Could the world’s largest democracies descend into sectarian violence?

Over a year ago, I wrote about how Trump reminds me of a politician I know from my youth, Bal Thackeray:

Bal Thackeray adopted a hodge-podge of ideological positions. His party controlled trade unions while he openly admired strongmen and dictators (including Hitler). The one constant throughout his career was the use of ethnic and religious divisions. His real talent was tapping into economic discontent, frustration and anger at corruption. He rose to prominence by fomenting resentment towards “immigrants” from other states in India. Bombay had been a melting pot for decades, attracting people from all over India who spoke a multitude of languages. Thackeray drove a wedge between Marathi-speakers (from the area around Bombay) and all others, convincing them South Indians, Gujaratis and Hindi-speakers were taking their jobs. Years later, when it became less easy to rouse people using linguistic differences, he moved on to exploit religion.

Thackeray’s party, the Shiv Sena, is allied with India’s ruling right-wing Hindu-nationalist BJP. Thackeray too had a knack for using media to rile up the worst instincts in his followers. He started his career as a political cartoonist. His entire political career was built on bombast and stoking religious, ethnic and linguistic differences. Like Trump, he made his home in the most integrated city in the country. And yes, Thackeray, like Trump, admired Hitler’s rhetoric and tactics.

Modi is far more coy about how he stokes sectarian fires, and projects the perception of competence. He is not above bombastic rhetoric when necessary, but it is not his natural mode. In his personal life, he cultivates a reputation for ascetic probity. Perhaps the right analogue for Modi is actually Mike Pence. That should make you pause and reconsider how much you want Trump removed from office.

Though their styles may differ, Modi and Trump do respond very similarly to violent attacks on minorities. Trump’s behavior after the Charlottesville attacks is very similar to what Prime Minister Modi’s half-hearted statements when vigilantes have lynched Muslim men suspected of eating beef (it’s happened multiple times). They wait for days, and then half-heartedly condemn the violence, often excusing it as being “provoked”. In Modi’s case, the provocation is beef-eating. In Trump’s it’s protesting racism.

Mihir Sharma, writing in Bloomberg today, advises that it’s a waste of time trying to get Trump to “say the right thing”. Most Indians have realized Modi’s winking statements reluctantly condemning Hidutva vigilantes are meaningless and satisfy no one.:

Even before he confirmed that he didn’t actually mean what he’d said, nobody could have believed that Trump genuinely meant what he’d said. Nor could anyone have believed that his stilted statement on Monday deterred or dismayed the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville this weekend.  […]

We in India have played out our version of this dark farce for three years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi climbed to power with a record blemished by years of pandering to Hindu nationalists. Emboldened by his victory, the hardest core of his supporters asserted themselves across India through intimidation and violence. Muslims were lynched; people born into lower castes were publicly beaten. The prime minister was pressed: Why would he not address this violence?

For days after one particularly horrific lynching, Modi declined to respond. And then, when he did, nobody was really satisfied. Like Trump’s real reaction, there was a strong element of “both-sides-ism” in his response.  —…

Forcing Trump to “say the right words” when he clearly doesn’t believe them, is largely a waste of our time. He wears his allegiance to white supremacy on his sleeve, and that isn’t going to change. Modi ascribes to an ideology of Hindu supremacy, and nothing’s going to change him either. Neither of them is above claiming that they only seek to preserve a unique, especially wonderful “culture”.

There are many other similarities between them and their countries. They both instinctively understand democracy as “majority rule”, and by majority they mean the majority religion/race. They have limited patience for minority rights, I suspect they both ascribe to the view that minorities should “know their place”. Hindus are roughly 80% of the Indian population. That’s a soft number though, since there are very strong caste and linguistic divisions. Modi and the BJP in general, are viewed as an upper-caste, north-Indian party. Roughly 80% of the US considers itself Christian, and 80% is white/hispanic. Though again, there are numerous divisions and clearly Trump sees himself representing the non-hispanic white protestant population, which is the largest group.

Neither of them are particularly concerned with lower-caste, poorer population. When pressed, they’re likely to claim whatever benefits the majority or wealthy will eventually benefit the minority or poorer population as well.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. They are both firmly anti-Muslim. This is a bigger issue in India since Muslims are a larger part of the population. But in the US anti-Muslim rhetoric generally goes hand in hand with anti-black sentiment since for a lot of people Islam is associated with black people.

We can discuss what drives the forces that brought Modi and Trump to power, and they would certainly include technological disruption, globalization, climate change stress, and much more besides.

But the question I want to ask is whether our countries can descend into widespread sectarian violence. I don’t have an answer, it’s really more of a question. Both countries have a long history of violent pogroms (as frankly do almost all places).

The historian Ramchandra Guha was interviewed by Slate recently, and he was asked what he thought of Modi vs Trump:

In what ways do you think personally is Modi similar or different from the other demagogues we see around the world?

