Thursday, August 27, 2009

War is Peace

It did not take a war, economic sanctions or diplomatic isolation to bring a reprehensible regime to its knees. It took a man to spend a lifetime in prison. "The struggle is my life", said Nelson Mandela as he fought quietly. Famous words that are not to be taken lightly, as that is what makes people prevail against all adversity. As Aung Sung Su Kyi goes back to her prison home with her elegance and dignity intact, she follows in the footsteps of Gandhi, Mandela and King. Her penance is the only thing that will break the monsters back and set the Burmese free. The world is too preoccupied to see her plight. While China and India prop up the military junta in utter shame, as America and Britain propped up Botha's South Africa, it is her humanity that will rise up to steal the thunder. And then everyone will rush to garland and celebrate her with pomp and song. But for now we wait, hoping she will conquer death and desolation. It is what it is.

Why does war come to those who have nothing? Why does war rain down on only the poor, disenfranchised and the miserable? Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Darfur, Iraq, Congo no matter where you turn, all you see are images of people who have nothing, now having to contend with bullets, mortars and drones. Running with their only possessions, their life and their children. The searing image of naked napalm burned children running down a tar road in agony, sent chills through the compassionate, bringing the Vietnam war to an end. Images of children in bandages are a common occurrence now, but it does not seem to do anything to a world desensitized to numbness.

While we sit in our arm-chairs professing about bringing wars to an end it becomes clear that like racism, regionalism and colonialism, war is an integral aspect of humanity. Ever since the World Wars ended and the United Nations was created to stop wars, there has never been a single moment in earth's history, when wars were not waged in some shape or form on its surface. It is clear that as an institution the United Nations is a miserable failure. It is a political and bureaucratic organization like any that feeds on itself. Decisions are made by a select group of nations who violate every principle there is of peace and democracy. It is time to abolish the United Nations or restructure it so it works. It has become a fat pig which gets very little done in the face of crisis after crisis facing the globe.

War is the most depraved economic engine that prospers one nation while decimating another. There will always be war maiming and killing people as long as it provides jobs and industry. There is no such thing as a "just war" there is only a "cost war". Some Taliban fighters bear arms as it provides a livelihood. A man gets into his car in an American suburb to go build a fighter jet or a nuclear bomb, as it provides him a means to buy another car. How are they any different? It is what it is.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My name is Khan. So what?

On August 14th, an Indian movie actor named Shahrukh Khan was pulled aside by immigration officials at Newark Airport, in New Jersey. He was detained for ninety minutes and then let go. This common occurrence that happens to many travelers from all parts of the world at airports across America, became an international incident. Primarily because Shahrukh Khan is a Bollywood actor with a huge following and expected airport security officials to be his fans as well.

Ever since 19 mad men flew airplanes into buildings the world has been turned upside down and people have come to accept it as a fact of life. Secondary immigration checks at airports have become routine. Initially Shahrukh Khan alleged he was singled out because his name indicated he was a Muslim. Just a few months ago parents of a relative of mine, who are in their late seventies, were subjected to this same ordeal at a Seattle airport. They never made it to the news. The only thing they shared with Shahrukh Khan, was their Indian origin.

During his ninety minute ordeal, Shahrukh Khan with a single text message was able to activate the Indian government to come to his rescue. The Indian embassy in New York was alerted instantly about this incident and it was dealt with at the highest levels with a complaint officially lodged. Back in India, two government ministers reacted with anger stating “We will take up the issue with the United States government strongly. Such incidents involving Indians due to their religion or nationality should not happen ... we will not accept it.” There were many other angry protests from movie stars and everyone else who wanted to be heard. The Indian and American news media generously made room for this story, even John Stewart on The Daily Show devoted a whole segment. Shahrukh Khan had more to gain from this than lose. His name was now known across America. Even his blockbuster movies could not achieve this feat. If this was a publicity stunt, it was a gigantic success. His trip to the US in part, was to promote his new film My name is Khan which incidentally is about a Muslim man persecuted in post 9/11 America.

In the past many Indian movie stars and dignitaries have been subjected to treatment at the airports which in their mind they did not deserve because they were special. Even the former Indian President was frisked at the Delhi airport by the Continental Airline staff, causing an uproar. Anyone detained at airports feels the same. They always feel they have been singled out. The fact of the matter is we live in a world where shoes and belts have to come off before you board a plane. Its as simple as that. No matter who you are, you can be singled out for further questioning. There is no special pass that will get you past this line. And even though its overkill, I don't think anyone would like to take the slightest chance at 31,000 feet cruising altitude.

And why in our culture do we give movie actors so much importance, that they demand to be treated differently? Relentlessly their images are driven into our subconscious via pornographic billboards, magazines, gossip columns and the insatiable and infinite television/internet machine. Yes they have the talent to do things in front of a camera which most people wont. Mostly because they are exhibitionists by nature and for that reason alone they get paid more than they deserve. They shake their hips, lip sync to songs they don't sing, disrobe under bright lights and kill and maim people all in the service of entertainment. Sure that requires talent, talent to be schizophrenic without being schizophrenic. But for that, should they be held in such high esteem? And should they represent the United Nations like some Hollywood actors do? Yes good acting is a talent. It is an art-form. A craft that needs to be honed to draw people into a fictitious world so they can forget the real one. That is all it is. The glamor and glitter is hogwash, a wrapping made to conceal flaws. Deifying mortals for the way they look and the expensive pretend games they play, is sheer insanity.

If people think they are "stars" or "celebrities" (what ever that means) they have to realize that they are nothing more than members of the "meat market". The market that drives and pimps them for profits. The only stars that exist are the ones in the night sky. So lets not give Shahrukh Khan or Tom Cruise more than what they deserve. An occasional space on our television and movie screens and in our dinner conversations. Which are as disposable as cheap wine and chewing gum. It is what is.