The anti-refugee “movements” in some European countries have been sowing fear in refugee communities for the past couple of years. Several far-right fascist parties have gained public credibility in their nations, though they have not won the mandate to govern. The extremist views of these parties and social movements are a danger not only to refugees who are seeking asylum, but also to non-local residents of these countries who could easily be misconstrued as belonging to the refugee community. Even worse, locals who try to help the refugees arriving in their town are (or were) targeted by these anti-social movements.
I happened (by chance) to see the BBC’s show on Germany’s New Nazis: it was simply frightening to see the violent tactics of the Freital Group, who unleashed terror on the refugee shelter homes and almost escaped without getting caught over many months. Such insidious activities of a rebel group with the tacit approval of the “silent” majority, could have led Germany towards an abyss, from which it escaped just 70 years ago. Of all countries, it is rather surprising that Germans would accept such a radicalism in their society, which would engender violence, killings, and eventually, a move away from democracy towards a populist leader who would isolate Germany, stop all immigration, and segregate foreigners into “ghettos”. Rather sickening, frightening, and appears easy to achieve, right?
It was funny to note that the German local police feigned ignorance of any of the violent actions taken by the Freital Group for a long time, reminding me of the Indian Police and its ineffectiveness in the past. Only after the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office took over the investigation, things started moving, and eventually, the Freital Group was declared a terrorist organization. It is critical to understand that there will always be an apparent undercurrent of support for fascist and extremist groups amongst the population who have lost their jobs and feel that their lives are being threatened by refugees who do not follow the German way of life. Further, states such as Saxony have administrative and police machinery who had known about extremist tendencies and violent actions, but never took any action thereby undermining their credibility. Humans are fragile, and their idea of infallibility and superiority will reign supreme in their minds long after their predecessors are dead. You know who I mean here……….
Let me now explain my own views. I am not a supporter of uncontrolled immigration. Yes, I supported Angela Merkel when she decided to admit Syrian immigrants in 2015 into Germany, notwithstanding the fact that it could imperil her chance of becoming the German Chancellor for a record fourth time. However, more work should have been done on planning (a) the education of Germans about the rationale for taking in the immigrants (could have been done, I simply do not know); and, (b) the social integration of the immigrants into mainstream German society (also, this might have happened, but does not appear so looking from the outside).
Immigration is always a tough issue when economic conditions are not good. Even if things are fine, thought has to be given about sending immigrants into states where there is serious unemployment.
I am not against folks who oppose immigration. I am against those folks who incite violence and throw petrol bombs into refugee shelters, knowing full well that refugees have suffered an ignominious life in their native country under a cruel dictator who bombed them. What kind of people are these local Germans who do not have human emotions and sympathy and generosity?
Luckily for Germany, it is still the largest European economy, it is a wealthy country, and it holds the conscience of Europe as a whole (not the U.K.). Given its leadership position, Germany cannot afford to be isolated. I heaved a sigh of relief when Dr Merkel won her fourth elections recently, though her margins got reduced. Never mind, she has another four years to work on the German mindset. My suggestion to her – halt further immigration and work on integrating the million refugees that she has already got in. This is not hard heart or mind, it is simply focusing on enhancing the well being of the admitted refugees.
The other European nations have failed in their immigration intake, and are messing up their immigration policy. It is only a question of time before Europe loses its conscious democratic ideology, if no actions are taken immediately to educate the angry electorates.
7th October 2017
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, ethnic cleansing is “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity”.
According to a U.N. Commission of Experts formed in connection with the atrocities committed during the Yugoslavian wars in the Nineties, “…… the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include: murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property, attacks on hospitals, medical personnel, and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others”.
Now, unbelievably, there is ethnic cleansing happening in one of the ASEAN countries, and all members of the ASEAN grouping are keeping mum, in keeping with their stated policy of non-interference in each others’ internal affairs. I am referring to the systematic ethnic cleansing being carried out by Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) against its Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine State adjoining Bangladesh, which has created a humanitarian crisis with over 300,000 people fleeing from murder and rape being committed by perpetrators.
