Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Mohan Guruswamy - The Sardar Patel statue is part of an attempt to manufacture a respectable genealogy for the RSS

Soon after Narendra Modi became prime minister, construction began on a colossal statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first deputy prime minister, on an inland island called Sadhu Bet facing the Narmada Dam near Vadodara in Gujarat. Planned at a cost of about Rs 3,000 crores and to stand 182 meters tall, this Chinese-made bronze statue, when completed, will be the tallest in the world. There is no doubt that this statue will become a major place of political worship like Rajghat and the Indira Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. But beyond tourist commerce there is another reason driving this project. It is to give the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh a genealogy it does not have.

Manufactured genealogy is a recurring feature of our history. Pre-Islamic invaders from Central Asia like the Hepthalites (White Huns) and Ahir Gatae from the region extending from Bactria in Central Asia to present-day Xinjiang in China conquered a good part of northern India and established kingdoms. The greatest of these invaders was Kanishka, whose realm stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang to Pataliputra (present-day Patna) on the Gangetic plainKanishka was of Turkestani origin. These new rulers, some of whom were Buddhists, were quickly absorbed into Hindu society and were made Agnikula Rajputs (family of the fire god), others got more extravagant genealogies deriving from the sun and moon, hence the Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi Rajputs. In this manner the integrity of the Brahminical varna system – that classifies society into four sections based on occupation – was preserved.

The Brahmin-dominated Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s government in Maharashtra has embarked on building another gigantic statue, this one of the Maratha King Shivaji. This is not without some irony as the varna of the Marathas is even now a contested issue, with some arguing that they are part of the Kshatriya (warrior) varna, and others that they have Kunbi peasant origins. This issue was the subject of antagonism between the Brahmins and Marathas, dating back to the time of Shivaji.

When it was time for Shivaji’s coronation in 1674, the Brahmins of Poona baulked, stating that the Bhonsles – Shivaji’s family – were not Kshatriyas. Legend has it that a Brahmin priest from Banaras, Gaga Bhatta, on receiving a generous payment, performed the ceremony. Shivaji’s genealogy now showed that the Bhonsles were a branch of the highly-respected Sisodias of Mewar, Kshatriyas of the purest Rajput clan. Whatever might have been his caste antecedents, Shivaji undoubtedly was one of India’s greatest kings. His achievements did not need a manufactured genealogy.

RSS and the freedom struggle: The ultra nationalist RSS is still in search of a genealogy that will connect it to the nationalist movement that won India its freedom. The truth is that the contemporary writings and speeches of its leaders have a very different story to tell. These leaders showed little enthusiasm for the anti-British struggle. Though the founder of the RSS, KB Hedgewar had an early association with the Congress and other nationalist movements like Bhagat Singh and 
Chandrashekhar Azad’s Hindustan Republican Association, he left it all behind to found the RSS.

He also stopped his followers from the nationalist path. MD Deoras, the third sarsanghchalak (supreme leader) of the RSS, wrote approvingly of how “Dr Hedgewar saved him and others from the path of Bhagat Singh and his comrades.” With the death of Hedgewar in 1940, the RSS lost all interest in freedom. Its new leader MS Golwalkar drew inspiration from Adolf Hitler’s ideology of race purity. Paradoxically Golwalkar also admired Jews for “maintaining their religion, culture and language”.

Golwalkar’s focus was on religion, racial purity and exclusion. Freedom was to be left to lesser mortals like Gandhiji and his Congress. He wanted the RSS to be involved only in “routine work”.
In the words of Golwalkar: “There is another reason for the need of always remaining involved in routine work. There is some unrest in the mind due to the situation developing in the country from time to time. There was such unrest in 1942. Before that there was the movement in 1930-31. At that time many other people had gone to Doctorji [Hedgewar]. This ‘delegation’ requested Doctorji that this movement [Congress] will give independence and Sangh should not lag behind. At that time, when a gentleman told Doctorji that he was ready to go to jail, Doctorji said: ‘Definitely go. But who will take care of your family then?’ That gentlemen told: ‘I have sufficiently arranged resources not only to run the family expenses for two years but also to pay fines according to the requirements.’ Then Doctorji said to him: ‘If you have fully arranged for the resources then come out to work for the Sangh for two years.’” Golwalkar’s point was crystal clear. Dharam (religion) came before dharma (duty).

