Monday, February 14, 2011
If social media helped liberate Egypt, Egypt could trigger the liberation of the social media from its American origins.
13 February 2011, 03:12 AM IST
For three weeks the world has been awaiting a face that would personify the determination and anger of the ‘jasmine revolution’ in Egypt. For all their accomplishments, neither Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei nor Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa quite fitted the bill: they were too stuffy and detached from the passions on display in Tahrir Square.
Last week, many Egyptians found their symbol in the boyish, bespectacled, 31-year-old Google employee Wael Ghonim. Better known by his Facebook nom de plume El Shaheed (the martyr), he could well be mistaken for another dishevelled but trendy techie with a trademark black computer bag—someone likely to be naturally awkward in the perfectly tailored suits that make Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman appear so distinguished. To middle-class Egypt, the backbone of the Egypt uprising, Ghonim is the archetypal boy next door.
It is Ghonim’s ordinariness and modesty that enthralled Egyptians last week when he appeared on Dream TV after his release from 12 days of incarceration. His message was sincere and touchingly innocent: “We did this because we love Egypt”, “these are our rights”, “this is not the time to spread ideologies” and, “we deserve much better than what is happening to us.” There was no bitterness and no call for recrimination—he actually praised the patriotism of his tormentors -- just a plea for life with dignity. He ended with a tearful apology: “I want to tell every mother and father who lost a child, I am sorry, but this is not our mistake. I swear to God it’s not our mistake. It’s the mistake of every one of those in power who doesn’t want to let go.”
By the time an emotionally distraught Ghonim abruptly concluded the interview, leaving the channel to sign off with mournful music and photographs of nameless boys felled by bullets in the prime of their lives, it is said there was not a dry eye in Egypt. The spurt in the numbers in Tahrir Square last Tuesday, particularly of women, could be traced to the Ghonim interview.
If Ghonim’s charm does indeed prove a game changer and Egypt persists in its determination for a new order that is democratic in both form and spirit, it will be a spectacular development. Since the June 2009 protests in Tehran against a blatantly rigged election, there has been growing interest in the role of social media as a catalyst for change in authoritarian societies. As the creator and administrator of the “We are all Khaled Said” page on Facebook, which attracted some 3.5 lakh followers before the uprising, Ghonim personified the new cyber activism. The Egypt uprising was triggered by an improvised protest rally on January 25 convened by the April 6 movement, a group that was forged primarily out of social media linkages.
This is not to go along with the facile description of the Egyptian troubles as the Facebook or Twitter uprising. Had the anti-Mubarak stir been merely a middle class revolt of the well-off, under-35s, it would have had an impact but it wouldn’t have either shaken an entrenched regime or forced a grudging shift in US policy. The demonstrations have attracted mass support, well beyond the relatively small group linked by social media. It has seen the participation of the bazaars, the working class and a Muslim Brotherhood that is ideologically disinclined to share the liberal values of the likes of Ghonim.
Where Facebook and Twitter have played a seminal role is in drawing a very wide swathe of the educated, middle class youth. In her interview with Ghonim, the feisty TV presenter Mona el-Shazly spoke about a curious facet of the movement: the participation of the sons and daughters of Establishment figures in the Tahrir Square protests. The Egyptian revolution is also a babalog revolt against the lack of personal and creative freedom.
It is this facet of the uprising that has contributed to the muddle in US policy. Hitherto, Washington viewed the global spread of the social media as both a success of US enterprise and a vehicle for the spread of American values. Each tirade against a Google or Twitter-inspired ideological contamination by Iranian clerics and Chinese commissars was seen as a triumph of US soft power. In Egypt, the earnest boys and girls spouting the virtues of democracy in American accents to CNN and BBC were also upholding the spirit of freedom the US always showcased. Tragically for Washington, this idealism was at odds with American geo-political interests.
Like the Egyptian youth who have outgrown the traditional culture of deference but yet remain passionately committed to Egypt, Twitter and Facebook are also setting their own norms. If social media helped liberate Egypt, Egypt could trigger the liberation of the social media from its American origins.
The History of Christian Saint (?) Valentine: In the olden days Rome had culture of Idol-worship. In those days the period between February 13 to 15 used to be celebrated as ‘ Reproduction Festival’ by name ‘Lupercalia’. However to destroy their culture of idol worship and their christianisation , Pope Galasis (First) connected Valentine with 14 th February and started the practice of celebrating ‘Valentine Day’. There was no connection between ‘Valentine Day’ and ‘Love’ till fourteenth century.
Similarly according to some, in third century the King Claudius (Second) of Rome took out the order that the young men should not marry and should join the army to face the repeated attacks occurring on the nation. However a priest named Valentine did not pay heed to this order and performed marriages of many young men and women secretly. He was sentenced to death and was sent to prison for his traitorous act. This so called saint then seduced the young daughter of the prison official while being in prison. Thus this Valentine who was supposed to have sacrificed all the attachment while being initiated as a missionary fell prey to allurement. What benefit do Hindus are going to derive by remembering such ‘Saints’?
