Since my last piece about two months ago, dated 5 June 2023, titled, ‘Struggling Democracy‘, I travelled a bit around the globe, but the world did not stop being a difficult place for us common humans. Apparently, politics seems to be at the root of the mayhem and unhappiness making the news in our precariously positioned human world.
Manipur, seemingly godforsaken, finally hit the global headlines, albeit for very sad reasons, despite being hushed up deliberately by the administration and cut off in the world of internet from the rest of the humanity. Israelis seem to be in a prolonged, determined fight against the decisions of their far-right government, to save the sanctity of their judiciary and, thus, their democracy. Of late, Niger has seen a military coup. Returning to South Asia, violent protesters in Bangladesh have been demanding the resignation of their government, Sri Lankans are struggling against the cost of living.
Pakistan’s politics is becoming extremely worrisome, and the world must take a serious note of it. As it continues to battle its debilitating internal power tussles, it also faces existential challenges caused by the rise of the Taliban (both in Afghanistan and within Pakistan) on one side and, on the other side, by the current Indian government’s expressed intention to cross over and take back Pakistan Administered Kashmir. The world must be reminded that this the world’s heaviest militarized zone, a nuclear powder keg.
In the western world, American politicians have been seen to be doing what they usually do best most of the time — lobbying, campaigning and relentlessly working towards entering and occupying the White House. While Russia – Ukraine conflict has dragged on hopelessly and alarmingly escalated to a more ominous state, Russia recently hosted the Africa -Russia Summit 2023 with aim to woo and pull back Africa within it folds, promising free grains to several African states. Australian politicians too have remained overly busy but mostly with campaigning for and against the Voice (for empowering the Indigenous Australians) and, of late, the semi-baked Housing Bill too has also made the headlines while the high costs of daily living, house rentals and mortgages have been biting millions of Australian families.
While all this happened, the current Ashes cricket test series in England, being played between Australia and England, kept the cricket followers enthralled. The current test series has comprised many thrillers and will be remembered as one of the best hard-fought series ever played. Disappointingly, however, cricket too was not immune to politics, as the prime ministers of the two countries could not help poking their noses into it and commenting on some of the controversial umpiring decisions in the contest. One may wonder how the heads of the two governments found time to do this when their people are reportedly to be struggling against many day-to-day issues!
The just released movie, ‘Oppenheimer’, raises numerous pressing questions about the sanity in our past decisions? As an alarming reminder, it exposes a clear lack of our collective vision about our future on Earth. We thought the Great War will end all wars, but did it? Similar was our thought about the atom bombs that we dropped on Japan. We only exacerbated our precariousness, moving closer to the Grand Finale.
If the above was not enough, we humans continue to face existential threats, such as the devastating effects of the Climate Change seen around the planet and the loss of biodiversity. Our very existence is under serious threat due to potential escalation of geo-political conflicts in the world, such as in Ukraine, Taiwan and South Asia (between India, China and Pakistan), which can possibly lead to a nuclear catastrophe, and last but not the least, the growing challenges posed by the Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’). We must not forget the future germ and biological warfare, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Youth can’t be tricked
At a conference in Cairns (Queensland) towards the end of June 2023, Michael, an intelligent, young research scholar, said:
‘Bill, please don’t think we are fools. Politicians can’t trick us. We don’t care about the ‘left’ or the ‘right’, all we care about is ‘us’ and who looks after our interests — our jobs, our happiness and the environment.’
Michael is right. Youth need jobs, not just slogans. Slogans don’t put food on the table, jobs do. Youth deserve a stable future, not just stories of a bygone past. The present must not regress but work for tomorrow. Youth must be heard and not judged or dismissed for inexperience by politicians and older people or else they risk being judged harshly by them. Youth represents the present. Past must give in and pave way to the present.
Youth and children represent the present and the future of a nation. Where they are not nurtured and looked after well, regression occurs. When the youth disconnect with you and looks away, your future turns away from you. Uneducated or unemployed youth raise questions on the development of a nation. Unemployed youth can trigger chaos and cause instability. Youth can’t be tricked for long.