The Patel project: The BJP leadership is very keen to project the RSS as a component of the freedom struggle. The BJP finds it embarrassing that the RSS – to which the top leadership as well as the overwhelming majority of the cadre of the BJP belong – was not a part of the freedom movement. The RSS lacks the courage to categorically state that it did not participate in the freedom struggle because its ideology prevented it from doing so.

There is the well-known concocted story of how the RSS tried to lionise Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s role in the 1942 Quit India movement. This ended in a huge embarrassment when it was discovered that Vajpayee actually made a confessional statement disassociating himself from the protest event at his hometown Bateshwar. In the confession he wrote: “Ten or twelve persons were in the forest office. I was at a distance of 100 yards. I did not render any assistance in demolishing the government building. Thereafter, we went to our respective homes.”

Hence the RSS is trying to attach themselves the legacy of Vallabhbhai Patel, to get a leg into the nationalist movement. They forget that it was Sardar Patel who had banned the RSS in 1948 after learning that its workers were distributing sweets to celebrate the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
In the run up to the 2014 general elections Narendra Modi displayed his lack of knowledge of history, or willingness to distort it, by saying that the Congress Party wanted Patel to be the first prime minister. The fact is that Jawaharlal Nehru became the president of the Congress in 1946 after Maulana Azad was dissuaded from offering himself on the basis of the system of rotation that the Congress informally followed. Patel was never in the run. Given Nehru’s overwhelming popularity, even if Patel contested, Nehru would have defeated him.

Both LK Advani and Modi have tried to project that there was a fissure between Nehru and Patel. The BJP leaders seem to be confused between dissent and dissidence. Dissent is a genuine difference of opinion, and there were many between Nehru and Patel, as should be between two independent-minded individuals. Dissidence is a result of competing ambitions. On this Patel was clear. He wrote:
“It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he (Nehru) should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crises after crises, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions.” Patel added: “Contrary to the impression created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can.”

Now the RSS is trying to make Sardar Patel its own by attempting to give itself a lineage deriving from Sardar Patel – the colossal statue is intended to rewrite the Sangh’s history. But the saffron body will only end up as a parvenu, wanting in patriotism when it mattered most. But Modi won’t know all this. History is not his forte, or else he would not think that Alexander died on the West bank of the Ganga! 

The Abolition of truth
Book review: In the name of the father
RSS tradition
 of manufacturing facts to suit their ideology
कुमार प्रशांत - तो राष्ट्रीय स्वंयसेवक संघ ने एक बार फिर गांधी से दो-दो हाथ करने का मन बनाया है // Bharat Bhushan: BJP icon SP Mookerjee complicit in raising funds for defending Gandhi's assassins
The Broken Middle (on the 30th anniversary of 1984)
A  subaltern fascism? - by Kannan Srinivasan

I as a German prefer much more to see India under British Government than under any other...I must not connect the fate of the German people with these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ who are clearly of racial inferiority (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 747)
Remembering Gehal Singh, who gave his life for communal harmony
Anil Nauriya: Portrait as mirror The Hindu, March 3, 2003
V, D Savarkar and Gandhi’s murder

Jaipur Literature Festival organisers under pressure to ban Taslima Nasreen from festival in future

NB: The report below states that the Rajasthan Muslim Forum, All India Milli Council, Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Personal Law Board referred to Taslima as a “disputed” personality; and that she was living in exile since 1994 for her controversial book, Lajja. On this ground they have demanded that she should not be invited again. If the report is correct, and the JLF's organisers have indeed decided not to invite her in future this signifies another retreat in the face of communal intimidation; and another nail in the coffin of freedom of expression. Taslima's opponents should know that her book Lajja depicted the torments undergone by a Hindu family during the communal riots in Bangladesh after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. In brief, she defended the human rights of religious minorities in her country. It is for this reason she was hounded out of Bangladesh. 

Would not the Rajasthan Muslim Forum, All India Milli Council, Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Personal Law Board wish democratic writers and intellectuals to defend their rights to live in peace in India in a similar circumstance? Is it not true that today, human rights defenders in India are being harassed by the Modi regime? Do these opponents of Taslima consider the NDA government to be acting justly by targeting secular activists? Have they defended the rights of Bangladeshi bloggers done to death by fanatics for simply airing their beliefs?

