The post-colonial world according to CiF contribtor Pankaj Mishra

It is rather surprising that Pankaj Mishra has not yet been allocated a permanent desk at Guardian HQ; he does, after all, seem to be capable of ticking all the right boxes. On June 6th he returned to CiF with yet another article full of erroneous comparisons between countries which begin with the letter ‘I’ – namely Israel and India. One wonders how he managed to miss out Ireland, Italy or Indonesia in his mish-mash of mistaken analogies and comparisons of the dissimilar.

Perhaps the problem is that he does not get invited to literary festivals in those latter countries; events which apparently afford instant expert status and render so many authors  of fiction and travelogues miraculously capable of pronouncing moral verdicts upon subjects of history, international relations and politics.  Or maybe his comrades at the Stop the War Coalition and CAABU just haven’t had time to issue the memo on acceptable progressive stances regarding those nations, although one can be pretty confident that they must have Iran and Iraq covered.

Whatever the explanation, Mishra is obviously intent upon perpetuating some of the more popular myths which plague the far-Left’s thinking about Israel; probably indicating that he actually believes them himself.  There’s the ‘Arab Spring’ myth so beloved of Guardian editors of late: Mishra has already decided that recent events in Tunisia and Egypt are “miraculous” and signal an end to tyranny. More cautious observers are actually waiting for the results of soon to be held elections before pronouncing that tyranny is in remission there. After all, there are many types of tyranny and contrary to popular belief in some circles they do not have to be Western-linked by definition.

Another myth which Mishra is keen to promote is that of ‘non-violent’ Palestinian protest. Obviously, he needs to do this because the crux of his argument is based on the premise that non-violent strategy affords moral authority. His heroes are the “unarmed mass movements” of poor victims and it would therefore rot the very foundations of his argument were he to admit that Palestinian political movements are not quite the Gandhi-style figures he would have us believe.

“For years now the West Bank village of Bil’in has campaigned against the Israeli government’s appropriation of its lands. Israel responded by jailing its leader, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, often called the Palestinian Gandhi, for 15 months – “solely”, according to Amnesty International “for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and assembly”.”

That claim, of course, is only remotely credible if one can imagine Gandhi and his followers throwing stones at British soldiers week after week and injuring several hundred in the process. But Mishra apparently does not consider rocks and stones to be weapons: those throwing them with the intention of injuring or even killing other human beings remain “unarmed” in his view. His disingenuity continues with the claim that unarmed Palestinians marched to Israel’s borders rather than across them:

“Encouraged by Egyptians and Tunisians, masses of unarmed Palestinians marched last month to the borders of Israel to mark the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians in Mandate Palestine. Israeli soldiers met them with live gunfire, killing more than a dozen and wounding scores of others.”

Had the marches (how benign a term that is) ended at Israel’s borders, no-one would have been hurt, but of course that was not the case – no matter how much spin Mishra cares to put on it. His disingenuity does not stop there however, at least as far as Israel is concerned:

“[M]any liberal commentators try to condone their passivity by deploring the absence of non-violent protests in Kashmir and Palestine (never mind the fact that the first intifadas in both places in the late 1980s turned violent only after being savagely suppressed).”

As someone who, in December 1987, on the first day of the first Intifada, found herself confronted by a rock-throwing masked mob on a road near Beit Sahour, I can assure Mishra that at least part of his above sentence is a severe distortion of the truth.  With regard to Kashmir,  I am not qualified to say, but the following photograph,  taken by a member of my family in 2009 in Kashmir, suggests to me that perhaps there is a little more to the situation than Pankaj Mishra would have us believe.

Another of Mishra’s myths is the attempt to equate in the minds of his readers between colonial India and the Jewish state. Of course no honest commentator would try to insinuate that colonial rule by a nation thousands of miles away and with no cultural or historic ties to India was the same as the return of the Jewish nation to its former homeland, but that’s exactly what Mishra does.

“But Palestinians may rise up against their colonial overlords well before this expected rejection.” (my emphasis)

He tries to strengthen his argument by making dishonest references to Israeli actions and policy:

“[A]s Binyamin Netanyahu devises ever greater hurdles to self-determination for his Arab subjects.”

