Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Robert Kaplan's biases and the tragedy of Cold war era nationalisms

In my previous fisking of Layla Anwar I promised to use The  Robert Kaplan travelogue on Iraq in his book The Arabists in order to further elucidate my point on how Iraq is doomed to brutality

Turns out I am unable to locate my copy of The Arabists. Most likely I lent to a friend. I will retrieve it and post the evocative passages in question and my take on them ASAP

But since we are the topic of Mr Kaplan,it would be apropos to discuss his work

I was quite compelled by how RK views the world. I am intrigued as to how he includes a regions historical and cultural framework with its interlocking complexities of sect,tribalism and nationalism in highlighted its current woes or glad tidings as the case may be. The analyses are occasionally reductionist when it comes to really large and complex countries such as say India(which we will get to soon) and Russia but that is somewhat understandable when dealing such formidable cultural entities

My main beef with Mr Kaplan is how his yearning to absolve Islam for the crimes of its followers causes him to take odd leaps in logic,common sense and positing false analogies

For example in Buddhas Savage Peace he writes of the Tamil Tigers

"The very history of the Hindu Tamil Tigers shows that perverse violence, the embedding of warriors amid large numbers of civilians, and the rampant use of suicide bombing are not crimes specific to Muslims. "

Indeed Tamil Tigers were pioneers in suicide bombings and until the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which inspired legions of suicidal jihadis, they would lead in this field.
But how accurate is it to place the Tigers in the Hindu club? Doubtless most of them were brought up as Hindus but it was a secular Marxist organization with ties to other revolutionary outfits such as Basques, IRA, PKK,PLO et al
But seeing how Basques and IRA weren't  Crusader brotherhoods or PKK and PLO weren't Muslim fundamentalists , wouldn't it be fair to assume that Tamil Tigers's motive were ethnic nationalist with a dash of revolutionary leftism thrown in. Just like majority of the liberation movements in the Cold War era

One wonders why the usually thorough Mr Kaplan left this out? Could it be that pointing out that leftists have the dubious honor of the highest number of suicide bombings would embarrasses his bosses at The Atlantic?We cant have that can we?

And what better way to placate the PC Islamophiles by stating that Hinduism and Buddhism are associated with brutal blood and soil martial qualities just like the Muslims? Thereby negating any
criticism of Islam being uniquely violent. Granted that is an unfair criticism. Hinduism for instance has been incredibly violent for most of its history. It is only the ignorance of  Westerners in general who by transposing late 20th century Gandhian pacifism on to more than 6 millennia of Hindu history end up promoting such misinformation.
But that is no excuse for sloppy thinking and propagation of feel good falsehoods designed to provide a moral fig leaf for your ideology.

Also missing was the influence of Christian organizations on the LTTE. Many of Prabhakaran's top aides were Christian. Both Protestant and Catholic groups were very pro LTTE. Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists an otherwise loathesome lot were at least somewhat accurate when they saw the dead hand of Christian reactionaries who had a bone to pick with Buddhists in Sri Lanka since the rough treatment they received ever since the Portuguese pirates and missionaries(but I repeat myself) arrived

I don't quite know why a writer for The Atlantic ,not really a magazine friendly to Christian interests ignored this angle but my guess is the editor imagine its readers who may have tired of looking for the Opus Dei under their beds and are ready for a more exotic religious bigot. Even their Abrahamic cousins are no spicy enough. I mean Islamic terrorists are soooo 2001!

What really did the Tamil Tigers in , besides the bad PR for suicide bombing since 9/11/01 is they had been infected with Marxism/Leninism to begin with.

This has been the tragedy of pretty much every liberation movement during the Cold War. It really started with Stalin ,despite his flaws ,recognized that Soviets had no choice but to tap into the reservoir of Russian nationalism which was trampled on by the cruel and bloodthirsty Bolsheviks.
This since then has been the template of Cold War geopolitics in the Third World. A pretty good strategy which the dimwitted tacticians in the West had been unable to counter with any PR move even remotely comparable
A sole exception was Dwight Eisenhower who actually saw the immoral treatment of African Americans as a national security issue which the Communists would be able to exploit.
And in many ways they did, Martin Luther King Jr was a socialist masquerading as a Christian activist. WEB DuBois dropped any pretense of Christianity and was an unapologetic Marxist.
While Nelson Mandela was a full on communist.
The U.S government whole hearted support for Civil Rights movement and the tepid support for anti apartheid activists while seemingly contradictory are actually coherent from a national security perspective in the Cold War era.

The demise of the LTTE was just the long overdue cleaning up of  the Cold War business.

The Atlantic which leaned toward the Soviet Union , is with that article just throwing the totalitarian Marxist/Leninist LTTE under the bus by declaring it "Hindu".


  1. You don't mention that Prabhakaran was a Christian. As a Tamil Brahmin, we have great love for Nobili, Bresci, and especially Pope because they add to Tamil literature. BUT it must be said that LINGUISTIC CHAUVINISM IS FROM MISSIONARIES not Native to soil of Sri Lanka.

    1. I dont know if Prabhakaran was a Christian himself. But he was surely very close to them both as individuals and institutions.
      Actually it reflects better on Hindu society if indeed Prabhakaran was a Christian!
      However I dont think he was really anything but Tamil supremacist( early LTTE maps showed Tamil Eelam as the Chola empire stretching all away up from Eelam,TN,AP,Orissa and Bengal) and Dravidian rationalist who was fond more of Christianity than Hinduism but finding both useful for his agenda

      You left out Caldwell in the list of luminaries but he maybe more dear to non Brahmins I suppose

      Thank you for noticing that Linguistic chauvinism is foreign to India.
      Certainly kingdoms which roughly correspond to todays linguistic regions such as Chalukyas (Kannada) and Cholas(Tamils) fought vicious,brutal wars but there of no notion of basing their claims on language

      Missionaries carried this germ over from their homeland where linguistic ethno nationalism had replaced or were replaced multi cultural empires in Europe

      It seemed like a good idea well until WWI

      Today the most coarsest of linguistic chauvinists are Marathis(who very nearly misappropriated Hindu nationalism) , Kannadigas(Lingayats) , Tamils(rationalists) and Punjabis(Sikhs)

      Note above how these communities almost entirely founded/hijacked their own religion where they are The Chosen People. Seem familiar?