The hounding of Taslima Nasrin by the self-styled representatives of 'Muslim sentiment' is a shame and an abomination. It is as horrible as the persecution of M F Husain by the Hindu communalists. The bloodthirsty threats issued to her remind us of the fate of Pansare, Dabholkar and Kalburgi. She has every right to criticise the communalisation of Bangladeshi politics, as she has a right to criticise Islam. No religion is above criticism, and the freedom of religion does not imply that atheists be silenced. The JLF organisers should not bow to this kind of communal pressure and intimidation and Taslima should be absolutely free to speak her mind anywhere she wants. As a friend and well-wisher of the JLF, I appeal to the organisers to stand firm against the demand to keep her out of the festival. Those who disagree with her may be asked to debate with her in public if they have the courage. DS

At Jaipur Literature Festival on Monday Taslima Nasreen’s argument of applying Uniform Civil Law to raise the status of Muslim women in the country drew a protest by several organisations, after which the Bangladeshi writer and activist will not be invited to the function in the future, said the organisers. Nasreen was there at an impromptu session where she spoke about Muslim women who are oppressed because there are some Islamic fundamentalists who wouldn’t hear any criticism of Islam. Many organisations like Rajasthan Muslim Forum, All India Milli Council, Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Personal Law Board against this saying she is a “disputed” personality as she is living in exile since 1994 for her controversial book, Lajja. The protesters demanded that she should not be invited again.

Sanjoy K Roy, Producer of JLF told PTI, “They expressed their anger…. I heard them out. Explained we supported minorities in every way. Underscored that we are a platform for all points of view. Agreed that we should consider their request not to re-invite them.” Protesters told PTI Nasreen’s name was not in the catalogue of the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. The police and organisers supported her inspite knowing her “disputed” reputation. Nasreen was there at the Writers-in-Prison Committee of PEN International for session named Exile on Monday. She spoke about her new book Exile. During her talk she said, “Without serious criticism of Islam, you will not be able to make Islamic countries secular. The women will continue to suffer and be oppressed,” she said.

“I don’t believe in nationalism, religious fundamentalism. I believe in one world. I believe in rights, freedom, humanism and rationalism. Until Islam accepts criticism, no Islamic country can be considered secular. Whenever I criticise, people want to kill me,” she said. Nasreen is mostly noted for her awards in literature and her daring criticism of religion.

see also

The Broken Middle (on the 30th anniversary of 1984)

Sunday, 29 January 2017

January 30, 2017 is the 69th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination

Ishwar Allah Tere Nam
Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan

Image result for mahatma gandhi
वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहिये
जे पीड परायी जाणे रे
पर दुःखे उपकार करे तो ये
मन अभिमान आणे रे

Vaishnavas are those who
Feel the pain of others,
Help those who are in misery,
But never let conceit enter their minds

Gandhiji has been killed by his own people for whose redemption he lived. This second crucifixion in the history of the world has been enacted on a Friday - the same day Jesus was done to death one thousand nine hundred and fifteen years ago. Father forgive us
Hindusthan Standard January 31, 1948

When newspapers across the world mourned the loss of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi, who helped defeat the mighty British empire, struggled to win the battle with his own people

Tributes to Mahatma Gandhi

C. Rajagopalachari, Governor-General

Bharatmata is writhing in anguish and pain over the loss. No man loved Bharatmata and Indians more than Mahatma Gandhi. Let the tragedy that was enacted in Delhi give the people of India the tune, reason, rhyme and melody for the history of their future. I pray that the history of India might be written with the rhythm and tune of the grief that Bharatmata had felt when Mahatma Gandhi fell. No one could die a more glorious death than Mahatma Gandhi. He was going to the seat of his prayer to speak to his Rama. He did not die in a bed calling for hot water, doctors or nurses. He did not die after mumbling incoherent words in the sick bed. He died standing, not even sitting down. Rama was too eager to take him even before he could reach the seat of his prayer. When Socrates died for his views and Christ for his faith, they believed that they would not get another example like that.