“Hindu nationalists feel an elective affinity with Israel for its apparently uncompromising attitude to Muslim minorities.”

Mishra is surely very much aware that Israel’s Prime Minister does not have “subjects” as Queen Victoria did in India, but he employs the term anyway in a feeble attempt to shore up his ridiculous comparison. He also probably knows full well – or at least should do, having visited there more than once, that the citizens of the Palestinian Authority vote in elections entirely unconnected to Israel and that their desire for self-determination has been sabotaged repeatedly in the past by their very own leaders’ choice of violence and intransigence over negotiation. He should also be aware that the so-called “uncompromising attitude” of Israel towards its Muslim minorities has afforded them the best human rights of any Muslims in the Middle East – including those in Muslim countries.

Finally, and perhaps most dangerously, Mishra engages in the old Guardian habit of terrorism whitewashing and denial.

“India and Israel, both products of botched imperial partitions, were the Bush government’s two most avid international boosters of the catastrophic “war on terror”, fluently deploying the ideological templates of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – democracy versus terrorism, liberalism versus fundamentalism – to justify their own occupations.”

“Aggressively jingoistic media helped hardliners in both countries to demonise their political adversaries as terrorists or terrorist sympathisers. “

“Certainly, as the corpses of the Palestinian and Kashmiri Hamza al-Khatibs pile up, there will be the usual flurry of intellectual rationalisations – the bogey of Islamic terror will again be invoked.”

Such a refusal to recognise Palestinian terrorism for what it is – a racist and criminal ideology which encourages its followers to blow up school-children on buses, murder babies in their sleep and shoot pregnant women simply because they belong to the ‘wrong’ religion and ethnicity – would suggest that Mishra, as is evident in the sub-texts to his article, has very effectively imbibed some of the basic tenets of extreme Leftist ideology which run as undercurrents in the bulk of Guardian commentary on the Middle East.

One of those tenets – also prevalent in some British faith groups such as the Quakers and Methodists – is that perceived poverty and powerlessness somehow automatically affords moral authority and superiority. Another is that people of colour must somehow always be right and their actions justifiable. Both are the result of the kind of inverted snobbery very prevalent in some contemporary Western societies which probably finds its roots in post-colonial guilt and unfortunately distorts the ability to analyse situations effectively and accurately, as Mishra’s article shows only too well.

But is there more to Mishra’s reluctance to square up to terrorism than meets the eye? Does the fact that he complains in other articles about being stopped at airports – situations he appears to have convinced himself have more to do with discriminatory perceptions of his appearance that the Afghani and Pakistani stamps in his passport – suggest that he somehow equates today’s unfortunately all too necessary vigilance with a form of racism?

This 2007 interview would indeed suggest that despite (or maybe because of) his own rather privileged status at the heart of British establishment he chooses not to differentiate between essential security measures and racism.  I suppose that’s one way of cultivating ‘progressive’ credibility.

“But there has been a return of racism in the guise of “antiterrorism.” People who look like myself are immediately suspect. I’ve become extremely self-conscious about going into crowded public places. I’m constantly being stopped and asked to produce my identity. At airports, it’s gotten to the point that you start to have the sense that everyone at the airport is looking at you wondering if you are the guy who’s going to blow up the plane. It’s deeply unpleasant, and it’s now a disturbingly commonplace experience.”

Well I have a surprise for Pankaj Mishra; my partner’s North African origins mean that he frequently gets stopped at airports too – particularly if he hasn’t shaved for a couple of days – and my daughter has had some rather unnerving experiences with the British Transport Police based purely on her Middle Eastern looks and tendency to carry a rucksack.  And yet for Mishra their ethnicity means that both are ‘white’ enough to be classified as Israeli “colonial overlords”; incapable of being powerless enough to be right and automatically undeserving of any far-Leftists’ sympathies.

Of course neither he nor the average Guardian editor would be capable of seeing the bigotry in that, or just how ridiculously trite and simplistic it proves their accepted narratives to be.

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