Trump is a maverick, an egomaniac really interested only in himself, whereas Modi is interested, of course in himself, he is an enormously vain man too, but he is interested in consolidating his party [BJP] and his philosophy’s control over India. He would like to leave a positive legacy behind. It’s unlikely that he will, but he likes to think of himself as a man of history. And he’s building upon this very well-entrenched, very motivated, and very dangerous RSS organization, which Trump certainly doesn’t have and [French leader of the National Front] Le Pen certainly doesn’t have and [Hungary’s] Viktor Orbán doesn’t have. In that sense, Modi has the capacity to do a great deal more damage because of the organizational depth of the RSS and the BJP. —…

Guha’s right, Trump doesn’t have the brown-shirt like organization, Modi does. But, Guha also doesn’t appreciate the fact that the US population is far, far more heavily armed than the Indian population. The typical Indian riot involves machetes, knives and sticks. Virtually no one has firearms. The white nationalist militia people in Charlottesville were very heavily armed. The governor admitted this intimidated the police.

— @subirgrewal


UN criticizes US human rights record. Cites police brutality, pervasive surveillance and Gitmo

NY Times: U.S. Must Do More on Civil Rights, Officials Agree

“We must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil rights laws live up to our promise,” James Cadogan, a senior Justice Department official, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.United States authorities brought criminal charges against 400 law enforcement officials in the last six years, Mr. Cadogan said. But the deaths of Freddie Gray in Maryland, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio and Walter Scott in South Carolina “challenge us to do better and work harder for progress,” he said.

His comments came as officials from eight federal agencies and the state of Illinois presented an account of developments in human rights under which the council reviews all states every four years.

The US delegation presented a response to a UN report produced six months ago on racial discrimination in the US and on other Civil Rights issues, including electronic surveillance, CIA interrogations, immigrant detentions, Guantanamo Bay etc.

The ACLU was not impressed:

“It was the same old story of the U.S. dragging its feet on taking effective action to fully implement its human rights obligations,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program said.

Al Jazeera is covering the story with naked glee: US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights

The United States was slammed over its rights record Monday at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, with member nations criticizing the country for police violence and racial discrimination, the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility and the continued use of the death penalty.The issue of racism and police brutality dominated the discussion on Monday during the country’s second universal periodic review (UPR). Country after country recommended that the U.S. strengthen legislation and expand training to eliminate racism and excessive use of force by law enforcement.

“I’m not surprised that the world’s eyes are focused on police issues in the U.S.,” said Alba Morales, who investigates the U.S. criminal justice system at Human Rights Watch.

“There is an international spotlight that’s been shone [on the issues], in large part due to the events in Ferguson and the disproportionate police response to even peaceful protesters,” she said.

Anticipating the comments to come, James Cadogan, a senior counselor to the U.S. assistant attorney general, told delegates gathered in Geneva, “The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio and Walter Scott in South Carolina have renewed a long-standing and critical national debate about the even-handed administration of justice. These events challenge us to do better and to work harder for progress — through both dialogue and action.”All of the names he mentioned are black men or boys who were killed by police officers or died shortly after being arrested. The events have sparked widespread anger and unrest over the past year.

Cadogan added that the Department of Justice has opened more than 20 investigations in the last six years — including an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department — as well as the release of a report of the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing in March, which included more than 60 recommendations.

Chad’s delegate took a moment to provide his take:

“Chad considers the United States of America to be a country of freedom, but recent events targeting black sectors of society have tarnished its image,” said Awada Angui of the U.N. delegation to Chad.

It’s refreshing in a way.

Michael Brown’s parents testified at the last review (in August) as reported by CNN and NBC News:

Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. spoke to the United Nations Committee Against Torture — which also works against cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities.”We need the world to know what’s going on in Ferguson and we need justice,” McSpadden told CNN in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We need answers and we need action. And we have to bring it to the U.N. so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small town Ferguson.”

Iran brings up Israeli/P5 nukes at annual Nuclear Proliferation Treaty meeting

A review meeting for the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty is taking place in NYC and numerous sources are reporting Iran has asked that Israeli nuclear weapons and the 5 permanent Security Council members’ failure to disarm be discussed.

Reuters: Iran slams nuclear powers, Israel at UN atomic treaty meeting

He [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif] said non-aligned states viewed Israel’s assumed nuclear weapons as “a serious and continuing threat to the security of neighboring and other states, and condemned Israel for continuing to develop and stockpile nuclear arsenals.”A senior Israeli official dismissed Iran’s criticism, adding that no world power has been exerting additional pressure on Israel to alter its nuclear policy. “Iran has got enough to deal with in terms of its serial non-compliance with the NPT, so she’ll always want to deflect criticism,” the official said.