Jawaharlal Nehru: Great men and eminent men have monuments in bronze and marble set up for them, but this man of divine fire managed in his life-time to become enmeshed in millions and millions of hearts so that all of us became somewhat of the stuff that he was made of, though to an infinitely lesser degree. He spread out over India not in palaces only, or in select places, or in assemblies, but in every hamlet and hut of the lowly and those who suffer. He lives in the hearts of millions and he will live for immemorial ages....He has gone, and all over India there is a feeling of having been left desolate and forlorn. All of us sense that feeling, and I do not know when we shall be able to get rid of it, id yet together with that feeling there is also a feeling of proud thanksgiving that it has been given to us of this generation to be associated with this mighty person. In ages to come, centuries and may be millenniums after us, people will think of this generation when this man of God trod the earth and will think of us who, however small, could also follow his path and probably tread on that holy ground where his feet had been. Let us be worthy of him. Let us always be so.

Sardar Patel:  His supreme sacrifice will quicken our conscience. For even though his mortal frame will turn into ashes tomorrow, at 4 p.m., Gandhiji's imperishable teachings will abide with us. I even feel that Gandhiji's immortal spirit is still hovering over us and will continue to watch over the nation's destiny in future also. The mad youth who killed him was wrong if he thought thereby he was destroying his noble mission. Perhaps God wanted Gandhiji's mission to fulfil and prosper through his death. I am sure Gandhiji's supreme sacrifice will wake up the conscience of our countrymen and evoke a higher response in the heart of every Indian. I hope and pray that it may be given to us to complete Gandhiji's mission. At this solemn moment, no one of us can afford to waver or lose his or her heart. Let us all stand united and bravely face the national disaster that has overtaken us. Let us all solemnly pledge ourselves afresh to Gandhiji's teachings and ideals.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Mahatma Gandhi has carried on his frail shoulders a great deal of the burden of humanity and now it was for them to stand together and share it. If millions of Indians could divide that burden and carry it successfully, it would be nothing short of a miracle.

Mrs. Sarojini Naidu: Mahatma Gandhi, whose frail body was committed to the flames yesterday, is not dead. It was right that the cremation took place in the midst of the dead kings who were buried in Delhi, for he was the kingliest of all kings. It is right also that he who was the Apostle of Peace should have been taken to the cremation ground with all the honours of a great warrior. Far greater than all warriors who led armies to battle was this little man, the bravest, the most tried friend of all. Delhi has become the centre and the sanctuary of the great revolutionary who emancipated his enslaved country from foreign bondage and gave to it its freedom and its flag.

M. A. Jinnah: I associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to this great man. He died in the discharge of the duty in which he believed. His tragic death, however much we may deplore it and however much we may condemn the murderer, was a noble death, for he died in the discharge of his duty.

H.S. Suhrawardy (ex-Premier of Bengal) To him we had learnt to turn for guidance and for advice in all our difficulties, and he never failed us. Weep India, weep until thy heart breaks, for extinguished is the light that shed truth and justice, a deep love for humanity and transcendental sympathy for the forlorn and the friendless. I am sure he sees what we do; let us try to fulfil his cherished dream of Hindu-Muslim unity and oneness of mind and spirit in the common service of humanity.

Albert Einstein: Everyone concerned in the better future of mankind must be deeply moved by the tragic death of Mahatma Gandhi. He died as the victim of his own principles, the principle of non-violence. He died because in time of disorder and general irritation in his country, he refused armed protection for himself. It was his unshakable belief that the use of force is an evil in itself, that therefore it must be avoided by those who are striving for supreme justice to his belief. With his belief in his heart and mind, he has led a great nation on to its liberation. He has demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political manoeuvres and trickeries but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. The admiration for Mahatma Gandhi in all countries of the world rests on recognition, mostly sub-conscious, recognition of the fact that in our time of utter moral decadence, he was the only statesman to stand for a higher level of human relationship in the political sphere. This level we must, with all our forces, attempt to reach. We must learn the difficult lesson that an endurable future of humanity will be possible only if also in international relations decisions are based on law and justice and not on self-righteous power, as they have been up to now..