Deterioration in democracy
Humans and materials degrade. Time changes everything. Change remains the only constant. What rises, falls. All monarchs return to dust. Free democracy is the only true barometer of human progress. However, with a rapid rise in the far right across the globe, democracies have been steadily regressing toward archaic monarchy. The day is not far when all countries will practise dictatorship, with governments shamelessly flaunting their power and exercising their unbridled authority over gullible voters in the guise of democracy.
Free democracy is a true barometer of human progress. Decentralized power and absolute freedom of expression, with independent judiciary, law and order, and central bank mark a full and free democracy.
Liberal Democracy is inbuilt with the ‘institutions of democracy’ to ensure the Legislative and the Executive are kept under check. However, when ‘Majoritarianism’ kicks in and corrupts the institutions, the nation divides itself into ‘us’ and ‘they’, sans liberalism.
Democracy needs necessary checks and balances to function as a liberal democracy. Judiciary is the highest amongst the four institutions that MUST always remain sacred, independent and immune from any actual or intended transgression by the Executive or Legislative, or else democracy fails.
When a democratically elected government declares its intention to make itself immune from its judiciary, it declares its intention to be a dictatorship. Just because a government can be elected with just one-third of people’s votes, it must not claim to have the mandate from ALL voters to do so. To sustain an inclusive, ‘liberal’ democracy’ is never easy, it needs commitment from one and all, sadly, which is uncommon.
During an open chat, a friend said:
‘All things being equal, including underlying capitalism, the main difference between ‘liberal’ democracy and dictatorship is the uninhibited ‘freedom of expression’ in the former.’ Well, that may be true, but can capitalism be considered as democracy? Aren’t capitalism and liberal democracy incongruent?
At a social dinner, a visitor said: ‘Propaganda or not, what really matters in the statecraft is the material that people are fed constantly’, adding, ‘a country that controls its digital media controls its people and their perspectives’. The visitor seemed to favour a total state control over human dignity and individual liberty. It was saddening to see how he had subscribed to his own subjugation. Didn’t he know his thoughts too were manipulated and that he was reduced to nothing but a robot?
If the state manipulates people’s reality and perspectives, using digital technology, how can one see fact from fiction and then break free from the fetters of a make-believe world? Are we humans accepting being digitised and willingly losing our humanness in the process?
Insatiable feelings of past deprivation of the majority of the population, exploited insidiously by individuals having lust for power and wealth, invariably manifests in turning a ‘liberal democracy’ into a sham democracy at the ballot box — that is a democracy in name only, like a hollow shell. At some point, however, the shell breaks and endless tears follow with unbearable pain. History is the witness.
A handful of wealthy can’t mask an overwhelming majority of poor people. Imagine the (suppressed) feelings of the unprivileged or the underprivileged when they see the wealthy shamelessly flaunting their wealth and power. Should their inaction or silence be taken for granted? What does history say?
Political arrogance in a globalized world
Some right-wing authoritarian politicians boisterously claim to be the world leaders of democracy. On the contrary, however, genuine global leadership or teachership must make one humble, and not audacious in tall claims. Such politicians undesirably put themselves under a global scanner. They are judged by one and all, at all levels, especially on their truthfulness and how well they look after their people.
By claiming to be ‘global’, they give both implicit and explicit right to the global community to comment on their activities and personal behaviour, they can’t just hide away. They must demonstrate a responsible, inclusive behaviour, in both letter and spirit, to maintain their global image. Walking is better than talking.
No one individual is perfect, no one nation is developed, we are all work in progress – learning and developing – towards becoming better versions of ourselves. We must not claim to be the best, that is arrogance.
Drunken with power, they have no clue of the repercussions of their reprehensible misdeeds against the people they are paid to serve. Their gross misuse of power against the wellness and holistic interest of the very people who elected and empowered them is beyond irrationality. Who says power does not corrupt to the point of insanity?