Israel, India and Pakistan have not signed the NPT.Haaretz is reporting that Iran aims to use NPT conference to renew international pressure on Israel

“Unfortunately, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and its refusal to engage with the international community has become the greatest impediment to the universality of this treaty,” Zarif said. “Israel is the single [worst] violator of this international regime [the NPT] … and one of the most important issues in the NPT review process is to look into ways and means of bringing about the Israeli compliance with NPT.”

That last statement is a bit over the top. The Pakistani and North Korean programs have led to more proliferation to other nations than Israel’s has (and North Korea actually signed the NPT, withdrawing later, unlike the others who never signed it). Though Israel did assist South Africa develop nuclear weapons. Arguably, North Korea is a bigger risk with it’s history of selling nuclear and ballistic missile technology.India is estimated to have more nukes as Israel. Though to be fair, India has a public “no first strike” policy and has nuclear-armed China next door (China fought a war with India, taking territory in 1962).

In an exceptional move, Israel is expected to attend Tuesday’s conference opening as an observer for the first time in 20 years. A senior Israeli official said that the Israeli decision to attend was meant to demonstrate Israel’s positive attitude and to clarify that it is the Arab countries that are blocking progress toward convening a conference on a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. “We hope that following our move, the Arab countries will make a similarly positive move and support direct talks with Israel on the security situation in the Middle East,” the senior official said.

Israel has gone to great lengths to maintain the ambiguity of its nuclear weapons program. The Guardian is running a blog post about Mordechai Vanunu while discussing Israel’s participation at the NPT.Meanwhile, Reuters is also reporting on Iranian/US statements about the P5+1 negotiations with Iran: Kerry says Iran, world powers closer than ever to historic nuclear deal

“We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good, comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer,” Kerry told the 191 NPT parties, adding that bringing Iran back into compliance with the pact was always at the heart of negotiations with Tehran.

“Beside taking part in the conference, we have come here to listen to Americans’ explanations on the U.S. administration’s undertakings and its domestic policies,” Zarif said.”We consider the U.S. government responsible for fulfilling its international commitments under international laws,” he said. “No government can evade such commitments because of its domestic issues.”

Which seems to be a dig at the rift between Republicans and Democrats on the Iranian deal.Few more notes below the fold…

Washington Post is also carrying the story: World ‘closer than ever’ to Iran nuclear deal, Kerry says

Immediate concerns at the conference include the lack of progress in disarmament by the United States and Russia, who between them hold more than 90 percent of those weapons. Civil society groups say nuclear powers are spending billions of dollars to instead modernize their arsenals. The United States says it is “maintaining and servicing” instead.Few breakthroughs are expected at the conference as diplomats warn of Cold War-style tensions over Ukraine and other issues. “I know as well as anyone that we have a long way to go” on the path to a nuclear-free world, Kerry said, acknowledging that “we know that we can cut back even further.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinians marked their first conference as a state party to the treaty.

Both Ban and the IAEA chief, as well as Japan and South Korea, expressed concern on another pressing issue at the conference: North Korea’s nuclear program and the lack of talks to address it.

Today’s GOP is the party of Jefferson Davis, not of Lincoln (Meyerson in WaPo)

Harold Meyerson has a column in today’s Washington Post Opinion pages: Today’s GOP is the party of Jefferson Davis, not of Lincoln

Though incendiary, it is a remark I’ve heard made before, but this little column has distilled it into its clearest and most essential form. To quote:

The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive characteristic: unfree labor. As Douglas A. Blackmon has demonstrated in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study “Slavery by Another Name,” numerous corporations — many of them headquartered in the North — relied heavily on the labor of thousands of black prisoners, many serving long sentences for minor crimes or no crimes at all.

Even today, one of America’s most fundamental problems is that the alliance between the current form of Southern labor and the current form of New York finance is with us still. The five states that have no minimum wage laws of their own are in the South: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Southern-based corporations such as Wal-Mart are among the leading opponents of workers’ right to organize, and as Wal-Mart has expanded into the North and West, so have the “right-to-work” statutes of Southern states been enacted by Republican governments in the Midwest.

Fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee’s army, and the descendants of Grant’s have yet to subdue it.

Meyerson’s been writing about union/labor issues for a while. His WaPo archive is…

This older column should endear him to most: Democrats need Elizabeth Warren’s brand of populism

eHistory: The invasion of America

Stumbled across the eHistory project today.  It has an interactive map of the Invasion of America which is described as:

Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people by treaty and executive order. The Invasion of America shows how by mapping every treaty and executive order during that period. It also contains present-day federal Indian reservations.

The interactive map and exploration of the various treaties and orders is fascinating.

They have a number of other projects, including a visualization of the spread of smallpox across North America. Most of the team is at the University of Georgia and some of the projects are less than fully-fledged, but they’re all interesting.