be very different than the way states fight. Airpower, which kills the innocent would not be used very much, if at all. It would probably take the form of targetted assassinations. It’s hard to predict though, since the beauty of free markets is that usually the solution adopted is one thought up by some genius, a solution that is not obvious to the majority before it is demonstrated/explained.

  19. R C Dean | December 8, 2008, 4:39pm | #

    You mean, the widespread use of “Mumbai” in the Western press is just more faux-sensitive multi-culti rod-stroking by urban elites writing from their carefully insulated perspectives?

    Yes!

    Also, see:

    Hogan | December 8, 2008, 5:00pm | #

  20. On the other hand, if I hear my neighbor screaming for help and someone taking the car I know belongs to him, I will leap to my neighbors defense and act as his agent in recovering his stolen property and defending him against attack.

    But how do you know the car is really his, and/or isn’t being repo’ed because he wouldn’t pay his bills?

    If these guys start carrying out attacks, a proportionate war against the attacking gang is just fine.

    A proportionate war is likely to be unnecessarily long and bloody. If you’re going to go to war, go to win, and commit enough resources (if you have them) to overwhelm your enemy. It reduces both the immediate butcher’s bill, and makes it much less likely they’ll be back for a rematch.

  21. The actions of violent extremist groups are overwhelmingly driven by the internal dynamics of the group.

    If this were true, it would mean that the history of the German Nazi party would have been the same, whether or not there was a Versailles Treaty, whether or not there was a world depression, whether or not the Spartacist rebellions took place, whether or not the Communists had taken power in the Soviet Union, whether or not the Weimar Constitution included provisions for rule by decree, etc. etc. etc. etc. There would have been no change in the size of its membership, its fundraising, its ability to cause trouble, its electoral success, its rhetoric, none of it, regardless of the presence or absence of any of these factors. Because all that mattered was the internal dynamics of the group. Riiiiiiight.

    It’s generally very easy for everyone everywhere to see that the political and economic context is a critical factor in the rise of any – any – extremist group – except when considering the political and economic context would require self-criticism.

    Or at least it used to be. It used to be that extremist groups were only divorced from their historical context when that divorce was necessary to avoid any possible criticism of the US or Israel. Nowadays, you can’t even consider the historical context when talking about Pakistani militants attacking targets in India, because that might encourage people to consider the historical context in other examples, and we can’t have that, right?

  22. Yes!

    Also, see:

    Hogan | December 8, 2008, 5:00pm | #

    Um, Hogan’s post indicated that the city had been officially renamed due to internal Indian party politics.

    How is it multicultural rod-stroking to call a city by its official name?

    Guess what? The government of India gets to name its cities. If it starts calling New Delhi “Fluffy Sucks Cock” that means that’s it’s name. And it wouldn’t be evidence of anti-fluffy animus or anything else if the press called the city by that name.

  23. Yikes! Its name, not it’s name.

  24. tarran,

    I would classify you as romantic idealist. All the things you say sound good but, just like communism, they don’t actually work. Airpower kills fewer people than grueling house-to-house fighting which is usually the alternative. Targeted assassinations usually only work in the movies. Authoritarians can marshal larger armies than can those who rely on volunteers.

    You analogy of the anti-catholic neighbor only works if you assume that your neighbor will not acquire overwhelming physical power suddenly. History is littered with examples in which a small group seizes power out of proportion to their size or who strike with unexpected power. You can’t assume a smooth and predictable escalation in violence to which you can respond in a measured and proportional way. Neither can you assume that opponents will respond in a rational way to incentives and punishments.

    You ideas are just ideals. They look good on paper but they have never been tested in the real world (which I suspect, is part of their attraction).

  25. But how do you know the car is really his, and/or isn’t being repo’ed because he wouldn’t pay his bills?

    The guy I was thinking about when I typed that wouldn’t be in such a situation. So it would be a safe bet. On the other hand, a legitimate repo guy under an anarcho capitalist society probably would not be doing repo’s furtively. I would expect that banks would contract with a uniformed protection service that was well known in the community that would attempt to recover the property with a minimum of damage and violence. And if those guys showed up, I probably would ask to see their warrant before I took any action. This is functionally what government Sherriff’s do now.

