Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
July 3, 2020
Mr. President: It was almost two-and-one-half centuries ago -- July 2, 1776 to be
exact -- when the American colonies voted for independence; two days later, on July
4, they ratified the draft of the declaration. It includes the famous words: "We hold
these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed
by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness ..."
True today as they were then, these words remain a dream for ordinary people and a
nightmare for dictators, factual and putative. One only has to cast a glance at the two
most populous countries in the world. But then continuing on to the rest of it and the
picture is no different in most. Look to the east and west of India and keep going.
You end up in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans with nary a thought of Jefferson's famous
It is the Pacific where Hong Kong demonstrations have been protecting the erosion of
freedoms promised when sovereignty was returned to China in 1997. Now President
Xi Jinping has signed into effect a new draconian law aimed directly at protesters. It
threatens prison for life and protesters have chosen quiet. Demosisto, the
pro-democracy organization behind the protests, has announced it will cease all
operations and has disbanded.
Perhaps Mr. Xi can keep a tight lid on the simmering anger in Hong Kong, although
even a pressure cooker has a safety valve, without which the tighter the lid the larger
the explosion. There is also the thought that Hong Kong itself has been an outlet for
those in mainland China seeking release from Mr. Xi's ever tightening embrace.
Then there are the Uyghurs of Xinjiang autonomous region in northwest China. Their
restlessness under a relentless Sinicization regime has them interned in re-education
camps. What is required of them is to become culturally Chinese, giving their own
way of life to adapt to Han customs and traditions. It is a tall order and the question
is, why? Different peoples with different customs have lived together in the past,
making the world richer in its diversity. A narrow-minded focus on uniformity destroys
languages and cultures; and our world is poorer for it.
Further south to India and to Mr. Narindra Modi's Hindutva movement which believes
in the country's adoption of a solely Hindu culture. A lockdown and communications
blackout in Muslim Kashmir, the Sikhs in the Punjab demanding Khalistan; Assam,
Manipur, Nagaland and other tribes in the northeast also still yearning cultural
freedom. If thousands of young men have been detained in Kashmir to curb protests,
their detention is even less likely to befriend them to Mr. Modi whose iron fist relies on
the tens of thousands of security forces in their homeland -- even if they want to, who
can shake hands with a fist?
The story of a dominant group suppressing the weaker does not end there, and if one
were to look at economic dominance over the centuries, one would notice the
comfortable west trading higher priced manufactured goods for artificially low-priced
raw materials. It is how the Indian subcontinent became a pauper when once it
generated a fifth of world GDP.
So as the US celebrates Independence Day, let us remember what it stands for, that
'all men are created equal'; that they are endowed with the right to 'life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness'. And then let us remind ourselves of all the peoples still
yearning for that simple yet eloquent dream.