The wealthier you become, the more powerful you become, and that is when you get closer to your REAL character. It is very easy to show you are gentle when you are weak and powerless. Test is when you become powerful.
Manipur – a sad story
Nestled in a scenic part of Earth, at the interface of South Asia and S-E Asia, Manipur has reportedly been witnessing untold human suffering since the first week of 2023. Shockingly, two women were also sexually assaulted openly while being paraded naked by an unruly mob. No one knows what happened to them before and after the parade, and their ultimate fate. No one knows how many more women have also suffered such despicable crime against the humanity.
Reportedly, several tens of thousands of people have become homeless, hundreds killed, and more than 250 churches destroyed in Manipur since early May 2023, but the world has remained ignorant and quiet over most part of those three months. Horrendously, those who knew, kept mum. Reportedly, this place had been without any internet connectivity since the trouble started and the aggressors allegedly looted deadly assault weapons from local police stations.
Not many know what exactly has been happening in this unfortunate place because the mainstream media chose not to cover despicable happenings in this godforsaken place nor did the administration. Horrendously disturbing sectarian violence, brazenly perpetrated by one community on the other community has reportedly been passed on by the administration as a mere law and order problem.
Is this the new state of our world? How long will the so-called educated intellectuals remain impotent and agnostic? How long will the God remain mum? Why is our collective conscience falling? How unfortunate is that family where the elders, morally empowered to care for all members of the family, deliberately close their eyes, ears and mouth, and restrain their hands, when some of its unruly children insanely gang up and unleash suffering on the weaklings to the point of brutality!
Incompetent administrations may be forgiven as far as the cost of living and rising unemployment are concerned but those administrations that deliberately turn a blind eye to the criminal loss of life, property and faith of its citizens caused openly by wild goons tend to lend an implicit, covert support and encouragement to the goons.
As Manipur continues to burn and bleed, the world has kept quiet.
If international relations are mainly ‘interest’ based, will the ‘principles’ be used (as punishment) only when the ‘interests’ are not met? What sort of message does it send around? If we don’t believe in, or stand for, our so-called ‘principles’, isn’t the global polarization deliberate and manly for harvesting ‘interests’?
Indonesia – a breath of fresh air
During my travels, I have often wondered: ‘Why does a place — a city or a country — appear the way it does? Why does a place appear to be chaotic, regressive, haphazard and dirty? Or, alternatively, why does a place look so relaxed, progressive, pristine and organized?’
More often than not, the answer is simple: ‘A city or a country is a human construct, it reflects the public behaviour and personal conduct of the people who live and work there. If people are chaotic, a country is chaotic. If people are disciplined, a country is disciplined. People deserve what they get.’
In this respect, Indonesia is one country in Asia that has increasingly impressed me over the past few years. It has a young population who is not only progressive and scientific-minded, but one that also looks happy and humble, and quite eager to move ahead with the rest of the world. Indonesians never aggrandise themselves.
I have always found Indonesia and Indonesian people like a breath of fresh air. Indonesia invests heavily in education and, through all possible means, supports and funds tertiary education and higher research. Since 1945, the country runs on the philosophy and the principles of the Pancasila. Culturally, this blessed country stands out for all good reasons.
Indonesia is a very important neighbour for Australia and an essential partner in the realms of education, trade and resources (human and natural), and geo-strategy. The two countries will reap great mutual benefits by investing in each other.
How and where was democracy born?
Who gave birth to democracy? To answer this question, one must first understand the concept and essence of democracy. If one does not understand democracy, one can’t claim when and where it was born. Modern democracy was born out of a conscientious human spirit and intrinsic struggle to be free from the servitude of a tyrannical centralized power. It required getting rid of oppressive autocratic monarchy.
When modern democracy was born in Athens, Greece, in the 6th century BCE, the rest of the world had no idea about decentralization of power and peoples’ voice. In that world, autocratic monarchs subjugated people. In this day and also, some democratically elected leaders do no different under the guise of democracy. It has been 2,067 years since Julius Caesar was assassinated by Roman Senators not long after he had appointed himself the dictator for life. Rome was a Republic; people and their elected Senators shared the power.