I had a strongly positive view of Buddhism and Buddhist monks who give up all their material possessions in search of enlightenment. I have mentioned to many of my friends that I am inclined towards seeking truth in Buddhism (as against Hinduism to which I belong by birth). I have always wanted a simpler faith which can show the path to enlightenment in a straightforward manner without the undue complexities involved in Hinduism, though fundamentally Buddhism emerged as an offshoot of Hinduism.
Now, I have to question my faith. When I see that Buddhist monks and Buddhist practitioners from Burmese society join hands and attack the Rohingya Muslims belonging to their own country, then the pacifist nature of Buddhism as a peaceful religion with peace-loving followers evaporates………in a white plume of smoke. And, all the expulsion, burning of homes, mosques, murder, rape, et al, happened with the absolute connivance of the Myanmar Government and the state security forces……..all of them being of Buddhist orientation.
There is heavy coverage of the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in the news media this past week, and so I am not going to repeat the key findings.
In the midst of all these happenings, the silence of Myanmar’s Nobel Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has been simply appalling. She is a powerful figure in Myanmar, and is globally known for her peaceful fight against the very powerful Myanmar Military rulers. She finally won that fight, but is was only a partial win. The Military still controls 25% of the Myanmar Parliament, and the silence exhibited shamefully by Aung San Suu Kyi is a witness to the domination of the Military when it comes to internal affairs. If she had risen up against the Military and said things to protect the Rohingya Muslims, things would have been vastly different now.
However, notwithstanding the ghastly attacks on Rohingya Muslims, and their forced evictions from their townships and homes, matters continue as though all is normal in Myanmar. ASEAN has not said anything of significance against Myanmar, and the U.N. is struggling with multiple crises around the world. In the meanwhile, Myanmar Government and security forces get away and continue their behaviour as though nothing has happened.
It is a complete pity that the world community is unable to stop the ethnic cleansing so systematically being carried out by the Myanmar Government. When there is no one to question, is it any wonder that things continue as usual under the pretext of “communal violence” or “national security”? Not at all.
I can only hope that the displaced Rohingya Muslims would eventually find their way back to their townships in Rakhine State with the approval and support of the Myanmar Government, which needs to understand that it is not yet recognized as an equal member in the comity of democratic nations of the world. It needs to prove its intent to become one by solving this problem, and changing its Citizenship Law to grant citizenships to Rohingya Muslims, and providing security to them.
Let us all hope this would happen soon.
10th September 2017
I wanted to drive a longer distance than I usually do every day, and kind of enjoy the monotony of the road travel. I have had these strange urges many a time, and mostly these get ignored given the buzz of everyday routine. I sometimes wonder why we get these tendencies to get free from it all, and I suspect that it has got to do with some unique stress factors which play on one’s body and mind, and forces us to take respite, at least for some time.
While I am not going to explain the specific situations which could have forced me to take to escapism, I was a bit taken aback when my mind started urging me to take a break, and let the body glide into oblivion for some time. I am not sure if others get these urges, and I have not discussed this matter with anyone in my immediate circle. Of course, I was fascinated by the calling to go somewhere with a “free” mind.
I told my wife that I plan to take a “long” drive, and she smiled. How far can you go in a small city like Singapore? I told her that after buying the groceries she had wanted, I was going for a long drive on one of the expressways, and it might take me some time to get back home.
It was a public holiday yesterday, and so I expected the roads to be a bit easy, however, it was not to be. There were thousands of cars heading to the city in one of the expressways that I took, and I could not think or get the escapist feeling on that ride. I exited as fast as I could, and took another expressway going towards the northern end of Singapore.
Well, that was almost empty – I could have counted the cars in front of me and at my back. So, I launched the cruise control at a steady speed of 80 KMPH and let the car manage the ride. I was of course, watchful but got the feeling of freedom impinging on my body and mind. It was exhilarating. That lasted only for some 5 minutes till the first idiot cut across my lane just in front of me, forcing me to take control of the car by braking. Idiots dominate the roads wherever we go, since they are selfish and could not bring themselves to wait and give way to the rightful lane owners ahead of them. But that is the way it is, and we the sober drivers have to be very careful all the time.