    A proportionate war is likely to be unnecessarily long and bloody. If you’re going to go to war, go to win, and commit enough resources (if you have them) to overwhelm your enemy

    I think you misunderstand me. By proportionate I mean that if they are comitting acts of murder, you kill members of the gang. If they are merely spray painting “jew killer” on the walls of churches, that would be inappropriate.

    I am not talking about tit-for-tat matching of body-counts.

  26. ….the beauty of free markets is that usually the solution adopted is one thought up by some genius, a solution that is not obvious to the majority before it is demonstrated/explained.

    You mean like using air power in warfare?

  27. re: Bombay/Mumbai. I call it Mumbai (and I say Myanmar instead of Burma) since that’s what it’s officially called and I don’t care much either way. But it’s still a pretty wack name change. It’d be like anti-immigrant politicians in L.A. deciding to officially rename it Angel City or something to emphasize its Anglo heritage. (Admittedly rough analogy). I guess I’d have to call it that, but I’d still think it was stupid.

  28. Shannon Love,

    Min-archist or classical liberals (such as myself) usually see killing dangerous foreigners and preventing mass violence overall as the core function of a minimalist state.

    I reckon plenty of people who consider themselves minarchists (myself included) wouldn’t see that as quite, er, minimal enough. I’d agree that a proper function of government is to defend the US, it’s protectorates and it’s interests – where interests are defined as life and limb of living breathing Americans overseas (not corporate profits)

    The problem with “preventing violence” is that it leads to the Bush Doctine of preemptive warefare – and cockups when the threats aren’t quite what they seem.

  29. er, Anglo hegemony would perhaps be a better way to put it

  30. And tarrans might be explaining his ideas a little coloquially, but it’s generally pretty sound. You don’t nuke a country that hijacked an airplane. You don’t invade and occupy because 10 people got kidnapped. On the flip side, if they overrun your embassy, and shoot the ambassador, you can’t very well blow up a couple tents in the desert with cruise missiles. When we have that problem, I’ll let you know…

  31. moreover, a key point is how the response is done from a political standpoint. If some country commits and act of war (or even a non-state entity) The congress can have a vote and declare war. This may seem a little old fashioned – but it has many advantages.
    1) The enemy knows there is a political will behind the action – I can’t stress enough how important this is. Every undeclared police action that the US engages in merely proves to our enemies that the majority of Americans have no will to fight.
    2) The entity that attacked us and the act can be explicitly named – this limits and defines the scope of action, which ultimately, it prevents mission creep.
    3) It puts our allies on notice that they must choose between “us and them.” Given 1), smart money says “us.”
    4) It allows for proper funding of wartime needs, instead of massive emergency spending that balloons endlessly.
    5) It necessitates an eventually end to the conflict. A declared war cannot go on and on halfheartedly. It must be won.

  32. Fluffy,

    If this were true, it would mean that the history of the German Nazi party would have been the same, whether or not there was a Versailles Treaty,…

    It is not the Nazi party that should interest us in this context but rather that of German society as a whole. Germans had been seized with the idea that only military dominance granted a people their rightful place in the world. The Nazi’s were just the final expression of that cultural viewpoint. Germans were going to rearm and attept to fight somebody regardless of the actions of external actors.

    It’s the same with Stalin and communist. Communist ideology (specifically historical inevitability) propelled them to conflict with the non-Communist world. Nothing any non-Communist could do could alter the Communist belief that they had to violently confront the rest of the world.

    Muslim traditionalist have the same built in drive to conflict. The believe they have the God granted obligation to subdue all the rest of the peoples of the earth. There’s not much the non-muslim world can do to head that off.

    The idea of that this or that historical event lead to violence today is just the hindsight fallacy. You find some arbitrary event in the past and blame it for current woes.

  33. forgive my many spelling and grammer errors – I’m rushing out the door.

  34. The city’s official name is Mumbai. It was officially changed, what, a decade ago now.

    If you call it “Bombay,” you are wrong. Not politically incorrect, factually incorrect. It would be like calling someone Steve, when his actual name is Lou.

    The whining about “multi-culti blah blah blah” is a demonstration of the enduring power of people to perceive the world purely in terms of their political ideology, without bothering to know objective facts.

  35. There are people on street corners of every American city with visions just as violent and crazy as the leaders of Lashkar.

    They just don’t have any followers, because nobody’s given us a good reason to line up behind them.

    Where does this idea that people from other countries’ opinions about America and the west are formed wholly without regard to the actions of America and other western countries?

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