Many people who don’t do too well in the present, as an involuntary reaction, tend to glorify their past, a past that is non-existent and a figment of imagination, a past of wishful dreams. If the past was really so great, how could it give way to the present? The truth is that the past was much weaker, violent and poorer than most of us believe due to our characteristic malaise and a general naivety.
Past was dark and cruel. Absolute power wielded by whimsical, self-worshipping monarchs reduced their subjects to mere slaves. Common people had no say, whatsoever, they were muffled and abused like sheer commodities. But the human spirit and the intrinsic quest for freedom did not die. A day came when monarchy was replaced with democracy. Can we, therefore, say regression to monarchy reflects a significant regression in the humans who live and promote it?
How many adults would readily return to their childhood and relive a much poorer and subjugated life in an overly authoritarian world, both at home and at school?
The world can never thank enough the Big Three of the ancient Greek Philosophy – Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – for their significant input into our present version of democracy, judiciary, critical thinking and the human civilization in general. They and many other Greek Philosophers, before and after them, significantly influenced the Western thought and how we think and lead our civilized lives at present.
It has been nearly 2,500 years since Socrates (470 – 399 BCE) was born in Athens where Greek philosophy was born. The questions are: ‘If we humans are being cleverly led (seduced / induced) to a point where we will again be gagged and banned from asking questions of the authorities? Didn’t Socrates pay the ultimate price for our freedom? Do we too have to pay a similar price?
Culture wins over Religion
More than religion, it is language and culture (including political ideology) that bind people together. If it was not so, in democratic countries (such as Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada and the US), citizens with same or similar religious backgrounds would not fall into differing political ideologies, for example, Liberals and Labor in Australia, Republicans and Democrats in the US, and the Tories and Labour in the UK. In democracies, religion becomes an unimportant tertiary factor.
On a global level, there are people (across religious divides) who support liberal democracy and there are people who support autocratic dictatorships. At work (engineering consultancy), we come from 14 different but we think similar and work as one team, with one vision. Notably, however, I work closely with two fellow Australians of Persian background, both geotechnical engineers of a very high caliber, who make me feel at home in Kashmir.
Payam and Farzad (Dr) have been working for more than a decade with me like my younger brothers. Our daily interactions have made me aware about striking similarities between the two types of peoples, our respective Persian and the Kashmiri languages, our common culture and the ethos. Through them, I have learnt a lot about the thoughts and writings of great, world-renowned Persian poets – Saadi, Hafez, Khayam, Rumi and others. Even though I am a vegetarian, it has always been a pleasure to sit together and chat over lunch — about our early life experiences and philosophy of life in general.
Both Persians and Kashmiris called a donkey ‘khar’. The term ‘khar’ means ‘big’. Unlike Kashmiris, however, Persians respect a donkey, as it is a great helper in our daily lives. In Kashmir, ‘Khar’ is also a family name (surname), which some families have now replaced with the term ‘Kher’. Similarly, a rabbit is called ‘kharghosh’, which means ‘big ears’, as the term ‘ghosh’ means an ear. Similarly, a melon is known as ‘kharbooz’ because it is a large, seedy fruit.
Language binds. Culture binds. Humanity binds. Rest is all divisive.
To ensure the elected politicians serve their people, we must vote for a party-leader or a candidate only if we feel absolutely safe in hosting that person at our home and living with our family for months when we are away at work. Before voting, we must think carefully and ask ourselves if we can trust the party-leader with our life and the security of our family, as well as our life savings. If not, run away, don’t cast an emotional vote. Vote for a party that makes fewer election promises, as that party may actually try to deliver those promises. Never fall for a party that promises you cash or candy, as you may receive nothing but crap in return.
© Bill K Koul [30 July 2023, Perth, Western Australia]
Copyright © Bill K Koul