When the trees whizzed past, and the car was swallowing the KMs, I let my mind wander a bit – where am I headed in life? What is going well and what is not? How are others viewing me and my behaviour and decisions? Who are the key people that I should focus on in life? Where is the world going? Do I have enough money to live out my life? When should I retire? Can I retire at all? What are the places in the world that I want to see along with my wife? How do I see the positive or negative impact of others? Why do people have mostly selfish motives? Why is collaboration so hard? How to make others believe in the purpose – large or small?
It was a good rumination – I have not captured all my thoughts above. The mind is a fast machine running at 1,000 KMPH and the car is running only at 80 KMPH. To cope with one’s mind, one needs speed tactics which would accelerate one to 1,000 KMPH even while remaining stationary.
I did some 50 KMs on the expressway (including detours), and then turned back towards my home. Apart from my desire to stay on the road for a longish time, my car was also probably thirsting for long rides (once in a while), as otherwise the engine does not reach the prescribed efficiency. It was a good ride, with many thoughts plaguing my mind, with answers for some, and only more questions for others.
I would not really call this “escapism”, but an urge to be on my own for sometime, away from others’ influences, or away from familiarity. The soul needs a different kind of attention, a certain calmness which one may not be able to get on a speeding car. However, the constant regurgitation of thoughts and answers and non-answers keep the mind thinking constantly, and facilitates a healthy coordination with the body. I do this also when taking long walks (which is everyday).
Each one of us find our own ways to deal with our body, mind and soul. It is not unnatural to be thinking differently and reacting differently, as each one of us is different from each other. It is important to sync our own selves with the environment and develop a calm demeanour which would help us greatly in dealing with our own life.
Enjoy the weekend,
2nd September 2017
For anyone looking from outside the U.S. at the events unfolding in the U.S., pitting the “alt-right” against the “alt-left” movements, it is just unbelievable – that the leader of the free world is having such serious problems pertaining to racism. This is after almost six decades of work trying to eliminate racial segregation in the southern part of the U.S. I am no student of history, so I do not wish to analyse American history and derive conclusions from the past. My understanding is that the U.S. sincerely tried to fix the race problem under various government administrations. The results are not perfect, and that is not surprising at all. These are never perfect. Look at scores of other large countries, and the problem persists in one way or the other.
When there is a divisive problem (like the bringing down of Confederacy Statues in Charlottesville, Virginia), then the underlying racial sensitivities come out to the top of peoples’ sensibilities and overtake with emotional force which is rarely seen in our daily lives. And, when there is a President who apparently supports one or the other factions, or try to stay neutral in an ambiguous manner, then that position lends support to the faction which thinks that the President supports their cause. And, when the administration is made up of people who espouse right-wing ideology (mostly), then their silence on critical and dangerous matters like what happened last weekend, further accentuates the issues on hand.
There are many more important matters for the U.S. Government to attend to, rather than waste time on things like the violent fight which erupted in Charlottesville, and similar fights expected in other rallies pertaining to this “statues” matter. Racism should be dead and gone in the 21st Century, but apparently it is refusing to die. Not just in the U.S., but unfortunately the U.S. still sets the benchmark on most things, so the world expects the U.S. to handle such things with a firm hand and squelch the hunger for people to make divisions amongst themselves with violence at the fore.
There are a number of articles which have been published on the matter of racism in the past one week in international newspapers. The clear conclusion is that the President of the U.S. is on the wrong track with his rather inept handling of the Charlottesville incident wherein one poor woman died and many people were injured. To avoid such situations in future, clear and categorical message needs to go out from the President and the Department of Justice that violence will not be permitted, display of weapons will not be allowed in rallies, fighting between two sets of protesters will be banned, and the government has the right to implement its policies without court intervention when the matter pertains to public safety and security. In the U.S., courts intervene in matters such as this rally, and the judge made a wrong decision (please read for yourself on this aspect). Law Enforcement and the City Council failed to put up a stronger argument.
