Terrorism / 15.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf America declared a War on Terror in 2001; France did so formally in 2015; Britain, Germany and a number of other countries had become partners sometime in the interim. Are we then in the midst of a third world war without quite realizing it simply because this war is so different from its predecessors in so many ways? All the familiar markers are absent – the war is not between nations, it is not fought with heavy artillery, it doesn’t have adversaries who sign or adhere to treaties, it doesn’t distinguish between soldiers and civilians. What kind of a war is it? One must characterize its nature in order to fashion an effective battle plan. What we hear often is that it involves non-state actors that are fanatics motivated by evil ideologies. These are plausible components but as yet insufficiently imagined as to how...

Behavior / 23.01.2014

Hollande. Royal. Trierweiler. Gayet. Tharoor. Pushkar. Tarar. A person hospitalized. Another dead. France and India popped up in the news simultaneously for similar reasons and certainly not at our bidding. True, we had compared the countries before on the blog (Dynastic Succession: What is the Difference Between India and France?) but there was no intent to push the matter further. Now that fate has intervened, however, let us leverage it for comparative speculation on other issues of general interest. To recap, our message on political institutions was clear enough – dynastic succession was acceptable in France at one time but not so anymore; In India it remains very much the norm, something both the majority of the rulers and the ruled take for granted. The question we asked was what this said about the peculiarities of democratic governance in India – was it just the old monarchical...

Reflections / 13.11.2009

Maupassant provided us the opportunity to reflect on the social pecking order in South Asia and Kabir’s comment has pushed the door wide open. There is so much space for speculation that it needs a post by itself to fill. In doing so we can bring together a number of themes that have figured prominently on this blog – in particular those of modernity and democracy in South Asia. A lot has been written about French salons and there remain disagreement on the details – I will choose selectively to motivate the discussion: A salon is a gathering of intellectual, social, political, and cultural elites under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation.
Reflections / 11.11.2009

There is a sentence in Julian Barnes’s review of two novels by Maupassant (1850-1893) that struck me with unusual force and I wish to use it to reflect on our societal values in South Asia. Barnes is talking about four pages in one of the novels that describe Parisian salons, “the tactics of the women who run them and the talented men who frequent them.” And here is the sentence that should knock a South Asian for a six: Maupassant discusses the pecking order of guests: musicians at the top, artists next, writers coming a close third, with other riff-raff like generals and parliamentarians occasionally tolerated. I am not making it up – you can look up the original here. Go over the pecking order again and take a few moments to let it sink in.
Analysis / 13.08.2009

By Anjum Altaf What is the difference between the yarmulke and the burqa besides the fact that one is minimally small and the other is maximally large? By now the controversy over the burqa is well known. In France, President Sarkozy has said: “The burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement... It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic…. In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.” In Cairo, President Obama has said: “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal…. and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.”