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
April 6, 2018 (posted April 9)
Mr. President: Man's inhumanity to man reached new levels of odium. The generally
trigger-happy Israeli army fired at unarmed demonstrators at the fence cordoning
Gazans into a prison. That hundreds were injured and at least 18 killed evoked little
sympathy from our media and certainly no one dared criticize Benjamin Netanyahu's
crowing of the incident as a great victory.
The 'liberal' National Public Radio terms such incidents "violent clashes" as if there is
a certain parity of arms, when a military firing at civilian demonstrators would result
more appropriately in a massacre as Gideon Levy called it in Ha'aretz.
But Israel has new worries. For the first time, Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) now
outnumber Jews within Israel and the occupied territories. A half million more now with
the difference expected to widen on account of the higher Palestinian birth rate.
Hence a war of attrition.
Trigger-happy soldiers, an imprisoned Gaza with appalling living conditions, and then,
of course, there is ethnic cleansing. Outright expulsion, or denial of water and
electricity and generally making life unbearable leading to a 'voluntary' form of
Thus the village of Umm al-Hiran which was razed to the ground after the eviction of
its residents. Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian Arab member of the Knesset, was shot in
the head and back by rubber bullets as he and others protested. The area will now
house Jewish settlers.
The reality of eviction, ethnic cleansing and annexation is not news, but is an
undeniable new reality seeking to cordon off Palestinians in the worst areas. For
some Israelis, the choice boils down to segregated Bantustans or brutal expulsion.
The country itself is changing as Middle-Eastern Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews now
number closer to the European Ashkenazi and are expected to exceed them
eventually. A civilized living together is excluded by religion in this Middle-Eastern
enclave masquerading as a Western democracy; more like George Wallace's
Alabama awaiting a Martin Luther King, Jr.
About 2500 miles east lies another beleaguered population, the Kashmiris suffering a
brutal decades-long occupation by an estimated one-quarter to three-quarter million
force of Indian soldiers. In one tactic they use shotgun weapons loaded with small
pellet shells -- no riot control techniques for them. Their preferred target is not the
lower body but the upper, resulting in all too numerous instances of small boys and
young men being blinded for life. Major Aditya Kumar was charged with murder after
one incident only to be granted relief recently by a pliant Indian Supreme Court.
Demonstrations have intensified since the killing of the popular and charismatic rebel
leader, Burhan Wani, in July 2016. He was just 21. Thousands of civilians have been
injured, many blinded, and many have died as a result of the brutal response by the
occupation forces. The latest incident on April1 led to 20 deaths.
India promised a plebiscite under UN supervision about 70 years ago. It has not been
held. The fact that Kashmiris are in massive civilian protest as well as open rebellion
is well established by the presence of troops. It is also abundantly clear, given a
choice, that Kashmiris would tell their Indian overlords to get the hell out. No one
wants them there.
As Maddy Crowell reports in her letter from Kashmir titled "The Great Divide"
(Harper's, March 2018), "more than 200,000 men and women flocked to the town on
foot" following Wani's shooting. "Azadi! Azadi! [meaning freedom] they shouted."
Whether they would want to join Pakistan or wish to remain by themselves is an open
question. It hardly matters in these days of open economic communities.
But foresight or statesmanship is not to be expected in leaders pushing their
antiquated and noisome upper caste Hindu supremacy, tarnishing the founder
Nehru's proud boast of a secular state. Add to it a rewriting of history in which the Taj
Mahal is a Hindu temple. It is not. In the new India Christians, Muslims and lower
caste Hindus (Dalits) are under constant threat or attack.
So there we are ... two nuclear powers in constant confrontation without the sense to
bury a colonial past and forge a new modern subcontinent. No, that would be much
too sensible. Instead, religious extremism has secured a foothold and we all know
how that can end unless it is quickly snuffed out.