Banning of leftist and rightist organizations is not the solution to avoid problems such as these – they should be given clear and strong messages that the government will prosecute offenders without fear or favour, without any allegiance to any ideology whether the President supports or not. This has not been done in the U.S. – rather surprising! I had written earlier about the lack of “liberalism” in University Campuses where opposing ideologies from conservatives are not allowed, which is also ridiculous. Sometimes, it does appear that “both” sides commit sins, but in the case of Charlottesville it is the alt-right which appears to be at fault.
In a free country, different options are available to the people. There will be moderate approaches, milder leftist views, and then there is the possibility of aggressive leftist movement. In the U.S., the “anti-fascist” of “antifa” movement is an aggressive version of the “alt-left” movement, which is not shy to take up physical cudgels against the weapon carrying “alt-right” activists. All this leads to dangerous development in societies leading to potential of violence.
In a nutshell, the U.S. is going back to old times of racism and racial segregation, and lumping of all immigrants as undesirables. This is not good for the U.S. and not at all good for the world. The U.S. is an immigrant nation, and its success has been based on this simple fact.
Why can’t the President of the U.S. see this fact for himself? And, make amends for the disastrous press conference he gave last week. The U.S. is at a turning point now, with this development. The world is waiting for a logical resolution.
19th August 2017
I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.
He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.
Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.
He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.
It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?
If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.
Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.
May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?
What are you going to do with that money?
We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.
So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?
A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.
Have a good one.
15th July 2017
President Donald Trump again made history this week.
He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries, including the U.S. It was a signature achievement of President Obama, working closely with other world leaders. The U.S. became a leader in effecting positive climate change under the auspices of this historic climate agreement, in close cooperation with countries such as Germany, France, China and India.
Now, the biggest Carbon emitter of the world is leaving this agreement.
President Trump stated that the agreement was unfair to Americans. He promised to walk out of the agreement during his campaign, and he has done so, without so much as consultation with energy academics and the industry.
Good. Now the global climate leadership shifts to who else, but China. Increasingly, China is finding itself in leadership roles due to the vacuum created by the U.S. and it is happily grabbing the same with glee. Why not? Europe is looking for replacing the U.S. with China, and it is already happening this week, with the visit of the Chinese Premier to Germany.
President Trump needs to realize that he does not need to keep all his campaign promises. He is now President of the U.S. and the U.S. has a global obligation not to walk out of agreements that it has signed on. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Paris agreement is non-binding. Once signed, it should stay signed on for ever.
Climate change is for real, and if the global temperatures rise by 2 degrees there will be disaster. I am wondering how come the vaunted U.S. academics in the field of energy and environment did not make serious attempts to influence the thinking of the U.S. government and President Trump on this most critical challenge confronting the planet.
In any case, now that the damage is done, what next?
The world will go on, now with only 194 countries supporting the climate agreement. Who are the three dissenters? Nicaragua, Syria and the U.S. Does the U.S. want to be in this glorious company of nations? President Trump needs to think more carefully about making such critical decisions for the welfare of his own country. It is a wrong and completely misinformed decision.
I am sure that the decision will be reversed. If not by President Trump, by the very next President.
Coal is out of fashion in the environment conscious world. Citizens want clean energy. They want clean air and clean water. Fossil fuels is not the way to go. It should be nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy, et al………the world is changing, old habits are dying, new habits are taking root with the young demographics……….how can anyone refute this positive momentum coursing throughout the world?
When China and India signed on to this agreement after arduous negotiations, the world heaved a sigh of relief. The most difficult country was India which did not wish to sacrifice economic growth and jobs for the sake of signing the climate agreement. Compromises were made and finally India signed on and the world celebrated, and now the U.S. which applied so much pressure on India to sign, has exited the agreement.
What kind of message does this U.S. action send to India, China and the rest of the world?
Let us hope no other nation exits the agreement.
Climate change is for real.
It will affect the future of our planet earth irretrievably.
If we do not take much needed actions today and strictly control carbon emissions.
So, let us all execute what our respective nation has committed to honour via this agreement.
03 June 2017
You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.
This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.
President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.
However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.
Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.
Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?
And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?
The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.
The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.
So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.
What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?
01 May 2017