A leader of his people, unsupported by only outward authority; a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force; a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot; a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior. Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

Mian Iftikharuddin (President, West Punjab Muslim League): Mahatma Gandhi's death ends an epoch of Indian history of which he was the originator ... Each one of us who has raised his hand against innocent men, women and children during the past months, who has publicly or secretly entertained sympathy for such acts is a collaborator in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi.

Resolution passed by the Working Committee of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind: It was Mahatma Gandhi who, practising truth, patience, perseverance, forbearance and tolerance conducted the nation's peaceful and non-violent struggle for freedom to success. He was an ardent supporter and upholder of democracy, fraternity and Hindu- Muslim unity, and staked his life several times for his high ideals and at last sacrificed his life for these. The Working Committee fully appreciates the grand and unparalleled services of the Mahatma to the country as a whole and regards him as the greatest benefactor of India.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: He was the only ray of light to help us through these darkest days.

General Douglas MacArthur: Nothing more revolting has occurred in history of modern world than the senseless assassination of this venerable man. That he should die by violence is one of those bitter anachronisms that seems to refute all logic. In the evolution of civilization, if it is to survive, all men can not fail eventually to adopt his belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction. Gandhiji, however, was one of those prophets who lived far ahead of the times.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur: It is impossible to estimate his loss at this critical juncture in our history. I am sure that we shall miss his wise counsel more and more as the days pass by. He has led us faultlessly to our goal of political independence. The communal strife that started almost immediately after August 15 wounded him to the depths. An India wedded to violence he could not tolerate. He saw the moral deterioration in us and, as a loving father, he again unwearyingly pointed out to us the right way. With his infinite love he was trying to quench the anger that raged in many breasts. He was the one thing that stood between us and disaster, for lawlessness and disorder and hate and violence can lead nowhere else.

Rev Martin Luther King: "Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance.... The whole concept of Satyagraha was profoundly significant to me."... “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contract theory of Hobbes, the 'back to nature' optimism of Rousseau, and the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the non-violent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.”

“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.” “Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.”

Romain Rolland: “Gandhi is not only for India a hero of national history, whose legendary memory will be enshrined in the millennial epoch. Gandhi has renewed, for all the peoples of the West, the message of their Christ, forgotten or betrayed.” ..“For many, he was like a return of Christ. For others, for independent thinkers, Gandhi was a new incarnation of Jean-Jaques Rosseau and of Tolstoy, denouncing the illusions and the crimes of civilization, and preaching to men the return to nature, to the simple life, to health.”.. “I have seen here, in Switzerland, the pious love that he [Gandhi] inspired in humble peasants of the country side and the mountains.”

Will Durant: “Not since Buddha has India so revered any man. Not since St. Francis of Assissi has any life known to history been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity of soul and forgiveness of enemies. We have the astonishing phenomenon of a revolution led by a saint.”

A.K. Fazlul Huq (ex-Premier of Bengal) The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most tragic events since the great tragedy of Karbala. It is impossible to find words to express the feelings that are uppermost in our minds. May his soul rest in peace.

Sheikh Abdullah: Although Gandhiji is no more, Kashmir will follow him for ever. Kashmiris are laying down their lives for Gandhiji's ideals. As long as a single Kashmiri is alive, the torch of truth and unity lit by Gandhiji will burn brightly.

Sri Sankaracharya of Sri Kamakoti Peetah: A more perfect ideal of ahimsa and love cannot be conceived. Gandhiji utilised every evil happening to test his inner purity. Whether in the form of judicial punishment while dealing with internal crime or in the form of war while dealing with foreign aggression, himsa is inevitable in political life. But our apostle of ahimsa tried to transform even that unavoidable himsa into ahimsa by completely eschewing hatred from it.

