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shah

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Modernity, South Asia / 23.03.2008

We are very far from clarity on the issue of the modern South Asian as would be obvious from the comments on the previous post on this topic. First of all, the very word ‘modern’ is problematic leading us astray in our discussion. The point to note is that there is an episode in Europe called the Enlightenment that Europeans use to mark a break in their value system. We can just as easily call them pre- and post-Enlightenment values and ignore the fact that Europeans have appropriated the term ‘modern’ for the latter set. We have no interest in arguing whether post-Enlightenment values are ‘better’ than pre-Enlightenment values in any way. We are aware of the post-modern critique of ‘modern’ values, attributing to them all sorts of ills from the Holocaust and the viciousness of our ways to alienation and the emptiness of our lives. This...

Governance, Politics / 20.03.2008

By Samia Altaf  SHORTLY after the emergency was imposed in Nov 2007, I wrote an article that used cricket as a metaphor to ask why Pakistani citizens accept the kind of blatant manipulation in the realm of politics that they would instantly reject in the world of cricket. After the Feb 2008 elections, I find that cricket still provides a good analogy to describe the present situation. In one sentence I would characterise it as follows: the bowlers have done their job; now it is up to the batsmen to deliver. The voters have performed beyond expectations and left it to the politicians to wrap it up. Will they? How many times have we been here before? How many times have the batsmen managed to defy all odds and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? How many times have we needed a sensible display of maturity...

Modernity, South Asia / 15.03.2008

We have been struggling to understand the nature of modernity in South Asia and in one of the posts on the topic (How Modern is Modern?) had left off with the following observation from a reader: “Even the small segment one might call modern has never experienced anything like the Enlightenment directly so that culturally we have remained pre-modern even in the most modern sectors.” This prompted us to look up the literature on the Enlightenment in greater detail and our search could well leave us with the conclusion that there is really no such thing as a modern South Asian. We will follow up this heretical thread later in this post but let us first introduce an exceptionally illuminating book on the subject of the Enlightenment. In Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752 (Oxford University Press, 2006), Jonathan Israel enumerates what he...

Governance, Politics / 14.03.2008

By Samia Altaf  There is a certain purpose and a value in an apology. Even when it is a century late and unable to redress the wrongs as in the Australian apology to its aboriginal citizens, it suggests a reflection on the past, an acceptance of responsibility, and a promise for the future. Now that Pakistan is on the verge of a new beginning, its major players should mark it by coming forward and apologising to the citizens who have given them and the country another chance. This will be an overdue apology and one that would be of immense value in setting the tone for the future. It would communicate to the voters a clear sense of what is unacceptable in modern politics and a measure of the standard by which political leaders and public servants agree to be judged in future. First, it should be the chief...

Politics / 09.03.2008

With reference to our comment on the Politics of Identity, a number of readers have taken issue with our conceptualization of rationality and the claim that all voters are rational. In this post we respond to the issues raised by the readers.  The gist of the points raised is as follows: You have failed to stress that the rationality of the Pakistani voter is different from that of the liberal citizen who was the subject of the Stanley Fish column on which you commented.  What about the frequent comments made that Bush was a great guy to have a beer with and that is why he was worth voting for? How do you view that? Is voting always rational or is it sometimes visceral?...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 01.03.2008

This is a companion piece to The Politics of Identity in which we outlined the views of Professor Stanley Fish on identity politics. In this post we present a critique of Professor Fish’s analysis, apply his framework to politics in Pakistan, and try to demonstrate the importance of context in such matters.  Professor Fish’s articulation of identity politics is most easily understood in the concrete context of the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. An ideal non-identity voter would be one who behaves as if he or she is completely unaware of the “skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker [of identity]” of the two candidates. The voter (visualized as an abstract “citizen”) selects the candidate best qualified to lead the country and advance the policies (say on the war in Iraq, the Middle...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Modernity, Politics, South Asia / 23.02.2008

In setting up the next set of articles we use a thought-provoking op-ed by Professor Stanley Fish as the point of departure. Professor Fish deals with an issue, identity politics, which is of great relevance for us in South Asia. While the author’s application is to the election in the US (voting on the basis of color or gender), we can easily extrapolate some of the ideas to our context. Here is Professor Fish’s definition of identity politics: You’re practicing identity politics when you vote for or against someone because of his or her skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker that leads you to say yes or no independently of a candidate’s ideas or policies. An identity politics voter says, in effect, I don’t care what views he holds, or even what bad things he may have done, or what lack of ability...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 22.02.2008

It is useful to study the history of democracy in Japan to highlight an aspect that is almost completely overlooked in South Asia – the critical relevance of electoral rules. Japan is termed “the only stable industrialized democracy in Asia, with a well-established parliament, political parties that vigorously compete in elections, and a solidly legitimate democratic constitution.” It is a “predominant party democracy” in which the same party was consistently supported by voters under free and competitive conditions for a very long time (38 years). However, “the Japanese formula for a successful, dominant party democracy has had its negative effects – the role of excess money in politics and corruption.” All these aspects are related to electoral rules “since the electoral system is a major determinant of a political regime:” In many newly-emerging democracies the choice of an electoral system is increasingly being recognized as a vital element...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 17.02.2008

Continuing our tour of the post-colonial transitions in governance, we take a look at the unique experience of Hong Kong to see if we can add to our understanding of the relationship between governance and social, political and economic outcomes. The outstanding feature of the political set-up in Hong Kong was its institutional longevity – it was formally the same in the 1980s as it was a hundred years earlier. “There was no election and no universal suffrage until 1982, no political party until the 1990s and still, on the eve of the handover [in 1997], no fully elected assembly.” The question that comes to mind is why the British who were so eager to introduce electoral politics in India and Sri Lanka where the polities were rife with social cleavages, not willing to do so in Hong Kong where there was so much ethnic homogeneity? Leaving aside...