Equality of oppression
There is a Biblical parable about a vineyard owner who hires workers throughout the day, but pays them equal wages at sunset. “Are you envious because I am generous?” he asks those who protested. The apologue was revisited last week when Supreme Court Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Ganguly criticised the UPA’s attempts at personal law reform not going beyond Hindus. “The Hindu community has been tolerant to these statutory interventions. But there appears a lack of secular commitment as it has not happened for other religions,” they remarked.True, Hindus have a historic reputation for national passivity, having endured religious persecution for centuries. Thousands died in Somnath and Kasi in the 11th century; hundreds of Rajput women immolated themselves to avoid rape by invaders; Babur killed millions and Aurangazeb walled thousands up in the name of God. Ancient history, indeed and irrelevant to modern India — except that major Delhi roads are named after these despots.Perhaps, the political architects of modern India quixotically assumed that, by doing this, Muslims would be reassured of their place in Indian history, thereby perversely identifying Islamic interests with Babur’s and Aurangazeb’s. The Congress has always been obsessed with the Muslim vote; as far back as in 1946, it realized that the Muslim League — its traditional communal opposition — was a fast-growing beanstalk: while in the 1937 provincial elections, the League got only 108 out of 485 Muslim seats, it secured 76 per cent of the total Muslim vote in 1946-47. Meanwhile, Hindu politics began to appropriate the Indian women’s rights debate — the Arya Samaj, which according to historian Percival Spear, “led it towards intolerance towards both Muslims and Christians”— resulting in the right wing parties becoming champions of a Uniform Civil Code. The Hindu right replaced the Muslim League as the traditional political enemy of the Congress.To perpetuate its dominance, it was important for the Congress to entrench itself in the Muslim mass mind. The majority of Indian Muslims live below the poverty line and are uneducated while Muslim leadership is dominated by maulvis. The covert communal politics of the Congress resulted in the petrifaction of medieval Muslim machismo, which considers women inferior — fitna — or a ‘potential disorder’ to the stability of a society, and hence mandates them to be kept in seclusion. It wasn’t so always; in 1916, an Education report commented that, “the percentages for the Mohammedan community were more favourable than that for all communities together, and even figures for Mohammedan girls alone did not fall below the figures for all classes for female pupils.” Today, urban Muslim female graduates are a minority, (0.8 per cent, against 4.2 per cent of Hindu women and 5.5 per cent of Christian women). Until the concept of minority is re-evaluated in India, the Indian Muslim — especially the women — will live in distrust; disadvantaged, uncompetitive and unprosperous. The Muslim population in India was 13 crore according to the 2001 census, while the entire population of Pakistan is 17 crore in 2010. The Hindu and Muslim alike share the idea of India and Pakistan is not a sub-patriotic option. In 1989, even an enlightened Socialist like George Fernandes declared, “Whether we want to admit it or not, most Indians consider Muslims a fifth column for Pakistan.” If the Congress really seeks the empowerment of the Indian Muslim, a Uniform Civil Code is a must. The judiciary has made this clear. Politicians who question judicial activism may be reminded of Justice Bhagawati’s words, “The judge is not a mimic. Greatness of the bench lies in creativity. It is for this reason that when a law comes before a judge he has to invest it with meaning and content.” The government must cease being creative with the meaning of secularism and stop mimicking the realities of 1947. Otherwise the parable of equality will remain unexplained to India.
The author is Executive Editor of this newspaper. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dalits driven out of violence-hit Alwar village
Their houses set on fire: Report
JAIPUR: Dalits driven out of Husaipur village near Bhiwadi in Alwar district of Rajasthan after a violent attack by the dominant Meo Muslims of the region this past week are unable to return to their homes because of a “reign of terror” reportedly prevailing in the area and a Minister allegedly extending support to the aggressors and trying to protect the accused.
The houses of Dalits were set on fire and their belongings looted and destroyed in a daylight attack allegedly by Meos on January 19 following an exchange of fire between the two communities, in which a Meo boy, Zahid, was killed. The dispute started when a hen was crushed under the wheels of Zahid’s tractor.
A fact-finding team of the Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR), which visited Husaipur on Monday, found that almost all houses of Dalits in the small village were destroyed and ransacked, their belongings including cash and jewellery looted and their cattle taken away by the assailants.
CDR director Satish Kumar said here that only a few Dalit women were staying in the ransacked houses, while all the male members of the households had fled to avoid reprisal by the dominant Meo community and victimisation by police. Police have arrested five Dalit youths on charges of Zahid’s murder, but have not acted on the FIR lodged by Dalits.
Dalits in the village, belonging to the poor Meghwal community, have small land holdings which are not enough for their sustenance. Even as there is a heavy police deployment in the area six days after the clash, the dominant Meos are allegedly threatening Dalits and not allowing them to come back to the village or repair their damaged houses.
While estimating the losses at about Rs.50 lakh, the CDR noted that the district administration had so far not undertaken any survey to assess the damage or provide relief to the victims, which was mandatory in such instances under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. “The mob torched the houses in the presence of police,” said Mr. Kumar.
The team members were shocked to find that State Medical and Health Minister Aimaduddin Ahmed Khan – elected to the Assembly from Tijara constituency in which Husaipur falls – attended the burial of Zahid, but did not deem it fit to visit the nearby Dalit locality to observe the damage or offer any kind of assistance to the victims of violence.
“This act of Mr. Khan gives credence to the suspicion among Dalits that he is supporting the aggressors and trying to shield those named in the FIR,” said Mr. Kumar, while affirming that Dalits were terrified by the reported political connections of the accused.
However, senior District Congress leader and Municipal Councillor in Bhiwadi, Omar Mohammed, told The Hindu that Mr. Khan had met some Dalit victims and assured them of the State Government’s assistance during his visit to Husaipur."