For more tributes to Gandhi, click here

Inder Malhotra 'with Godse at the centre'
Modi wants them all: Godse and Gandhi together under BJP's 'big tent'
Gopalkrishna Gandhi: At point blank range - The killing of plural Hindustan
Apoorvanand: The retrial of Godse: Forgetting the facts
The music of humanity
Haroon Khalid A Gandhi for Pakistan

Abha Gandhi talks about Mahatma Gandhi's assassination

Godse pushed Manu forcefully aside with his left hand, momentarily exposing the gun in his right. The items in her hands fell to the ground. For a few moments she continued arguing with the unknown assailant. But when the rosary dropped she bent down to pick it up. At this precise moment, a burst of deafening blasts ripped apart the peaceful atmosphere as Godse fired three bullets into Gandhi's abdomen and chest. As the third shot was fired Gandhi was still standing, his palms still joined. He was heard to gasp, "He Ram, He Ram". Then he slowly sank to the ground, palms joined still, possibly in a final ultimate act of ahimsa. Smoke filled the air. Confusion and panic reigned. The Mahatma was slumped on the ground, his head resting in the laps of both girls. His face turned pale, his white shawl of Australian wool was turning crimson with blood. Within seconds Mahatma Gandhi was dead. It was 5.17 pm - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUjna9vkUBk

Becky Harlan - These Ancient Trees Have Stories to Tell

Over three trillion trees live on planet Earth, and yet we know so few of their stories. Of course all trees play an important role—purifying the air, hosting the feathered and the furry, teaching kids (and kids at heart) how to climb—but some have spent more time doing these things than others. Quiver trees, for example, can live up to 300 years, oaks can live a thousand years, and bristlecone pines and yews can survive for millennia.
Quiver Tree, Aloe dichotoma, ub Keetmanshoop, Namibia. The Quiver Tree Forest in southern Namibia is home to a spectacular collection of some of Earth’s most unusual trees, some of which are three centuries old. Strictly speaking, they are actually succulent aloe plants that can grow up to 33 feet high. The Bushman and Hottentot tribes use the hollow branches of this plant to make quivers for their arrows. The forest was made a Namibian national monument in 1995.
Quiver tree, Aloe dichotoma, Keetmanshoop, NamibiaThe Quiver Tree Forest in southern Namibia is home to a spectacular collection of some of Earth’s most unusual trees, some of which are three centuries old. Strictly speaking, they are actually succulent aloe plants that can grow up to 33 feet high. The Bushman and Hottentot tribes use the hollow branches of this plant to make quivers for their arrows. The forest was made a Namibian national monument in 1995. Photo - Beth Moon

In 1999, photographer Beth Moon took it upon herself to begin documenting some of these more seasoned trees. Specifically, she sought out aged subjects that were “unique in their exceptional size, heredity, or folklore.” And it was a quest. “So many of our old trees have been cut down,” she says, “that without a concerted effort you are not likely to run across one.”

She found some of her subjects through research and discovered others through tips from friends and enthusiastic travelers. Beginning in Great Britain, she eventually trekked across the United States, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to connect with oaks named after queens and baobabs shaped like teapots.

“Sometimes the journey is half the fun,” says Moon, citing a tree in Madagascar that was particularly hard to find. “It was so big, you would think it would be easy to spot. In the end, the local chief came to our aid. He rode with us, giving directions to the tree. The people of the village were so intrigued they followed along behind the jeep and sat in the field watching as I photographed.”

Part of what intrigues her about these trees, which are older than many of our most established institutions, is what makes them last. “I am always amazed at the way trees have the ability to endure and adapt to severe conditions. Some ancient trees hollow out as they age as a survival technique. 

The tree will send an aerial root down the center of the trunk, which will continue to grow from the inside out.” In her book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, she explains that these ancient individuals “contain superior genes that have enabled them to survive through the ages, resistant to disease and other uncertainties.”..

Many of the real trees represented, however, face hard times ahead. “Quiver trees are dying from lack of water in Namibia. Dragon’s blood trees are in decline and on the endangered list, and three species of baobab trees are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List,” says Moon. “The disappearance of old-growth forests may be one of the most serious environmental issues today.”..
Read more and see photos:

Saturday, 28 January 2017

William Astore - Weapons, Warriors, and Fear as the New Order in America

The U.S. bestrides arms production and dealing like a colossus. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. arms contractors sold $209.7 billion in weaponry in 2015, representing 56% of the world’s production... It’s estimated that there are more than 300 million weapons in American hands, nearly enough to arm every citizen, the tall and the small (even tots)...

Strangely, most Americans remain either wilfully ignorant of, or indifferent to, what their country is becoming. That American-made weaponry is everywhere, that America’s warriors are all over the globe, that America’s domestic prisons are bursting with more than two million captives, is even taken by some as a point of pride. 

