Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Iraq Lessons

A.H. Cemendtaur

Allow me to put forth, in the spirit of perennial optimism, a few
valuable lessons we can all take from the Iraq debacle. And when I
say all of us I really mean all of us: the conquerors, the common
folks of the invading nation, the autocrats of the Third World, and
the masses living under despotic rules.

The lesson for the conquerors is very simple: That war is too risky an enterprise to have a predictable long-term result. That running over a smaller country may appear to be a cakewalk, but because of the intrinsicly chaotic nature of violence, this apparent runaway can easily go awry.

The populace of powerful nations should learn that in times of solicitude, con artists will try to fool them, and the tricksters have an excellent chance of getting away with it. That the way a nation can be duped into making unfavorable decisions when it is in a state of anxiety is not very different from the scenario when a pickpocket pushes you to make you lose your balance, making it easier for them to steal from you.

Whereas the idea of exporting democracy to the Middle East had been on the books for a long time, the tragedy of 9/11/2001 provided the necessary environment in which an ideological theory--blissfully accompanied by greed--could be put to the test. Americans were easily tricked by the Neocons into believing that Saddam Hussein was another face of Al Qaeda and that the invasion of Iraq was the only way to avoid the next 9/11. The Neocons, willingly duped by a group of Iraqi Americans, were sure that the Iraqis' gratitude for their liberators would be perpetual and
that during Iraq's transformation into the Japan of the Middle East, its oil will flow freely towards the West—-a win-win situation for all. Too bad the Iraqis refused to play along.

The lesson for the tyrants is obvious and they can see it on TV in the fate of Saddam Hussein. The Iraq fiasco must convince Third World dictators of their precarious hold on power. That they may fool themselves about their popularity and how they live in the hearts and minds of their countrymen, but only a popular vote through democracy is a true indicator of a nation's trust in its leader.

And the greatest Iraq lesson is for the people presently living under dictators and unrepresentative governments. Watching the misery of Iraqis, they need to understand that they have to be serious about their governments--they are responsible for the deeds of people governing them. That it is not OK for people to live a complacent life of neatly fitting in a niche, working one day at a time, and not worrying about the bigger system supporting them, their lives, their
jobs, and everything around them.

Following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Iraq descended into chaos because all the power had been concentrated in the deposed leader. A long dictatorship had left Iraqi society hollow. There were no strong institutions that could pull the whole society together in the absence of central authority. People living under dictators must apprehend this hollowness and must work to correct this situation. Institutions live longer than people. That is why there is great merit in building
strong institutions. It is easy to kill a man but very hard to destroy an institution. A strong institution is capable of replenishing its human resources.

It is understandable that in trying situations, self-appointed reformists, especially those with military power, will try to take over a country, but people must put up stiff resistance to such aberrations, knowing that such shortcuts could have disastrous results down the road.

A decentralized democratic government supported by a generally educated public and run by a tolerant secular administration espousing laissez faire has proven to be the best prescription for a country to gain strength. This is the medicine one is inclined to write for everyone, at least until someone comes up with a better idea and demonstrates a working model of their theory.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Koftay and Candy Bars

Let me be very honest about this. While I am very easy to get along most of the time, I do have my pet peeves. And what irks me most are people who are not tasteful with their speech; that is, people that mix languages, and especially those who mix English in Urdu. You know the kind of people I'm talking about. People who would say, "Main wahan jaa raha thaa keh all of a sudden I saw a big truck coming my way. Achha, us truck kee khas baat yeh thee keh it was full of old lumber," and so on. Ugghhhh! Man, Do I barf at that?! I know that it is very common for my countrymen to speak that way, but that doesn't stop me from despising this lingua spurious. I am from the school of thought that believes that when you speak one language, you should speak just that language--when you speak Urdu you must only speak Urdu, and when you speak English you must say everything in English. And my position on this issue is not based on some queer ideas about safeguarding the purity of languages. As a student of linguistics I know that languages are constantly evolving, and that when a language stops evolving it dies. I know that languages become stronger when they borrow words from other languages. I understand all that. I am not against borrowing foreign words into Urdu. My objection is on speech that is just loose-tongued; my annoyance are the people who bastardize Urdu with English without giving any thought to what they are doing.

Occasions to invent words come when people venture into the unknown. When brave souls course through uncharted waters they encounter new phenomena and new entities that need be named. Today, while the rest of the world is lagging behind and seems to be only interested in the innovations that take the developed form of consumer goods, it is the West and especially the English-speaking group of nations that is marching at full speed. From Physics to Astronomy to Genetic Engineering, they are the ones who are tackling the unknowns on a daily basis. They are the ones sending spacecrafts to various places in our solar system; they are the ones decoding human genes; they are the ones going to the depths of the seas and cataloging new species of fish. It is not surprising that outside of the West, linguistic groups, including Urdu speakers, don't have names for the recently discovered subatomic particles or the latest sports rages. We have no choice but to accept the terminology used by the pioneering nations. I am not thrilled when Urdu litterateurs come up with intimidating Arabic or Farsi (mostly Arabic these days) substitutes for English words, to be used in Urdu. To me the Arabization of new English words is a scheme to discredit the inventors: you may have discovered/invented it but we'll give it a name we like (insinuating credit for the discovery/invention). We must definitely use English words for which there is no easy replacement in Urdu. I am all for using words like 'quark', 'nebula', 'parasailing', 'bungee jumping', etc.

But to punctuate your Urdu sentence with 'and', 'therefore', 'but', 'because', 'I think', 'see', etc. is not very smart. Similarly, dovetailing Urdu and English fragments in one sentence smacks of intellectual deprivation. It is my observation that people who do such a hefty mixing of English in Urdu, are, most of the time, not proficient in either language.

I respect connoisseurs who see language as not only a tool for expression but as a vehicle whose intricate beauty should be appreciated; people who savor their own and others' speech; people who use words very consciously, with great taste and discernment; people who realize the power behind each word; people who know etymologies and can trace back the origins of words. These are the people who understand that the best way to enjoy the tastes of koftay and candy bars is to eat them separately. I might agree with that oddball who would argue that by thoroughly mixing koftay and candy bars in a blender you can come up with yet another dish that would have its very own unique taste--but most people who are casual with their language and use varying mixtures of Urdu-English don't seem to have that type of intellectual reasoning behind their action. They are fusing Urdu and English because they don't know any better. They neither have the taste for koftay nor for candy bars.