I came of age during America's Cold War with the Soviet Union, witnessing its denouement while serving in the U.S. military. In those days, the USSR led the world's weapons trade, providing arms to the Warsaw Pact (the military alliance it dominated) as well as to client states like Cuba, Egypt, and Syria.  The United States usually came in second in arms dealing, a dubious silver medal that could, at least, be rationalized as a justifiable response to Soviet aggression, part of the necessary price for a longstanding policy of “containment.” In 1983, President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union an "evil empire" in part because of its militarism and aggressive push to sell weaponry around the globe, often accompanied by Soviet troops, ostensibly as trainers and advisers.

After the USSR imploded in 1991, dominating the world’s arms trade somehow came to seem so much less evil. In fact, faced with large trade deficits, a powerful military-industrial complex looking for markets, and ever more global military commitments, Washington actively sought to promote and sell American-made weaponry on a remarkable scale. And in that it succeeded admirably.

Today, when it comes to building and exporting murderous weaponry, no other country, not even that evil-empire-substitute, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, comes faintly close.  The U.S. doth bestride the world of arms production and dealing like a colossus. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. arms contractors sold $209.7 billion in weaponry in 2015, representing 56% of the world’s production.  Of that, $40 billion was exported to an array of countries, representing “half of all agreements in the worldwide arms bazaar,” as the New York Times put it.  France ($15 billion) was a distant second, with Putin’s Russia ($11 billion) earning a weak third.  Judged by the sheer amount of weapons it produces for itself, as well as for others, the U.S., notes Forbes, is “still comfortably the world's superpower -- or warmonger, depending on how you look at it.” Indeed, under President Obama, in the five-year period beginning in 2010, American arms exports outpaced the figures for the previous Bush-Cheney years by 23%. 

Not only has the U.S. come to dominate the arms trade in an almost monopolistic fashion over the last two decades, but it has also become the top exporter of troops globally.  Leaving aside the ongoing, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to garrison the globe with approximately 800 military bases, while deploying its Special Operations forces to a significant majority of the planet’s countries annually.  As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse reported recently, "From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America’s most elite forces -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them -- were deployed to 138 countries in 2016."  Think about that: last year, U.S. Special Operations troops were sent to more than two-thirds of the approximately 190 countries on the planet.  While some of these deployments were small, others were more impressive -- and invasive -- and often enough dovetailed with efforts to sell weaponry (which even has its own military acronym: FMS, or foreign military sales). 

Recall those Red Army trainers and advisers who often accompanied Soviet weaponry into the field a generation ago.  These days, travel the planet and the trainers and advisers you’ll see are overwhelmingly likely to be wearing U.S. uniforms or at least to be contractors working for Pentagon-allied, U.S.-based warrior-corporations.  Testing, touting, and toting American-made arms in far-flung realms is the common mission of the U.S. military these days, and business is booming. 

If all of this were to be summarized under one rubric, it might be Weapons & Warriors “R” Us, and it’s not just an international phenomenon.  Consider the surge in the production and sale of guns in the good old US of A.  It’s now estimated that there are more than 300 million weapons in American hands, nearly enough to arm every citizen, the tall and the small (even tots).  That old chestnut associated with early advertising for Colt Manufacturing has truly come into its own in twenty-first-century America: God created men; Sam Colt made them equal. 

These days, arms are everywhere, even prospectively in public schools, which, as Betsy DeVos pointed out recently in her confirmation hearings for secretary of education, should certainly be armed against “lone wolf” grizzly bears (if not Islamic terrorists).  Even liberals are now reportedly getting into the act, scarfing up guns in the aftermath of November’s election, apparently gripped by the rising fear of a coming Trumpocalypse.  This national mania for guns (and for carrying them everywhere) is mirrored by an abundance of domestic prisons and security firms, offering jobs that, unlike those in steel mills and manufacturing plants, can’t easily be outsourced to foreign lands.
Since the end of the Cold War, America has been exporting a mirror image of its domestic self: not the classic combo of democracy and freedom, but guns, prisons, and security forces…read more:
(The author is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history)

see also
Pope Decries “Shameful and Culpable Silence” on Arms Sales